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Jumping Through Hoops

photo: centre police 14 arrondissement

A place Laurel may need to visit soon.

Paris Journal – No 46

by Laurel Avery

Paris:– Saturday, 22. May 2004:– A year ago I came to Paris with the idea of trying it out for a little while to see if I really liked living here. Visiting a place on vacation is not the same as living a day–to–day existence in a place where you have to deal with what the French call the 'quotidien,' or ordinary everyday life.

Despite my travails with the electric company, France Télécom, the seasonal Métro strikes, reconstruction noises on a daily basis coming from the apartment next door, and my continued inability to find anything resembling a tater tot, after a year I am still convinced that this is where I want to be for the foreseeable future.

Technically, non–French residents are only allowed to stay in the country for up to 90 days unless you get a long–stay visa. Though I have generally had to leave France anyway to take care of things abroad every three months or so, on the 91st day no official will show up on your doorstep to trundle you off to the nearest airport.

But since I really do want to live here I figure I have to go about jumping through all the hoops required of those who want to live in the most wonderful country on earth. Readers may beg to differ, but I enjoy living in a country where being an artist and writer is a respected profession, the quality of your life is more important than how much you own, and there is still a free press with a less myopic view of the world than what passes for journalism in the U.S.

The French Embassy has a number of web sites on the Internet listing everything you will need if you want to get a long-stay visa. There are ten French consulates in the US and the one you apply to depends on where you live. As my permanent abode is in New Mexico, it's necessary for me to apply to the Los Angeles consulate for my visa. The odd thing is that some consulates have different requirements than others in regard to what paperwork they want in order to process your application.

For example, certain consulates require proof of employment in the US. What that has to do with visiting France, I have no idea. I guess if you're an unemployed millionaire you're out of luck. Other consulates require 'official' French translations of all documents, meaning you have to pay an exorbitant fee to their registered translators, proving to French officials you have enough money to throw around to live in France for over 90 days.

I guess the officials in the Los Angeles consulate must know some English, because nowhere in their list of requirements posted on their web site does it say that French translations are necessary. And, if you do not live in southern California you can mail in your application.

If your consulate is Boston, however, you should make hotel reservations there, as they only accept visa applications in person. Even if you live in the wilds of northern Maine you still have to arrange to submit your application in person, Mondays through Thursdays, mornings only. Then, a couple of months later when your visa is ready, you have to return to pick it up in person as well.

The most unusual thing on the list of requirements for all the consulates is the letter they want from your local police department in the town where you live stating that you are not a criminal.

I have to admit that I have never set foot in my local police department, and entering their large complex of buildings was a bit intimidating. As I approached the information window – complete with bullet–proof glass! – where I received the necessary paperwork to complete, I started worrying that perhaps my record was not as squeaky–clean as I had thought. Did I ever pay that five–year–old parking ticket I had neglected?

I was told that they would have the paperwork ready for me to pick up the next day, and when I arrived at the appointed time, sure enough, it was there waiting for me. With the trepidation of a college student anticipating my final grades, I read the letter which attested to the fact that there were no outstanding warrants or records of my ever having been arrested, and that I was, in fact, a fine upstanding citizen. Whew!

Then there is the issue of health insurance. Yes, France does have the best health care in the world, according to the World Health Organization, but it doesn't mean that it's free. If you are not a tax–paying resident here you have to have health insurance in order to qualify for a visa so that the French state will not have to foot the bill should you fall ill.

There are a number of companies that handle insurance of this sort, one of which only costs around 300€ a year for basic coverage, enough to qualify for a visa.

In addition, you have to write a letter attesting that you will not have any paid activity while in France. A long–stay visa allows you to live here, but not to work. Getting a work visa is more difficult than winning the lottery. Nevertheless, many people get around it one way or another, often by having a self–employed business in the U.S. that is the 'official employer,' and working for a French company as a consultant.

You do have to provide proof that you have enough money to live on for a year. This can either be any regular income you will continue to receive from your job in your home country, a substantial sum in your bank account, or a notarized letter from your Uncle Louie that he will be responsible for your expenses, along with proof of his financial resources.

I called the consulate to ask how much money they considered sufficient to have in my bank account for a year in France, but they said they could not tell me. I guess I just have to take my chances and hope that they don't think I am accustomed to consuming Champagne and caviar on a regular basis.

Finally, you fill out the two–page visa application, get a bunch of head shots taken, gather together all the paperwork, have multiple copies made - with official translations if necessary, get all items signed and notarized and submit everything to the consulate, along with a fee of 99€.

Then you keep your fingers crossed for the two to three months it takes for them to process the application, while you wait to see if they can come up with any excuse as to why you should not live in their fine country for a year.

You basically need to have two things in order for French officials to consider you a suitable long–term visitor. Money and patience. If you have a bunch of money to live on in France without working here, they are happy to have you. France eagerly welcomes any visitors who like to spend the money they earned in their home country.

And if you can get through gathering together all the paperwork required and still be sane in the end, they consider that good training for life in France. Because getting a visa is just the beginning. Once you acquire a visa and arrive in France you still have to apply for a 'carte de séjour' which affords you the privilege of living in France.

And after a year, I have to admit, it is indeed a privilege.

Text by Laurel Avery © 2004

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