"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Monday, March 7, 2011

So you want to be a legal resident, bonne chance!

Prefecture 4eme

So, you want to be a legal long term resident in France, I say, bonne chance!!! You can do all the research you want, but the the bottom line is those are just the guidelines, in reality, "c'est depend" (it depends).  So, with that said, I will recap our experiences and hopefully this will help guide you through the process.

Before I describe the process I just want to say bureaucracies exist everywhere. And, yes, even in the U.S. Just ask anybody who applied for a "green-card" or for that matter DMV (Department of motor vehicles in California) comes to mind.  Some of our friends who own homes in France and live here part-time, oftentimes stay for longer than 3-months and don't bother getting a "carte-de-sejour", sort of like a green card, which allows you to stay here for longer than 3-months.  Legally you are only allowed to stay in France (actually Europe) for 3-months. In the past you could go to Spain or Italy and turn around and come back, the clock would start all over again.  But because these countries are part of the EU Schengen group a 3-month visit includes these countries, the clock does not restart. I DO NOT advocate living here illegally. 

Bureaucracy as defined by Merriam-Webster
Etymology: French bureaucratie, from bureau + cratie -cracy
Date: 1818
1 a: a body of nonelective government officials b: an administrative policy-making group
2: government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority
3: a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation

Since the word bureaucracy originated from France, it's fair to say they make it an art form that will probably continue to exist in time and eternity. I've heard from friends that 15-20 years ago it was even harder than it is today to get a residence card. I cannot imagine it being any more difficult. We were lucky, in addition to all the online research we (well actually Just Jack) did, we had friends to guide us along the way. However, we could not have anticipated some of the hurdles we went through to navigate through the bureaucratic maze.

We're often asked, what do you need most to secure a residence card?, in one word, "PATIENCE"

Steps, plus or minus 100 variations (condensed-since I don't want to scare you):

1.  Visa. You must first apply for a visa in the US, and subsequently you must finalize it at a French embassy or consulate, and you will always need to do it in person. Please note, there are specific French embassy's for each state. So, don't be surprised if you have to take the time to travel to a different state. For example, if you live in Hawaii, the French consulate assigned to your state is in San Francisco, and yes, you will need to fly to San Francisco to get your visa. Check this link for requirements, French long term visa requirements.

A lot of people have this notion that they can come to France as a tourist since all you need is a passport, and hopefully find a job and stay. They and a thousand other people have the same fantasy/idea, and discover it is quite difficult to find legal status much less find "under-the-table" employment here. If you want to work here, then you should secure a job in the US first, and many times the company will do much of the difficult leg work for you. And, for students, check this site for detailed information, "student visa for France."  And, an aside, if you are a student in France you are allowed to work as part of your education program.

Finally, when you finish the application et.al., you will be given an appointment to meet with the representative(s) at the embassy or consulate.  Once there, you will be interviewed. Personally, I think it's much easier if you're independently wealthy or retired and can show proof of sufficient income to stay in France, check the requirements with the embassy or consulate for definition of "sufficient" income, they often change.

Unless you're wanted by the FBI or Interpol, you should get your visa approved. Now, this is the easy part because you did it in the US, and you did it in English. I did ask the nice person at the French consulate in San Francisco, so what will we need to do once we're in France? all she said was, "it depends"! over and over to every single question I had, it was like taking the 5th.

Note: if you are a dual citizen of any  Schengen  country, you do not need to go through any of these processes, just have a valid passport from one of the Schengen countries, e.g., Ireland, damn I hate you all! or is that I'm jealous of you all!!!

2.  Arrival in France. Within the first 3-months of your stay you must go to the assigned prefecture (police) district where you live. Hence, if you live in the e.g., 18eme, you will need to go the prefecture office in the 17eme.  This is a pretty good site that details what you will need French requirements.

Now this is what they don't tell you. When you go to the prefecture expect long, long, lines and long, long waits. Our first year, we waited in line for 3-hours. There are no public toilets outside of the waiting lines, you would think there would be one of those public toilets, but no such luck.  In anticipation of this, I would suggest not drinking a lot of liquids before going. Also, not all prefectures have easily accessible public toilets inside, I believe this is changing because I hear they're remodeling the prefecture in the 17eme, which seems to be the primary prefecture for most residents.

While outside, you will be standing in line, no seats provided, so if you can't stand for long periods, bring a portable chair.  Once inside, you must pick a number, then you wait again until your number is called, fortunately there will be some seats, but "first come first serve."  Always, always bring all your paperwork, you just never know what they're going to ask for. One thing is for sure, requirements will be different from person-to-person.  For example, this actually happened to us, the clerk did not like our pictures because she thought it was too dark (Note, these same pictures were used in other French documents), so fortunately we had a different set. Always, always anticipate what they may want. A few little tips, never go close to closing time (around 4 pm) or on a Friday. They are anxious to close and go home, so just to get rid of you they'll keep asking if you have x,y,z until you finally say no, and you have to return the following week. This has happened to us as well. And, never, ever be argumentative; grin and bear it and always be apologetic. And, never escalate it to a supervisor, they will always support their employees, right or wrong. In other words, grovel! unless you are fluent in the nuances of the French language and can use your wit and sarcasm which sometimes goes a long way! The French like intellectual bantering.

Also, you will need to know some French, the people in the prefecture, even if they speak English, will only conduct business in French. So, if you're not at minimum conversational, I would suggest bringing a friend who speaks French.

All that is required now is that you pass your medical exam.

3.  Medical Exam.  Yes, you will need a medical exam, after all you don't want to bring communicable diseases into the country do you? Think of England, they've haven't had rabies in years, they quarantine animals before they're allowed in the country.  At the prefecture, you are given an address where you should get your physical. You will need this to finalize your titre (card).   You will need to fill out a form,  get a ticket with a number and wait to be called.  Once inside, you will get your weight and height measured, in my case I also got a blood test, I guess they didn't like my height and weight ratio, as a matter of fact, I don't either.  You will also get an x-ray of your lungs, basically to check for tuberculosis. Then you're asked to wait again to see a doctor. Once inside with the doctor, the doctor does an exam, heart, lungs etc, and will actually check your x-rays, than ask questions about your health.  Unless you have tuberculosis, leprosy, or you're a psychotic schizophrenic,  you should get a pass.

4.  Carte-de-Sejour (titre).  They will tell you once your titre is ready, usually a couple of weeks from the medical exam.  You go to another assigned prefecture, typically in the 4eme, pay for visa stamps, more than a hundred euros per person, present the stamps, and your document (temporary titre/medical exam results) given by the prefecture and medical office, viola you get your first titre which is good (usually) for 1-year from that date.

Sample of a Carte-de-sejour (titre)

Renewing your titre 

You would think that renewing your titre would get easier, I say, you'd be WRONG! Now that you've had your titre for a year, there are new requirements, what do you need in addition to lots of PATIENCE? first, start 3-months before the expiration.  In addition to what I've already mentioned, you will need the following:

1.  Tax papers.  These papers will either say you've paid, or you do not owe any money to France. If you lived in an apartment, house etc. on January 1st, you are required to pay a "habitue" tax ; however, if you did not live there on January 1st, you are not required to pay this tax. In either case, you will need to show proof that you paid, or were not required to pay the tax office. We have literally spent hours at the tax office trying to get this much needed document. If you don't work here, it's much easier, because you don't need to pay taxes twice. In other words, if you're retired and e.g., get a pension, since you pay US taxes, you will not be required to pay French taxes, imagine that, something righteous. They may ask for proof of this, so just be prepared to show your e.g., tax data. If you earn income here there are set of different rules. There are many sites to help you with this.

2.  Updated bank statements. Each year you have to show proof that you have "sufficient" income to live in France, typically 6-months. We were literally asked to print out the last page of our bank statements, which basically is just a bunch of "agreement" verbiage. Again, it just depends.  I think it's a "power" thing, and yes they have all the power in their hands.

3. Health care.  The French have a different philosophy about health care, you should be covered. With that said, you will need to show that you have health care either through a European health care system, their government health care system, or any foreign health care system.  If you have a titre you are actually eligible to apply for the French health care system. It is grossly inexpensive compared to the US, and you get full coverage. Refer to my blog on "Health-Care",  you will need this document.

4.  Proof of residency.  You must show proof that you have lived here.  A document that is readily acceptable, believe it or not, is your utility bills, but I would suggest you also bring your e.g., apartment rental agreement.

5. Interview.  In the past, you could renew your titre through the mail. The law changed in 2009 and now you are required to appear in person for an interview at every renewal. However, you can start the process of mailing or submitting all the required paperwork.  You will receive in the mail an appointment.  Appointments seem to always run about 3-months out. Be forewarned, just because you submitted your "complete" dossier (paperwork), don't expect them to keep it.  Bring everything that you originally gave them, plus whatever you think they may want in addition to what is basic requirement.  Once you satisfy the government employees whims/caprices, congratulations, you will be given a date to pick up your titre.

This door has brought more fear, loathe, and illness to more people...

In summary, this is a difficult topic to discuss and I have really simplified it.  There is no consistency or logic to this process, the laws and whims/caprices of the government clerks change as often as the weather in Paris.  I have a friend who just got his titre. Because of all the additional delays and new "subjective" requirements, he just got his titre 3-months before its regularly scheduled renewal.  So, he has to start all over again almost immediately.  In fact, our titre's expired in June, but because of the 3-month out interview, we had to wait.  Unfortunately, the renewal clock is never reset. Two years ago, it took 6-additional months before we finally got our renewal cards, so our renewals were only good for 6-months. And, we look forward to our 5th-year renewal. After the 5th-year renewal, we may be eligible to file for a 5-year titre, we think.

The French bureaucrats do not make it easy for you to live here, but, one comforting thought is that they treat everybody equally.  We have a close Japanese friend, and she basically just cried and asked, "why are they so mean to us?" my heart fell out to her because she was pregnant and hormonal, but we basically said, they treat everyone like that, if it's any consolation.

The French government is the largest employer in France.  They are not allowed to think independently or outside of the box. The expression, "it's not my job man..." is brought to a whole new meaning here.  Also, they will never suggest an alternative solution or additional information you should know. They're philosophy is that you should have done your homework and know what is required.  For example, we found out totally by accident that I need to fill out a special form each year stating that Jack and I are partners, otherwise my French health care (held jointly with Jack) would be dropped, even though the annual paperwork for renewal of the health care is done jointly (but this special form is not included in the paperwork packet). Another example of not thinking outside of the box comes to mind, we had to do our address change, we went to the prefecture, they asked us to fill out a form, after the form, a woman comes out and asks us questions, then someone different keys in our information, than a different person stamps our paper, it goes on and on and on... So, the joke, "how many French bureaucrats does it take to correct a typo?..." Use your imagination. It actually took 9-months to correct my misspelled name on a government document even though they already had all the other government documents with my properly spelled name (French workers NEVER admit THEY made a mistake, it is up to you to prove that a correction must be made).

I think the funniest experience we had, was when we went to the prefecture to drop off our paperwork. The receptionist said, it's too big so we need to deliver it in person.  So, we went to the office where we're suppose to eventually have our interview, we told her the front desk receptionist told us to bring it to her, she just rolled her eyes like why didn't she take it, and said she couldn't take it either and we need to go to another building and deposit it in a slot. We went to the 1st and 2nd floor of a different building, searched, and searched, and searched for the proverbial slot.  Couldn't find it.  So, we asked someone, it was hidden behind a door "unmarked", and unless you ask, you would never find it.  What is even more hysterical, the slot was too small, so we had to fold our paperwork and forced it to fit, and it will eventually be delivered to the 2nd receptionist, go figure? These situations are so absurd, you have to laugh about it, otherwise you will go crazy, believe me.  There are just too many silly examples of the bureaucracy.

By no means is France the only country with a huge bureaucracy, I've been told Italy is worse, and as efficient as Germany is, they too have bureaucratic hurdles.  And, yes the US also has large government bureaucracies. Just talk to some recent immigrants to the US, where it can take as long as 5-years to get a "green-card."  Only real advise I can give aside from having lots of patience, don't take anything personally, look at is as a challenge.  Use laughter when it may seem ludicrous and ridiculous.  Think of it as a "rights of passage" like hazing!  And, BONNE CHANCE!!!

This is the official site for information on obtaining a visa, "Visa requirements for France"

UPDATE (October 2018):

  • After much patience and persistence, we have our long term 10-year visas, which is pretty much a long term residency card, and the renewal process is much, much easier than the year-to-year.
  • The Prefecture in the 17eme is used more for a place to get a "extensions" or receipts, and the good news its been remodeled, they now have a "waiting area", toilettes and evening vending machines.
  • The Prefecture in the 4eme, is currently still undergoing renovation so should be easier to wait, but the waits can still be quite long. Just don't make your appointments to close to lunch, otherwise you'll be pushed out to the afternoon. I suggest making early appointments. 


  1. Such a wise, informative, and very true post. Like you wrote, while there are inevitably things that will vary from person to person in this process, you did an excellent job of really "telling it like it is" with accurate & relevant information. It goes something along the lines of what you wrote for every person, based on my experience and the stories I've heard from others. I especially found the part about not drinking too much water before going to the prefecture offices very good advice! :) (And no, I am not being tongue-in-cheek there. Stuff like that is VERY helpful to know about.) Of course people will have to research this for themselves and find out what is specific to their situation, but you really summed things up with humor and pertinent information. Thank you. :)

  2. R,
    Great piece and I believe every word of it. Unfortunately I don't think I'll ever have the occasion to test it out!

  3. Hi Randy,

    As the French Embassy/Consulate has a quite of few types of visas, can you please specify which kind of visa one should go for to start this whole "messy" process?!

    Thanks :)

  4. This is a fabulous post! Can you stuck it on SFN or link to it or let everyone in the Americans in France group know about it please? Thanks!! Catharine x

  5. Love your patience and attitude.....the one side of living in France that is not all 'romance'.....xv

  6. Hi Randy,

    This is just brilliant. We should collect stories of other absurd French behaviour in one place. I would like to add my recent run-in with Orange telecom who turned off my mobile phone because I owed them 71 euros. That sounds logical, right? Well when you consider that the bill
    1. Not past due
    2. Never issued
    3. Not even included on my Orange.fr account

    Why? Because it was a *special* bill. Apparently my calls to Europe and the US are included in my package but SMS to Europe are extra. Instead of just billing me and taking the money from my bank account (as they normally do) we had to figure out what the problem was, call them three times and eventually call a special number to pay with my credit card..I couldn't even get a BILL for this, or pay in an orange shop.

    When we asked them, "why don't you send a bill? Or place the statement on my online account? Or just take the money from my bank account as you normally do?" The answer was, "we just don't".

    The lack of logic is mind-blowing.

  7. @Anonymous, not to be "cheeky", but c'est depend. If you're not going to work here, than start with a long term visitor's visa.

    @Epicure, It's been over 3-years and I am still getting billed by Orange for the same amount every month. Someone's paying it, but it ain't me! Thinking outside of the box, or being creative is punishable by jail-time, or worst death. But It'll take you a life-time to just get through the bureaucracy

  8. Randy,

    Once my French catches up to my German, in other words, when I become fluent enough to tell people off, the French are going to hate me, I'm sure of it! When I ask a question and the answer is, "no" or "we don't do that", I actually ask people, "well, if you were me what kind of suggestions would you like someone to make to you in this situation?" I managed to get that out in French, twice and the effect was fascinating! The women just looked at me as if I just told them that the earth does indeed revolve around the sun. They then proceeded to give suggestions but it seemed difficult for them, as if they were having trouble getting the words out of their mouth.

    is there a French expression for "thinking out of the box?" other than, "vous êtes un imbécile!"?

  9. @Epicure, a bien sûr, that expression works really well, especially at department stores. I have not tried it yet at the Prefecture, cause I'm always so damn nervous! And, when that happens, I total forget my French and say the weirdest things! like, "vous avez une bonne souris" rather than, "vous avez un beau sourire" trying to flatter. Oh well. Check out my post on Biarritz, it was hysterical to say the least!

  10. It's "ça dépend".

    I'm amazed at how much misinformation there is on this blog. I'm not talking specifically about this post. But it's such an American way of seeing Paris!

    Paris is safe, Parisians ARE nice if you work for it...

    I am a Parisian born and raised, my mom's American and I have lived in the US. I'm appaled by the level of complaisent comments here. When I lived and worked in DC (mind you, I have a passport, so I didn't need to go through all this process) I remember having nightmarish days at the DMV. I think it's more a problem of administrations in general rather than a country thing. The only difference is that you've never had to go through that process in your own country, so you can't actually compare!

    That being said, I have to agree with the fact that the French are awful with information sharing. They just don't know what it mean.

    And about productivity: I'd like to see a source for that. About 4 years ago, the LA Times had done a huge article about white collar workers' productivity throughout the world compared with time spent at the office. US workers ranked same or lower as French workers but spend twice as much time in the office. I don't like the wages here, but I didn't like them when I was in the US, and I really think it's more a matter of how you perceive yourself rather than an actual "system". Although it is most definitely true that ours (the French one) is extremely rigid, and therefore, limited.

  11. In response to Margaux:
    1. Yes, it is an American way of seeing Paris... I AM American. Do you view Paris through French eyes? It is how I perceive it.
    2. Yes, all bureaucracy is awful (both the US Postal service and the DMV are poster children for this) and any immigration bureau is a nightmare.
    3. And, yes, compared to the US, Paris is safe. But crime is on the rise here particularly with the 'iphone effect', but Paris is still safer than most cities in the US.
    4. You used the word "misinformation." If you see something I said is in error, rather than perception, then please let me know!

    Thank you for your feedback, I appreciate you taking the time.


    P.S. there are several sites concerning productivity, but here are two sources:



  12. Cultural differences exists everywhere in the world. In many ways, as we are different, we are alike. Yes, I agree with Margaux, "Parisians ARE nice if you work for it..." whereas in other cultures, e.g., Spain you don't have to "work for it" since they're inherently not suspicious of strangers! Ah viva la difference!

  13. Hi Randy! We went to the Prefecture in the 17th yesterday. I've got an appointment in August, so I guess (and hope!) that I'm on the way to getting my CDJ without much trouble - thanks of course to my British husband.

    And btw, they do have bathrooms there now. I took your advice and didn't have any tea with breakfast, but the hubby had to go about an hour after we got in to the waiting room.

  14. I enjoyed reading your step by step journey. I will keep this in mind when I am looking for an apartment rental agreement

  15. Randy,

    AMAZING post - thank you. My partner and I are in the middle of the visa application process (me for a work visa, and her a long-term visitor visa). Yours is the first blog we've found written from the perspective of a same-sex couple. Thanks so much for sharing!

  16. @Eric, Merci et avec plaisir. Please do contact me if you have need any assistance, or you just want to go out for drinks etc.

  17. Thank you guys, this is very helpful...im just beginning this journey this coming December, thanks again!!!

  18. This is an excellent posting, I located your website browsing for a related topic and arrived to this.Thanks for sharing.

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