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?

ID 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!

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Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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