Carte de Séjour – French Identity Card: Round 3

Montauban Palais de Justice
Montauban Palais de Justice

I need to point out that this series of three posts was written in 2013, so if you’re looking for information about how to apply for a carte de séjour, you need to contact your préfecture. Things have no doubt changed in six years.

We’ve now reached the end of an administrative process that began in November last year – that of renewing our cartes de séjour, or identity cards for foreigners. Before you start worrying that you must have one, don’t lose any sleep if you are an EU citizen. The French government waived the requirement some years ago. However, if you do want one, as we did, you have to jump through a lot of hoops.

Click on the links to read about Round 1 and Round 2. We find it useful to have an identity card since it provides proof of address as well as right to live in France. This can be invaluable when paying by cheque for items over a certain price or being stopped at a police contrôle. However, the process is eye-wateringly long drawn out. And a first demand for a card requires only 12 different supporting documents; a renewal requires 15.

Home from home 

We deposited our 15 documents (each) at the Préfecture in Montauban – the Ministry of the Interior’s departmental outpost – in January. Then we had to wait until the convocation arrived after about five weeks, instructing us to go to Montauban to collect our new cards. No question of sending them in the mail, which I suppose is fair enough given the scale of identity fraud these days.

We dutifully turned up at the Préfecture last Thursday. It’s starting to feel like a second home. We negotiate the system like old hands. We nonchalantly turn up at the reception desk, hand over our convocation and wait to be given our tickets to denote our place in the queue. Then we take our place with everyone else on fixed and uncomfortable seats facing the series of digital displays that flash up the next number.

People watching

We were waiting for the Bureau des Etrangers but other people were waiting for cartes grises (vehicle licensing documents), driving licences and all manner of other things.

Why is it that I act like a magnet to people who want to engage someone in conversation? The man I sat next to started fulminating about the length of time he’d had to wait to deal with his carte grise. When I ventured to suggest that they seemed rather busy he replied, “There are hundreds of them behind the scenes. They just hide to annoy everyone.” Then his number came up and he hurried off to the relevant window. I don’t think he’d waited more than 10 minutes. Similar things used to happen to me on the tube in London. And French people are always asking me the way in places where I’m a stranger.

We waited about 25 minutes, which, considering the number of people before us wasn’t actually that bad. As a writer, I love people watching. And during that time, important-looking people bearing briefcases and wearing suits and ties arrived at the reception desk, declaring loudly that they had a meeting with the Préfet – no doubt to distance themselves from the riff-raff occupying the waiting area.

Our numbers flashed up, we shot up the stairs to the Bureau des Etrangers and received our new cards. But first we had to hand over the old ones and the temporary versions they had given us because the old ones were already out of date. And sign a declaration that we recognised the information they held on file about us.

Accepted by the French state

So now we are the proud bearers of new credit card-sized cartes de séjour – the old ones were bigger. They are valid until 2023, by which time I will be…no, don’t go there. It gave us a nice warm feeling to think that the French state was prepared to accept without question the documents we had painstakingly photocopied and collated. They obviously don’t consider us undesirable aliens.

The process has been relatively painless and the fonctionnaires we have dealt with have invariably been polite and helpful. It’s not their fault if the system is an endless paperchase. And it does help to speak French, of course. But it has taken four months and three visits.

Patience – not one of my most prominent qualities – is a virtue when it comes to dealing with French bureaucracy.

Place Nationale
Place Nationale

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Well done.
    It took me almost two years to get my first Carte de Sejour but it was almost worth the wait, the hassle and their loss of my original british birth certificate.
    When I received my ‘carte’ I was now called Yan Eduard and not Ian Edward and had newly obtained Belgian nationality! We laughed endlessly, tears in my eyes. I laughed a lot less, when months latter I was still being called “Le Belge”!


    • Two years is a long time to wait. When we first moved here 16 years ago (almost to the day) it was obligatory to have one, at least in our département, but they handled it efficiently and it took only a few weeks to arrive. Now that it is no longer obligatory you have to jump through many more hoops.
      Well, ‘Yan’, just rejoice that they attributed you Belgian nationality. There are far worse!!


    • Thanks, Kate. Well, it had a happy ending, even if it did go on for a long time. I’ve got better with age but patience will always remain a virtue that’s out of my grasp!


  2. Congratulations! At least you don’t have to renew the cards for awhile.

    I just learned that my friend in Spain got her new residency card 8 months after the renewal appointment (this is her third year living there so it’s not like she doesn’t know what she’s doing). The card is only valid for another 4 ot 5 months before she has to make another appointment and renew it again. So ridiculous!


    • It sounds like your friend has to renew hers annually; perhaps she’s not an EU citizen. I don’t know what the rules are in Spain but Rob, who commented earlier, lives there and would know all about it. The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly wherever you are, it seems.


  3. The process seems like my application for a ‘carte famille nombreuse’. Incredibly, this also took 4 months, several phone calls and translated certificates, for everything from birth to marriage and income. I think I handed in about 10 documents at least for that too (including split taxation UK and France since it was early days)! Thankfully that also has my address on and is very useful although technically not an identity card, and only issued by SNCF (in collaboration with the state). I don’t think I have the strength of will to apply for an identity card, nor a driving license at the moment – nor to register my British car, which being imported from Japan needs a special Prefecture form detailing every engine part registration number as the chassis number is 4 digits too short, plus the realignment of the heaadlights. Some applications require at least a year of saved energy before making the ‘leap’ into the unknown red-tape. Congratulations to you!


    • Quel cauchemar! Re-registering cars is another nightmare which, thankfully, we have been spared since we have always bought our cars in France – not necessarily French cars; in fact not at all French cars. German in both cases. Good luck with your car importation. Et bon courage.


  4. Meanwhile two years and a couple of hundred euros on, I am still trying to get a French driving license. They only give exams six times a year in the Lot. Last one in January was cancelled because of the snow. March convocation was cancelled because I am out of the country. May…maybe…


  5. Well done, Vanessa! Living in France teaches one patience, if nothing else! I’ve never been to the Prefecture in Montauban…it’s quite pretty…and pink!


    • Not good for my blood pressure, though! Sorry, I’ve misled you about the photo – the one at the top of the post is the Palais de Justice. I’ve used one of the Prefecture on the other posts and thought people might be getting fed up with it. But Montauban is very pink – in fact, it’s known as the pinkest of the pink cities.


  6. Well done, Vanessa! Whenever we leave Brussels for our few-year stints abroad (we have done it three times in three decades), we have to hand back our Belgian ID cards. It’s a nightmare, because you can’t do anything without one (such as replace a stolen driving licence, even though the Commune has records of the old licence). And when we get back there for the in-between stints, it takes months to get a new one – even though it’s technically our home. Red tape, hey…


    • I expect France would also require the cards to be handed back in, in similar circumstances. It must be desperately frustrating for you. Belgium is obviously in the same school of bureaucracy as France.


  7. …”The French government waived the requirement some years ago.” This is interesting, the Spanish take a different view but as I am an annual tax payer in Spain I have decided that as I am fiscally resident how can I not be a resident and therefore have decided my current residencia is adequate. I really would love to take several key ‘Expat’ topics and compare them across say France, Spain, Germany…………I bet the differences in the ‘Same’ EU laws would be truly amazing.


    • I daresay the disparities are quite staggering. But that’s how the EU works – we’ll compromise on x if you allow us to do y. Cartes de séjour for EU citizens have probably been against both the spirit and the letter of EU law since 1992 and, when we arrived, they were already no longer a requirement in some départements – but nobody had bothered to tell Tarn-et-Garonne.


  8. Well done… and thanks for the comment about not panicking early in the post, otherwise I’d have been stressing away all through it. Our experience of French bureaucracy is really quite limited…but so far, the warnings from ex pats have always made things seem worse than they have turned out…..and long may that contiue. J.


    • I don’t know if you’re permanently resident in France but this was only ever a requirement for people who were. Anyway, no need to worry about it either way.


    • It wasn’t that difficult, to be honest, but it was long drawn-out. And we were afraid we would go through the process of collecting and copying all the documents only to be turned down on a technicality. Luckily, we must have got it right.


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