Disclaimer: This is my experience as an American who wanted to live in France for more than the 90 days allowed by my passport alone. Your experience–and requirements–may differ!
We were in Charlottesville, babysitting our grandson, when our son Ryan messaged me: Mom, an overnight envelope just arrived for you.
Open it. Please.
Inside were two passports. Inside each passport was a one-year French visa.
Perhaps you expect a story of incompetence and complicated French bureaucracy. But my story is no such tale.
We arrived at the French Consulate in Washington DC in early December with two pocket folders: a black one for Pat and a purple one for me. On the left side of each folder, I had placed copies of all the required documents from the checklist. On the right, I put anything else I thought might be requested.
I gleaned this “other” list of documents from our experiences getting residency in Slovakia and Hungary (two Schengen countries, like France, and hence with similar visa processes), by perusing the checklists of all five US-based French consulates (and yes, the lists may differ a bit), and by reading blog posts from those who had done this before me.
I hate surprises.
I scheduled our appointments for ten o’clock, so we took the train down from Philadelphia the day before and stayed in a hotel near the embassy, mitigating logistic snafus. We were only in the US for a month and had no tolerance for delays.
At 9:30, we walked through a passageway in the stone fence which fronts the embassy (the home of the consulate office in DC) and up to the security booth. I have only visited US embassies and only in other countries. Those had long lines and no place to store anything you may have brought with you (and no allowances to bring any of those things inside). But here, there was no line. The guard pointed me to a storage locker where I could stash my umbrella.
He then inspected our appointment letters (one appointment per passport), gave us a badge, and directed us up the hill to the visa office.
Once inside the visa building, a second security guard verified our appointment letters and inspected our Pennsylvanian driver’s licenses (these confirmed we were at the right consulate as state residency determines where you must apply).
Inside the visa room, we each took a number and sat. There were two service windows; both were manned, each had a call number illuminated overhead. Perhaps five people were waiting when we arrived, all university students. I knew December was the busiest month to apply and now I knew why: study abroad programs begin in January.
Fifteen minutes after arriving, my number flashed above the first window. The man motioned for Pat to join me. He collected a copy of our drivers licenses and passports, our passport-style photos, and a completed long stay visa application form (one for each of us that I had printed from their website).
Once satisfied that we would clear the minimal screening, he collected our fees ($110 per person).
The website indicated I must pay by credit card. The reality was (at least in DC) I could pay only by debit card. Fortunately, I had one with me (along with cash, checks, bitcoin, and all other forms of wampum I had thought of).
We returned to our seats.
Shortly, a woman at the second counter called us up. While the first man was standoffish, this woman was friendly and chatted as she went through our documents.
- “Why do you want to live in France?”
- “Have you ever visited Paris before?”
- “Have you seen your apartment?”
- “Do you know the neighborhood?”
- “I see you plan to study French. Tell me more about your plans?”
It felt like a chat with a girlfriend, but I’m quite sure this was an “interview” and our answers were consequential.
As she talked to us, she rattled off the checklist, item by item, as we each rifled through our respective folders and pulled out the requested document:
- French application form (in addition to the Schengen form already collected)
- Medical insurance letter (I vetted all the companies from their list and choose one)
- Three months of bank statements demonstrating sufficient funds to live for a year
- Signed letters that explained why we wanted to live in France (one for each)
- Signed letters promising we would not work in France (one for each)
- Signed apartment lease for the duration of our visa
- Self-addressed AND stamped US Postal Service express envelope (Warning: other consulates use different carriers, ex. Fedex. Verify what you need with the consulate that applies to you). I brought two envelopes, but they processed our applications together and I only left one behind.
She then asked for three items not on the checklist:
- Our marriage license
- Verification I was, in fact, retired (She accepted my 2016 pension statement. Phew!)
- Proof of booked travel plans to France
She also took:
- A photo copy of our landlord’s ID card
- A utility bill in our landlord’s name that was addressed to our leased apartment (I believe this proves the lease is with a real person who owns an actual apartment)
We were done. She told us she would email us if she needed anything else.
Forty five minutes. My stomach could stop churning.
Ten days later our passports–with visas–arrived. Two weeks from today, we move to Paris.
The renewal process, I’m told, is easier. In a year, I hope to find out.
Categories: How To