Bureaucracy in France: Frustrating for Foreigners and the French

Every year in March I have to renew my residency card in France. This involves collecting paperwork and a trip to the préfecture with David (since I am a resident of France thanks to the fact that we are PACSed) at least two months before the current carte de séjour expires. Every encounter with the préfecture has been an adventure since my arrival in France and sometimes I’m glad that David has to be with me to do it so he can see what l’administration française is like for foreigners.

Since this was a renouvellement and not a première demande, I didn’t need very many documents. My préfecture has still not updated their paperwork to include PACSé(e) as an option for situation de famille even though it is 12 years old and the list of documents isn’t very clear since they tend to group all carte de séjours together (étudiant, visiteur, vie privée, etc.), but this year I only provided the following papers in addition to four ID photos for my vie privée et familiale card:

  1. Copy of my carte de séjour, visa and passport (including pages of passport that have stamps – though they didn’t even check my actual passport to verify I had made copies of everything)
  2. Copy of David’s passport
  3. Proof of address (I gave them our last 3 rent receipts since our last EDF bill was dated May 2010)
  4. Proof of income (I gave them our last tax return)
  5. Proof of PACS (instead of livret de famille that is normally required for married couples; I got a new one from the TGI in Paris instead of using the original)
  6. Attestation de communauté de vie (provided by the préfecture; needs to be signed by both PACS partners)

My fingers are crossed that they don’t need anything else and that I can receive my carte de séjour – after paying 110€ for it, of course – which will be valid until May 2012.  After the préfecture, we headed to the town hall so David could renew his identity card. French citizens still get national ID cards though I’m not really sure why they are necessary if you also have a passport for travel and your driver’s license for ID. Anyway, he only needed to show his old ID card and proof of address then fill out one form and hand over two photos to order his free identity card, valid for another 10 years. But for once, renewing my carte de séjour was actually easier (and less annoying) than David trying to renew his ID card.

The woman working at the town hall was nice, but very insistent that David’s photos would not be accepted because of some mysterious dots that neither David nor I could see. There were five photos to choose from and she was really afraid that none of them would be good enough because of the invisible marks that she kept pointing to with her scissors. Then she explained that if she sent those photos (to Paris, of course), the file would probably be sent back, and that would take an extra month – not to mention require them to ::gasp:: call David to inform him. She made it sound like it would be so much work for them and that David should just go waste another 5€ on stupid photos right then. But David said no, send the photos and if it comes back, it comes back. The whole time I just sat there quietly trying not to laugh at this  lady who saw spots that weren’t there and the idea that the photos would be rejected even though they get scanned, turned into black and white, and have squiggly lines over them when the card is finally made, so even if the spots were there, how in the world would it matter?  Which is worse, a speck of dust in the background or a bunch of RF symbols covering your face?

Bureaucracy in France: Frustrating for Foreigners and the FrenchID card sample from Riquewihr.fr

She also did not want to take the February rent receipt as proof of address and took the EDF bill, though it was nearly a year old. Most of the time when you need to prove where you live, an EDF bill that is less than 3 months old is requested. The problem is that most of the time EDF does not send you regular bills each month. Since we have the amount due deducted from our checking account each month, we only receive a list of the monthly installments once a year in the spring. The préfecture won’t accept anything from EDF if it’s less than 3 months old because you could have moved in the meantime (and this is also why you usually need to request recent proof of PACS since you could have gotten dePACSed in the meantime as well.) Yet the mairie accepted our EDF bill from May 2010 because the monthly installments were listed through May 2011. It didn’t matter that we could have moved anytime over the past year and still claim to live there – the fact that it was a document from EDF was all that mattered. I still don’t understand how an 8 month old EDF paper trumps a 1 day old rent receipt for proof of address…

Upon leaving the mairie, David started complaining about how ridiculous that was and I responded with: Welcome to my world. At least he only has to renew his ID card every 10 years. I just applied for my 8th residency card in 4.5 years, and David only had to be with me for about a quarter of the times that I’ve had to go to the préfecture and deal with fonctionnaires who didn’t know what they were doing. So thank you, France, for not discriminating against foreigners when it comes to bureaucracy. It’s nice to know that even French citizens have to go through the same frustrating experiences when dealing with French administration!

  • Lol. My boyfriend, who does electrical inspections, finds the intense trust in EDF ridiculous too. They wanted my EDF bill rather than my phone bill last year as well.

    Nicely timed article too Jenny! Am back to dealing with French bureaucracy for the concours at the moment and I. hate. it.

  • Now that I’ve been married four years I can apply for a ten-year card. Perhaps it’s the same for PACS? Don’t get me started on my Préfecture adventures!

  • MilkJam

    a driver’s license is not a technically a valid form of ID in France, plus not everyone has one. Passports costs money and therefore there is the ID card option, it is free and allows you to travel within Europe.

    has the price of the CdS gone up??? fingers crossed I can get nationality before I have to renew in June… oh and MG has never had to go back to renew my CdS after the initial request for the vie privee et familiale… goes to show you how there is no consistency across France when it comes to things like that, I just renewed mine by myself with very few documents at our local mairie (much to the confusion of the poor lady who had never had to deal with it in our little town of 500 people…!)

    • Luckily David’s been able to use his driver’s license for ID since he doesn’t want to carry his passport with him everywhere. I guess my point was, if you already have a licence and passport, then is it absolutely necessary to get an ID card? Is there any time where you would need the card instead of a passport? I just don’t understand people who don’t have passports, I guess. How can you not want to go abroad?

      Yeah, the CDS prices went up last year. It’s now 340€ for visiteurs/conjoints for the visa validation (though students and salarié prices stayed the same), and 110€ for any CDS renewal after that.

      Whenever I had to deal with the mairie instead of the préfecture, they had no idea what to do either. I was their first PACSed foreigner and they just believed everything I told them, from what I had read online. It was great. lol

  • Andromeda

    My bf totally hates the bureaucracy here too, but I think part of the reason is that until we started living together, his mom had done everything so he didn’t know how! He had never been to the CAF or sécu buildings, so I had to show him where they are, explain the best time to go, etc. Lol. I guess it’d be the opposite if we lived in the states, but somehow I have a feeling I’d still end up doing everything for him . . .

    • Ha, I’m lucky that David knows how to do things on his own, but yeah sometimes I have to tell him how to deal with the people or where exactly to go since he doesn’t have to do nearly as many administrative things as me.

  • Have you ever read this book? I was immediately reminded of it upon seeing the title of your post and frankly what you claimed to have experienced sounds kind of mild compared to what this guy went through in Paris. Also, good read and very funny, I read it about 6 months ago and I think you’ll enjoy it (I think of it every time you post something complaining about the bureaucracy or customer service in France).


  • Zhu

    I remember when I had my last French carte d’identité renewed (that was over ten years ago, mine expired but I don’t care anymore) the woman wouldn’t accept my pictures because of something to do with my hair. I think I had a haircut or something (nothing drastic) and it didn’t look like me. Total BS… I mean, I was a teen, I could have easily decided to shave my head or color my hair purple a day after getting the carte d’identité anyway 😆

    • Exactly! Do they expect people to never change their hairstyle??

  • Mtusim

    So true, so true. I usually leave half the time in tears..

    • The last few times haven’t been that bad for me. They were actually nice and didn’t ask for more documents!

  • alex

    Carte d’Identité: You are french and you are who you are.
    Permis de conduire: You are who you are and you can drive class ABC..
    Passport: You are french and you are actually allowed to travel abroad 😉

    In Germany the Carte d’Identité is as well proof of your residence and features your address.

    • Unfortunately sometimes the carte d’identité isn’t good enough to prove that you are French. Some offices also require a justificatif de nationalité française!

      • FrenchGuy_in_NYC

        I recently read that the law had changed and that une carte d’identité would be as much of a proof of your French citizenship as a passport now.

  • Well, you could get married. Then you’ll get a 10 year card. Worked for me!

    • You have to be married for 3 years before you can get a carte de résident. Being PACSed doesn’t count, which I find awfully unfair…

      • Collagecottage

        Not for me it didn’t. Maybe some law has changed since. I changed my yearly renewable card when it expired the year after we married and received a 10 year titre de séjour. No problem.

  • I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard about it. I think it would just make me more annoyed by French bureaucracy since I know it’s usually worse in Paris! I’m so glad I don’t live there.

  • Just wanted to thank you for a great site with plenty of good advice regarding English lessons (I’m helping a youngster prepare for his “oral du bac”).

    However, reading your blog, I can sympathize with you: today, my British husband and I had one of those Kafka moments. We closed our SARL in December but we gave the only copy of an important document to the Chamber of Commerce, so we went back to the CCI today to get a copy of it.
    Well, after wandering around in this maze, we finally got to the Greffe’s office. The lady searched for the document online, printed it out and then charged us 9.33€. Why do we have to pay for a document we provided in the first place?? She stamped it 3 times with various stamps, then told us to go to another office down the corridor to get it signed. There we waited 5 minutes before the lady acknowledged us and reluctantly signed the document to make it “valid” without even looking at the content. We should have put a will to leave us all her belongings, ah ah!

    By the way, if one fonctionnaire does not give you the answer you want, come back another day or try a different one, I often find it works as they interpret or bend the rules…

    • Glad my site has helped you out! Your story with the greffier doesn’t surprise me too much. lol ah France.

  • Moeez12345

    What does the back look like?

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