Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Becoming Legal

France is very fussy about who gets to stay here. State-paid items such as (universal) health care, education, early retirement, extensive maternity leave, and unemployment benefits are pricey. Unemployment is high. Immigration is high.

A non-European Union passport allows one to stay in France (or other EU country) for up to 3 months. Longer than that and you need a visa. A visitor visa is different than a work visa. Either requires application in one’s home country many months prior to entry.

We had our visa appointments in February at the French Consulate in San Fran. I read the website carefully for the documents required and brought an overabundance of copies. Each consulate operates independently but within the bounds of French law. What that means is the consulates have fonctionnaires that follow the rules but bend them to common sense or the situation sitting in front of them. Our visa process went smoothly and a February appointment for a July departure was not too early. Our passports were held and mailed back to us within the 2 month window. We were allowed an exception for applying for the Carte de Séjour (one must begin this process within a week after arrival in France) as we wouldn’t be at our home address until September.

We applied to the Mairie in Fréjus within a week of arrival. The Office des Étrangers is actually in an annex of the mayor’s office, in a rather ugly area of town, but right next to a bright little flower shop. We were given a list of more papers and photos to bring in. Slightly different list than those for the visa. We had to have even more passport photos. The local megagrocery store has a photo booth for such a purpose. Unfortunately our photos look like criminals. I gave them a mixed selection of photos--the new hideous ones and the ones we brought from home which were much more attractive, and hoped for the best. We walked out with a paper and photo stapled to it affirming what we had submitted. Too bad the photos were the good ones, what a waste. We were not asked for any money. What a surprise.

After a couple months we hadn’t heard anything. I do believe the Lady at the Desk told me we’d be getting a receipt in the mail. At this point in the year I dreaded talking on the phone because it’s so difficult to decipher, I hate asking for constant repetitions, and then usually getting the info wrong. So we headed back to inquire. Same Lady at the Desk who looked into it and something happened because I got my medical appointment in the mail.

Next came medical appointments. After being here 5 months it was now time to go to the public health office and prove we weren’t infecting the country with TB. I got my letter for an appointment in Marseille. For the next week. Rick had no letter yet. With Laurent’s phone help we changed the appointments to Nice, and had them both on the same day. Back to Nice! Michelle helped out with Irie, who did not have to deal with any of this. (Like all cultural events, kids get in free.) At the public health clinic (ugly building, ugly part of town, but actually a beautiful mountain backdrop) we sat with 3 young Asian immigrants who appeared to be monks-in-training, with their mentors. There was a very efficient rotation between nurse, doctor and radiologist. A chest xray is required. We did not have immunization cards but they took us at our word for our last tetanus shot. Nor do we have livres de santé, which I guess is a book of health each French citizen keeps, to note such. I have a chart. It is in my doctor’s office. I have insurance papers. They are called Explanation of Benefits and are in a file cabinet, in a storage locker, in the outskirts of Medford, Oregon. But those missing notes were really no big deal, this is, after all, the south.

I did not pass the chest xray. I had a spot on my lung, the size of a small raisin. I told the doctor I believed it had been there a long time, based on vague memories of a chest xray done long ago. Records of which were in Oregon. She said it didn’t look worrisome, but that she couldn’t pass me, and that I had to see a lung specialist, in Nice. We didn’t have to pay anything for these appointments and I was told there would be no charge for the visit to the pulmonologist. Rick passed and got his medical ok. As much as I love Nice, this is getting to be tedious.

We go back to Lady at the Desk in Fréjus. My carte is ready, but I can’t have it because I haven’t passed the medical yet. Rick has his medical ok but his carte isn’t ready yet because he needs proof of income. What? We did that to get the visas! In San Fran! We didn’t press the issue about “Why didn’t anyone notify us?” and instead posed the curious question of why my carte didn’t require this. It seems only the husband has to have enough money!! Since we proved the income for the visa I was surprised we had to do it again, buy hey, we’re not working, what better to do than dowload and copy off our bank statements. The current rule for income is $1800/per person/month, adults only. We’d now been here 5 months. Did we have to prove we were worthy back to July? Just worthy from here on out? I gave them June and November and hoped they’d figure that the gross reduction between the two meant we were living it up and spending it up in France, and boy, were we welcome guests. This visit was worthwhile in that we did receive our receipts that we had applied. We thought it would be nice to have something official since we’d be travelling to another country/continent and we really hoped to get back into France.

An aside: Unlike previous visits we had to wait a couple minutes at this one. I used the time to straighten the pathetically hung Christmas garland. It seriously looked like they had just grabbed handfuls out of the box and whipped them onto the tree.

Back again to Nice, thanks again to Michelle for loaning the car, and managing Irie. The pulmonologist is located in a pretty location in the center of town. Before the appointment I was able to track down the reading of a chest xray I had in 1997 that described the small granuloma (scar) in the same location. The pulm. was glad I had that info, looked at my xray, talked to me, and cleared me after reassuring me it was nothing to worry about. After a bit of tourist activity (another beautiful day in Nice), we then went back to government-ugly public health to get the valuable health ok form.

Back to Lady at the Desk. Yes, she does recognize us by now. We check to make sure Rick’s carte is ready, it is. And she reminds us we have to bring our tax stamps (275€ each) with our health letters to be able to get the cartes. She’s got them in her hand, they’re right there, just over the counter.... But now it’s time to pay.

The receipts (and I gather the whole application) expire January 22nd. It is tempting to never pay the stamps, let the cartes sit at The Desk, and leave in July knowing the bureacracy won’t catch up to us by then. But there is something about being a legal long term visitor, that we are worthy of it, openly and bureaucratically accepted in France. France, the most notorious country in terms of red tape, and we figured it out!

We finally find the Hôtel des Impôts and write a check for 550€. Rick dutifully attached the stamps (5 each) to our forms. Back to Lady at the Desk. We hand over our stamps and health letters, she gives us our cartes. With the criminal pictures. I have until July something to get out of the country, or reapply, which I would have to do in May. Rick’s carte is good until October. Why?

Nathalie says “La bureaucratie n’est pas une légende” meaning it’s not a myth or a fable. It’s real. Oh yeah, it’s real.


William said...

Good thing you have patience. I would have have gone nuts, well maybe not, knowing it was the government.
At least more than halfway thru your stay you and Rick are now legal.
Again, another great post by a pair of good authors.
Dad Browne

Rick said...

It's much easier to manage these things when I look at it as "an experience." The title of the blog (thanks Rick) was really effective at reminding us to see everything we do as a learning experience. So now I call my friend Nath instead of email so I can get the phone experience. I use the wait at the post office (sometimes I'm 10th in line) to listen to conversations and read the billboards. I keep going back to the megastore to reorder the washing machine part even though I'm perfectly content opening the door with a screwdriver. Rick returned a coat he bought on sale, had cut the tags off, and had taken off the faux fur hat liner--successfully! We turn the otherwise banal into something that helps us learn and grow.

strive4impact said...

Hey Lisa and Rick!

Awesome blog and awesome lifestyle you are living there in France. Congratulations on taking the plunge and living life to the fullest!

One thing... in your picture here, you may want to block out your numbers (at the bottom of the pases). I've been helping people deal with Identity Theft since 2003, and while there's no 100% effective way to stop it from happening to you, blacking out the numbers on your passes is generally a good idea.

Thanks again for being an awesome example of what people can be and do in the world!


Jonathan Kraft