Long on long term visa

LONG TERM VISA PROCESS FOR FRANCE:

A friend posed this question to me: ‘I have some friends that are interested in traveling to France for a period longer than 3 months or, are even considering living in France. Can you give me any advice to pass on to them regarding this process?’ So, here is my advice:

I have obtained three long-term visas (LTV) for France over the last 20 years.

Yet, that alone, by no means, makes me an expert on this subject. I can only speak to my experiences thus far. For me, the process has remained, on some levels, similar, but there have also been changes in documents required, as well as appointments needed.

My 2016 experience showed some positive changes to the process. Although the requirements include more documentation now (including a requirement for international medical insurance to be in place, for instance), none of the paperwork needed to be translated from English to French, as I was required to provide in the past.

Along with this, another big plus was that the San Francisco French Consulate (English) website was far more professional, making it more user-friendly, clear, and accurate regarding all aspects of the process, including the required documents to present at my stateside French Consulate appointment. In other words, I followed the required list of documents needed (and the copies they also required!), and I was not asked for any more documents beyond what was listed on their website.

Just to backtrack here a little bit, the reason why I recommend going through the process of obtaining a LTV is because, if you do not, you risk being ‘found out’ and penalized. This may mean fines issued or a restriction on your continued travel to the Schengen countries, or, on future Schengen travel, for instance.

Also, I am not one that gets any pleasure out of hassles, especially when they are taking place in a foreign country and in a language I do not speak. Yes, that’s right. I have been traveling to France for over 30 years now and I am not fluent in French, by any stretch of the imagination. So meeting up with the French bureaucracy is something I avoid, whenever possible.

TIP: I did call upon a few French-fluent friends to assist me with some of these steps. For instance, the correspondence I received for my appointment in France at the Immigration office (OFII) was written in French with no English translation in sight.

So, if you decide to obtain a long-term visa for France, here is some information you may want to know:

(1) You need to apply for a long-term visa if you plan to visit/live/travel in France or any of the 26 Schengen countries for more than 3 months in a 6-month period. This is also true, if you plan to mix up your travel amongst the Schengen countries for more than a 3-month period. See these rules/restrictions for travel within the Schengen countries:

TIP: There are countries that are not members of the Schengen group that you can plan to visit for 3 months and then you can re-enter into the Schengen countries for another round of 3 months, if you do not want to apply for a visa or do not want to return home. The UK is one example of a country that is not a Schengen country.

(2) If you decide you want to visit/live/travel for more than 3 months, you want to get your information from the website of the French Consulate office that covers your U.S. region. And, if you plan to travel to several countries within the Schengen group, you want to obtain your visa from the country you plan to spend the most time in while visiting….be it France, Spain, Portugal, etc. Here is the website that will help you hone in on the French Consulate office you can apply to, depending on your home/permanent U.S. address:  http://franceintheus.org/spip.php?article330

(3) Once on the website that relates to your specific French Consulate office, you will see there are various types of long-term visas you can apply for, which means you need to decide what fits best for you. Student, employment, visitor…

 TIPS: I have always applied for a ‘visitor’ visa so I don’t have experience with the other types offered. It is important to follow the guidelines for the required documents for the type of visa you are trying to obtain.

Also, I noticed that the Los Angeles website vs. the San Francisco website  basically require the same documents but they did have some small variances to them so this is another reason it is important to stick with the website for your specific French Consulate office.

(4) Obtain an appointment. It is my understanding you have to apply no more than 90 days before you plan to depart. So, that can pose a challenge. And, my experience was that I had to schedule my appointment online.

I had a very challenging time obtaining an appointment. When I first started to book an appointment online with the San Francisco French Consulate office, there were no slots available.

Although they list a phone number for their office, they do not answer their phone. And, as was the case this summer, if they are busy, they do not answer their emails either.

TIPS: I was given a tip via a friend’s connection with the Consulate office:’The San Francisco office changes their calendar at 3PM every day.’ And, that worked! I don’t know if that will work for other French Consulate offices, but it is worth a try, if you run into this same difficulty!

I believe it was also helpful for me to not be applying for a visa prior to or during the summer rush, as appointments started to open up in late August for a late September appointment, for instance.

Out of curiosity, I went online with the idea of changing my appointment and it looked like I would have to wait a month before I could change my appointment time. So, once you set up an appointment, I would pen it in on your calendar, not just pencil it in!

(5) Prepare your required documents for your appointment. Be detailed and vigilant. Follow every requirement needed. Keep your documents organized and make sure it is your most current information. Review the required document checklist prior to leaving for your appointment.

I did not want to return to the office because of’ some overlooked paperwork that was required. The first time I applied, their directions were not accurate and I ended up needing a copy of one document. They had no copy machine in the building that I could use, nor did they offer to make the copy for me. Instead, they sent me on a trek to a copy store in the neighborhood, while, at the same time, their closing time was drawing near.

With my recent 2016 experience, it would have meant an 8-hour drive back (or a flight) to the Consulate office, so I was not interested in a return visit due to some minor issue lacking in my stack of documents.

TIPS:

  • If it states you need a copy of a document, bring a copy…or two!

  • If you need 1 passport photo, bring 2. You will need the 2nd one for your OFII appointment in France anyway

  • If they require a notary’s signature on a document, get it.

  •  If they require a minimum amount of international medical insurance with a ‘0’ deductible, have the special letter of agreement they require, not just the policy statement. (By the way, the San Francisco website, for instance, has international medical insurance suggestions.)

  • Follow the directions on supplying them with the self-addressed stamped envelope for the return of your passport (yes, they keep your passport) with the visa applied to it, otherwise, you are going to have to go back to the French Consulate office to obtain it.

  • There is a fee. Make sure you read any choices they give you for making the payment so you are ready to take care of the payment at your appointment.

  • I planned a stay of a couple of extra days, visiting with friends in the area, just in case I needed to make another run back to the French Consulate office before I left to go back home.

 

TIDBITS:

One of the reasons you have to apply in person is because they fingerprint you. The plus about this is that you don’t need to obtain a police document regarding your (non) criminal status, as I had to do in the past.

I have no idea if this will happen to you. What was confusing to me, when I arrived for my appointment was that I expected to meet up with a lobby overflowing with other appointment holders. Instead, no one was there waiting. That meant they were able to service me before my appointment time, as I had arrived early. Yet, why, when I went back on to the site to test the idea of changing my appointment, were there no readily available appointments?

Not only that, but they had told me the process would take two to three weeks to receive my passport back with my visa enclosed. Yet, I received it in less than a week! I wouldn’t count on this being your experience, but it was a relief to have it intact, sooner rather than later.

You may feel as I did. There is a bit of a ‘catch-22’. My airline ticket had to be booked and presented as one of my documents. Same with my landing place…. be it friend’s or relative’s home, hotel, apartment. So having my travel arrangements all planned and paid for, in advance of receiving the visa approval, is a bit unnerving.

IMPORTANT: As it turns out, the long-term visa process is NOT over and this was a new step since my last LTV. There is a final certificate and stamp that needs to be added to your passport. And, that didn’t take place until after I arrived in France. This step is explained on the Consulate website so you do need to follow the directions on this as well. I pulled this information off the San Francisco French Consulate website under ‘residency form’ (one of the required documents for your appointment):

VISA DE LONG SEJOUR – DEMANDE D’ATTESTATION OFII form

Within five days of arriving at my destination, I had to send in documentation to the OFII (Immigration and Naturalization Service) office. You can find out what is expected on the website, but I have detailed some of the information below. On the French Consulate website, you will also find a list of all the Immigration Offices throughout France. You need to figure out which one is located nearest to where you are living and send in the necessary documentation to that office.

TIP: Prepare this information ahead of time, especially if you won’t have easy access to a printer. I brought copies of all of the documents I had taken to my French Consulate office meeting and anything else I thought might be required. I did not need all of these documents but, since I have had past experience with French bureaucracy, I err on too much, rather than not enough.

Within about a week or two after I sent in the information to the OFII office, I received a document, by mail (post), at my Paris rental apartment, stating they had received my paperwork. Keep this OFII letter. It acts like a temporary adjunct to the visa, already in your passport.

A couple of weeks later, I received two letters, by email this time, explaining my appointment time at the OFII office, what to expect at the appointment, as well as what documents to bring with me and the final payment amount. By the way, the appointment letter is essential to bring along, as it is ‘your ticket’ to get in the door. Unfortunately, I do not know if the employees greeting and screening appointment holders at the door will accept seeing your appointment letter on your phone or a screenshot of it. And, unfortunately, I tried to call the OFII office three times, held for an hour each time, and, eventually, was automatically disconnected.

You are also required to buy ‘stamps’ (timbres), as this is the form of payment they use. You can obtain them at a Tabac shop or at the local office where taxes are paid. The Tabac shop I went to wanted cash. This step comes across as a little ‘shady’ to me but a friend of mine that lives in France informed me this purchase of stamps, in this way, is normal, and used for various transactions. By the way, I ended up going to the ‘tax collection’ office instead, because it was easy for me, and they took credit cards.

TIP: Take the part of your letter explaining the purchase of the stamps and the amount you need to purchase along with you to the Tabac shop or tax collection office and show it to whomever is assisting you with this transaction.

This final appointment took about 2 to 3 hours. There was a line-up of 30-40 of us outside the entrance door at 8:30 AM on a cold winter’s day. We were herded in, one by one, as they checked to make sure we had our appointment letter.

As you can imagine, English is not the language of the day! Someone I met in line kindly offered to translate for me, if need be. As it turned out, the basic skill you need is listening—to hear your name called several times throughout the morning and also watching, and then following, what the ‘herd’ is doing ahead of you is all you need to do to get you through the appointment. I was told they do not allow a friend, for instance, to come along with you and translate. I also had fun, chatting with English speaking ‘others’, while waiting.

The main reason for this appointment is for the medical exam; to submit the final few required documents (basically a shorter version of the original submitted documents); to make the final payment; AND to receive the final visa certificate and official stamp in your passport. Notice my use of the word ‘final’.

The medical exam included:

  • Height and weight–may even be with your coat on!
  • Eye test
  • Blood sugar test obtained by a finger prick
  • Chest X-ray–no gown given but I changed in a dressing room by myself and was only exposed to the female technician at the time of the x-ray
  • The MD asked a few questions but I mainly handed her a letter from my doctor and also a copy of my vaccination record. She listened to my heart and lungs, and took my blood pressure, but not much else was done, as far as the physical exam. Then, it was a waiting game for the final ‘stamp of approval’.

Again, this most likely won’t happen to you but I am mentioning it because delays can happen. When my name was finally called to hand the staff person my money (in the form of the stamps) and the required documents that had been listed in the letter I received (and no more were needed, I might add), it was time for the final visa certificate to be placed and stamped in my passport. However, in my case, the passport number on my actual passport and the passport number on my final visa certificate did not match because someone had transposed the numbers!

This meant I had to wait for them to correct it. And, that meant a return to the OFII Office. At that point, I had plans to leave Paris and move on to Nice. I told the employee who was handling this that I was planning on traveling but he could not assure me as to when I would be able to get the corrected document.

So there was some drama, not knowing if I was going to be able to leave Paris, as scheduled, or would I have to leave and then opt to return to Paris, once I got a call that the visa certificate had been corrected? Would I understand the phone call when I received it? Would I be able to get back into the building without an official appointment? Well, the phone call came about a week later. All I understood was the word ‘OFII’ but that was enough to know I could return. I brought my appointment letter and passport and that sufficed to get me back in the door, as I returned when it was convenient for me and without an appointment.

So this brings up the fact that there can be some ‘catches’ to this process. Another, for instance, you may not want to travel to other countries during the first three months, or at least limit it, only because you do need to be available to receive the paperwork/appointment time for the OFII appointment. Remember the first came to me by post/mail, which also meant I needed to have my name on the mailbox, as I was in a rental apartment. You also need to be available to the specific office you submitted the documents to, upon arrival.

FINAL/RECAP TIPS:

  • Here is the San Francisco French Consulate website for reference purposes only. Remember though, the French Consulate and its website that counts is the one that embraces your permanent home/address.

http://www.consulfrance-sanfrancisco.org/spip.php?article2673

  • Make extra copies of all of your required documents to take to your appointments and for your reference.

  • Have extra passport photos, although there are booths at the metro stops where you can get one done. You, of course, will need one for your OFII appointment, as mentioned, but you can use one also for your SNCF pass, if you decide to get one, for instance.

  • Have a friend or a way to make copies of information you may need for your appointment in France. ‘June pages’–Yellow pages in France assisted me in finding a print/copy shop in my area or when I needed to have some lab tests done too.

  • If you are not fluent in French, someone who can help you translate.

  • Use your computer…. for translation/ for communication/ and I even ‘googled’ the process of the OFII appointment and found more than one personal article that guided me through what to expect of the Immigration Office appointment experience, for instance, the list of all the OFII agencies are on there and that is how you will know what office to send your paperwork to in that first 5 days after you arrive in France (if you have not jotted down the address already)

  • Always be polite/courteous.

  • Add in some lightheartedness. Even though the MD didn’t speak English, we were able to giggle about something together and that seemed to lighten up the tension for both of us.

  •  From my experience already mentioned, do not expect to be able to speak with someone by phone–either at the stateside French Consulate office or the OFII office.

Regarding extension of your long-term visa: As it says on the French Consulate website: Once you have a LTV, you can extend it at your local Mairie’s office and you do not need to come back to the U.S. to do so. However, I don’t know how complicated this is, especially when not knowing the language. I do know there are more documents needed and ones you may need to update.

I did meet two women who went through this extension process. One, because she was planning to stay in Paris for 18 months, and, the other, to live there, even more permanently. Both of them, ultimately, hired specialized people to assist them, even though they were fluent in French.

Here are two fairly recent articles regarding living in France:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/internationallivingcom/healthcare-in-france-expats_b_11830382.html?

https://internationalliving.com/2016/08/5-best-places-retire-france/

 

 

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