Celebrating Two Years and a Recent Move

Yesterday, April 2, 2015, we celebrated our move to Argeles-sur-Mer and two years in France with a lovely lunch at a local restaurant near our new place.

Le Papayo is one of the few restaurants open year-round in this beautiful sea-side resort town and made for an excellent place to sit on the terrace and enjoy our celebratory lunch.

The food was excellent and the owner spoke English, which is a rarity to be sure! We started off with a demi-litre of chilled rose, a speciality we’ve noticed in this part of France, one we enjoyed often in Carcassonne at our favorite restaurant, La Casa.

Alan and I both ordered the Duo de Quiche entree (or appetizer), which was a light salad with small wedges of quiche, one was leek and artichoke the other bacon and cheese. We enjoyed both immensely, especially considering that 90% of the time we eat vegetarian or vegan these days!

For the main plat (or entree in the US) Alan had the Viande plat, two meats — chicken and lamb — and two sausages over a bed of frites. I had the Escallope et Milanese, a thin chicken breast over a bed of spiral pasta with a light marinara sauce.

For dessert we both had the Dame Blanche, a real treat since we rarely eat anything with sugar anymore. This was by far the biggest indulgence and so very tasty. The Dame Blanch is three scoops of hand-made gelato-style almond ice cream with a dark fudge sauce, topped with freshly made whipped cream.

Those who know me well will attest to the fact that I never eat whipped cream, but I had no problem enjoying this dessert!

Afterwards we took a stroll along the promenade and then out onto the beach to sit in the sand and enjoy the view.

All in all it was an excellent way to celebrate!

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

This year renewing our Cartes de Séjour (residency permits) had some additional complexity our first renewal didn’t.  (First Renewal of Our Residency Permit (Titre de Séjour and Cartes de Séjour Arrived To Help Celebrate Our First Year In France.) With this in mind we started the process in January although the permits do not expire until the end of March.

The issue we expected to deal with was that we were moving to the city of Argelès-sur-Mer during the same week that our current Cartes de Séjour expire. The new city is in a different department than where we currently live (a department is one of the three levels of government below the national level, between regions and communes.) These administrative levels of French government are roughly analogous as US states to French regions, US counties to French departments, and US cities to French communes. Because of the change in physical location we had the question, “Do we renew in our current department or at the one where we will actually be living for the duration of the permit?”

After double-checking with both prefectures (a prefecture being the government office that performs national level business at the local level – think visiting a “Federal Building” in the US) we learned that the Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales would prefer to handle our renewal (although the Préfecture de l’Aude very kindly told us they would be happy to help and do the renewal if there was any problems.) So after two visits to the Préfecture de l’Aude and a couple of e-mails to the Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales I was a finally able to request an appointment date.

"Take a Number"
“Take a Number”

We now knew “when” and “where,” the next step was “what.” Although immigration is performed by the national government, we have been told that there is some discretion at the individual préfet offices in issuing renewals for Cartes de Séjour. The Préfecture de l’Aude provides an in-house form and check-list of “what” supporting documents are required. Not knowing “what” documents the Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales may require and in an attempt to avoid a four-hour round-trip train ride to Perpignan, I requested the correct renewal forms and check-list from that préfet by mail and by e-mail.  Yes, I know it’s redundant for both, but I wanted to make sure I received a response so that we had plenty of time to acquire all the supporting documents before the appointment. I’m sure anyone who has ever gotten turned away at a window at the Department of Motor Vehicles because of a forgotten document can relate.

The Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales very promptly responded with a confirmation date for our renewal appointment, the renewal forms required, and a list of supporting documents that need to accompany the renewal application.  The forms themselves simply asked for identification information (i.e. name, date of birth, address, nationality, and such) and the required documents is a short list (the originals to be brought with us and copies to be attached to the application):

1. Current Carte de Séjour (residency permit) that is being renewed.

Carte de Sejour
Carte de Sejour

2. Passport with copies of pages with identification information, expiration dates, 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 marital status was mentioned on the copies of passport pages.  A marriage certificate was also not on the required document list at our previous renewal, but was requested during that appointment. We always opt for the “better safe than sorry” theory so the marriage certificate was included with our application. We carry our dossier file to all government meetings, our dossier file is a binder-briefcase that contains all our important documents in case an additional document is requested.

4. Birth certificate.

5. Proof of the location of residency with a utility bill and our landlord’s identification information. Our new landlord was happy to provide that information as was our current landlord during last year’s renewal.

6.  Three recent passport-style photographs.  There are passport photo machines in a dozen locations around Carcassonne.  Photos are required with almost all government applications.

7.  €106 payment each in timbres fiscaux (tax stamps.)  The tax stamps are sold in specific Tabacs (tobacco and convenience stores.)

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

8. Proof of financial independence equivalent to 12 times the monthly French minimum wage (in our case with bank statements and pension confirmation letter from the Nevada Public Employees Retirement System [NV PERS] as retirees.)

9. Sworn handwritten attestation not to exercise any occupation in France. (There was actually an attestation on the form that could be filled in.)

10.  Self-addressed, stamped envelopes.

All of these documents and items were then obtained over January and February. In several cases it takes a couple of weeks to process the requests plus transit time in the mail. Some agencies or companies will only mail to our “official” US address and then that document has to be re-mailed to us in France, which Tracy’s sister graciously handles for us.

Tracy (AKA the “Queen of Organization”) arranged and organized our applications exactly in the order of the checklist we were provided.  There was one folder for me and one for her in the event we saw separate officials rather than together as a couple. (We have so far always had “couple” appointments.)

Carte de Sejour Renewal Paperwork
Carte de Sejour Renewal Paperwork

On our appointment date of March 2 we traveled by train the 114 kilometers (71 miles) to Perpignan.  Since this was the first time we have visited Perpignan, we built-in a “cushion” of extra time in order to locate the Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales, do a bit of sight-seeing, and enjoy a leisurely lunch before our appointment.

The train trip included beautiful views of the snow-capped Pyrénées mountains and flocks of pink flamingo on the salt marches between Narbonne and Port-la-Nouvelle

Préfet des Pyrénées-Orientales, Perpignan.
Préfet des Pyrénées-Orientales, Perpignan.
The Bassa river and the Castillet in Perpignan
The Bassa river and the Castillet in Perpignan

Just before our 2 pm appointment, we went to the Prefectures’ information desk to check-in. A very friendly staff person (speaking both French and English) explained that renewal office was located around the corner at a Prefecture annex in the Hôtel D’Ortaffa. Once we checked in at the reception desk, we were directed to a waiting room and we noticed immediately that there was an electronic display board with numbers and the other patrons were holding number slips. I went back to double-check with the receptionist if I needed a number. Another patron kindly explained to Tracy that there were two waiting areas, one with check-in numbers and a second with appointments to be called by name. Tracy called me back from the reception desk and we moved to the second waiting room. It is always little things like this that seem to cause us the most confusion.

Hôtel D'Ortaffa, Perpignan
Hôtel D’Ortaffa, PerpignanAfter a

After a twenty-minute wait we met with our immigration representative, a very patient woman who spoke no English.  Almost immediately the discussion about “issues” with our renewal applications started.

The first issue:  We are moving to Argelès-sur-Mer the day after our current Cartes de Sejours expire. This means we are moving between departments. Our representative first believed that we needed to apply for our renewal in Carcassonne. I was prepared with the e-mail in which I had previously confirmed where to apply for renewal. That seemed to fix the problem quite nicely.

Second issue: We had no proof we were living in Argelès-sur-Mer. Of course not, we haven’t moved yet. However, once we produced our current rental agreement and receipts she shook her head and mentioned that our stuff from Carcassonne didn’t work there. We then pointed out the address for the upcoming residence. Our representative pointed out that the residence was described as a “holiday” property. We indicated the arrival and departure dates on the lease. Our rep ran upstairs and had her supervisor approve it. She came back smiling and saying, “Okay, Okay.”

Third issue:  Normally residency is proven with a utility bill in the name of the applicant. But with the Argelès-sur-Mer rental property, like our current home in Carcassonne, the utilities are in our landlords’ names. We produced a copy of the utility bill for the Argelès-sur-Mer property and a copy of our new landlord’s passport as the utilities holder. Our new rental home is a form of duplex. The landlord lives on the opposite side of the property with her entrance on a parallel street opposite from our entrance. The two units have the same number, but use different street addresses. The utility bill, although it is for both properties, is mailed to the landlord’s address. After many attempts in our limited French to explain the architecture of the buildings, Tracy solved the concern with a quick sketch of the two unit’s adjacent floor plans. Oddly, that seemed to work just fine.

Fourth issue:  Our pre-addressed envelopes for pick-up notification were made out to our current Carcassonne address. (We assumed that notification would come prior to the 30 days we had before we moved.) Our representative insisted that the address be changed to the new address and kindly provided “white-out” tape for Tracy to change them. We are hopeful that we will have mail upon arrival.

With those issues resolved, the representative accepted our renewal applications for final approval, took our digital fingerprints to confirm our identities, and prepared our Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour (receipt of application for residency permits) that serve as temporary Cartes de Sejours.

Surprise fifth issue:  Although the Prefecture’s checklist for the application asked us to bring three passport-style photos each, our representative needed four photos to complete the application process. Easy to fix, we always keep extras in the dossier.

Our representative had us sign our paperwork, issued us our Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour, and advised us that once we received our notification letters we needed to return with our timbres fiscaux (tax stamps), passports, and Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour to collect our Cartes de Sejours for 2015-2016 with our new Argelès-sur-Mer address.

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

Success! Although we were getting apprehensive in the middle of our meeting, our representative handled everything with relative expediency. Relieved, we happily walked back to the Perpignan train station with our Récépissés tucked safely inside our dossier.  There was even time for a celebratory beer at a café before we boarded the train back to Carcassonne and start packing for our move.

Our biggest lesson: if there is any confusion in terminology. i.e. vacation rental, or addresses that don’t match for utility bills, it needs to be addressed prior to the appointment. A lot of the confusion could have been easily resolved with a letter from the landlord that indicated the dates and duration of our stay, that it would be our permanent address during those dates, that she owned both properties and covered them under one utility bill, and that our utilities were included in the rental price.

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

Argeles-sur-Mer in 2015

Originally when we made the move to France it was with the understanding that we would move at the end of every year to a new city or region. Our intention was to see as much of this beautiful country and absorb as much of the culture as possible.

However, when the time came we decided to make our stay in Carcassonne a bit longer. The reason was simple, we love it here. It certainly didn’t hurt that three months in a row our landlord, Jason, asked if we wanted to stay on. We have been good tenants and felt that he might have thought so as well.

Recently, we were discussing our decision to stay another year and decided that we had better start making plans to move at the end of this year or it might become all too easy to agree to a third year here. We have become locals and like that many of the people we see frequently think of us as such.

After returning from our six week sojourn to Spain, several of the locals we see frequently were happy to see us return. We assimilated quite easily into the laid back lifestyle here in the Languedoc region and enjoy everything from the locals to the weather.

But we didn’t want to bail on our original goals. We love to travel and visit new places. Part of the attraction to living abroad was to be able to do more than just see a few tourist sites and leave. So the idea of settling into a comfy situation has left us feeling like we might be betraying the original plan.

To that end, we have been looking for another location that offers everything we love about Carcassonne. It needs to have a good mix of things to do, festivals, market days, museums, parks. Access to transportation by train or bus is a necessity as we don’t own a car. Access to “regular” life stuff such as a super market, sporting goods store, pharmacy, veterinarian, etc.

This time we also have to consider Sami’s needs.  Kiara was small enough that she didn’t mind being an apartment dog. A trip each day to the park was more than enough for her, and due to her illness sometimes it was too much. However, Sami is a healthy girl with tons of energy.  So, for her a place to run and play is a luxury that we added to our list of wants.

After creating a list of things that were necessities and those that are complete deal breakers (such as no train and 5 km or more to the local market) we went in search of a new residence in a new location.

We believe we have found exactly the right spot in Argeles-sur-Mer. Argeles-sur-Mer is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It has the longest un-obstructed sand beach in the south of France, just over 7 km. The town has history going back to the 8th century and is close to a noted artist colony, for Fauvists such as Picasso and Matisse, in Collioure just 7 km up the road.

Though Argeles-sur-Mer has a smaller population than we prefer at just over 10,000 residents, it seems to have more than enough access to open-air markets, supermarkets, pharmacies and such. Anything that may be lacking we’ll be able to find in Perpignan, with over 118,000 residents, which is only 17 km away and accessible by train in 15 minutes. We have purposely tried to avoid towns that are too small as a comfort measure, but Argeles-sur-Mer has one more added bonus that makes it worth trying . . . a two-bedroom apartment with a yard just three short blocks from the Mediterranean Sea.

We are in negotiations now with the owner and she seems happy to have us come stay beginning in April of 2015. It has long been a dream for both of us to live close enough to a beach that we could enjoy year round. Though Argeles-sur-Mer is a tourist town the busy part of the high season lasts only a few short weeks in August. During the high season, June 1 to September 15, dogs are not allowed on the beaches but come September 16 Sami will be able to spend as much time as she likes running in the sand and surf. Between June 1 and September 15 she’ll have to get by with the 6 acre park two blocks from our apartment or walking along the promenade that stretches the length of the beach, all 7 kilometers!

We have spent more than a few hours with Google Earth getting familiar with what will hopefully be our home for 12 months come April 2015, but we are excited at the prospect of living close to the sea and spending time seeing all the sites available in and around the area. And, of course, long walks on the beach!

Photo credits to Wikipedia and Google Earth.