Tracy and I are fast approaching our first anniversary of living in France. This anniversary requires that we renew our Residency Permit, our Titre de Séjour. Although the French government has been considering creating long-stay visa with a 4 year expiration date, those have not been approved yet. So for at least the first five years of residency, a Titre de Séjour must be renewed annually. (France Mulls Longer Visas for Expats.)
When we first arrived in France, we needed to immediately make appointments with the Immigration Office, OFII (L’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration, in Montpellier for a review of our paperwork and a medical check up. (See our previous blog post OFII Medical and Titre de Sejour.) But our renewal needs to be submitted to the local Prefect Office having jurisdiction over the district in which we live rather than at the OFII . A Prefect Office is the representative of the French national government and Ministry of the Interior at the local level. Visiting the Prefect Office is like visiting a local “Federal Building” in the US. There are 101 districts in France, each with its own Prefecture. Since the city of Carcassonne resides within the District of Aude, our Prefect Office is the Préfecture de l’Aude. No train ride is required to another city like when we had to visit OFII in Montpellier. Conveniently for us, the Préfecture is located walking distance from our apartment at 52 Rue Jean Bringer in the historical Bastide of Carcassonne.
The Préfect de l’Aude is located within the former Bishopric Palace of Carcassonne’s Catholic Diocese that was originally built in 1760. The Prefecture Office was moved into the building after the establishment of the French Consulate system of government after 1799.
Although Tracy and I haven’t yet had any difficulties with the legendary French bureaucracy (in fact government offices have been surprisingly helpful and efficient to date) I wanted to get started early to hopefully “head off” any potential problems.
In January 2014, three months before our Titre de Séjour’s expiration date, I went to the Prefect Office to pick up a renewal form and make an appointment. I wanted enough time to allow for requesting documents from the US and their mailing time. It’s a pretty building, but “government offices” are “government offices” around the world with the feel of waiting at the DMV or Social Security office. I was given a number and directed to the waiting area. While sitting in the waiting room I had a nice conversation in English with an Italian expat and his Australian girlfriend. He was helping her renew her residency. Sadly, they were called in by their representative before I could learn many details of their immigration experiences. But I was also quickly called in to see my representative. She did not speak English, but between my pre-translated request letter and fledgling French I was able to pick up the application and make a return appointment for February 28.
The renewal application was a single page asking for our name and address in France and a list of supporting documents with only nine items. The application asked us to bring the original documents for the Prefect to inspect and photocopies to submit with the application form . Of the nine items on the supporting documents list, 0ne item doesn’t apply, two overlap, and two are “stationery” items. It appears to be a simple process. In addition to the application form we also needed to produce:
1. The current Titre de Séjour, residency permit, to be renewed. Our initial Titre de Séjour is actually a “sticker” that OFII attached to a page in each of our passports (which are required as Item 2.)
2. US passport valid through the end of the visa.
3. Any documents of changes in civil status (marriage, divorce, widowed). This does not apply as there had obviously been no changes in status for either of us.
4. Proof of financial independence. Documents that prove we are financially stable and independent. We have bank statements, letters of recommendations, and pension statements.
5. Statement of honor (Attestation sur l’Honneur) in our handwriting that we will “not to exercise any professional activities” in France without prior authorization. Basically a statement that we will not be working or seek ing employment in France. We located an online a sample letter of the correct format to use and translated our letters into French.
6. Proof of domicile by evidence of a recent electricity bill. Jason, our landlord, provides utilities as part of our rent so we do not have an electricity bill. Jason was kind enough to provide the apartment’s power bill, his identification information, and his own Attestation sur l’Honneur to verify our residency as his tenants.
7. Four passport photos taken at the convenient photo booth at the local Monoprix supermarket.
8. Stamped, self-addressed envelope.
9. Tax Stamps (timbres fiscaux) for payment in the amount of €106 each. The timbres fiscaux were purchased at a local convenience store, a tabac, designated to sell tax stamps.
Tracy, the queen of organization, prepared our individual dossiers of application forms and supporting documents that follows the list right down the line.
We arrived at the Préfect about 10 minutes early for our appointment and were given slips with numbers, but escorted directly to the Residency Permit office. There was a young couple completing their appointment ahead of us. It was obvious from the discussion and body language that they had apparently came to their appointment without all their necessary documents and were sadly leaving empty-handed.
Tracy and I were invited into a cubicle and our Préfect representative very professionally went through our application and dossiers of supporting documents. It was obviously she was very pleased with Tracy’s organization and efficiency with the presentation. Our representative did require “proof of civil status” which we wrongly assumed we didn’t need since there had been no change. However we also brought to the appointment our “mobile file cabinet” binder/briefcase with originals of all our essential documents and we were able to produce the marriage certificate that our representative required. She allowed me to make a quick photocopy and add it to our applications.
At the conclusion of our appointment the representative gave us each an elaborate Récépissé de Demande de Carte de Séjour, a receipt that allows us to continue to live in France until final disposition of our applications by the Préfect.
The representative also gave us an e-mail address at the Préfect to contact after 30 days to inquire if our Cartes de Séjour have arrived for pick-up at the Préfect. My understanding is that the renewal (if granted) that will replace our initial Titre de Séjour, residency permits “stickers” and would be issued in the form of an identification card, a Carte de Séjour . Think of the Carte de Séjour as the French equivalent of an US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) “Green Card,” although a “Green Card” represents permanent residency in the US and this Carte de Séjour will need to be renewed again in another year after issue.
From beginning to end the entire appointment took 30 minutes. Our representative was friendly, helpful, and very efficient. Overall it was as good of an experience as possible aided, I believe, by our efforts to be well prepared and organized to help make our representative’s job as easy as possible. Now we wait for the next 30 days and hope for a positive answer to our requests.