Keeping travel legal: Visa validation



With this in hand, I’m ready to go to the French Consulate

International travel is a privilege, not a right. Think about that for a second. The United States is stuck with me, but no other country is obliged to let me in. If I overstay my legally allowed visit–in a country or a region–I risk being denied reentry.

And that can’t happen.

I have received email questions on this topic: Why do you need permission to live in France?  How can you possibly live in France? Is the residency process difficult? How are you navigating legal requirements in general? 

We just completed our preparation work to apply for French residency. Now seems like a good time to begin this conversation.

While our life style might reside on the wrong side of conformity, I work hard to keep our travels on the right side of the law. As soon as I mock up our schedule, I confirm that it is, in fact, legal to execute. The US State Department website is a great place for an American to start.

I’ll run through 2016 as an example.

We began the year in Cuba and used a people to people tour to get there. The rules are changing so quickly that anything I write here will become obsolete almost immediately. If we were to return, I’d do it differently. Let’s put Cuba to the side and suffice it to say, our entry visa was handled by the tour company.

From Cuba, we went to Guatemala for an 85-day stay. I verified that Americans are allowed 90 days with nothing more than their passport. No issues here.

We returned for a month to the United States before moving onto Budapest, Hungary for May (31 days). Hungary is in Schengen region of Europe, so I noted this. The rule across the Schengen countries is that an American can stay up to 90 days, out of a rolling 180-day window, with no more than a passport. As an isolated trip, our time in Hungary was not an issue.

(Note: If you want to become a full-time traveler and/or spend substantial time in Europe, understanding Schengen is key.)

From Budapest, we flew to Ireland for 70 days. Ireland is outside of the Schengen region and allows an American to stay for 90 days. Again, no issue. However, during our time in Ireland, we planned a one-week trip to Sweden. Since Sweden is in Schengen, I noted these seven days in mid-July.

Then we returned to the US for a month before embarking on an extended trip to Europe: Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia–all in Schengen. I wanted to spend as much time as I could over September, October and November in Schengen, so I commenced counting.

First, I backed up 180 days from our planned departure date from the Schengen region–December first. Our stay in Hungary in May fell just outside of this 180-day window, so I could ignore it. The trip to Sweden, however, was inside this window. I had to account for those seven days which meant the autumn stay in Europe could not exceed the 83 days left on my Schengen allocation.

This may sound complicated, but let’s be honest, it’s counting. There’s no excuse. (Use your fingers if you have to. I do!)

With the validation complete, I booked our flights. (Things changed. We didn’t go to Sweden. We booked a five-day side trip to Croatia—a non-Schengen country—in October. But I erred on the side of under staying our time in Schengen.)

Our year ends with a month in the United States. Everything checked out.

Next year, we plan to live in France for a year which means I must apply for a one-year carte sejour (temporary residency permit) for France. (Otherwise, I can only stay in France for 90 days out of every 180 and visit no other Schengen countries.)

The good news is; I’ve already executed this process. Twice. When I worked for IBM, they hired a cadre of lawyers and local resources to help me navigate residency for Pat and residency and a work permit for me–first Slovakia and then Hungary. I realize with enough patience–and wine–anything is possible.

During our recent US trip, we took care of some of the preparatory work. Pat renewed his passport, since our passports need to be valid six months beyond the duration of our French visa. We went to a social security office to request a reissue of our cards (a non-laminated Social Security card is a requirement for a Pennsylvania driver’s license). We gathered up the other documentation required and went to DMV in Philadelphia to transfer our Colorado driver’s licenses to Pennsylvania. This scraped all our addresses (bank accounts, credit card, IBM pension, medical insurance, license) into a single place.

That was overdue. We had become sloppy, which is easy when you live all over the place. The address on our checks was our original home in Colorado. Our driver’s licenses showed Taylor’s college address in Colorado. And everything else listed Ryan’s address in Philadelphia.

And we handled voting. I’m not sure how or where we could have voted. We are now registered in Pennsylvania.

We may move all of this to France. But at least for now, we are in one place.

Our driver’s licenses determine where we apply for French residency. Pennsylvania is part of the Washington DC French consulate region. (Coloradans must apply in Los Angeles.) The application must be made in person at the consulate which oversees the state where you reside.

In October, I’ll make an early December appointment for Pat and me to go to the consulate in DC. We will lug a pile of paperwork: a lease (we are stopping in Paris to sign this on our way home), bank records, pension documents, French health insurance, a notarized affidavit that we won’t work, a statement of why we want to live in France (and yes, sampling the wine and cheese is a valid reason!).

Two weeks after we apply, we should have our passports back. Inside our passports will be our visa stamps. (Fingers crossed.)

I’ll probably cry a tiny bit as I tend to do when I’m really, really happy. And then I’ll open a very nice Bordeaux.

Categories: How To

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10 replies

  1. Wow. This is great info. I’ve traveled to six continents but had never heard of the Schengen thing. Your blogposts are so interesting and informative!

  2. I agree with Gina. Very interesting!

  3. Wow, Julie, you are one savvy traveler! Thank you so much for sharing this important information. Here’s to visa-stamped passports in hand!

  4. A dear friend just moved with her working husband to Dubai last year (and had lived in England ten years ago when they were not working)so your post added to more of my growing knowledge about long term stays abroad. Which might be something DH and I are looking at in the not so distant future.

  5. The evolution of the current idea of a “passport” is very interesting and pretty complex. We owe a lot to King Henry V for getting it all started. I did not realize that the real need for a passport for foreign travel did not really get going until World War 1. If you want a fun read look at the Wiki entry for British Nationality. The consequences of a past Empire and current Commonwealth will make your head spin.
    Good luck on your path to getting the paperwork all in order.

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