Staying Legal in France: More Residency Card Crap (for lack of a better word)

La Préfecture, the love of my life. Immigrants in France must have a very close relationship with the préfecture. It’s the place where we have to go – every 3 months, in some cases – to obtain our residency cards and make sure we are not sans-papiers. France doesn’t exactly have a “permanent resident” status for most people, so almost everyone starts out with a carte de séjour that must be renewed every single year. Well, those of us who were already living in France before the visa rules changed this past June. For the newbies, the visa serves as the carte de séjour for the first year, and then every year after that, it may be changed into a carte de séjour depending on if your préfecture likes you or not.

Anyway, it’s a rather annoying process because the préfectures are usually too inept to put the list of required documents on their website, so you must first go the préfecture and wait in line for an hour just to pick up this magic list. And then when you do return to the préfecture with all of the documents, they usually require something else that wasn’t on the list and that you had no idea you would even need, so of course you didn’t bring it with you (or its photocopy since you must have originals and photocopies of everything.)

Even if you do have all of the documents, it can take months and months to get your actual carte de séjour, so you have to keep going back to the préfecture to find out why you haven’t received it yet, or to request a new récépissé – the receipt that proves you did apply for it – or to apply again when the post office loses your carte in the mail (been there) or when you move to a different département and your old préfecture refuses to send your dossier to the new one (done that). In the 3.5 years I’ve been in France, I’m already on carte de séjours #6 and #7.

Carte de sejour
Why does it take so long to make these little cards?

I’ve already explained the first three years of my CDS adventures in the Love Affair with the Préfecture post, so here’s an update:

Technically, I applied for CDS #6 way back on June 16, 2009, right after David & I moved to Chambéry. I needed to change the address on it, which involves making a whole new card, so even though I had just renewed it in Annecy, I had to apply all over again. I did receive a récépissé on July 1st, which was good until September 30, but of course that date came and went and no word from the préfecture. I used to return every month and bug them about it, but they just kept telling me that Annecy hadn’t sent my dossier to Chambéry yet and that I would receive a new récépissé soon. That never happened. The card with my Annecy address on it is actually still good until May, so I wasn’t too overly concerned about it – especially since the only real reason I would need to have the correct address on my CDS would be for CAF, which I’m not eligible for since France thinks I’m so rich now with my 13k a year.

So, I gave up and stopped bugging the préfecture about it. Then March came and I needed to gather documents to renew my card for yet another frickin year of temporary status, and I was a little worried that they’d yell at me for something. Luckily the woman was really nice and discovered that Annecy had FINALLY sent my dossier to Chambéry a few weeks ago and CDS #6 was in the process of being made. I should receive it soon, even though it expires in less than 2 months. How amazingly useful.

Since I had all the documents and David was able to go to the préfecture with me this morning, I told the woman I was just going to do the renewal process today and get it over with since CDS #6 would basically be useless to me. She agreed. She didn’t dispute any of the documents, even though some of my “originals” were color copies of older documents (I love my printer) and some were a lot older than 3 months (2007 anyone?) and she actually remembered the communauté de vie paper that they tried to forget the last time. But it was all of the same paperwork I had given them in June, and that card was actually being made – albeit NINE MONTHS LATE – so my documents must be good enough for them.

Though of course I won’t stop feeling stressed out about it until I receive CDS #7 (that’s my renewal card, not my change of address card; are you still following me?) since we are flying back to Geneva from Croatia, which is NOT in the EU or Schengen zone yet, on May 8 – exactly one day after my current CDS expires. Plus the university cannot and will not give me my salary for the remaining months of my contract unless I have a valid CDS.  So it’s not only the fact that I could be “illegal” in France; it’s also a matter of being let back into France and being able to pay rent.

I can start applying for citizenship in October, and hopefully get it by the end of 2011 or early 2012. I will feel so relieved to finally have  a permanent status in this country. Except apparently even French citizens have their citizenship questioned nowadays, so that’s not very comforting.

David said that people joke about the fonctionnaires who work at the préfecture. Ceux qui ne réusissent pas le concours de la Poste travaillent à la Préfecture. I wonder how true that is…

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  • Rebecca

    … et ceux qui ne réusissent pas le concours de la Préfecture travaillent au Commissariat de Police, at least in my town. You would not believe the various things they told me (false) or the documents they gave me (totally unrelated) for renewing my cds.

    Accessorily, do you know whether you can get a traduction assermentée of a document in Latin? Or who might know/where to find out?

  • Rebecca

    … et ceux qui ne réusissent pas le concours de la Préfecture travaillent au Commissariat de Police, at least in my town. You would not believe the various things they told me (false) or the documents they gave me (totally unrelated) for renewing my cds.

    Accessorily, do you know whether you can get a traduction assermentée of a document in Latin? Or who might know/where to find out?

  • http://chezlouloufrance.blogspot.com/ Loulou

    I feel your pain, I truly do.
    Our sous-préfecture became such a headache…leading to tears of frustration, fantasies of moving back to the US just to spite them (like they would care!) and even dishes being broken.
    After 5 years I applied for citizenship and thankfully received it in November. It will make your life so much easier and will make you realize that all these years of frustration was worth it! :)
    .-= Loulou´s last blog ..Photos du Jour – la Neige =-.

  • http://chezlouloufrance.blogspot.com Loulou

    I feel your pain, I truly do.
    Our sous-préfecture became such a headache…leading to tears of frustration, fantasies of moving back to the US just to spite them (like they would care!) and even dishes being broken.
    After 5 years I applied for citizenship and thankfully received it in November. It will make your life so much easier and will make you realize that all these years of frustration was worth it! :)
    .-= Loulou´s last blog ..Photos du Jour – la Neige =-.

  • http://kiwigirl-infrance.blogspot.com/ Kim

    My post today was about the préfecture too!! I feel your pain. My problems mainly start and finish with the university being absolutely completely useless and not clued up on anything to do with the préfecture. Which in turn affects anything I need to do at the préfecture… luckily on my 4th visit in one week the lady at the préfecture called the uni and told them how things must be done (despite me telling them this before the 4 visits!). I now have a problem with my expiring CDS, autorisation de travail and getting paid. ARGHH!

    do you think its like this for immigrants in other countries?
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..autorisation de travail =-.

  • http://kiwigirl-infrance.blogspot.com/ Kim

    My post today was about the préfecture too!! I feel your pain. My problems mainly start and finish with the university being absolutely completely useless and not clued up on anything to do with the préfecture. Which in turn affects anything I need to do at the préfecture… luckily on my 4th visit in one week the lady at the préfecture called the uni and told them how things must be done (despite me telling them this before the 4 visits!). I now have a problem with my expiring CDS, autorisation de travail and getting paid. ARGHH!

    do you think its like this for immigrants in other countries?
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..autorisation de travail =-.

  • http://frenchtoastpainperdu.blogspot.com/ Gem

    Kim, it is definitely like this for immigrants in other countries! I work in a branch of immigration advising in the US, and you wouldn’t believe the stuff visa holders have to do! Of course, the two systems are messed up in totally different ways – in France, they try to wear you down by having you come back over and over with the same documents day after day after day… in the US, we make our visa holders pay thousands of dollars and wait years and years for any word on approval…
    .-= Gem´s last blog ..2009 Mememe =-.

  • http://frenchtoastpainperdu.blogspot.com Gem

    Kim, it is definitely like this for immigrants in other countries! I work in a branch of immigration advising in the US, and you wouldn’t believe the stuff visa holders have to do! Of course, the two systems are messed up in totally different ways – in France, they try to wear you down by having you come back over and over with the same documents day after day after day… in the US, we make our visa holders pay thousands of dollars and wait years and years for any word on approval…
    .-= Gem´s last blog ..2009 Mememe =-.

  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com/ David

    Jennie, think that you’re lucky you’re not in Paris.
    And as Gem says those kinds of things happen in many countries.
    Administrative paperwork is a hassle no matter what, I think most Americans are just not used to it and are traumatized when facing it (seriously I only hear Americans talking about it as if it was an almost insurmountable thing).
    Of course, the current government and the new laws it has passed are not making it easier (and as you mentioned it gets even crazier for French citizens too)
    .-= David´s last blog ..(Almost?) Epic Fail… =-.

  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com David

    Jennie, think that you’re lucky you’re not in Paris.
    And as Gem says those kinds of things happen in many countries.
    Administrative paperwork is a hassle no matter what, I think most Americans are just not used to it and are traumatized when facing it (seriously I only hear Americans talking about it as if it was an almost insurmountable thing).
    Of course, the current government and the new laws it has passed are not making it easier (and as you mentioned it gets even crazier for French citizens too)
    .-= David´s last blog ..(Almost?) Epic Fail… =-.

  • http://kaplanov.blogspot.com/ Nadine

    I do not miss that prefecture for anything! Though we are both EU citizens (thankfully!), our never-ending battle for the driver’s licenses was just as ridiculous. They ended up demanding that I prove where I was during my pregnancy (!!!) since I wasn’t working for over half of it (imagine that!).

    We have spent too many hours, too much money, making the trip with all of our documents, originals, and original certified translations, copies of originals and endlessly more stuff, all with baby in tow. Oh, and never forget the EDF facture!

    All the official things we’ve had to do thus far in Germany combined do not equal even one visit in the prefecture. How thoroughly discouraging this system is in France…

  • http://kaplanov.blogspot.com Nadine

    I do not miss that prefecture for anything! Though we are both EU citizens (thankfully!), our never-ending battle for the driver’s licenses was just as ridiculous. They ended up demanding that I prove where I was during my pregnancy (!!!) since I wasn’t working for over half of it (imagine that!).

    We have spent too many hours, too much money, making the trip with all of our documents, originals, and original certified translations, copies of originals and endlessly more stuff, all with baby in tow. Oh, and never forget the EDF facture!

    All the official things we’ve had to do thus far in Germany combined do not equal even one visit in the prefecture. How thoroughly discouraging this system is in France…

  • http://nzgirl-infrance.blogspot.com/ Kim

    Thanks Gem and David… interesting to know.

    Thinking about my friends who live in the UK, its difficult and expensive for them to get visas (unless its a working holiday) but once they have the visa and entry into the UK they don’t have to do administrative stuff. I talked to a French friend in NZ and he said it was similar in that it was somewhat painful to get the visa but once in NZ there has been next to none administration.

    Good luck Jennie, hope you win this round! I’m heading there tomorrow for a new autorisation de travail.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..autorisation de travail =-.

  • http://nzgirl-infrance.blogspot.com/ Kim

    Thanks Gem and David… interesting to know.

    Thinking about my friends who live in the UK, its difficult and expensive for them to get visas (unless its a working holiday) but once they have the visa and entry into the UK they don’t have to do administrative stuff. I talked to a French friend in NZ and he said it was similar in that it was somewhat painful to get the visa but once in NZ there has been next to none administration.

    Good luck Jennie, hope you win this round! I’m heading there tomorrow for a new autorisation de travail.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..autorisation de travail =-.

  • Rebecca

    @David: I hear even more complaints (or outbursts of sympathy) from the French themselves and from Belgians–though my Spanish friends seem to be immune to administrative burdens. Most Americans I know are pretty sensitive not to the administration but rather to the long periods of uncertainty and unknown outcomes. But you’re right–those of us in the provinces are lucky not to be in Paris.

    Personally, what I can’t stand is the misinformation that is intentionally (?) distributed by the very people who are supposed to be a source for information. Curiously, most things tend to go smoothly enough here in the end.

    Despite comments above, the thought of German administration scares me, and I would never, ever want to have deal with US immigration for myself or my loved ones.

  • Rebecca

    @David: I hear even more complaints (or outbursts of sympathy) from the French themselves and from Belgians–though my Spanish friends seem to be immune to administrative burdens. Most Americans I know are pretty sensitive not to the administration but rather to the long periods of uncertainty and unknown outcomes. But you’re right–those of us in the provinces are lucky not to be in Paris.

    Personally, what I can’t stand is the misinformation that is intentionally (?) distributed by the very people who are supposed to be a source for information. Curiously, most things tend to go smoothly enough here in the end.

    Despite comments above, the thought of German administration scares me, and I would never, ever want to have deal with US immigration for myself or my loved ones.

  • http://boeingbleudemer.com/ Cynthia

    As soon as I will be eligible for citizenship, I will apply! Carte de Séjour is such a nightmarish experience.

  • http://islandgirl4ever2.blogspot.com/ Leesa

    Hi Jennie…

    WOW! I know it sucks to have to go back and wait in line early in the a.m. We have done that here in Antony for two years now… but this time.. Year 3 (which I applied for back in Oct.) I was granted a 10 year CDS, which I received just before I had Jan, before I had to renew my 3rd year card for the 2nd time….
    YES… it’s sooo true – it’s a big pain going down their to renew every 3 months, because the actual card is NEVER ready on time… at least it has NEVER been ready on time for me.. and I wonder if anyone actually ever does receive it on time..
    We have never met up with any sort of problems, though.. the people who work there have been nothing but friendly/helpful/pleasant. Antony services a shitload of people, too.. I’m sure it’s a little less than Paris, but it’s up there, let me tell you.. We’ve gone to wait an hour before it actually opens to get a “number.”
    Other than that, I have absolutely no complaints and I plan to apply for my citizenship this year (in April) if things haven’t changed at all.. Keeping fingers crossed.
    I know that in America… the INS lines are MUCH longer and it is a big pain in the ass, let me tell you… I was married to a foreigner in the U.S. many, many years ago and we had to go through American immigration and I think it wasn’t hard but I saw how hard it could be for some people… Maybe I’ve always been “lucky.” My brother got married in the DR about 5 years ago and they had a little guy almost 4 years ago.. But, because they didn’t get married on U.S. soil, the U.S. Immigration wouldn’t let his wife or their daughter step FOOT on U.S. soil until a little more than two years later.. after a TON of immigration paperwork had been filed, immigration lawyers working on the case (lots of money spent for this), not being able to claim his wife and daughter on his taxes b/c and sending lots of money there to support them, having to spend tons of money on plane tickets and time off from work to visit just to spend a few weeks here and there a few times per year to see his own wife and daughter.. I found this sooo frustrating and infuriating that it really made me think that French immigration was a walk in the park…
    If my sister-in-law was Costa Rican (like my step mom), things would have been diff. But apparently, there were more than 20,000 people from DR on a list for visas and my brother and his wife had to wait a little more than two years until they got called in for the interview (in DR) and as soon as they saw their daughter, they basically approved of the visa… It’s amazing… and I have heard of REAL horror stories in France, so I don’t really think ours really “qualify” as such.. but it’s just an inconvenience for us to have to go back every three months to renew…
    Take care,
    Leesa
    .-= Leesa´s last blog ..Ethiopian lunch on Saturday… =-.

  • http://islandgirl4ever2.blogspot.com Leesa

    Hi Jennie…

    WOW! I know it sucks to have to go back and wait in line early in the a.m. We have done that here in Antony for two years now… but this time.. Year 3 (which I applied for back in Oct.) I was granted a 10 year CDS, which I received just before I had Jan, before I had to renew my 3rd year card for the 2nd time….
    YES… it’s sooo true – it’s a big pain going down their to renew every 3 months, because the actual card is NEVER ready on time… at least it has NEVER been ready on time for me.. and I wonder if anyone actually ever does receive it on time..
    We have never met up with any sort of problems, though.. the people who work there have been nothing but friendly/helpful/pleasant. Antony services a shitload of people, too.. I’m sure it’s a little less than Paris, but it’s up there, let me tell you.. We’ve gone to wait an hour before it actually opens to get a “number.”
    Other than that, I have absolutely no complaints and I plan to apply for my citizenship this year (in April) if things haven’t changed at all.. Keeping fingers crossed.
    I know that in America… the INS lines are MUCH longer and it is a big pain in the ass, let me tell you… I was married to a foreigner in the U.S. many, many years ago and we had to go through American immigration and I think it wasn’t hard but I saw how hard it could be for some people… Maybe I’ve always been “lucky.” My brother got married in the DR about 5 years ago and they had a little guy almost 4 years ago.. But, because they didn’t get married on U.S. soil, the U.S. Immigration wouldn’t let his wife or their daughter step FOOT on U.S. soil until a little more than two years later.. after a TON of immigration paperwork had been filed, immigration lawyers working on the case (lots of money spent for this), not being able to claim his wife and daughter on his taxes b/c and sending lots of money there to support them, having to spend tons of money on plane tickets and time off from work to visit just to spend a few weeks here and there a few times per year to see his own wife and daughter.. I found this sooo frustrating and infuriating that it really made me think that French immigration was a walk in the park…
    If my sister-in-law was Costa Rican (like my step mom), things would have been diff. But apparently, there were more than 20,000 people from DR on a list for visas and my brother and his wife had to wait a little more than two years until they got called in for the interview (in DR) and as soon as they saw their daughter, they basically approved of the visa… It’s amazing… and I have heard of REAL horror stories in France, so I don’t really think ours really “qualify” as such.. but it’s just an inconvenience for us to have to go back every three months to renew…
    Take care,
    Leesa
    .-= Leesa´s last blog ..Ethiopian lunch on Saturday… =-.

  • http://brentcu.com/ Brent Curtis

    In the 31 you go to the Prefecture only if you live in Toulouse. Us village folk go to the Mairie to get a CdS, This has worked well as things have been straightforward so far. The Mairie hassles the Prefecture if they’re getting close to the deadline. Of course, having posted this things will now fall apart. :-)

    Cheers, Brent.
    .-= Brent Curtis´s last blog ..links for 2010-03-10 =-.

  • http://brentcu.com Brent Curtis

    In the 31 you go to the Prefecture only if you live in Toulouse. Us village folk go to the Mairie to get a CdS, This has worked well as things have been straightforward so far. The Mairie hassles the Prefecture if they’re getting close to the deadline. Of course, having posted this things will now fall apart. :-)

    Cheers, Brent.
    .-= Brent Curtis´s last blog ..links for 2010-03-10 =-.

  • http://thejesspress.wordpress.com/ jessica

    Ah yes, I agree with you Jennie, and Rebecca too; it’s the uncertainty that really can make me a wreck.

    Right now, I’m applying for a Master 1 that I am very qualified for, but all I can think about is what document will I NOT have? What secret thing is not on the list and will make me miss this opportunity? Which third party that I’m depending for some other document needed won’t come through in time and thus make everything impossible?

    I’ve become totally zen about lines and anticipating the ridiculous, but expecting the unexpected as a rule has turned me into a basket case recently.
    .-= jessica´s last blog ..this must be the lion =-.

  • http://thejesspress.wordpress.com/ jessica

    Ah yes, I agree with you Jennie, and Rebecca too; it’s the uncertainty that really can make me a wreck.

    Right now, I’m applying for a Master 1 that I am very qualified for, but all I can think about is what document will I NOT have? What secret thing is not on the list and will make me miss this opportunity? Which third party that I’m depending for some other document needed won’t come through in time and thus make everything impossible?

    I’ve become totally zen about lines and anticipating the ridiculous, but expecting the unexpected as a rule has turned me into a basket case recently.
    .-= jessica´s last blog ..this must be the lion =-.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com/ Zhu

    I really don't understand why France makes foreign residents go through all that crap.

    In Canada, once I “landed”, I received a permanent resident card (much like your carte de séjour) and it was valid for 5 years. Since you are usually eligible to apply for citizenship after 3 years, few people renew it. And even if you choose not to apply for citizenship, renewing it is quite straightforward from what I've heard.

    And with 250 000 newcomers every year, I believe Canada has more immigrants than France, but I may be wrong.

    Pis c'est pas des flèches les agents de la préfecture…

  • ielanguages

    I am definitely glad to not be in Paris. I don't think I could stand the préfectures there. I'm hoping I can get citizenship here before we have to move there (if we have to for David's job.)

    I know immigrating is a lot harder in other countries, so I should be grateful that I'm at least not separated from David. I really hate how governments can keep families apart just because they were unlucky enough to NOT be born in the same country. It's so unfair.

  • http://espranglais.blogspot.com/ Melissa

    My biggest pet peeve is how different préfectures arbitrarily decide that you need this or that document and how everything seems to depend on the disposition of the government worker you happen to speak to on that particular day. It does seem intentional when you are rejected because you didn't bring a document you were never asked to bring in the first place. Eventually, you learn to bring everything they could potentially require. That way, when they say, “mais vous avez pas votre …,” you say,”voila!” Sometimes this catches them off guard.

  • http://espranglais.blogspot.com/ Melissa

    My biggest pet peeve is how different préfectures arbitrarily decide that you need this or that document and how everything seems to depend on the disposition of the government worker you happen to speak to on that particular day. It does seem intentional when you are rejected because you didn't bring a document you were never asked to bring in the first place. Eventually, you learn to bring everything they could potentially require. That way, when they say, “mais vous avez pas votre …,” you say,”voila!” Sometimes this catches them off guard.

  • Joelle

    would you really not be let back into France if you left via plane? I have known many americans who overstayed visas in France and came back with no problems…but not to work, just for fun. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing all this information and I hope you keep us updated when you apply for citizenship! And good luck!

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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 January 2010, I started focusing more on teaching and learning languages in general. 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 the university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling (though now my trips are usually in Australia) and being an American abroad.

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