xamTracy and I are extremely excited that we have successfully completed our process for obtaining our Titre de Sejour (resident permits) at the OFII (L’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration) office in Montpellier yesterday.
The detailed process started in January 2013 when we first applied for our initial visa application at the French Consulate in San Francisco. After our visa request was accepted, the consulate gave us each a form, Demande d’Attestation OFII, that we would need to mail to the regional OFII office having jurisdiction over our new residence after our arrival in France. We added the Demande d’Attestation forms to our growing dossier of documents which we carefully hand carried on our flight to France.
During the first week in Carcassonne, we ventured to the post office to mail the Demande d’Attestation forms and supporting photocopies (passport page showing personal information with identification numbers, stamp from French immigration showing the date and point of entry, and the visa that was issued by the Consulate.) This involved using of our very limited French to mail a certified letter with receipt showing proof of posting. Titre de Sejour process is time sensitive and has to be completed within 90 days, so not knowing how long the French bureaucracy might take, we wanted to get it started as quickly as possible.
Surprisingly, we received back a confirmation letter back from OFII in a week’s time with an appointment set for May 23 for our medical exam and interview in Montpellier. At least that is what we discovered after a lengthy translation session with the five pages of correspondence enclosed. Thank goodness for Google Translate and a French-English dictionary. The medical exam appeared to be centered around a chest x-ray so we assumed the biggest concern for OFII was immigrants from developing countries with possible tuberculosis.
This past week was busy as we double-checked that we had all the additional supporting documents to bring for the appointment in our dossier. We needed proof of our address in the form of a rental agreement and rent receipts, our passports with our original visa, extra passport photos, and payment in the form of 241€ each in tax stamps.
The confirmation letter from OFII said that we could obtain the tax stamps at specially designated tabacs, tobacco stores, (basically your neighborhood “7-11” store.) That put me on the hunt for finding a “specially designated” tabac, again using my very limited French. Off to the friendly corner tabac at the end of our block, “Etes-vous en mesure de me timbre vendre pour montant de 241€?” “No,” but the very helpful woman escorted me out the door to point into town and give me a lengthy explanation of who could help me. I, of course, understood one word out of every four. So I smiled politely, said merci, and wandered into town to try my luck at another tabac. And another tabac, and another tabac, and still another tabac without success.
I thought I should take another tack and visit the Tourist Information office, mainly to speak with a bilingual person who might have an idea of which tabac might be able to help me. The three people at the Tourist Office conferred and, since this was a government issue, sent me to the Prefect office down the block. Unfortunately the Prefect closed at 4:00 so I went to the only government office that was open, the post office. La Poste does nearly everything in France, including having its own national banking service, so I hoped they might even have tax stamps along with their postage stamps. A very nice young woman with fairly good English explained that La Poste doesn’t issue tax stamps, but suggested the tabac/bar in front of the post office. Score! The proprietor was only too happy to sell me a four 90€, four 30€, and two 1€ tax stamps.
The day before the appointment we went to the train station for the seemingly simple task was getting train tickets to Montpellier, 90 miles east of Carcassonne. We had been to Montpellier a couple of times by train with no problems. However, the day of our appointment we learned that there was going to be a rail strike starting that evening when we needed to return home. Just when I was considering trying to telephone OFII and reschedule the appointment, the ticket agent nonchalantly scheduled us for a bus ride back to Carcassonne. Problem solved.
The morning of the appointment Tracy and I had a pleasant train ride to Montpellier and walked a block from the train station to the very conveniently located OFII office in a nondescript office business. We joined a diverse group of OFII clients waiting for our appointment at 1:30. The group included people from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, us from the US, and an older Australian couple that would play into this story. Once the office open the OFII staff systematically and efficiently processed the people in our group. The staff was very good about working with immigrants who may have limited skills speaking French.
We were kind of thrown for a loop when Tracy was called for her x-ray as “Tracy White,” her maiden name with a French pronunciation. But the confusion was temporary and Tracy was up and gone getting her chest x-ray. I later got confused where to go after my name was called for my x-ray and joined the wrong group. The staff patiently redirected my path and the x-ray process was quick and easy followed by an interview with a nurse on health issues, an eye exam, and height and weight measurements. Apparently a change in diet and walking everyday has very good for us since we’ve lost about 30 pounds since our arrival in France.
Next we were seen by the doctor who read our x-rays, reviewed our medical histories, and signed off on our medical clearances. We were given our x-ray films to take home ( “. . . lovely parting gifts”) which appears to be the norm for x-rays in France.
Now back to the Aussie couple. While we were waiting for our final interview, the Australian couple went in ahead of us for their final interview. I previously discussed how in this part of France any “generic English speaker” is assumed to be British. Well, apparently we also “all look alike” too. Granted that the Aussie man and I are “of an age” with grey hair, but by no stretch of the imagination could Tracy be confused with the Aussie’s rather dowdy wife who is about 20 years older than Tracy. However, the woman performing the Aussies’ final interview initially put our Titre de Sejour stickers into their passports. Once we walked in and she saw our paperwork, she realized she confused us with the only other English-speaking couple in the group; she sprinted to the elevator to catch the Aussies before that left the building. She and another OFII staff member carefully removed our Titre de Sejour stickers from the Aussies’ passports before the adhesive “set” and then re-applied our Titre de Sejour into our passports. For a while there Tracy and I would have been living in France under assumed identities and nationalities.
Our staff member kept apologizing for the mix up as she processed our tax stamps and final paper work. That was only “snag” in our entire residency process, so we were very pleased with how smooth the French bureaucracy had treated us. There were a few more final signatures and the use of a rubber stamp and we were then official residents of France. Our appointment at the OFII office lasted an hour and forty-five minutes from start to finish, I’ve spent more time than that waiting at DMV to register a car.
Nothing more to worry about with our residency until we start our renewal process in January. Hopefully by then the new four-year renewal period will be approved rather than the current annual renewal.