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)

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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!

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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)

“What Bureaucracy?” Third Renewal of Our Residency Permits (Cartes de Séjour) Part 2

Our self-addressed envelopes from the Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales in Perpignan arrived notifying us that our new Cartes de Séjour (Residency Permits) were ready for pickup.  The letter advised us that our 2016-2017 Cartes de Séjour can be picked at the Préfecture on Monday afternoon or Wednesday or Friday mornings. We are required to bring our old Cartes de Séjour and €106 each in timber fiscaux (tax stamps.) It took just over two weeks from the day we dropped off our renewal application to receiving the “ready to pick up” letter.

Notification Letter from the Prefecture that Carte de Sejour can be picked up.
Notification Letter from the Prefecture that Carte de Sejour can be picked up.

The following Monday we took the €1 Bus to Perpignan and spent the morning shopping, having lunch, enjoying an obligatory coffee in Place de la République, and wandering around the historic town center before the Préfecture’s étranger bureau (immigrant office) opened at 1:30.  We stopped by reception and were issued numbers and there were 14 people ahead of us.

"Take a number"
“Take a number”

Despite there being only one window open, the electronic display counted down quickly.  Most people only required one or two minutes to complete their transaction.  Most seemed to be doing exactly what we were doing, picking up a new Carte de Séjour. The waiting room looked like every other large doctor’s office/ DMV waiting room we have ever spent time in with individuals, couples, and families sitting, talking, and straightening out their documents in folders.

Renewal Documents
Renewal Documents

For this visit we were only required to bring our Cartes de Séjour and tax stamps for payment with our Passports for identification.  But we brought our entire renewal dossier, “just in case.” We were called up for our turns in less than a 30 minute wait and it literally took less than one minute each for the immigration officer to issue our new Cartes de Séjour for 2016-2017. We’ve spent far more time waiting in DMV lines back in the US. As often as we have been warned about French bureaucracy and “red tape” in France, we have pleasantly been surprised how straight-forward and helpful government representatives have been. Perhaps it is a much different story in large Préfectures  in major cities like Paris, Marseille, or Lyon, but in the Préfecture des PyrénéesOrientales and the Préfecture de l’Aude in the Languedoc-Roussillon region we have always been well treated.

This year’s renewal process now complete, Tracy and I are legal residents of France for another year.

Carte de Séjour 2016-2017
Carte de Séjour 2016-2017

 

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 2Parfait!  Third Renewal of Our Residency Permits (Cartes de Séjour) Part 1

600th Anniversary of the Procession de la Sanch à Perpignan

Tracy and my most recent micro-adventure was joining 10,000 other spectators at the 600th observance of the annual Procession de la Sanch (The March of the Penitents) in Perpignan on Good Friday, 2016. (La Sanch is pronounced “lah sank.”)

Poster of the Procession de la Sanch à Perpignan (Perpignan Tourism Office)
Poster of the Procession de la Sanch à Perpignan
(Perpignan Tourism Office)

Outside of Spain, the Procession de la Sanch isn’t really performed any longer. In France, it is only held in the southern Catalan country. The largest and most famous of the French penance processions still performed during the Semaine Sainte (Easter Holy Week) is the Procession de la Sanch a Perpignan. Nearby Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure also still perform la Sanch ceremonies, though on a smaller scale. The event was originally brought to Perpignan in 1416 by Saint Vincent Ferrier, a Valencian Dominican. (Remember, Columbus reached the “New World” in 1492, 76 years after the first Procession de la Sanch.) The Pyrénées-Orientales département (which includes Perpignan, Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure, sometimes referred to as Catalunya Nord) has strong Spanish and Catalan roots that has helped this French department retain a traditional event that is typical of the Semana Santa (Spanish Holy Week). The strength of this French-Catalan-Spanish blend can be easily seen in the departments’ flag, gold and red stripes, the same colors as those used in Catalan and Spanish flags.

The somber, masked procession began centuries ago as a method to support condemned men on their final march to execution and ensure their Christian burial. La Sanch’s robes and the conical hoods (the hood is called a Caperutx — today the entire ensemble is referred to as Caperutx) were worn by the executioners and the prisoners to conceal their identities. Apparently early on in history the victims and families of the victims were a bit too happy to pull them out of the procession and just beat them violently to death in the streets.

The Caperutx worn during La Sanch are either black (worn by the penitents representing death) or red (worn by the leader, the Regidor, representing blood), only the children and priests in the procession (representing the innocents and the saved) wear white. A Regidor, in his red Caperutx is at the head of the procession and rings an iron bell to warn of the coming procession. The robes worn in la Sanch, while reminiscent to the costumes worn by the Ku Klux Klan, actually predate the Klan’s by 500 years and have a completely different origin and meaning.

About 700 members of local associations, Confrérie de la Sanch, organize, march, and carry the approximately 35 “misteris” in the procession. (“Misteris” mean mysteries in Catalan.) The misteris are litters with life-size portrayals of scenes from the Passion of Christ. Weighing between 60 and 100 pounds, the misteris may be carried by up to eight persons. Some of the penitents in Caperutx carried drums and beat a steady, slow tattoo for the procession. Penitents also may sing”goigs,” traditional songs dating back before the 15th century, that recount the sadness of Mary’s suffering in Calvary. We didn’t hear a “goig” being sung while we were watching the procession.

The Procession de la Sanch takes three hours (from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.) to circle the historic downtown of Perpignan and passing other parishes, starting and ending at Église Saint-Jacques (Saint James’ Church) which dates back to 1245.  

Prior to the procession start, we visited Église Saint-Jacques. We found a beautiful 13th century church with a unique bell tower that was built in the southern Gothic style. Its most unusual feature is that there are two Catalan-styled altarpieces at opposite ends of the single nave with the organ at the center. Inside the church were many of the Misteris with their fresh flowers being displayed before the procession. We had a wonderful opportunity to see the Misteris up close and appreciate their size and weight. We spoke with another visitor to the church who was admiring the Misteris. He was French, but had completed his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. He recounted the history of the event with us and told us we were very welcome there and encouraged us to have a look around the church. Since Tracy and I share an appreciation of sacred architecture, his invitation was quite welcome.

Église Saint-Jacques de Perpignan (Saint James' Church)
Église Saint-Jacques de Perpignan (Saint James’ Church)

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We choose a location to watch the procession in Place Puig (Puig Square) in the Quartier Saint-Jacques which is also referred to as the Quartier Gitan because of its significant Gitan (Roma people, often called Gypsies or Gitanos in Spain) community. While waiting for the event to start we visited with a local Gitan man who explained the Gypsy history of the area and how the former military barracks adjacent to Place Puig were converted to public housing and was now home to primarily Gitan peoples.

Procession de la Sanch Map (Perpignan Tourism Office)
Procession de la Sanch Map (Perpignan Tourism Office)

The procession was preceded with a loudspeaker explanation about the history and meaning of the event.  After the announcement we heard the tattoo of drums and the procession became a solemn, slow-moving parade.  Approximately 700 men, women, and children participated in the procession.  Although it is easy to fixate on the penitents wearing the Caperutx hoods and robes, there are a surprising number of women dressed in black marching in the procession.  The misteris on their litters looked impressively heavy as their were carried on the procession. Both the men and the women carried misteris.  The carriers had an unusual technique of using a forked walking stick under the carrying poles to support the weight of the misteris when the procession stopped and to trade carriers. The use of the forked sticks was performed without verbal direction with orders by tapped by the team leaders with their stick on the ground to alert the other carriers. Tracy noticed that several women were wearing heels up to 4 inches to allow all the women carriers to be the same height. Several of the hooded penitents wearing the Caperutx elected to walk the entire route and to carry the misteris in their bare feet. 

I spoke with one of the marchers who was collecting charity contributions from the crowd.  He attempted to chat with us in French, Spanish, Catalan, and, I think, Caló (Gitano-Roma) before I explained that our French and Spanish was very poor and that we were Americans. While saying he didn’t speak English, he spoke enough English welcome us, thank us for a supporting the procession,and gave us a prayer card with the “Our Father,” . . .  in Catalan, of course. It is always amazing to us the number of multilingual people we meet in the Pyrénées-Orientales département, even though English is seldom one of those second languages, usually the French people in this area of the south will most often also speak Catalan, Spanish, or Maghrebi (Moroccan Arabic – Darija.)

At the end of the official procession pasted, members of the public joined at the end of the parade and followed the official participants.

In all, it was a unique opportunity to watch the 600 year old Procession de la Sanch in person. A chance to observe a traditional Catalan and Spanish religious ceremony performed in a very secular modern France. To be involved in the conclusion to the penance and atonement of the Lenten season in a historic ritual dating back to 1416. It was an extremely powerful experience.

Wishing you all a very Happy Easter.

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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

 

Voting in the Global Presidential Primary

Hello. My name is Alan and I’m a politics addict.

I was part of the Twenty-sixth Amendment’s first class of 18-year-old voters allowed to participate in federal elections and have voted in every election since. My first degree was in political science and I have a master’s degree in public administration and public policy. I have a personal philosophy of “voting for the person, not the party” and have changed my party affiliation numerous time to support a candidate I believed merited my support in a primary election and I have voted for local, state, and national candidates of all parties. I have volunteered to work on election campaigns. I follow elections, legislative sessions, and court decisions the way some people follow the NFL football season. I believe voting is a privilege and a duty and find it appalling that the US has such low voter participation. I strongly support programs like Oregon’s “Motor Voter” system to encourage more people to actively exercise their political franchise. Since moving to France Tracy and I have made a point of “voting back home” by use of absentee ballot.

Hello. My name is Alan and I’m a politics addict.

I can tell you that Tracy, who does not share my politics passion, puts up with my obsessive following of all things political with the same kind of patience that she did when the kids were little and telling her why they HAD TO hit their brother first.

I had recently — and by recently I mean every day since the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary — been lamenting the fact that our home state of Nevada has replaced primary elections with the caucus system since 2008. There is no option to participate by “absentee voting” in a caucus which requires face-to-face participation.

However, while reading about the upcoming March 1, 2016 “Super Tuesday” presidential primary elections, I discovered that Super Tuesday includes the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary that we can participate in.

Global Presidential Primary logo (Democrats Abroad website)
Global Presidential Primary logo
(Democrats Abroad website)

Democrats Abroad is a fifty-two year old, official Democratic party organization representing US citizens living permanently or temporarily overseas. It has “state-level” recognition by the National Democratic Party for representing overseas voters. The Republican Party has a similar organization, Republicans Overseas, but the Republican National Committee does not considered Republicans Overseas a “state committee” and it does not conduct its own global primary.

From 1976 to 2004 Democrats Abroad have sent delegates to Democratic National Convention using a caucus system. Since 2008, Democrats Abroad have conducted Global Primary Elections for Democratic party voters among the approximately 8,700,000 Americans that live overseas.

US States by Population with the Number of Overseas Americans (Democrats Abroad website)
US States by Population with the Number of Overseas Americans
(Democrats Abroad website)

Participation in the Global Primary Election is extremely easy.

1.) Be living permanently or temporarily abroad.

2.) Take a couple of minutes to join Democrats Abroad via their website.  You list your name, date of birth, phone numbers, US voting address, and your physical address abroad. After completing your application you are sent a e-mail link to activate your membership account.

3.) You are then authorized to vote at one of the 121 official Voting Centers in more than 40 countries, during the week of March 1 to March 8. (There are ten Voting Centers throughout France.)

4.) If you are unable to vote in person (Toulouse is our closest Voting Center and we are in the middle of moving), you can e-mail, fax, or “snail mail” your ballot to Democrats Abroad.  In just a few minutes, Tracy and I downloaded, filled-in our indentification information, selected a candidate, signed, scanned, and e-mailed our ballots to Democrats Abroad ahead of the March 1 to March 8 physical voting period. A mailed ballot must be postmarked by March 8 and ballots received after March 13, 2016 as deemed invalid and will not be counted.

5.) Of course, you can only vote once for a presidential candidate: either through the Global Primary Election or through your home state. You can either vote absentee, or participate in the caucus in your home state. or participate in the Global Primary Election.

Based on the results of the Global Primary Election, Democrats Abroad will send 21 delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  Our home state of Nevada will be sending 43 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Tracy told me I was “way too excited” about being able to vote in a primary election.

Hello. My name is Alan and have I mentioned that I’m addicted to politics?

Tracy is across the room on her laptop diligently searching for a 12-step program.

 

 

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