If you didn’t pick up on the sarcasm in the title, it probably means you haven’t had the pleasure of applying for your carte de séjour (residency card). Or you live in a magical place where things run smoothly. The process is simple in theory: You make an appointment, you submit your papers, you wait, then your card is ready and you come back, pay and happily go on your way with your new card. But things don’t always work out that way….
The joys of applying for your 10-year residence card in France
The French get a lot of things in life right. They understand the importance of vacation time and a good work/life balance, have some of the best food and wine in the world, have affordable medical care and I could go on and on. But anything having to do with the bureaucracy like renewing a carte de séjour? Nope. France has major room for improvement.
As you might already know, Americans who marry a French national get a visa before moving to France which is valid for a year. Once that year is up, you renew and get a residence card in France called a carte de séjour — which gives us foreigners the legal right to live and work in France. It has all the usual stuff like a picture, your name, nationality, date of birth and an expiration date. Oh, and a cute little hologram.
After you’ve been married three years, you’re eligible for a 10-year card which means you don’t have to make yearly visits to the prefecture to deal with all this nonsense. This year I became eligible for my 10-year card and was excited to fork over 260 euros just to not have to see these people anymore to renew. But they try to make it as maddening as possible for all involved. (And I know it’s no cake walk for foreigners trying to get a Green Card in the US either. Sara’s husband Gregory is going through that now.)
My old residency card expired in December but they ask that you make an appointment for the renewal a couple of months in advance. Being the rule follower that I am, I made an appointment in October via the email address provided on the prefecture’s website. But the reply back a whole week later told me that I had to go to Angers to take care of the paperwork — not where I live.
That didn’t make sense because the last time I was able to take care of this in my town, yet there was only one email address on the damn prefecture’s web site funneling all inquiries (regardless of where you live in the Maine-et-Loire region) to Angers. Super. After a three-day wait for a reply email, they got me squared away with an appointment in my town for the first week of December. This all seemed to be going too well.
To weed out any sham marriages, they require the French spouse to accompany the spouse renewing which meant Tom had to take his morning off from work. This was all arranged ahead of time and we proudly showed up on that December day 10 minutes in advance with all our paperwork and a very eager Dagny (yes, she comes too. The lady likes her). Remember, we made this appointment in October.
Upon making our way to the welcome desk, I noticed the mood of the prefecture was eerily quiet. Were they closed? No. But I was promptly told the woman who we were set to meet with JUST went out on an extended medical leave. As in yesterday. Fan-flipping-tastic. Surely, they’d have someone else in her place? Not a chance.
Apparently the only woman who can help us with a renewal is now on leave and we have to make a new appointment in Angers (of course!) — which is done only via email and my card is now expiring in a couple of weeks.
There’s a two-month wait for a new appointment. And no one seems to care.
The guy at the welcome desk refused to call Angers to help squeeze me in, even though I was hoping a call from him would be more effective than a call from a random American. He said that nope, we have to follow the rules and email.
At this point, Tom was annoyed and asked why no one called or emailed to let us know our appointment was cancelled and that he’d taken off work for this. The guy said he didn’t have our info, although I kindly pointed out my dossier (and the one from last year nicely filed away in his cabinet) had all of that info. He just stared at me and blinked. Then he blinked again. And shrugged. Incompetency at its finest, folks.
I just laughed at our little predicament because OF COURSE this wouldn’t go smoothly. I laugh a lot because I hate crying in public and those really are the only two options.
Exasperated, I looked over to my right to the area where they handle car registrations and the two ladies who work there were chatting up a storm at their desks, without a customer in sight. Dagny caught the one lady’s eye and she said to her colleague, “Oh look at the little dog! Come here puppy!” So Dagny ran over and the ladies clearly had no work to do because they played with Dagny for 10 minutes, no lie. Yet we had to now make an appointment to go to Angers to get the damn card even though they seemed short on work.
So we made the appointment the following week after pleading via email for them to help us out and make us an appointment sooner rather than later. Tom took off work again, signed off on everything and the guy handling my renewal (who works about 2 hours/day, seriously) said, “If your request is accepted, you’ll have to come back here to Angers to pick it up.” Awesome. You can’t just send it to my town? Nope, we do it here. So now my card is ready, and when I have the time to run over to Angers between the hours of 10 and 12 on a Tuesday or Thursday, I can have my shiny, new 10-year carte de séjour. Just have to do it before March 23. No sweat. I hope they don’t lose it in the meantime.
Mary Z says
What a headache! This sounds like the typical difference between the way French and American people work. As an American working at a French Consulate, I noticed their relaxed attitude toward people’s predicaments, and I naturally felt anxiety, wanting to help expedite things. I do love how they never change, though. They sure aren’t becoming nervous workaholics. I wish I could be so relaxed and take the stress right out of everything!
I’m with you about feeling anxiety and wanting to help, with a lot of things. Like customer service in the US is no joke — the customer is always right and you have to help take care of their needs right away because if not maybe they’ll blast you on social media or a news station. You’re right that the French seem much more relaxed with people’s issues. Not sure if it’s good or bad. Leaning toward bad though. Just the other day, Tom was speaking to a cust svc rep at Bouygues on the phone and it was 20 min before they closed for the night. Our issue is ongoing and the call could have continued but the rep told him at 8:59 that they were shutting all the lights off and she had to go. In the US, I think they would have stayed until the customer service issue was resolved.
What type of work do you do at the Consulate? Thanks for stopping by!
The bureaucracy is a problem in all countries around the world I think… When I was in Switzerland it was the sae thing, now in the US I have a lot of problem to get my employment authorization card… and I heard to get a green card (with a marriage) is worst….
Good luck with the administration!
Yah, not easy anywhere! You’d think by 2015, these necessary and rather simple processes would be much more streamlined, right? The process for a green card in the US if your spouse is American is pretty straightforward — it’s just costly and takes FOREVER! And thank you!
This made me laugh a lot, thank you. I keep wondering when France will embrace the digital age and abandon the good old tampon, or indeed ask its public services to run to a timetable that suits the public. But you have to admit that your feelings of exasperation are part of the charm…
It’s really nutty sometimes! But glad the post made you laugh. 😉 The funny thing is I’ve never been asked to prove my legal status here except at the aiport on my way back to France. But I follow rules so I’ll go pick up my damn card. Thanks for checking out the post!
annie vanderven says
Oh yes, try to renew your passport(french) if you live in the US and you are ill , and you still have to present yourself, regardless of circumstance… this is going to take a while!!!! believe me it is the same if you are a citizen, bureaucracy is the bane of french life.
I see you go to Angers, I was born in Saumur and went to university in Angers….
Wishing you a great deal of patience.
Ugh, I feel your pain. The whole hassle of yearly renewal (I couldn’t apply for the 10 year card) plus wanting to be able to vote were the main reasons I applied for citizenship. What a relief!
Congratulations on successfully navigating the bureaucracy for your ten year Carte de Sejour! WooHoo! This post was especially meaningful as we just did the second renewal for our one year cards – with a fair amount of drama because of us moving residences and changing jurisdictions between two Prefectures. Already anticipating the “fun” for next year’s renewal and making notes to anticipate issues next time. Sami the MinPin is very jealous that Dagny was welcomed at your Prefecture. Sami had to stay home on our visits.
Sara @ Simply Sara Travel says
I just have to laugh with you – what a story! I love the guy who is just blankly staring at you when you point out your contact info, and just shrugs. I would say unbelievable, but it unfortunately is believable having to go to the prefecture myself!
My last time in the prefecture was less painful than yours, but still inefficient. For the second year in a row, I had to get fingerprinted. At the same office. Pretty sure my prints haven’t changed!
Congrats on getting your 10-year card, when you do in fact get it! 🙂
Lucky that in France you can get a 10 year Card. I USED to have a 10 year card for Austria (I am American, living in Austria with Austrian husband and kids) but they now only have 5 year cards (they cut the time but definitely did not cut the price or hassle!)
It’s nice (horrible) to hear that French bureaucracy is just as irritating as ever.This post gave my spine chilling flashbacks to dealing with the CAF…
Here in Spain I’ve been waiting to hear about my appointment for residency for 2 months! Things aren’t much better ’round here.
Hi Ashley! Sorry to hear you’re having some trouble in Spain. I hope they get back to you soon. It seems like bureaucracy struggles are alive and well everywhere although for me, France seems the worst. But that’s just because I’m “in it” and living through it now. But I know it’s not easy in Spain or the US or anywhere. Oh well, we can commiserate together. 😉
Annie Andre says
I had no idea that you still had to renew your visa yearly if you were married to a French person.
In your post you mentioned that usually you did it in your home town rather than going to the prefecture in Angers. Where in your town did they handle it? La Mairie?
We just moved from Toulon prefecture to Montpellier and we cant even get an appointment. We used to be able to do it by showing up and setting an appointment but In Montpellier they only have set appointments for 3 weeks in the future and when those fill up you have to wait until sunday at midnight to when the system refreshes to nab one of the few appointment spots. 2 weeks here trying and i still cant get a DAMN appointment.
Yup, only the first 3 years and then you get the 10-year card, phew! There’s a sous-prefecture in my town that used to handle my renewal but the procedure changed.
Ugh, I hope you get an appointment soon. It seems like that’s always a problem everywhere. In the USA too, trying to get an appt at the consulate was like roulette with the online scheduling system. Hang in there. How do you like Montpellier? I hear it’s nice 😉 Enjoy your weekend!
Annie Andre says
It is a bit like roulette isnt it.
i love Montpellier so far. Loads of things to do, great transportation. Plenty of food options. However cannot find a descen outdoor market like we used to have in our town of la garde. I have to go to Monoprix or drive my car out of the city to Carrefour.
Awesome, so glad you like it! I drove through Montpellier one day but never spent any time there. Will have to go back. I hope you find a market you like soon. Although I wish I had a Monoprix nearby. Love that place!
This is good to read, if only to know everyone else goes through the same thing! I’m preparing a dossier de mariage with my French fiance, and while the woman we’ve been working with at the mairie in Bordeaux has been great so far, I just know there will be something before this is all said and done. Did you and Tom get married in France, or in the States? Thanks for posting and keep writing!
Hi Laura, we got married in the USA. Seemed way less complicated! Best of luck to you!
Karla LIndquist says
What a headache. Sorry for your troubles.
I am due to renew my Carte de Sejour in 10 days. It expires in 11. I will have been married 3 years in 30 days. So I know I have this 19 day issue, falling that many days short of being eligible for this 10 year card, which I desperately want.
Given we all seem to never have either the right people at the location this happens or some documents are forgotten, I am hoping they at least reschedule me and in that extra wait time I become eligible without penalty.
Can you tell me what they wanted you to bring? I know photos, the old Carte de Sejour, passport/birth certificate and copies of both, the livre de famille…and of course my french husband. But is anything else needed?
I hope your renewal goes smoothly. So much depends on the particular prefecture that handles your case. To be sure since it’s been a while since my renewal, it’s best to contact your prefecture to get up to date info on what’s required. Not sure they all ask for the same things. If my memory serves, I know I needed a certified translation of anything in English so my birth certificate and marriage certificate. And then a bunch of copies of my passport, proof that I did the OFII seminar, etc.
Thanks for stopping by and good luck!
sounds easy enough, although we’ve all said that to be schooled differently.
it irks to me to have to provide the same papers over and over. fortunately we were married in france, but they made us get a coutume in paris for some stupid reason. 300 euros for a lawyer to look at our stuff and say ‘sure’. had to pay another 150 for translation of the birth cert and it wasn’t actually translated. that person just stamped another ‘sure’ somewhere, if i remember correctly.
they know how to keep pointless people in business here 😀
thanks for the info. i think i will visit the prefecture and see what’s required.
And now one must pass a language test for the 10 year card, including spoken and writing exam sections, with at least A2 level. The exam results expire in two years if you choose the easiest test. The harder DELF versions are for life but quite a bit more prep work is required. This is getting expensive….