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.
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.
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