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Translating the French Visa System

By Kelly Page

When I made the big, scary, glorious decision to quit my job of 14 years to follow my dream to live in Paris, I thought the hardest part would be figuring out the 20 percent of my clothing and other belongings would make the trip to my new little pied-à-terre. Little did I know about the mountain of red tape that lay between me and my daily Kayser croissant.

If you stay in France longer than three months, you’re required to have a visa, and not just the kind for buying all your Parisian purchases. Because I wasn’t moving with a job, I didn’t have the good fortune that many of my friends in Paris have, where their company sponsors them and does all the paperwork necessary to allow them to live in the country legally.

There appeared to be two other options for me as an unemployed Francophile. One was a student visa, which requires that you enroll in French class at an approved school. As long as you’re in class for up to 20 hours a week, you’re able to work up to 20 hours a week. When I played out my daily routine in my head, it had about two too many days a week in a classroom, when the real learning I was looking to do was in the rues and marchés of Paris.

That left me with the visa option for a long-stay visitor. No school. No work. Luckily the 14 years I spent with my last company has left me with a nice savings, allowing me a lengthy vacation from PowerPoint and conference calls, though this visa does require much paperwork and the ability to make copies, which fortunately I still know how to do.

You have to apply for the visa in your country of residence. I went to the website for the French consulate in Los Angeles and read the detailed instructions, then made a reservation for an appointment as mandated. Be sure to allow enough time for scheduling the appointment, because when I booked, the next available one was several weeks away. On the designated day, I showed up with my folder of required paperwork, including bank statements to prove I could support myself, proof of health insurance so I wouldn’t bleed the French medical system dry, a document from the sheriff’s department showing a clean criminal record, and a handwritten note promising that I wouldn’t work while in Paris. If it all weren’t so serious, I’d think these guys were cool for basically making me pledge to simply have fun in their city. Actually, that is exactly what they want me to do. The deal appears to be, use my Visa to get their visa.

The appointment in the United States was easy enough, and two weeks later I received a visa in my passport, but the process isn’t over yet. I’ve just sent in some required paperwork since arriving in Paris, and I’m now waiting for an appointment to go to the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration. There will be a health exam, a short French quiz, and a few more questions confirming my intention and some other details. This needs to be completed within 90 days of my arrival. I’m hopeful that I’ll pass with flying colors, and then in just a few more months, I need to think about it all over again. I’ll have the opportunity to renew this visa for another year if my love for Paris continues, and if I can find a way to replenish my own Visa.

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