Fourth Renewal of Our Residency Permits (Cartes de Séjour) with a Bit of Panic

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 PyrénéesOrientales in Perpignan was scheduled by e-mail for lucky March 13. The Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales 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.

Carte de Sejour
Carte de Sejour

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 PyrénéesOrientales 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.

Tracy organizing our Carte de Séjour dossiers.
Tracy organizing our Carte de Séjour dossiers.
Carte de Sejour Renewal Paperwork with our mobile file of personal documents
Carte de Sejour Renewal Paperwork with our mobile file of personal documents

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.

Préfet des Pyrénées-Orientales, Perpignan.
Préfet des Pyrénées-Orientales, 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.

Hôtel D'Ortaffa, Perpignan
Hôtel D’Ortaffa, Perpignan

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.

Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour 2015
Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour 2015

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.”

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RENEWING A US PASSPORT WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE (PART III)

Passport Card package from Marseille Consulate

The final document of my passport renewal came today.

My new passport card arrived by Chronopost after I received an e-mail yesterday from the US Consulate in Marseille advising me that the passport card was en route. It took only three weeks for my new passport booklet to arrive and ten weeks for my passport card. I need to compliment the Marseille Consulate again for its spectacular service.  I had incorrectly assumed that with living oversea there would be extensive delays to a passport renewal.

Passport Card package from Marseille Consulate
Passport Card package from Marseille Consulate

I now have my complete set (passport booklet and passport card) of United States travel documents, ready for use until their expiration in 2026.  My passport card will also double as an approved REAL ID document for future domestic US air travel and to enter high security US government offices without having to always carry my passport booklet. In all, it was a much easier process to renew my passport while living oversea than I anticipated.

Alan's Passport Card
Alan’s Passport Card

Related Posts:

RENEWING A US PASSPORT WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE (Part I)

RENEWING A US PASSPORT WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE (PART II)

 

Validating Etta’s Student Visa With OFII (Part 2)

Etta's OFII Letter

After a quick six day turn-around from OFII (L’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration – the French Office of Immigration and Integration) in Montpellier, we received a response to Etta’s Demande d’Attestation letter that we previous mailed to OFII advising that our niece Etta has arrived in France. (Validating Etta’s Student Visa With OFII [Part 1])

Etta's OFII Letter
Etta’s OFII Letter

The very rough translation of the letter from OFII is:

SUBJECT: Dossier VLS-TS, reference “Mineur Scolarise“visa.
On 30/01/2017, your Demande d’Attestation letter arrived, but the visa affix on passport is not VLS-TS but a “Mineur Scolarise“.
As such, you are not subject to the VLS-TS (adult long-stay visa) rules, are exempt from the residence card process, and are authorized to travel outside France within the Schengen Area.
On your 18th birthday, in order to continue your studies, you will have to formally request a residence card from the Prefecture having jurisdiction of your residence.
At that time, re-submit your Demande d’Attestation file to the Prefecture so that an appointment for the compulsory medical visit can be scheduled and you can be processed for your adult residence permit.
Please accept my best regards.
So, 17 year old Etta does not have to be concerned about re-sending her Demande d’Attestation until her 18th birthday in October 2017.  We will share Etta’s efforts for obtaining an adult long-stay student visa this coming October. Etta’s Demande d’Attestation form and its supporting documents are now waiting for October in our files for safekeeping.
In the mean time, Etta is now free to study and travel in Europe and doesn’t have to be concerned about any further paperwork with OFII until her milestone adult birthday.
Etta on the breakwater in Collioure, France
Etta on the breakwater in Collioure, France

Validating Etta’s Student Visa With OFII (Part 1)

"Demande d’Attestation OFII" form and supporting documents ready to be mailed

Our niece, Etta, and her parents completed her application for her long stay Mineur Scolarise (student under 18 years old) visa with the Consulate General of France in San Francisco. They completed the application process that required completing the application form, obtaining travel insurance, showing proof of financial responsibility, obtaining Etta’s record of immunizations, getting her student transcript, and paying the fees. Tracy and I provided proof of our lawful residency in France to serve as Etta’s “host family,” which is perfect since we are actual family.

Once approved the Consulate affixed a visa to Etta’s passport granting permission for 11 months of residency for studies in France.

Etta's Student Visa with numbers obscured.
Etta’s Student Visa with numbers obscured.

Etta’s visa allowed her to enter and spend up to five days in transit through the Schengen Area to reach France. In Etta’s case she, her mom, and Tracy entered Europe at Copenhagen, then took a flight to Barcelona with an overnight stop, then finally arrived by bus to Argelès-sur-Mer in France over two days travel.

Once in France Etta is required to contact OFII (L’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration – the French Office of Immigration and Integration) to validate her visa with an interview, medical exam, and the addition of a Vignette sticker in her passport to serve as her Carte de Séjour (residency permit.)

The
The “Vignette” sticker that takes the place of a Carte de Sejour for the first year of residency.

Tracy and I are familiar with this process because we completed our OFII medical exams and Vignette validation in May 2013 (OFII Medical Exam and Titre de Séjour) when OFII attempted to make Tracy an Australian . . .  but that is a whole different story.

Along with her visa, the consulate gave Etta and her parents a notification form, a Demande d’Attestation OFII, that she is required to complete and mail to the regional OFII office having jurisdiction over Etta’s new residence after her arrival in France. This form includes a bar code that connects to Etta’s account set up when she received her temporary visa. Small snag: the form was safely in a file folder in Reno. But the simple fix was when Etta’s mom returned back to the US, she would scan and e-mail the form to use.  The miracle of modern communication technology.

The e-mail arrived with the Demande d’Attestation OFII with English language direction to mail the completed form to the OFII office in Montpellier along with photocopies of Etta’s information page from her passport, her visa, and her entry stamp. All completed the form was off in the mail and we should receive a letter back from OFII with an appointment date to go visit Montpellier within 90 days.

“Demande d’Attestation OFII” form and supporting documents ready to be mailed

Etta’s “Grand Tour”

Morning coffee and hot chocolate at the beach.

Definition of “Grand Tour”

  1. 1:  an extended tour of the Continent that was formerly a usual part of the education of young British gentlemen

  2. 2:  an extensive and usually educational tour

2017 has some exciting changes for Tracy and me. Our niece, Etta-Kimiyo, will be living with us in France while she is finishing her high school work online. Her student visa was approved through December 13, 2017 by the Consulate General of France in San Francisco. Etta’s parents want Etta to experience Europe with us and for Etta to enrich and expand her education with living abroad. We get the wonderful opportunity to share the history and culture that we have experienced over the last four years and to to make new adventures with Etta.

Tracy and Etta on the municipal bus in Perpignan, France.
Tracy and Etta on the municipal bus in Perpignan, France.

Etta is joining us in our adopted home in Argeles-sur-Mer in the PyrénéesOrientales Department located in Southern France on the Mediterranean Sea and adjacent to the Northern border of Spain. Etta will experience the French, Spanish, and Catalan influences on the local history, culture, and food. The Côte Vermeille and PyrénéesOrientales area where we live is also still known as Catalunya Nord because it was ceded to France by Spain with the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659In fact, there is recent controversy with the greater region being renamed in 2016 Occitanie by the Conseil d’État (when the former French regions Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées were combined) and not named Occitanie Pays Catalan.

We are planning to make use of the flexibility of Etta’s online classes to travel and explore France and Europe with Etta as much as possible, but with school work always remaining the first priority. Tracy has become an expert at “fast and light” discount travel. Potential learning adventures to enrich Etta’s studies that are located in the immediate region include viewing the 17,000 year old cave paintings in Lascaux; seeing the ancient Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard; walking the medieval walled fortress of Cité de Carcassonne; exploring Collioure, the inspiration to Matisse and the Fauvist art movement; the local memorials to the Retiradathe 100,000 refugees of Spanish Republicans fleeing from the Spanish Civil War; or a tour of the Airbus factory and seeing commercial aircraft manufactured in Toulouse. All of these are a quick train or bus ride away. Perfectly timed for Etta’s arrival is the French national train system, SNCF, has just announced a new “Happy Card” discount promotion with unlimited rail travel on high speed TGV and Intercité trains for 16-27-year-olds at just €79 a month.

Etta, Tracy, and Trina (Etta's mom, Tracy's sister) visiting Collioure after Etta's arrival to France.
Etta, Tracy, and Trina (Etta’s mom, Tracy’s sister) visiting nearby Collioure after Etta’s arrival to France.

Of course, Tracy and I are not “trust fund babies with unlimited platinum credit cards” who never stop traveling. We are just everyday people retired from public service with middle-class sized fixed pensions. We live a fairly simple, minimalist life. So for Etta there will be the mundane “real life” of school work, shopping, dog walking, cooking, and laundry with us. But the mundane can be fun with a flexible school schedule that you decide yourself how to schedule; the shopping is at an open air market at the village center; dog walking is along the promenade beside a Mediterranean beach; cooking is with fresh, seasonal, local food; all with frequent breaks along the way to enjoy a pain au chocolat and chocolat chaud at a cafe or swim in the sea. Oh, and laundry . . .  well, laundry is just laundry anywhere in the world, but the Laundromat is a great place to start reading a new book or enjoy music.

There is a bit of a culture shift for Etta. She is sharing with us a small apartment with a micro-kitchen. We do not have a car. We do not have a television. We do not have a dishwasher.We do not have a washing machine. The nearest movie theatre with English language films is in Perpignan. We walk 2 km for morning coffee. We call it “living like a couple of college students.” But we do have great sunrises, the Mediterranean Sea 50 meters aways, palm trees, 7 kilometers of white sand beach, friendly neighbors, bicycles, two spoiled dogs, a beautiful village, an open air market, French pastries, a €1 bus system, and amazing nature and history surrounding us.

Etta working on her on-line high school course work.
Etta working on her on-line high school course work.

Etta’s school curriculum includes studying the French language, I fully expect her to be speaking French better than me in a very short time. She will certainly get a chance for practice.

We are certainly looking for to our shared adventures together.

RENEWING A US PASSPORT WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE (Part II)

Some passport photo over about 40 years.

I am no longer “The Man Without a Country,” or at least I am no longer the man without a passport. My new passport arrived and I can again prove my home country.

alanpassport2017blurred
“Blurred” Passport

Three weeks to the day after mailing my passport renewal application (including my previous passport) to the US Consulate in Marseille, my new passport booklet arrived along with my cancelled previous passport. That was an impressively fast turn-around considering  the Christmas and New Years Day holidays were in the middle of the renewal processing. The US State Department’s web site advises that passport renewals generally take four to six weeks to process, although they proudly (and justly in my case) say they can frequently provide faster returns. I have to complement the Marseille Consulate for great service!

chronopost-package
Chronopost Package from US Consulate-Marseille

I was hoping to receive the upgraded, redesigned 2017 passport with its new polycarbonate page that is meant to protect the embedded and newly machine-readable information chip. I have a tendency to clumsily damage things, especially items I frequently carry. The current US passport’s RFID chip is somewhat fragile and subject to mechanical and water damage.  And, of course,  I just wanted to be one of the first with the “latest thing.” The new-style passports were originally scheduled to be released in July 2016, but apparently either the redesigned format isn’t ready yet or the State Department is exhausting the last of their 2007-2016 edition passport blanks. The new-style passports are now scheduled to be issued the end of 2017 or early 2018.

But staying with the current passport design allowed me to request the free expanded version with 52 pages (43 for visas) in place of the standard 28 (17 for visas.) Normally it takes an overseas news correspondent to fill an extended passport, but it’s a big world and I’m very motivated to see as much of it as I can until this passport expires in 2026.

Starting in 2016, the US joined the rest of the world with no longer issuing additional pages to its passports and the upcoming 2017 passports will be limited to 28 pages. When a passport is now full of stamps and visas, the holder has to get it replaced. Too few passport pages can rapidly become a problem with frequent travelers because many immigration officers stamp passports on random pages and with the least economical use of space. Some countries require two to six blank pages, often requiring adjacent blank pages, be available in a passport for affixing their visas. Sometimes entry stamp are required to be stamped on the page opposite the visa. (Tracy needed to request an immigration officer re-stamp her entry in her passport on the appropriate page opposite her French visa.)

I am anxious to see the redesign of the new-style 2017 passport with its all-new internal artwork that will feature “intricate engravings and inks” using microprinting, color-shifting inks, and ultraviolet watermarks meant to deter counterfeiting. Perhaps Tracy will receive one of these updated passports when she renews for 2019. (Tracy, the retired graphic artist, is a big fan of the striking Norwegian passport‘s design.)

“Remember when it was the rare American who had a passport? In 2013, 117.4 million Americans had passports; in 1989, that number was 7.3 million”

As expected, my renewed passport card was not included in the package. The card takes longer to manufacture than the traditional booklet and should arrive in a few more weeks.  While the passport card is NOT valid for European travel, I wanted it as a supporting US citizenship document. I also lack a REAL ID Act “gold star” approved US drivers license because I last renewed my drivers license by mail while living overseas. The REAL ID Act’s final deadline for full enforcement is still a “moving target”with frequent extensions. A passport card is an approved REAL ID document for future domestic US air travel without having to carry my passport booklet.

Some passport photo over about 40 years.
Some passport photos through the years.

So now with a valid passport in my hands, I am no longer “running barefoot” through Europe without US travel credentials. While I don’t actually carry my passport on a daily basis while living abroad, just having my passport in my possession grants me peace of mind and my ability to travel internationally again.

I also have the challenge of a brand new passport with lots of blank pages to start filling up.

Related Post:  RENEWING A US PASSPORT WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE (Part I)

RENEWING A US PASSPORT WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE (PART III)

New Year Good Luck: Saucisse et Lentilles

Growing up I heard the southern America folk tradition that eating black eye peas on New Year Day would grant good luck and prosperity in the coming year. We often had black eye peas with bacon on New Year Day. The superstition goes back to the mid-1800s in the US.

The idea that black eyed peas are lucky dates back to the Civil War. Northern troops considered the peas to be suitable only for animals so they were one of the few edible things left behind by raiding soldiers. The “lucky” peas made their way to Southern tables, especially those of Southern slaves who celebrated emancipation as ordered by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863.

In France (along with Italy), there is a similar tradition of eating saucisse et lentilles (sausages and lentils) on New Year Day for good luck. I especially like saucisse et lentilles made with Saucisse de Toulouse and green lentils du Puy (which are sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s caviar” because of their flavor.)

The lentils are symbolic of money and prosperity because they’re round like coins.  The pork in the soup is also symbolic of prosperity (traditionally of having food on the table all year long).

I like the idea of matching, but independently created folk traditions that transverse cultural and national boundaries. So, of course, for my New Year Day lunch I enjoyed a bowl of saucisse et lentilles. Any good luck resulting in 2017 would be welcomed, but you can’t go wrong with a delicious, steaming bowl of saucisse et lentilles on a chilly January day or on any day for that matter.

 Happy New Year! Bonne Année!

.

Saucisse et lentilles
Saucisse et lentilles

Premier Bain de l’Année 2017

It’s January 1, 2017 and my New Year resolution is to be far more consistent posting to our blog. So my first post of 2017 is its first micro-adventure:  the Premier Bain de l’Année (also called the Bain du Nouvel An), the first swim in the sea of the new year.  This is an annual event in Argelès-sur-Mer taking place at the central Plagd’Argelès-sur-Mer (Argelès beach) adjacent to the Esplanade Charles Trenet.

Premier Bain de l’Année poster 2017
Premier Bain de l’Année poster 2017

With the overcast morning’s air temperature at 11°C / 51°F and the Mediterranean Sea’s temperature at 14°C / 57°F, the swimmers and their supporters gathered at the beach as colorful traditional Catalan fishing boats (called “barques” in French or “llaguts” in Catalan) arrived to assist the event. At 10:00 a.m. the swimmers started to disrobe to their swimsuits while their supporters kept bags of dry clothes and towels for the swimmer’s return.

At 10:30 a.m. there was a series of whistle blasts and the swimmers ran to the water. Many swimmers looked festive wearing Santa Claus hats, outrageous wigs, and costumes.  One female swimmer wore a sparkling ballerina’s tutu.

No, I did not join the swimmers this year. The dogs and I offered our support and admiration from dry land. Perhaps next year . . . NOT.

The swimmers had a spectacular time. They swam, splashed, posed for photos, and there was a spontaneous group sing-along with two dozen hard-core swimmers long after most participants had returned to shore. There were swimmers of every size and age with all having tremendous fun. It was difficult to estimate the size of the event, but my guess is there was 50 to 75 swimmers with 200 supporters cheering them on from shore.

As the swimmers eventually became too chilled to continue, their supporters would meet them at the water’s edge with warm towels. There were free hot drinks and certificates of bravery waiting for the swimmers back at the Esplanade.

A fun, hometown event to start 2017.

Happy New Year!

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Renewing A US Passport While Living In France (Part I)

Living abroad often require anticipation of “all the moving pieces” necessary to comply with the proper process of maintaining our residency in France. Tracy and I need to annually renew our Carte de Séjour (residency permits) in March, so in January I start collecting all the documents needed so I’ll have everything together for our renewal application in plenty of time.

Among those documents we provide are our valid US passports, however mine expires in February 2018. While that sounds like I have lots of time renew my passport during 2017, in order to renew our upcoming Carte de Séjour for April 2017 to March 2018, my passport needs to be valid at least three months past the expiration date of the 2017-2018 Carte de Séjour. I’m four months short of that requirement.

So in December 2016, I am renewing my passport. Back to that “all the moving pieces” concept, it normally takes four to six weeks to process a passport request . . .  plus there is the added complications of renewing a passport from overseas . . . plus the further complications of consulate and passport offices being closed or short-staffed over the Christmas and New Years holidays.

Nothing is ever as easy as you first think it is.

US Passport
US Passport

So this is my renewal process and how we worked through the complications:

First off, if you live outside the US or Canada, you CANNOT just mail your passport renewal application back to the US.  The application must be submitted through the US Embassy or an US Consulate that provides passport services in the country that you are a resident. With living in France my current options for passport services is the Embassy in Paris or the Consulates in Strasbourg or Marseille. Since Tracy and I live in the south of France, my renewal application package is heading to beautiful Marseille.

Next complication: photo drama. Effective November 1,  2016, passport photos cannot included eyeglasses, so the extra photos I had previously taken cannot be used. Although there are “ID photo” machines on practically every corner (France requires photos with almost every government application), those French photo machine photos are not acceptable for US passports. To help with these problem, the Consulate provides a list of photographers that can take approved passport photos (the nearest to us is in Perpignan) and the US State Department provides a digital photo template tool online.  Tracy, the former graphic artist, took my photo, edited it, and printed an acceptable set of photos. (U.S. standard passport photograph requirements for biometric passports)

US State Department's Online Passport photo template tool
US State Department’s Online Passport photo template tool

The next complication up: payment drama.  It’s an US passport so just send an US check or an US credit card authorization, right? Nope, not accepted. A Mandat Cash (money order) from the Banque Postale (French Post Office) or a chèques certifiés (certified check) from a French bank? Nope, not accepted. The only payment option: “Mail-in consular service customers in Marseille must pay by French bank check (chèque de banque payable en France) made to the order of:  U.S. Embassy.”

A chèque de banque is kind of a big deal. It’s like a “super certified check” drawn directly on and payable by a French bank (not a private account holder) with the payment guaranteed for a year and eight days. Getting the chèque de banque required a visit to my BNP bank branch (our French bank) to make a request using my marginal French (still very much Franglais.)  I was told a chèque de banque request normally takes three days to process. The bank started the process, but I was asked to please return to the bank the next day because the directeur (bank manager) was not there to sign the request. Apparently a chèque de banque request requires the most senior bank officer’s signature. I returned to BNP for a second visit and the chèque de banque request was waiting at reception area for me to add my signature next to the directeur’s. Two days later, the check arrived in the mail.

Chèque de Banque
Chèque de Banque

Since I was not picking up the new passport personally from the consulate in Marseille, I was required to include two prepaid, self-addressed Chronopost envelopes (similar to FedEx Overnight.) A quick trip to the post office and I had the envelopes, cost was surprisingly steep at a total of €52.

I needed to send two envelopes since I was requesting both a new passport booklet and a passport card. A new passport card takes weeks longer to manufacture than a passport booklet. The consulate offers the option to wait and send both the booklet and card together or to send the items separately as they arrive. I wanted to have a passport back in my hands as soon as possible, so I opted for sending two envelopes.

Chronopost Envelop
Chronopost Envelop

I used the US State Department’s online form wizard to print out a completed adult passport renewal application form (DS-82.) The Marseille Consulate warns that a handwritten form could delay processing the renewal request.

My final application package included:

  1. A completed adult passport renewal form, signed and dated, requesting a passport booklet with the extended 52 pages and a passport card.
  2. My current passport booklet and passport card with photocopies of the biographical page for the passport booklet and biographical data on the passport card.
  3. Two recent photos on a white background meeting US passport standards. (One photo for the passport booklet and one for the passport card.) The Marseille Consulate made a point of saying NOT to staple or paperclip the photo to my application.
  4.  My payment of €134 by chèque de banque, (The cost for the passbook booklet was €105 and the passport card was €29.)
  5.  Two prepaid, self-addressed Chronopost envelopes for the return of passports.
Passport Renewal Package
Passport Renewal Package

The application package was mailed as a lettre recommandée (registered mail, €5.93) to:

U.S. Consulate General
ACS/Passport Unit
Place Varian Fry
Marseille 13286 Cedex 06

So now I wait for the passport renewal request to be processed knowing the Marseille Consulate will be closed for the Christmas holiday from December 21 through December 28 and there will be New Years and Martin Luther King holidays coming soon too. Not the best time of the year to be requesting a passport renewal.

On top of heavy seasonal mail and work holidays, US State Department’s “Officials are expecting a flood of renewals of 10-year passports issued in 2006 and 2007. The latter was the year when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect, for the first time requiring passports for Americans returning by air from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda.”

I have a somewhat uncomfortable feeling with having NO passport in my possession for a month or more while still living overseas. Granted, I have my French Carte de Séjour as an official identification document, a photocopy of my US passport, and I live within the Schengen Area where I don’t frequently have to show a passport, but I feel rather “naked” without my US Passport. In an emergency I would be hard pressed for international travel.

I’m hoping for a quick turnaround of my new passport. I’ll let you know how long it takes.

Related post:  RENEWING A US PASSPORT WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE (PART II)

RENEWING A US PASSPORT WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE (PART III)