February 26, 2008

Under French house arrest, or getting a carte de sejour

Posted in Daily life, Les français tagged , , , , at 12:03 am by Lauren

My hard-earned visa said that I needed to apply for a carte de sejour – a permit to legally reside in France for up to a year – within 2 months of my arrival in France. Last week, on February 18, it occurred to me that I came into France on December 23 and not sometime in January. I needed to apply for my carte de sejour before the end of the week.

Anyone with sense – that is, most other people in the world – would read the phrase “in the first two months after arriving in France” and realize that I could have applied for my carte de sejour the day after I came. But not I. I had to wait until I had four business days in which I could possibly apply and then FREAK OUT.

Technically, no one would have known if I applied late, as the border agent had not stamped my passport. However, I have learned to follow the rules the French set when it comes to paperwork because they work according to the “or else” system. They will find out you broke the rules, and you will be punished.

So on February 18, I realized my mistake and spent the day in a tizzy. On February 19, Allen made copies of my important documents, and I went to a Photomaton to take a very serious passport-sized photo of myself. The French take official photos very seriously, despite the fact that you can get them for 4 euros in any photo booth in the metro. Should you doubt me on this, please refer to this document which details exactly how your photo must be. It’s good for a laugh. But don’t laugh too much – because as the pamphlet in the Photomaton said, “Il ne faut pas rigoler avec vos photos de passporte.”

With my new photographs (in which I looked like I may have immigrated from Slovakia…), photocopies of passports, and a letter from my landlord saying I was “heberge” or sheltered in his “domicile” (plus a copy of his passport and the electricity bill – let’s not be hasty), I was ready for the visit to the prefecture on Wednesday, February 20. Fortunately I found out that I did not need an appointment, so I showed up at noon after my morning babysitting.

I sat in a dingy waiting room with a couple of Africans and a Russian couple. I was the second person in line, despite having arrived in the middle of the day. I guess no one is coming to the country in winter. The woman who called me to her window could have had a bit role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I should not describe her here (“or else”). She inspected all my documents, typed me into the official French computer, and voila! gave me a recipisse proving I’d applied.

The recipisse is a document that basically says I’m applying for legal residence in France. It’s a hold-over document until I get my actual carte de sejour, which won’t happen until I have my appointment with at the Prefecture de Police on Ile de la Cite. I was so nervous that my appointment would be during my trip to Malta, but I needn’t have worried – it’s in June.

That deserves its own paragraph and some repetition. My appointment for my carte de sejour, to allow me to live legally in France, is in June. June is the month I am leaving France. I will get my carte de sejour (at the price of 275 euros, or $412, thank you very much) in June. And then I will leave. My appointment is on June 5, but I’m not sure I actually get the carte de sejour that day. All I know is I have to show up with all of my documents, plus photocopies, my French-by-birth husband, and the contents of my wallet. June 30 is the date I fly back to the U.S.

Now you are going to ask me this: If it costs so much, and it’s right before you leave, why not just skip it? Well, I will tell you why. THE FRENCH WILL FIND OUT, AND THEY WILL PUNISH ME. If you learn nothing else from this blog post, I hope you gain a healthy respect and appropriate fear of the French bureaucracy. I don’t know what would happen, but I would hate to find out later in life – say when my as-yet-unborn children’s French citizenship applications are denied. Hell, or my own citizenship application. Or when I try to permanently relocate to the South of France, and they say, “Hmmm, but you didn’t follow the rules last time you moved here. Je crois que ca va pas etre possible.” I don’t have to know what the “or else” is. It’s out there.

You’re backing away with your hands held out to have this crazy paranoid lady keep her distance, and that’s okay. In fact, I will be keeping my distance because, after my entry visa runs out on March 20, I’m not allowed to leave the country until I get my carte de sejour. Well, I’m allowed to leave…if I apply for a visa with the French government. I’m just thankful my entry visa runs as long as it does, so I can still go to Malta with my parents in a week and a half! But after that, I’m under French house arrest.

I could have worse problems.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Posted in Daily life, Les français tagged American, Berthillon, carte de sejour, France, French, legal, Paris, prefecture at 12:03 am by Lauren Thursday I had a rendez-vous at the prefecture for my carte de sejour, or residence card. I’ve been looking forward to this appointment since February. […]


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