If you’ve decided to move to Paris and to live here long-term, you will have to encounter French bureaucracy one way or another. Re-newing your visa to live in France is an annual headache that I am still trying to find the magic trick to avoid. I have finally gotten my Carte de Séjour (temporary residence card) after many months of back and forth to the prefecture ( I started the process June 2015).
Regardless of the type of visa, the hassle of going to the prefecture is the same. So far I have gone through almost every visa process from student, to APS (allows you to stay 1 years after your studies to look for work), now I have a Working/Vie Privée/ Familiale visa (for families, spouses, or if you’re PACS). Instead of going on a rant of my horror stories at the prefecture, I complied a list of useful tips, I have discovered along the way to make your visa renewal process less of a nightmare.
10 Tips to Visa Renewal
First things first, it is crucial to be prepared when you are going through your visa renewal process. Sadly the instructions are a bit ambiguous on the internet, so make sure you are following the correct guidelines, within the correct time frames. It is also good idea to make sure the information is as up to date as possible because the process and rules are constantly changing. For students Campus France is a helpful website and Service-Public is a good resource for all other visas.
2. Start Early
As I mentioned earlier I am just receiving my carte de séjour (Feb 2016), and I started the process in June 2015. Due to various trips, of not having the right documents (that weren’t magically on their list), their staff forgetting to sign off on my documents, and longer wait times for appointments due to summer holidays, you have to take these things into account. It is best to give yourself a 6 month window of starting your visa renewals process before your actual visa expires. Don’t wait until the date your visa expires to begin your renewal process. Renewal appointments are in high demand, and there is often a delay in appointment availability depending on the time of year.
3. Anticipate documents
You are often given a list of documents you need to bring such as passport, proof of enrollment in school, proof of residence, bank statements, proof of residency, and the list goes on. As much as I try to stay positive and try to see the best in people, I secretly feel the people at the prefecture are out to get you! Try to anticipate documents they may ask you for that aren’t on the list, such as a copy of your diploma, extra forms of support for proof of residency, as many forms of support you can bring just in case the better.
4. Be your own best advocate
I have learned people at the prefecture like to say NO more quickly than they tend to say yes, and they aren’t the nicest to foreigners. Don’t let them intimidate you. If you aren’t confident with your level of French try to have someone go with you to help translate and make sure you fully understand everything.Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and challenge their responses to get the necessary information you need. Which leads me to the next point…
5. Exaggerate/ Embellish
Don’t be afraid to embellish or exaggerate your circumstance. For example, my visa expired in August (during summer holidays), and when I tried to make an appointment a 3 months in advance (which I thought was early), and they told me the earliest appointment available was in October. I went to the prefecture to request an ‘advancement de rendez vous’ ( advancement of appointment), and they told me I would have to write a letter to the director of the prefecture ( of which I knew would never been read). So I went almost every day, explained I wouldn’t be able to work in the period between the time my visa expired and my next appointment, I elaborated a story about something I can’t even remember. Finally, they got tired of me coming in, and one day someone finally said YES, and I got an earlier appointment. Do what you got to do! Cry, look up legal jargon in French and pose it in away as if they are violating some sort of law, create fantasy travel plans where you need your documents before you leave for your trip. I’ve done all of these things and they tend to work!
6. Persistence and Patients
The two P’s persistence and patience are very key. I think its best to expect the worse, and come to peace that you won’t get the things you need within your ideal timeline. Taking that into account, you have to constantly follow up, your documents will get lost and you may have to provide the same document you provided over 3x, but hey its all a part of the fun of living in France.
7. Don’t throw anything away
Hold on to any documents you receive from the prefecture, or important documents they may ask you for from you studies, work, OFII appointment. My most recent visa renewal process, they asked me for a piece of paper from 3 years ago that I am pretty much sure I probably threw away. After days of digging I finally found it. So keep everything, you never know when you will need it.
8. Double triple check your documents
When you spend hours waiting to be called for your appointment, and you have finally met with someone, you’re so anxious to leave the prefecture. Make sure to properly read and verify the documents they give you. For example, I received a ‘récépissé’ ( temporary visa) during the time I was waiting for my actual carte de séjour. I was working, and still had the right to work with this visa, and they printed I didn’t have the right to work. I didn’t think to double check, and got a call from my boss that the temporary visa I provided states I didn’t have the right to work. I of course had to make another trip to the prefecture, they made a mistake of course, and in the end I got things sorted. Save yourself the unnecessary stress and trip, and double check everything before signing or leaving.
9. Keep Calm & Polite
As frustrating as the visa renewal process may be, it is best to keep your cool, and manage a way to find a way to communicate with a smile even if the people at the prefecture are pissing you off. You don’t want to tell someone off, and then your next appointment you have that same person and they try to screw you over. It really sucks how much power the staff at the prefecture have to impact your life, and ability to stay in Paris, so keep that in mind and try and stay on what little of a good side they have.
10. Stay positive
Sorry for my rather pessimistic view of the process. The process is no walk in the park but there are ways around it, such as these tips I provided. Try not to stress, and stay positive. It may take time, you may want to punch someone in the process but everything will work out in the end. Take me for example, I have made it through almost every visa renewal process, and all the hassle is worth in the end when you get to stay another year in Paris.
Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have specific questions on how to transition to staying in France after your studies, or how to switch to a Working visa or PACS visa. I’ve been through it all and would love to help you make your transition a breeze.
#LaVieLocale #Local Guide to Paris