It’s that time of year when I’m slapped in the face with the reality that I do not really live in France. I’m only a visitor. No matter that I spend six to seven months of the year here, I still really belong there, in Michigan.
At least that’s what the French government says.
As an American citizen with a valid passport, you are allowed to stay in France for three months. Any stay longer than that requires that you apply for a long stay visa. Once you have that visa, then you must apply for a Titre de Séjour (entitlement of stay). It used to be called a Carte de Séjour, but the name has changed, as has the process for obtaining the card.
You would quickly be bored reading the steps in the arduous and expensive process I followed some eight years ago, when I first applied. Suffice it to say it involved a lot of legal documentation and a trip to the closest French consulate. In my case, this meant a trip to Chicago, because I was required to come in person to obtain the visa.
Once I had the visa, I had a limited amount of time to get to France and present myself at the local Mairie (city hall). There, I had to go through another series of steps to provide legal documentation (much of it a duplication of what I had done to get my original passport and repeated to obtain a long stay visa). After a few weeks I received a letter informing me that I was to present myself at a designated medical clinic where I would take a physical exam. The exam is primarily to obtain a lung X-ray. Since many immigrants come from Africa, the government is very vigilant about possible cases of tuberculosis.
Duly X-rayed, the attending physician gave me a paper with four little squares. I was then instructed to take that paper to the local tax office, where I would purchase four tax stamps at 55€ per stamp to be affixed in said squares.
Once those were presented at the Mairie, the papers were sent off to the Préfecture in Avignon. Several weeks thereafter, I received my official Carte/Titre. Everyone in France must carry an identity card. If you are a citizen of France you have a Carte d’Identité. The card looks a bit like a driver’s license, complete with mug shot.
The process for annual renewal is not quite as complex, just annoying. I need a copy of last year’s Carte/Titre, a copy of my passport, three passport type photos (mug shots), and proof that I can support myself while here, as I am not allowed to work. Now, at my nicely retired age, I’m tempted to question the sanity of that requirement, but lest I raise the ire of the person inspecting my paperwork, I resist the urge to pose the question.
In addition to photos and copies of documents, I must also have proof that I have a place to live. That requires a letter from the owner of my lodging along with proof that he/she legally owns the property. This means a copy of their passport or identity card and (here’s the kicker) a copy of their electric bill. For some reason here in France, a copy of the electric bill is tantamount to proving your legal existence. (Don’t even ask.)
Maybe it’s the old school teacher in me, but I’ve always chosen to follow the rules. So, once again, as my current stay comes to an end, I’ve filed the paperwork to ensure that I can return — and live here legally, before I head back there.