Parfait! Third Renewal of Our Residency Permits (Cartes de Séjour) Part 1

Our third effort at renewing our Cartes de Séjour (residency permits) was exceptionally easy. We seem to understand the renewal process well now and are experienced with the requirements at the Bureau des étrangers (immigration office) at the Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales in Perpignan.  It also help that we started preparing in January although the permits do not expire until the end of March.

The Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales is extremely responsive to e-mail.  I was uncertain about which forms to download from the Préfecture’s website, but an e-mail was answered in 24 hours with links to the correct forms and a currently list of supporting documents.  The list of documents was the same as last year. They were also kind enough to make an appointment for us to submit our renewal application.  The Préfecture’s e-mail responsiveness saved us from making a physical trip to Perpignan to pick up forms and make an appointment saving us a great deal of time while we were in the process of changing residences.

The list of supporting documents for our renewal appointment is actually short and straight forward.  Bring the original document and a copy of the following:

1. Current Carte de Séjour (residency permit) that is being renewed. Something that was different this time: during our appointment our Préfecture officer made an extra copy of both Carte de Séjours and added them to each other’s renewal application.

Carte de Sejour
Carte de Sejour

2. Passport with copies of pages with identification information, expiration dates, with all entry stamps, and visas.

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 power bill (A French Power Bill is the Ultimate Identity Document)

6.  Four recent passport-style photographs.  There are passport photo machines everywhere from retail stores to train stations.  Photos are required with almost all government applications.

7.  €106 payment for each of us submitted by timbres fiscaux (tax stamps.)  The tax stamps are sold in specific Tabacs (tobacco and convenience stores).  This was a bit more challenging since I couldn’t find a Tabac in Argelès-sur-Mer who sold them and in Perpignan I was also having difficulties.  We were finally sent to the Trésor Public (Public Treasurer) at the Centre Des Finances Publiques à Perpignan where there was a helpful gentleman at a cashier window who was happy to sell us the timbres fiscaux.

 Tax Stamps (timbres fiscaux)
Tax Stamps (timbres fiscaux)

8. Proof of financial independence equivalent to 12 times the monthly French minimum wage.  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.  We submitted a confirmation letter from our French bank that stated that we were customers in good standing too.

9. Sworn handwritten attestation not to exercise any occupation in France. There is also an attestation on the renewal form that our Préfecture officer witnessed us sign.  Our visa status is specifically for retirees and prohibits us from working in France.

10.  Self-addressed, stamped envelopes which are available from any supermarket or post office.

Tracy (A.K.A. the “Queen of Organization”) took my collection of paperwork, rearranged and organized our documents exactly in the order of the checklist, and made certain the required spaces on the renewal form were filled in.

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 15, (yes, the ominous ‘Ides of March’)  we took the €1 Bus the 23 kilometers (14.5 miles) from Argelès-sur-Mer to Perpignan.

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

Our appointment was at 9:15. so we took the early bus and arrived in Perpignan with time to enjoy a café crème and a pain au chocolat before walking to Préfecture’s annex in the Hôtel D’Ortaffa located behind the actual Préfecture. We arrived as the office opened at 9:00 and waited as a police officer from the Police Nationale hand-checked the bags of visitors as they entered.

Tracy having a café crème at Le Grand Café de la Poste in Perpignan
Tracy having a café crème at Le Grand Café de la Poste in Perpignan
Hôtel D'Ortaffa, Perpignan
Hôtel D’Ortaffa, Perpignan

There was a short line at the check-in window, but before we could reach the window, a young customer service representative in a red vest looked at our appointment e-mail and walked us into the immigration office.  We waited a couple of minutes and were called to a window for our appointment at exactly at 9:15.

Our very helpful and friendly immigration officer was extremely impressed with Tracy’s organization and deemed it “Parfait!” (Perfect!) The only issue was with the electronic fingerprint scanner which had difficulties reading my dry hands and it took several attempts to get readable prints.  Tracy had no such problems.

This renewal was much simpler than last years since we were not changing regions and we had a regular lease and power bill.

Our final step was to sign and accept our Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour (receipt of application for residency permits) that serve as temporary Cartes de Sejours. Our immigration officer advised us that we will be sent notification letters that will let us know that we can return with our timbres fiscaux (tax stamps), passports, and Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour to collect our new  Cartes de Sejours for 2016-2017.

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

Success!

And Tracy received official recognition that she is, “Parfait!” But I already knew that. We were “in-and-out” of the Préfecture in 45 minutes total after processing  both our renewals.  I know there is a stereotype of cumbersome French bureaucracy, but (“knock on wood”) we have had minimal challenges and all the representatives have been very patient and helpful.

Now we just have to wait for our notice in the mail to arrive and our return trip to Perpignan..

Tracy in front of the Castillet near the Prefecture in Perpignan
Tracy in front of the Castillet near the Prefecture in Perpignan

Related posts: First Renewal of Our Residency Permit (Titre de SéjourCartes de Séjour Arrived To Help Celebrate Our First Year In France,  Second Renewal of Our Residency Permits (Cartes de Séjour) Part 1, and Second Renewal of Our Residency Permits (Cartes de Séjour) Part 2

 

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A French Power Bill is the Ultimate Identity Document

Tracy and I have never been so excited to receive a bill in our lives; yet we were smiling like new parents when we checked the mail and found our first electricity bill from EDF (Électricité de France). Also like a new parent, we photographed it, scanned it, and placed it carefully back in its envelope for  safe keeping.

To quote from “7 Things You Can’t Understand If You’re Not French,” an article by Kate Robinson.

“Your electrical bill is the most important document you own.”

Ah, the justificatif de domicile. Proof of residence is perhaps the most sought-after document in your personal arsenal of administrative papers. If you want to get your driver’s license, renew your passport, open a savings account (yes, at the same bank where you’ve had a checking account for the last two years) or do anything else involving a visit to a guichet (service counter like DMV), you’ll need to prove where you live. No, the address on the back of your state-issued ID card doesn’t cut it. You’ll need to print or dig out an electrical bill less than three months old.”

and from “You Know You’ve Gone Full-French When . . . ” by Rebeca Planter.

“You keep a relatively recent electric bill in your purse; never know when you’ll need to prove your address… again.”

Our previous rental contracts in France included the cost of utilities, so we never had to obtain an electricity, gas, or water account. That has frequently created a bureaucratic issue for us as to how to establish our physical address.  Just like visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) back in the US, French government agencies have specific lists of approved documents they will accept as documentation.

Tracy and I have managed over the last few years in France without a utility bill to serve as our  justificatif de domicile (proof of physical address) by using alternative methods to establish our physical address like:  1.) having the bank send a registered letter to our apartment and returning it to the bank also by registered mail, 2.) producing a rental contract with a stack of signed rent receipts (having our own Quittance de Loyer book [rental receipt book] has repeatedly been a lifesaver for us), 3.) obtaining an “attestation sur l’honneur” (an affidavit) of occupation from our landlord, and 4.) obtaining from the Mairie (town hall) a memorandum stating we were residents of that town and listing our physical address.

Now, just in time for our application process for our third annual renewal of our Carte de Séjour (our Residency Permits, what in the US would be our “Green Cards”), we now possess the “Holy Grail” of French identity documents, an electricity bill.

EDF Electric Bill
EDF Electric Bill

 

Getting Internet Service in France

With moving to new unfurnished apartment (A Change of Address) in Argelès-sur-Mer, Tracy and I were faced with getting broadband internet service, something that had always been included as part of our previous furnished apartment rentals.  We very much rely on the internet for our communication and entertainment.

There are numerous options for internet service in France:  AliceBouygues TelecomFree, Orange, SFR, and additional smaller providers. Since we lack the language skills to really comparison shop well, we took the easy path by selecting Orange (formerly known as France Télécom), the largest national brand who provides service to more than 40% of France’s internet customers. A large “plus” for us was that Orange has an English language customer service line (+33  09 69 36 39 00) for sales, questions, service, and trouble-shooting. We liked the security of being able to resolve possible future problems in English rather than attempting to do so using our very limited French.  

Orange logo
Orange logo

I telephoned Orange, spoke with a service representative, and had the account arranged in a few minutes.  Installation was scheduled for a two-hour window in six days. Between my phone call and the appointment, I was told to expect the “LiveBox” (a combined modem and wireless router) to be delivered to our new apartment by La Poste (the French Post Office.)  The LiveBox device did arrived two days later. I also received also an e-mail reminder of my installation appointment (with the option to “click” on a button to delay the installation if necessary) and a mailed “hard copy” of my contract with Orange.)

Six days later while we were waiting to go to the apartment to meet the installation technician at 3:00, we received a phone call at 1:00 saying that the technician was ahead of schedule and asked if we could meet him early.  We went right over to the apartment and met our technician.  He set up the apartment’s LiveBox, went to the end of the block used his truck’s “snorkel” to “switch on” the connection on the telephone pole, and then went to the main control box down the block to activate our service.  The LiveBox is only the size of a hardback book and it is a “stand-alone” unit that does not require that it be connected to a dedicated computer.

The whole installation was done in less than an hour.  We then had active broadband internet as well as landline phone service that is included with the account.

Orange LiveBox
Orange LiveBox

In France the norm for internet service is by ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) carried over the copper telephone lines. France is the second largest ADSL market in Europe after Germany.

An issue we had over the last year has been the slow internet speed and narrow bandwidth at our prior apartment in Argelès-sur-Mer. While the landlord’s provided internet service was technically “broadband,” at best it measured at .52 Mbps, most often at .42 Mbps with frequent periods of even slower and sometimes complete outages. Several times I attempted an internet ‘speed test’ and the return was so slow the test “timed out” with no results possible. Tracy, who enjoys Netflix, often had an episode repeatedly interrupted and she was forced to sit and watch the frozen show buffer and buffer and buffer and buffer.  Uploading photos to Facebook could be problematic, YouTube videos might never actually load, and often we both could not be on the internet at the same time.  Our biggest problem occurred when the internet was out-of-service during the November 13, 2015 Paris terrorist attacks and friends and family were unable to reach us to confirm our safety.

Our new internet service “speed test” shows an increase of more than 20 times faster download speed with at least 10.5 Mbps and a 300% increase in upload speed. The difference in “Ping” return is much better; 32 ms for our new service compared to an average 678 ms at the old apartment.

Netflix recommends a broadband connection speed of at least 1.5 Mbps download for standard viewing and 5.0 Mbps for high-definition. Skype recommends 0.1 Mbps for voice calls, 0.5 Mbps for video calls and 1.5 Mbps for HD video calls. (But since most speed tests measure download and upload speeds separately, a person making a Skype call needs higher internet speeds than the minimum recommendations because the communication is in two directions at the same time.)

While we were moving items to the new apartment this morning and putting together a new shelf unit, I received a follow-up call from Orange. They wanted to double-check how our appointment went, if everything was working properly and if we were pleased with the technician who installed our service. Very nice customer service from Orange so far.

So along with the excitement of moving into our new apartment, Tracy and I are thrilled to once more have efficient internet access and that the whole process was simple and easy.

 

 

Getting Renter’s Insurance and an Attestation d’Assurance Habitation in France

So with Tracy and I “upping our game” from living in a “furnished one year vacation rentals” to taking on a “Bail de Trois” (standard three-year lease) of an unfurnished apartment (A Change of Address), our real estate agent Camille advised us we needed to obtain renter’s insurance before we can take possession of the new apartment’s keys.  Contrary to renting a furnished apartment, there is an “obligation on the tenant of an unfurnished tenancy to take out insurance against the risk of fire, explosion, and infiltration of water etc. for which they may be responsible. The minimum insurance required by a tenant is for risques locatifs, but a more prudent policy would be for multi-risques d’habitation, which would include damage or theft to personal belongings. The tenant is required to supply the landlord with a copy of the insurance certificate each year.”  (French-Property.com)

Asking Camille if she had any insurance companies she recommended, she advised us there are many insurance companies available, but the quickest and simplest way would simply be contacting our French bank for coverage.  (Yes, in France you can get home, vehicle, and supplemental health insurance at the bank.  Pet insurance, too. Equally odd to US expats, you can set up a bank account and buy cell phones at the Post Office.) With visions of 1.) a long difficult conversation in our stumbling French, 2.) difficult to understand contract options – all in French legalese, and 3.) a delay in obtaining insurance resulting in a delay in getting the new apartment, we steeled ourselves and headed to our local branch of BNP Paribas.

The bank receptionist was very helpful and was happy to try to complete our request for renter’s insurance, although she did not speak English, she was patient with listening to our poor French.  After a moment she enlisted the help of Julien, a conseiller de clientèle bancaire (bank officer), who spoke English and who could make the transaction easier.  Julien’s excellent English was the result of working in his youth for a year outside Detroit as an au pair and then spending his final month in the US driving Route 66 across America.  His wife and he had just returned from a vacation in New York City.

Julien made the process easy with €20,000 worth of liability, theft, and damage coverage for about €14 a month.  (More than enough coverage with Tracy and my minimalist lifestyle.) We elected to pay an annual premium rather than a monthly payment.  Three signatures and we had the document required for our real estate agent, an Attestation d’Assurance Habitation. We don’t think we ever purchased insurance coverage as easily before.  Quick, painless, and fun discussions with Julien about his experiences in America.

Attestation d'Assurance Habitation
Attestation d’Assurance Habitation

Things that make you go . . . hmmm

 

While walking the dogs on the beach this morning we came across this shoe. Can’t help but wonder if the damage was from a small shark. Sure do hope that there wasn’t a foot in it when it happened! We have never seen a shark ourselves, but last summer one was caught in St. Cyprien, just a few kilometers north of us, so we know they’re out there.

DSCN0179

Réveillon du Nouvel an 2016

 

Tracy made a wonderful traditional US style Christmas dinner for us with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, but with the French touches of Muscat de Noël wine and a Bûche de Noël cake.  New Years Eve 2015-2016 dinner was then up to me to make a proper French Réveillon dinner . . .  or at least as proper of a Réveillon dinner as this US Expat can figure out, shop, cook, and serve.

Réveillon is the traditional dinner that people in French-speaking countries celebrate the night before Christmas and New Year’s Day. Some of the traditional foods vary by region but can include turkey with chestnut stuffing, caviar or smoked salmon on blinis, oysters, foie gras, lobster, and coquille Saint Jacques (scallops). (More descriptions of Réveillon dishes with “food porn” photos at “The Local-France” Ten dishes that make up a French Christmas feast. )

For our New Year’s Eve Réveillon dinner I prepared:

  • Roasted Magret de Canard (oven roasted duck breast.)
  • Grilled Boudin Blanc de porc with truffles. (White pork sausage with black truffles.) Boudin Blanc in France are made with milk while the Boudin Blanc made in Cajun Louisiana is made with pork and rice stuffing.
  • Pan-fried Foie Gras (Duck Liver.) (I have previously learned the trick to remove the battery from the smoke alarm when cooking Foie Gras. The high heat pan and high fat content of the Foie Gras can trigger the smoke detector.)
  • Quiche Lorraine with bacon, cheese and scallops in place of Coquille Saint Jacques for our seafood course. (A purchased quiche since I didn’t think I would have enough time to cook everything.
  • A canapés and cheese plate including Catalan Sausage, duck breast, Foie Gras, Chevre (goat cheese), Brie, Fourme d’Ambert (raw cow’s milk blue cheese), with Rondelé de Président Ail de Garonne & Fines Herbes (creamed cheese spread) and small toasts.  Several of these cheeses are contraband and cannot be imported into the US.

For dessert a Bûche de Noël au chocolat (chocolate cream “Yule Log” cake with layers of crystallized sugar filling) purchased from our nearby pâtissier.

And, of course, Champagne. (What’s the point of living in France without toasting the New Year with real French champagne?)

Our canine children, Sami and Lou, enjoyed a bite of duck with their dinners too. Sami especially loves Canard!

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New York New York Cafe in Argeles-sur-Mer

Taxi cab yellow building with all outdoor seating.
Taxi cab yellow building with all outdoor seating.

A couple of weeks ago we were walking home from the market at around 1 pm and by the time we got to the restaurant section of the Central Plage area, we decided to stop and get something cold to drink. It was hot, in the high 80s.

Argeles-sur-Mer has a LOT of restaurants near Central Plage, however only the Italian restaurant Salzado is open in the off-season. New restaurants open each season and while many re-open each year, there are just as many that close their doors permanently. So if there is one that has an interesting menu, we need to try it right away because by next summer it may no longer be there!

After taking a look through the menu, we decided we needed to try one of the burgers at New York New York Cafe.

Burger Menu
Burger Menu [photo from TripAdvisor]
I ordered the Chicken Bacon BBQ Burger, Alan ordered the Blue Cheese Burger. When they arrived, we split them so we could sample both. The fries were hand-cut, fresh and absolutely delicious. So were the burgers. So good in fact that I even went to TripAdvisor and left a review, something I rarely do.

Chicken Bacon BBQ
Blue Cheese Burger
Blue Cheese Burger
Chicken Bacon BBQ Burger

While we ordered from the standard burger menu, true carnivores would have enjoyed their “Monster Burger.” A full kilo (that’s 2.2 pounds in the U.S.) of hamburger patties, plus cheese and bacon and veggies and sauces, plus fries. With a 30 Euro price tag it isn’t just your average burger! Seriously, it is large enough to feed a family of six!

The XL, XXL and Monster Burger menu.
The XL, XXL and Monster Burger menu. [photo from TripAdvisor]

We have been back only once, but we tend to eat at home most of the time. However, before the end of the season I’m sure we’ll be back at least once more. Maybe we’ll try something from the Hot Dog menu next time, or not, for some reason having a burger always reminds me of home. An expat comfort food!

A Matter of Perspective

Recently Alan and I took our first bike ride together and it got me thinking about the last time I was on a bicycle. I was 16 years old, 35 years ago. While cruising the promenade from our apartment to the harbor I started thinking what a major change of perspective our life in France has created, especially when it comes to transportation.

These days our primary mode of transportation is either walking or using public transportation.

Prior to retirement, the most walking we did was around the Sparks Marina while taking Kiara out to the dog park or for a walk around the marina to see her “peeps.” Afterwards we would usually stop at Anchors, a bar/restaurant with a large patio and a nice view of the water, to have lunch before we drove home.

The only time we used the bus was for football games at Mackay Stadium so that we didn’t have to deal with the parking lots nearer the University of Nevada, Reno campus which could take up to an hour to get out of after the game, or longer if we won.

Our retirement and subsequent move to France has forced us both to a new perspective when it comes to modes of transportation. Probably the best thing that happened to force a change of perspective was walking the Camino de Santiago in 2013. After hiking 800 kilometers over the course of six weeks, a 3 kilometer round trip to the grocery store doesn’t seem so bad at all. And taking a bus to the grocery store was a pleasure after finishing the Camino where we would sometimes hike 8 kilometers before stopping for breakfast.

In Carcassonne, it was easy to catch the bus to get around town, it was inexpensive and the system reached all corners of the city. In Argeles-sur-Mer, there isn’t a local bus, we have a petit train. It doesn’t run as regularly as the buses did in Carcassonne and often we find ourselves preferring to just walk home from the Saturday open-air market rather than waiting 2 hours for the next petit train.

We can walk home in less than an hour, unless we stop for cold drink near the beach. With a bicycle we can make the trip in 20 minutes and there are designated bike lanes on nearly every road in Argeles-sur-Mer. So, even though our apartment came with a couple of used bicycles, we’ve decided to purchase a couple of city bikes for our stay in this beautiful sea-side resort city.

The bikes will offer us the ability to see more of the surrounding area, provide opportunities for day trips and some hiking in the nearby foothills of the Pyrenees, allow us to do our shopping during the winter when the petit train isn’t running, and most importantly, pick up shawarma from our favorite kebab place that’s about 3 kilometers from the apartment and get it home before it gets cold!

For us this is a huge shift in perspective from where we were just two and a half years ago when each of us owned a new car and even though we worked at the same place, most often drove to work separately.

Just arriving back in Argeles-sur-Mer via train with a new bike.
Just arriving back in Argeles-sur-Mer via train with a new bike.
Just arriving back in Argeles-sur-Mer via train with a new bike.
Just arriving back in Argeles-sur-Mer via train with a new bike.
The bikes in racks on the train from Perpignan to Argeles-sur-Mer.
The bikes in racks on the train from Perpignan to Argeles-sur-Mer.

Second Renewal of Our Residency Permits (Cartes de Séjour) Part 2

Continued from Second Renewal of Our Residency Permits (Cartes de Séjour) Part 1

While we were doing our final preparations to move from Carcassonne to Argelès-sur-Mer, we received an e-mail from our future landlord that our letters from the Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales notifying us that our Cartes de Séjour (residency permits) were ready for pick-up. We decided to wait the until we completed our move before we would go to collect our new cards. It had taken the Préfecture about three weeks to officially approve and produce our new Cartes de Séjour.

We moved to our new residence, unpacked, settled-in, completed and submitted our US tax return, shopped for kitchen basics, found the local open-air market, got to know Argelès-sur-Mer’s public transportation system, met a couple from Collioure for drinks, and even hosted friends overnight who were on a vacation through France.

We sorted out the “€1 Bus” schedule to Perpignan and left early on a Thursday morning with the documents the notification letter said were required:  our passports, current Cartes de Séjour, €106 payment each in timbres fiscaux (tax stamps), and the notification letter.  I double-checked the letter and we headed to the Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales in Perpignan.

"Le Bus à €1" - Conseil Général Pyrénées–Orientales
“Le Bus à €1” – Conseil Général Pyrénées–Orientales

The trip went flawlessly . . . almost.  We correctly figured out the regional bus schedule from Argelès to Perpignan, we remembered the path from the station to the prefecture without error, we successfully planned enough transit time to enjoy a leisurely cup of café crème in a nearby cafe, and we were waiting at the right door when the immigration office opened for business. We were feeling very pleased with our skills navigating life as “strangers in a strange land.”

However, I made the embarrassing and very rookie error while reading our notification letters and mis-translated “mercredi et vendredi” (Wednesday and Friday) as “du mercredi au vendredi” (Wednesday through Friday.) That day was, of course, a Thursday. So we spent the remainder of the day exploring Perpignan, took photos, enjoying a nice lunch before catching the bus back to Argelès.

The next day, Friday, we repeated our inadvertent “trial run” and returned to the Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales in Perpignan.  This time everything did go flawlessly.  We enjoyed our morning café crème, was near the front of the line when the Préfecture’s immigration opened, and the receptionist gave us the first two numbers to be called to the service windows.  Tracy had our documents well-organized and our immigration official very professionally processed our forms and payment and issued us our new Cartes de Séjour with receipts complete with digital photos should we lose our cards.

Carte de Séjour and Receipts

It took eleven minutes from walking into the Préfecture to walking back out with our new Cartes de Séjour tucked in our wallets.  We are now all set for another year of living in France.