If you didn’t pick up on the sarcasm in the title, it probably means you haven’t had the pleasure of applying for your carte de séjour (residency card). Or you live in a magical place where things run smoothly. The process is simple in theory: You make an appointment, you submit your papers, you wait, then your card is ready and you come back, pay and happily go on your way with your new card. But things don’t always work out that way….
The joys of applying for your 10-year residence card in France
The French get a lot of things in life right. They understand the importance of vacation time and a good work/life balance, have some of the best food and wine in the world, have affordable medical care and I could go on and on. But anything having to do with the bureaucracy like renewing a carte de séjour? Nope. France has major room for improvement.
As you might already know, Americans who marry a French national get a visa before moving to France which is valid for a year. Once that year is up, you renew and get a residence card in France called a carte de séjour — which gives us foreigners the legal right to live and work in France. It has all the usual stuff like a picture, your name, nationality, date of birth and an expiration date. Oh, and a cute little hologram. After you’ve been married three years, you’re eligible for a 10-year card which means you don’t have to make yearly visits to the prefecture to deal with all this nonsense. This year I became eligible for my 10-year card and was excited to fork over 260 euros just to not have to see these people anymore to renew. But they try to make it as maddening as possible for all involved. (And I know it’s no cake walk for foreigners trying to get a Green Card in the US either. Sara’s husband Gregory is going through that now.)
My old residency card expired in December but they ask that you make an appointment for the renewal a couple of months in advance. Being the rule follower that I am, I made an appointment in October via the email address provided on the prefecture’s website. But the reply back a whole week later told me that I had to go to Angers to take care of the paperwork — not where I live. That didn’t make sense because the last time I was able to take care of this in my town, yet there was only one email address on the damn prefecture’s web site funneling all inquiries (regardless of where you live in the Maine-et-Loire region) to Angers. Super. After a three-day wait for a reply email, they got me squared away with an appointment in my town for the first week of December. This all seemed to be going too well.
To weed out any sham marriages, they require the French spouse to accompany the spouse renewing which meant Tom had to take his morning off from work. This was all arranged ahead of time and we proudly showed up on that December day 10 minutes in advance with all our paperwork and a very eager Dagny (yes, she comes too. The lady likes her). Remember, we made this appointment in October.
Upon making our way to the welcome desk, I noticed the mood of the prefecture was eerily quiet. Were they closed? No. But I was promptly told the woman who we were set to meet with JUST went out on an extended medical leave. As in yesterday. Fan-flipping-tastic. Surely, they’d have someone else in her place? Not a chance. Apparently the only woman who can help us with a renewal is now on leave and we have to make a new appointment in Angers (of course!) — which is done only via email and my card is now expiring in a couple of weeks.
There’s a two-month wait for a new appointment. And no one seems to care.
The guy at the welcome desk refused to call Angers to help squeeze me in, even though I was hoping a call from him would be more effective than a call from a random American. He said that nope, we have to follow the rules and email. At this point, Tom was annoyed and asked why no one called or emailed to let us know our appointment was cancelled and that he’d taken off work for this. The guy said he didn’t have our info, although I kindly pointed out my dossier (and the one from last year nicely filed away in his cabinet) had all of that info. He just stared at me and blinked. Then he blinked again. And shrugged. Incompetency at its finest, folks.
I just laughed at our little predicament because OF COURSE this wouldn’t go smoothly. I laugh a lot because I hate crying in public and those really are the only two options.
Exasperated, I looked over to my right to the area where they handle car registrations and the two ladies who work there were chatting up a storm at their desks, without a customer in sight. Dagny caught the one lady’s eye and she said to her colleague, “Oh look at the little dog! Come here puppy!” So Dagny ran over and the ladies clearly had no work to do because they played with Dagny for 10 minutes, no lie. Yet we had to now make an appointment to go to Angers to get the damn card even though they seemed short on work.
So we made the appointment the following week after pleading via email for them to help us out and make us an appointment sooner rather than later. Tom took off work again, signed off on everything and the guy handling my renewal (who works about 2 hours/day, seriously) said, “If your request is accepted, you’ll have to come back here to Angers to pick it up.” Awesome. You can’t just send it to my town? Nope, we do it here. So now my card is ready, and when I have the time to run over to Angers between the hours of 10 and 12 on a Tuesday or Thursday, I can have my shiny, new 10-year carte de séjour. Just have to do it before March 23. No sweat. I hope they don’t lose it in the meantime.