It’s time for our annual pilgrimage to the Préfecture to renew our Cartes de Séjour (residency permits.) That is to say, to renew our “Green Cards” that allow us to continue living as legal residents in France.
Last year was exceptionally easy and we were hoping our prior good luck and previous positive experiences with renewals would continue.
Our rendezvous with the Bureau des étrangers (immigration office) at the Préfecture des Pyrénées–Orientales in Perpignan was scheduled by e-mail for lucky March 13. The Préfecture des Pyrénées–Orientales continue to be extremely responsive to e-mail requests and they responded with attachment with the correct forms and a list of required supporting documents that must be brought in duplicate.
The list of documents was the same as last year and (contrary to the stereotype of French bureaucracy) quite short and straight forward. We are required to bring the original document and a photocopy of the following:
1. Current Carte de Séjour (residency permit) that is being renewed. Last year the Préfecture officer made an extra copy of both Carte de Séjours and added them to each other’s renewal application so we had extra copies prepared.
2. Passport with copies of pages with identification information, expiration dates, with all entry stamps, and visas. I had just renewed my passport my current passport is completely blank. We made a point to have my prior cancelled passport with its original visa to France in it and copies of the requisite pages.
3. Marriage certificate since our passports do not confirm marital status. This document was not specifically on our list from the Préfecture des Pyrénées–Orientales but from past experience we knew marriage status had to be confirmed at each renewal. There is also an attestation that we are married on the renewal form that our Préfecture officer witnessed us signing.
4. Birth certificate.
5. Proof of the location of residency with our lease, rent receipts from last year, and our amazing identity document, the electricity bill (A French Power Bill is the Ultimate Identity Document).
6. Four recent passport-style photographs. (Although the forms only request three photos, in the past they required four.)
7. Proof of financial independence. Our monthly retirement income needs to exceed the €1,500 monthly minimum wage in France. I had previously requested an income verification letter about our pensions from the Nevada Public Employees Retirement System. We also prepared a translation including a conversion of dollars to euros at the current exchange rate. That was the only document we bothered to translate.
8. Signed the sworn attestation that we would not to exercise any occupation in France. The attestation is on renewal form that our Préfecture officer witnessed us signing. Our visa status is specifically for retirees and prohibits us from working in France.
9. Self-addressed, stamped envelopes which are available from any supermarket or post office.
10. Payment was not required at the time of the meeting. We are required to pay the annual fee when we pick-up our renewed Carte de Séjour. Payment is made with timbres fiscaux (tax stamps.)
Tracy (A.K.A. the “Queen of Organization”) once more took my collection of miscellaneous paperwork and organized all the documents into the exact order of the checklist and into individual folders. She also filled in with her precise handwriting all the required spaces on our renewal form.
On our appointment date of March 13 we took the early €1 Bus the 23 kilometers (14.5 miles) from Argelès-sur-Mer to the Préfecture in Perpignan.
Our appointment was at 9:15. so we went directly to the Préfecture’s annex in the Hôtel D’Ortaffa located behind the actual Préfecture. There is still a “state of emergency” in place, so a security person checked my backpack with our application and our back-up file of personal documents we carry in case there is something additional the immigration official requires. We try to be prepared for the unforeseen.
We checked in at the reception window and immediately went back to the immigration windows and after a minute we were speaking with our very helpful and friendly immigration official. We have now visited often enough to recognize most of the staff and this woman has helped us before.
Once more, our official was very pleased with Tracy’s organization and the way we tried to make her job easier. And once more my dry hands were an issue for the the electronic fingerprint scanner and it took several attempts to get readable prints. Next trip I’ll anticipate the issue and use some of Tracy’s hand moisturizer.
However, there was a new document required that was not on the list and was not requested on any of our prior renewals. After a bit of confusion caused by our inability to understand or speak much French, an English speaking staff member told us we needed to provide proof of health insurance. That would be the one set of documents we did not have in our back-up file. We briefly had visions of being turned away from the window with an incomplete file and having to make an appointment to return in another month or two. But the representative kindly told us we could finish up the appointment today and we could drop off the missing documents later in the week. We were very relieved and appreciative.
Our official allowed us to finish our renewal appointment and had us sign our Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour (receipt of application for residency permits) that serve as temporary Cartes de Sejours. We confirmed that we would bring the insurance documents to the reception area tomorrow.
Our immigration representative told us that notification letters would be mailed once the application is approved and we could then return with our timbres fiscaux (tax stamps), passports, and Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour to collect our new Cartes de Sejours for 2017-2018.
Almost a completely successful appointment. We stopped for a café crème at Le Grand Café de la Poste and make plans to return to the Préfecture the next day. That evening we make photocopies, downloaded insurance certificates, and made up cover sheets with our names and immigration numbers. Our fear was our follow-up documents getting lost at the Préfecture and our renewal application sitting incomplete in limbo. But luckily when we returned, the English speaking staff member was passing through the reception area, recognized us, and was kind enough to take our proof of insurance and said she would take them back immediately and add them to our renewal application files. Great peace of mind for us.
We waited for four weeks, when we would normally received notification, but no letters. At six weeks there was no letters and we started to get concerned that maybe the insurance documents did get misplaced or that the application was not renewed, Finally, on Friday of the seventh week, the notifications letters arrived.
I was relieved and pleased, but Tracy had a concern about a phrase in the letters saying, “Valable du 30/3/2017 au 29/06/2017.” “Valable” can mean either “Valid” or “Available,” Tracy was concerned that perhaps our renewal was not approved and that we would be issued a short-term Carte de Séjour valid until June 29 that would allow us 7 weeks to make arrangement to leave France. I thought it probably meant the Carte de Séjour would be available for pick-up until June 29.
Since the Préfecture was now closed and would be until Monday (and my ability to understand and to be understood in French over the telephone was marginal – amazing how much body language and facial expressions adds context to a conversation) we had to wait to get an answer. We decided to research “Plan B,” just in case if we needed to get flights to America for us and two dogs, what the US required to bring the digs into the country without quarantine, how to sell furnishings, the legal requirements to break a lease, close a bank account, and determine what to bring with us should we have to leave France. In short, “Lifeboat Rules” for a fast, unplanned, international move on retirees pensions. That was a stressful exercise: all the uncontrolled variables of the cost of air fares, minimum 30 days after dog rabies vaccination, when and if dogs can fly on international flights, what to sell or abandon, do we pay additional months rents for an apartment we no longer live in, where do we go in the US since we had sold our house?
To get the real answer to our stress-inducing question we went early to the Préfecture to claim our what would be either a seven weeks or one year Carte de Séjour. We would attempt appeal process at the Préfecture if we were disappointed with the seven week Carte de Séjour.
On the way to the Préfecture we needed to pick-up the timbres fiscaux (tax stamps) we needed pay for the fees for the Carte de Séjour. Tax stamps are frequently sold in specific Tabacs (tobacco and convenience stores), but I have been unable to find such a Tabac in Argelès-sur-Mer or Perpignan. So, like last year, we stopped at the Trésor Public (Public Treasurer) at the Centre Des Finances Publiques à Perpignan where a helpful gentleman at the cashier window was happy to sell us the €269 (each) in timbres fiscaux. This was an increase over the €106 (each) in renewal processing fees we previously paid.
Now for the moment of truth. At the Préfecture we were given a number to meet with the immigration official (just like waiting at the DMV.) But, unlike any trip I’ve ever made to the DMV, we were next up to see the representative. Tracy was up first and had her passport, timbres fiscaux (tax stamps), and Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour immediately ready. Our representative checked Tracy’s face against her passport photo, had her sign the paperwork, collected the tax stamps, and the official handed Tracy her new Carte de Séjour.
It was a one year renewal! No “Plan B” would be necessary! No “Lifeboat Rules!” No panic evacuation back to the US would be required! Tremendous relief with knowing the answer. In two minutes, I got my one year Carte de Séjour too.
We were in and out in less than 15 minutes, the extended weekend stress melted away as we stopped at Le Grand Café de la Poste for a café crème to celebrate. In all, the renewall process was easy and the only real “hiccup” was the addition of proof of insurance. All the stress was self-induced from our confused translation on the notification letter. But we did learn that we could make a hurried return to the US if needed.
Tracy summed the whole adventure up, “We have GOT to study our French harder.”