Notary Service at the US Embassy Paris

US Embassy Paris - visitors lined up near the small tent on the left and entered via the guard house to the right of the tent

US Embassy Paris – visitors lined up near the small tent on the left and entered via the guard house to the right of the tent

I recently had to use the Notary Service at the US Embassy Paris. My strategy to transfer funds from our US bank to our account in France has been to use a 3rd party company, Venstar Exchange, to provide a better exchange rate than we  could get through the bank. A US bank might charge 3% above the spot exchange rate (plus a wire fee) to transfer funds. A 3% premium is also what you might pay for Euro purchases with your US credit card. On fairly large transfers, such as $25,000, the difference in the quoted exchange rate (Venstar charges a little over 1% above the spot rate quoted at 10 minute intervals) can amount to a significant amount of money. Previously I had been able to initiate wire transfers by sending wiring instructions to our US bank using secure email on their web site.

Recently I sent a funds transfer request to our US bank, and they told me that their procedures had changed. I would need to complete and have notarized a new form with two parts, one authorizing the Venstar account where we send the funds (which they convert to Euros and forward to our French account), and a second part that specifies how to handle recurring transfers so I could complete future transfers with just a phone call verification of my identity. Where do you get a US Notary in France? You have to go to the US Embassy.

We’d been by the American Embassy before. It’s on 2 Avenue Gabriel, just off Place de la Concorde and close by the Elysée Palace where the President of France lives. One day after hiking the Champs-Élysées we were passing by, and I tried to take a photo from the sidewalk outside the security fence. I was immediately whistled down (you know you’re in trouble when guys start to whistle at you) and informed that photos were not permitted.

To see a notary, I made an appointment on the Embassy web site – they had one available in 5 days. The consulate sent me a couple emails asking me to confirm the appointment and assuring me that correct completion of the form was up to me and that they could not in any way help me interpret my paperwork. Fair enough. I sent the bank a list of questions and then used their answers to make sure that I correctly filled out their form, which was an internal bank form not really set up for use by a notary. Their answers also provided instructions about how Embassy was to notarize the form.

Armed with my passport, my appointment form, and all my other paperwork, I set out for my appointment at the Embassy. The weather was cold – windy and in the mid ’30s (yes I know that would be a heat wave in Minnesota). The guard outside checked me off on his schedule and directed me to go stand in line outside the security building behind about 20 other people. We all stood there for about 15 minutes until they began to invite people one at a time into the secure guard building nearby for a security check. Eventually I got to go inside, where they used procedures similar to what you experience at the airport to clear me for entry. After the security check, they took away my cell phone and keys and directed me outside, across a courtyard and into the visitors area in the Embassy itself.

While I was waiting in line, I could see Embassy employees coming and going through a different entrance, but the area where visitors were sent was completely isolated from all embassy staff. Visitors can interact with staff to address their needs through 15 bullet proof glass windows with pass through slots. Perhaps a hundred visitors were waiting in the large seating area. I took a number and followed the instructions they gave me to sit and wait for my turn.

When my number was flashed on the monitor, I went to the designated counter and described what I needed to the woman behind the bullet proof glass. She took my form and passport, issued me a bill for $100, and sent me over to the cashier to pay. The employee taking my credit card laughed when I remarked that the service was “très cher”. Then I went back to wait some more. I was called back to sign the document and swear that the information I was providing was true and accurate, and I was done – it only took a minute.

I left the visitors area and returned to the guard building to recover my keys and phone. Then I exited the security perimeter and headed for freedom, reflecting on how the politics of our world has so restricted many aspects of our lives. I guess we really wouldn’t want it any other way, but what should be a “friendly home” to Americans in France has been transformed into a foreboding and unwelcoming space. I made my way into Place de la Concorde, looked back, and furtively took a photo.

Comments

  1. “très cher” ?

  2. It is very sad when no one can truly be “trusted” just on face value or citizenship or just being human.But, for the safety of all American Embassy personnel – I do understand the need for such tight security. It is all very scary!

  3. That’s very interesting to me, thanks for sharing. More often than not, when I have buyers or sellers in other parts of the world, they are required to have their documents notarized at an American Consulate and I have wondered what that experience is like for them. Pre-planning would be essential in order not to lose a closing date.

  4. Gee, that sounds to me like the “Change” Mr. Obama is seeking for the United States of America, while he is off on his many Taxpayer Funded Vacations!!
    ALWAYS APPRECIATE your Stories and Experiences!
    You’se Guy’s be SAFE!!

  5. Pauline Ostheller says:

    And here we thought going to the US consulate in Hong Kong was difficult. You had a similar but sounds like a more difficult time then we did. We had to replace our past ports as they were stolen.
    Pauline

  6. Ardis Morrow says:

    Oh my, your descriptions are wonderful. Thanks for the adventures. I am amazed at your tenacious perseverance.
    Guess you ‘gotta do’ what you ‘gotta do”. Keep ’em comin’.

  7. you should see the security and procedures here in Riyadh…. not just at the embassies, but also to gain access to the housing compounds…. as you say: politics and terrorism….. I guess we are safer now???

  8. Maureen says:

    Crazy, isn’t it? Love your last line about taking the furtive photo- when I was there last and taking a photo from across the street, but in the direction of the US embassy, I was accosted by police who insisted I delete the photo!

  9. Maureen says:

    PS Hugh maybe we can connect in May – ask Brenda about our correspondence.

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