I accomplished two major things today! First, I was right about the préfecture losing my new carte de séjour. Of course they blamed it on the post office, but the fact remains that it was lost more than 6 weeks ago and no one told me. But I did get a new récépissé valid for 3 months. Second, I managed to turn in all of the paperwork to exchange my driver’s license. It was honestly the easiest thing I have done in France.
Part 1: Staying Legal in France
David & I arrived at the préfecture at exactly 8:30 this morning, only to find out the hours on the website were wrong and they open at 8:45. Anyway, the man helping us was actually rather nice and he searched through several files trying to find my new card. Then he noticed that there was a note on my file that clearly stated my card had been sent to the mairie of Meythet on June 20. (We had lived in Meythet until June and I filled out my paperwork for renewal there, but now that we live in Cran, we have to go directly to the prefecture instead of the local mairie.) However, we had called the mairie two days ago and asked if it had arrived yet. The answer was no.
The man was “absolutely certain” that the card was in Meythet, so we drove there to find out the card had never arrived (we suspected this). Either the prefecture screwed up on sending it to Meythet, the post office lost it between Annecy and Meythet, or the mail people in Meythet are morons and misplaced it. Or perhaps someone stole it from the post office and my card is now being sold on the black market (that’s David’s idea). The woman in Meythet even told us they somehow lost 7 cartes de séjour in one year (and this is just for the tiny town of Meythet) because “the post office never delivered them.”
So we returned to the préfecture where the nice man apologized for the card being lost. But he did mention that whenever the cards are sent in the mail, they are always sent in regular envelopes (not registered or insured or anything) because the government is too cheap to pay for that. So it’s no wonder how/why the cards are lost all the time. Anyway, he quickly made me another récépissé so that I will have another 3 months of being legal here. I should receive my new card within 6 weeks and it shouldn’t get lost this time since I will pick it up at the préfecture instead of it being sent to the mairie of another town. Plus the expiration date on it will be March 27, 2008 which is perfect since I can apply for the carte de séjour vie privée et familiale in February.
So the moral of the story is to live within the jurisdiction of the préfecture, otherwise your card will most likely get lost in the mail on its way to the mairie.
Part 2: How to Exchange an American Driver’s License for a French License
Even after the pleasantness of my experience at the bureau des étrangers and getting a new récépissé, I was still afraid to try to exchange my license. I was so afraid they would tell me that a récépissé isn’t good enough and that I’d have to wait for my actual card, which I might not receive until after the one year grace period is up. Luckily for me, they had no problems accepting the récépissé and I was able to turn in all the required paperwork this afternoon.
If your American driver’s license is from one of the 14 magic states (Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina or Virginia), you can exchange your American license for a French license without having to take any written or road tests. You just need to exchange it before you have been living in France for one year. However, if you have a carte de séjour étudiant, you won’t be able to exchange your license because students already have the right to drive in France regardless of how long they’ve been here. If you stay in France after you’ve finished your studies and change to a different carte (salariée, visiteur, vie privée et familiale, etc.), you can exchange your license within the first year of that carte de séjour’s validity. I have no idea how this exchange works for other countries, so check your embassy’s website for information on driving in France.
Then you will need to bring these papers to the Circulation department of your préfecture, as well as fill out one very short paper just asking basic information (name, address, place of birth, etc.):
1. Photocopy of your carte de séjour (front and back)
2. Photocopy of your passport
3. Two photographs
4. DISTINGO envelope bought from post office for 1,66 €
5. American driver’s license (yes, this means you won’t have it anymore when/if you visit/move back to the US)
6. Certified French translation of American license
You should receive an attestation, valid for 2 months, proving that you are in the middle of exchanging your license, though I’m not sure if this actually gives you the right to drive yet. The woman did mention it was valid in France and Switzerland, but I was so amazed at how easy this whole process was that I forgot to ask what exactly the attestation was for.
It should take about 30 days for the license to be sent to your address (in that DISTINGO envelope). And the best part? Besides paying for the photos and envelope, exchanging my license was FREE.
I feel great now. I don’t think I’ve ever accomplished this much in one day in France!