Saturday, January 30, 2016

More advisaventures: French titre de séjour

This past September I received my long-stay visitor's visa, which would allow me to stay in France for a year, from October 1, 2015 - October 1, 2016.

Well, sort of.

You see, even though the visa states those dates, it was only valid (alone) for the first three months. In order for the visa to be valid for the full year, I had to register with the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) during my first three months of arrival.

Once I went to an appointment at the OFII and received a sticker from them in my passport, that sticker + my visa would be the equivalence of a titre de séjour (residence permit), allowing me to remain in France for the full year.

Here's how that went down:

One of my required documents from my original visa appointment at the French Consulate in Chicago was a residency form. At the appointment it was stamped, signed, and then returned to me. I had to bring that piece of paper with me to France, fill out the bottom half and mail it to the OFII office upon arrival along with:

  • photocopy of my passport's identity pages
  • photocopy of my visa
  • photocopy of the entry stamp in my passport (mine was stamped in Spain, as that's where I'd flown in)
I arrived in France on October 6, 2015 and mailed the required documents to my "local" OFII (Montpellier) during that first week.

And then I waited.

A month went by without hearing anything, and I started to worry a little. Damien tried several times to call Montpellier's OFII number, but there was never an answer. One day in November Damien and I drove into Montpellier and went to the OFII to make sure they'd received my documents. They didn't confirm this, but they said the wait was totally normal—we didn't have to do anything or be worried about anything. Hokay.

Late November I received a letter dated November 12, which merely confirmed the OFII had received my documents on October 20. (There's no way it took 10 days for my envelope to travel from Saint-Jean-de-Vedas to Montpellier, so there must be a backup for "processing" received mail.)

This letter said that I was on a student visa, however, when I'm actually on a visitor's visa. I knew I'd written visitor's on my application, so I wasn't sure if this was anything to worry about.

Then in December I received a second confirmation letter. It was identical to the first, except it had the correct visa type: visitor. The letter was dated November 24 and was postmarked November 25.

And then I waited some more.

Just before Christmas I was starting to get nervous about not having heard anything about this "appointment" I'm supposed to have. My 3-month mark would have been on January 6, less than 2 weeks away, and by this point Damien and I were going to move to Rodez on January 2. 

Damien said that we'd go into Montpellier on Monday the 28th to see where my application was at, as he was on vacation from work (albeit sick with the flu).

Then the day after Christmas I got a letter in the mail from OFII—phew! It was dated December 23 and postmarked December 24.

It said I'd need to go to my appointment at OFII in Montpellier on Friday, January 29 at 14:30 with the following:
  • my passport
  • one passport photo, no glasses/hat/smile
  • one photocopy of my proof of residency in France (rent receipt, electricity/gas/water bill, landline telephone in my name, or a certificate of board and lodging)
  • medical certificate (if I'd already had a medical exam with a registered OFII doctor before coming to France)
  • receipt of paying the appropriate French taxes according to my visa type
So this past week, we kept checking BlaBlaCar (a rideshare site, popular in Europe) every day to see if anyone were driving from Rodez to Montpellier on Friday morning or Thursday night, so I could get there for my appointment. 

I ended up getting a ride through BlaBlaCar on Thursday evening, and stayed at Damien's parents' house. Then I took the tram into Montpellier on Friday afternoon for the appointment, and Damien drove to his parents' house after work that night for the weekend.

At my appointment, I sat in a waiting room for about a half hour, while others were called back one by one. When my name was called, I went with a woman into a room, where I was asked to take everything off my top half for an x-ray of my lungs. Then back to the waiting room.

When my name was called a second time, a different woman took me into a different office, where she took my weight and height (I couldn't remember in kilograms and centimeters when she asked, so that's why she had to take them.)

Then I had to sit on a chair and she asked me to read the top line of letters from an eye chart on the wall. I actually wasn't sure if the very first letter was an M or N, so there was a bit of a pause as I looked closer and tried to make up my mind as to which one I would say. The woman must have thought I hadn't understood her directions in French, or that maybe I didn't know the French alphabet, because she then quickly said the first 3-4 letters to get me started! Hah, she gave me over a quarter of the line! She cut me off before I got to the end and said okay, that was good.

Then she brought me down the hall to have a final meeting with "the doctor."

The doctor looked at my x-rays and asked a few basic health history questions (Do you smoke? Do you take birth control? Do you have any health problems? etc.). My spinal fusion briefly came up, as you can see it in the x-ray, so the first nurse had made a note of that on a piece of paper.

Then the doctor said I "passed" the medical exam, and I then waited a few minutes outside of the final office, which is where I'd present my documents and get the sticker.

I was most worried about the proof of residency, as the address they had on file was the apartment in Palavas. We didn't want to change my address to Rodez, because the region's OFII is in Toulouse, which is farther than Montpellier and just generally inconvenient for us. 

Anyway, Damien had a copy of our rental insurance bill with the Palavas address, and he wrote an accompanying letter dated January 1, stating that I lived with him at that address. We did live at that Palavas address on January 1, so all documents were truthful! The woman hardly even looked at the letter, so I was quickly relieved when she said it was all good.

Then she ripped off this big sticker and put it in my passport, on the page right next to my visa. Done and done!

Here's the approximate cost of this part of the journey:

241 euros — French taxes
    9 euros — 6 passport photos from a nearby professional photo place in Rodez
  12 euros BlaBlaCar ride to Saint-Jean-de-Vedas
262 euros

It really was a big relief to finally have this taken care of; albeit almost a month past the "deadline." Now the next bureaucratic fear on my mind is doing my 2015 USA taxes...
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