Our self-addressed envelopes from the Préfecture des Pyrénées–Orientales 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.
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.
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.
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 Pyrénées–Orientales 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.
Tracy and I are fast approaching our first anniversary of living in France. This anniversary requires that we renew our Residency Permit, our Titre de Séjour. Although the French government has been considering creating long-stay visa with a 4 year expiration date, those have not been approved yet. So for at least the first five years of residency, a Titre de Séjour must be renewed annually. (France Mulls Longer Visas for Expats.)
When we first arrived in France, we needed to immediately make appointments with the Immigration Office, OFII (L’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration, in Montpellier for a review of our paperwork and a medical check up. (See our previous blog post OFII Medical and Titre de Sejour.) But our renewal needs to be submitted to the local Prefect Office having jurisdiction over the district in which we live rather than at the OFII . A Prefect Office is the representative of the French national government and Ministry of the Interior at the local level. Visiting the Prefect Office is like visiting a local “Federal Building” in the US. There are 101 districts in France, each with its own Prefecture. Since the city of Carcassonne resides within the District of Aude, our Prefect Office is the Préfecture de l’Aude. No train ride is required to another city like when we had to visit OFII in Montpellier. Conveniently for us, the Préfecture is located walking distance from our apartment at 52 Rue Jean Bringer in the historical Bastide of Carcassonne.
The Préfect de l’Aude is located within the former Bishopric Palace of Carcassonne’s Catholic Diocese that was originally built in 1760. The Prefecture Office was moved into the building after the establishment of the French Consulate system of government after 1799.
Although Tracy and I haven’t yet had any difficulties with the legendary French bureaucracy (in fact government offices have been surprisingly helpful and efficient to date) I wanted to get started early to hopefully “head off” any potential problems.
In January 2014, three months before our Titre de Séjour’s expiration date, I went to the Prefect Office to pick up a renewal form and make an appointment. I wanted enough time to allow for requesting documents from the US and their mailing time. It’s a pretty building, but “government offices” are “government offices” around the world with the feel of waiting at the DMV or Social Security office. I was given a number and directed to the waiting area. While sitting in the waiting room I had a nice conversation in English with an Italian expat and his Australian girlfriend. He was helping her renew her residency. Sadly, they were called in by their representative before I could learn many details of their immigration experiences. But I was also quickly called in to see my representative. She did not speak English, but between my pre-translated request letter and fledgling French I was able to pick up the application and make a return appointment for February 28.
The renewal application was a single page asking for our name and address in France and a list of supporting documents with only nine items. The application asked us to bring the original documents for the Prefect to inspect and photocopies to submit with the application form . Of the nine items on the supporting documents list, 0ne item doesn’t apply, two overlap, and two are “stationery” items. It appears to be a simple process. In addition to the application form we also needed to produce:
1. The current Titre de Séjour, residency permit, to be renewed. Our initial Titre de Séjour is actually a “sticker” that OFII attached to a page in each of our passports (which are required as Item 2.)
2. US passport valid through the end of the visa.
3. Any documents of changes in civil status (marriage, divorce, widowed). This does not apply as there had obviously been no changes in status for either of us.
4. Proof of financial independence. Documents that prove we are financially stable and independent. We have bank statements, letters of recommendations, and pension statements.
5. Statement of honor (Attestation sur l’Honneur) in our handwriting that we will “not to exercise any professional activities” in France without prior authorization. Basically a statement that we will not be working or seek ing employment in France. We located an online a sample letter of the correct format to use and translated our letters into French.
6. Proof of domicile by evidence of a recent electricity bill. Jason, our landlord, provides utilities as part of our rent so we do not have an electricity bill. Jason was kind enough to provide the apartment’s power bill, his identification information, and his own Attestation sur l’Honneur to verify our residency as his tenants.
7. Four passport photos taken at the convenient photo booth at the local Monoprix supermarket.
8. Stamped, self-addressed envelope.
9. Tax Stamps (timbres fiscaux) for payment in the amount of €106 each. The timbres fiscaux were purchased at a local convenience store, a tabac, designated to sell tax stamps.
Tracy, the queen of organization, prepared our individual dossiers of application forms and supporting documents that follows the list right down the line.
We arrived at the Préfect about 10 minutes early for our appointment and were given slips with numbers, but escorted directly to the Residency Permit office. There was a young couple completing their appointment ahead of us. It was obvious from the discussion and body language that they had apparently came to their appointment without all their necessary documents and were sadly leaving empty-handed.
Tracy and I were invited into a cubicle and our Préfect representative very professionally went through our application and dossiers of supporting documents. It was obviously she was very pleased with Tracy’s organization and efficiency with the presentation. Our representative did require “proof of civil status” which we wrongly assumed we didn’t need since there had been no change. However we also brought to the appointment our “mobile file cabinet” binder/briefcase with originals of all our essential documents and we were able to produce the marriage certificate that our representative required. She allowed me to make a quick photocopy and add it to our applications.
At the conclusion of our appointment the representative gave us each an elaborate Récépissé de Demande de Carte de Séjour, a receipt that allows us to continue to live in France until final disposition of our applications by the Préfect.
The representative also gave us an e-mail address at the Préfect to contact after 30 days to inquire if our Cartes de Séjour have arrived for pick-up at the Préfect. My understanding is that the renewal (if granted) that will replace our initial Titre de Séjour, residency permits “stickers” and would be issued in the form of an identification card, a Carte de Séjour . Think of the Carte de Séjour as the French equivalent of an US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) “Green Card,” although a “Green Card” represents permanent residency in the US and this Carte de Séjour will need to be renewed again in another year after issue.
From beginning to end the entire appointment took 30 minutes. Our representative was friendly, helpful, and very efficient. Overall it was as good of an experience as possible aided, I believe, by our efforts to be well prepared and organized to help make our representative’s job as easy as possible. Now we wait for the next 30 days and hope for a positive answer to our requests.
On Easter morning, Sunday the 31st, we checked out of our hotel room and headed to Reno-Tahoe International Airport with all our (much downsized) worldly possessions and Kiara the Chihuahua.
I dropped Tracy, Kiara, and the bags out in front of the main terminal and swung around to return the rental car. As I walked back to the terminal I found our niece Lyssa, her husband Chris, and baby Selah saying farewell to Tracy and Kiara. Tracy also had for Lyssa a bag of 110 volt hair care appliances that would completely “self-destruct” if used with Europe’s 220 voltage system. With final good-byes complete we headed inside to check-in with Delta Airlines.
To our surprise we found that our two checked bags would go all the way through to Toulouse. No having to reclaim the bags for customs inspection in Paris. Yippee!
The we met Delta agent, Sarah. What a joy! She was extremely helpful ensuring Kiara was booked for cabin travel with us on every leg of the flight. She made sure we had copies of Kiara’s cabin booking to show the gate agents in Salt Lake City and Paris, if needed. Especially in Paris where we would switch from Delta to Air France.
Interesting to note that with the exception of asking if we had Kiara’s veterinary and USDA clearances, no one ever actually examined the documents. Although we will need the documents for the French veterinarian for Kiara’s EU Pet Passport, apparently we could have flown without all the effort of seeing the vet and USDA. But we operate on the “better safe than sorry” principle and we didn’t want the nightmare of being stopped at customs in Paris and refused admission or worse, Kiara being quarantined.
Although Kiara had to stay in her carrier aboard the plane, the gate agents in Reno-Tahoe, Salt Lake City and Charles De Gaulle airports graciously allowed Kiara to get out of her carrier, stretch her legs, and “strut her stuff” as an international jet-setter, a status she has long aspired to.
Kiara slept quietly and did not seem upset by the flights, although she would have been happier in one of our laps. Tracy did the closest thing possible to that with putting Kiara’s carrier in her lap with slipping her hand through the zippered door. No problems even medicating Kiara while enroute, though Tracy did forewarn the flight attendants that it would be necessary to do so because of her medical condition. Thankfully the flight attendants were more than understanding regarding the medication issue.
Upon our arrival in Toulouse we had the most amazing surprise of all . . . our checked luggage actually arriving with us! It was quite the relief to realize that there IS an airline that can get both you and your luggage to the same destination, at the same time. A feat that United, US Airways and Continental Airlines have never, ever been able to accomplish . . . ever!
Our final surprise was that our new landlords, British expats Jason and Annette, happened to be in Toulouse dropping off some paperwork for their daughter and offered to swing by the airport to pick us up rather than Tracy and I taking the train to Carcassonne. They were kind enough to drive us (and our luggage) the 54 miles to our apartment. That let Kiara ride in our laps for the final lap to our new home, and gave us a chance to get acquainted with another expat couple.
In all, the trip for Kiara (and us) was minimally traumatic, although our new “Miss International Diva” believes she now merits living in the adjacent castle of la Cité de Carcassonne. In the mean time, we are settling into our new apartment . . . without issue, well mostly without issue.
We are under the 24 hour mark and have successfully moved out of the apartment and into the hotel. Props to the Quality Inn at Virginia and Plumb for being dog-friendly and having a wonderful outdoor space for Kiara to soak up some sun and nibble on cherry-blossoms (they must taste great!)
We have repacked our luggage . . . yet again, and successfully managed to fit everything into two checked bags and two carry-on bags (well one carry-on and Kiara for me!).
We have downloaded the Delta app and logged in for updates/changes to our flight itinerary, but decided to do the check-in in person since we have luggage and the dog to check-in tomorrow morning.
But we are READY, very ready, and the nice spring day is making it all the more difficult to deal with the anticipation. Just a few more hours Reno and then we’ll on our way to Carcassonne and a brand-new adventure!
This is our last State-side post friends, the next one will be live after we settle into our new place.
“How are you flying to Europe with Kiara?” “Is there a quarantine on arrival?” “Can she fly in the cabin or does she have to go in the hold?”
Getting ready to fly to Europe with Kiara the Chihuahua has been a challenge. Lots of research to find the right way to bring a pet to Europe.
First, there are a limited number of international airlines that allow pets to fly in the cabin. We want Kiara to fly in the cabin with us. Flying is stressful enough for dogs and there are all sort of horror stories about pets flying in the cargo holds of aircrafts. Over Saint Patrick’s Day this year, a dog that was enroute from Newark to Phoenix was accidentally shipped to Ireland. We decided on Delta as our airline choice for this trip.
In order to be allowed in the cabin, pets are limited to a maximum weight of 9 to 20 pounds depending on the airline. Kiara is only 2 and a half pounds so we had lots of leeway. Pug-nosed (brachycephalic) cats and dogs are not allowed to fly because of their high incident of in-flight deaths.
There are a limited number of pets allowed in the cabin depending on the aircraft. Most commonly the limit is two pets in first class, two pets in business class, and a maximum of four in economy. Delta no longer allows pets in first or business class on international flights. We had to make a reservation for Kiara early to ensure a spot for her. We pay an extra $200 fare for Kiara to fly in the cabin.
The dog carrier must be an approved model that is leak-proof, ventilated, and able to fit under the seat. Tracy loses her carry-on “personal item” to bring Kiara’s in-cabin carrier.
Kiara has a seizure disorder and takes two anticonvulsant medications every twelve hours. We have a TSA approved cooler pouch for her meds. We will have to give a her a dose of medicine while enroute.
Finally, there is all the required paperwork to take a pet abroad. In order to avoid having Kiara quarantined on arrival in the European Union, there is a specific process to get a United States Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals” from the US Department of Agriculture. (Seriously, exporting dogs internationally comes under the jurisdiction of the US Department of Agriculture.) The airlines requires a final health clearance be performed no more than ten days before arrive in Europe.
So last Friday Kiara had a complete veterinary exam from her own veterinarian (who must be USDA accredited) with boosters for all vaccinations and a rabies inoculation “at least 30 days before travel but not more than 12 months” with a rabies certificate issued. The doctor completed the forms in both English and French and faxed the paperwork to the USDA office for preliminary review. Our nearest USDA office is in Sacramento, California. We then waited until our veterinarian telephoned us back Friday afternoon to tell us the paperwork looked good to the USDA and we can pick up the original forms from Kiara’s vet’s office.
Today we took a four-hour road trip to Sacramento and back to visit the USDA to get Kiara’s health paperwork certified. USDA-Sacramento was friendly, helpful, and it only took the USDA’s veterinarian about 20 minutes sign off, stamp, and certify the paperwork. We believe we are now ready for Kiara to join us on the airplane on Sunday.
Fingers crossed that all the research and work pays off on Sunday.
We are rushing toward our departure date and frantically working on our final minimizing with 29 days to go.
We needed to sell our last remaining car. We really wanted to have that major “loose end” completed with the car sold with registration and insurance cancelled before we leave. In addition to listing the car on Cars.com and Craigslist, the Mercedes-Benz/Smart Car dealership’s very helpful representative, Emily, had previously sent an e-mail about their Buy-Back program. Apparently it is difficult to maintain Smart cars in their used car inventory since the owners hate to part with them. A road trip to the Mercedes dealership in Sacramento resulted in a sold car.
For the first time since 1973, I am without a vehicle. I really enjoyed the Smart car over the last four years. The weather over the last week was pleasant enough to have the ragtop down. I so understand now how Tracy felt after she sold her convertible. After years of used minivans, station wagons, and SUVs, it was a real pleasure to have cars we enjoyed driving every day. Tracy and I are now totally pedestrians. We will sparingly rent a car or use the bus for our remaining transportation needs.
In between working and running errands this week we had the pleasure of granddaughter Lorelei visiting from Utah. Although Lorelei was fighting an illness we did get some time for games and trip to the park.
As our countdown gets below 40 days until we depart, we keep finding there is still more and more tasks to get done. We made a quick drive over to San Martin, California to see Tracy’s Aunt Debbie and Uncle Gerry.
We delivered some family heirlooms Tracy received from her grandfather, Deb’s father. With our efforts with minimizing possessions, we have been distributing keepsakes to family members before we go. Tracy brought photos, papers, memorabilia collector money, and a family Bible from her grandfather that she thought should go back to her Aunt Deb. We also asked Deb to keep a three-inch binder of legal documents for us: certified birth certificates, marriage and divorce paperwork, baptismal certificates, etc. We are bringing a smaller zippered binder with us to Europe with our essential legal documents. Debbie is kind enough to hold our extended paperwork collection should we need any additional documents while abroad. Deb would be able to send needed documents by DHL when and if the need occurs.
We were able to squeeze in a hike in at Uvas Canyon County Park and Waterfalls. Deb and Mac the dog guided Tracy, Kiara, and me through the green, lush park. Great hiking trail with scenic bridges, flowing streams, multiple waterfalls, and quiet pools. One of those amazing “pocket parks” tucked away unexpectedly at the end of a county road.
The next day we drove to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Carmel is a favorite locale of ours and the visit let “California Girl” Tracy see the Pacific Ocean a final time before we relocate. It was a beautiful day walking along the beach, watching the waves, looking up at Pebble Beach golf course, and a picnic lunch. Dog-friendly Carmel welcomed Kiara to have her first visit to the ocean and opportunity to walk along the beach.
On our way back home we discussed the logistics of travelling with eight bags and whether or not we needed to rent a car in Toulouse in order to transport it all to Carcassonne. We decided we could minimize our luggage still further from our first practice run packing our luggage. We believe we could lighten the load from a three bedroom house to luggage still more.
We repacked our bags using our first packing list. We started this time with eight bags weighing a total of 270 pounds. We then unpacked and split the contents into “must have,” “maybe,” and “eliminate” piles. It wasn’t just the idea that extra bags cost progressively more, it was the realization of the work and potential frustration trying to move eight bags with only two arms each. We considered the cost of replacement versus the cost for items compared to re-buying the item in France, the necessity of having the item in the first place, and the frequency of use for the item. Could we justify a $100 for an extra bag, $285 for a third or fourth bag? Could we justify having rent a vehicle to transport luggage rather than just using public transportation? Would the replacement of an item be difficult or extremely costly in France?
Immediately we reconsidered the books we slated to bring. We are “book people” and wanted art, history, and language references to come with us, but you just don’t realize the weight of a stack of books. We had already gone digital with Kindles for our recreational reading, so we reduced the number of physical books to just a few art books. We decided to scan and digitize the remaining books into PDF files we could upload to our computers and Kindles.
We further eliminated packing materials, a few clothing items, some carry bags, decorator items, and an additional “back-up” camera. We decided to pass some additional keepsake items on to the kids. I replaced my previous carry-on bag with the maximum size possible carry-on bag. We re-shuffled and re-organized the contents from eight bags down to six bags weighing 200 pounds total: a single checked bag and a carry-on bag each, with a camera bag for me, and Kiara’s carrier for Tracy.
The final results was that we eliminated two checked duffel bags and 70 pounds from our initial packing practice. Tracy is already talking about a third trial run to maybe eliminate still more.
In our family, Super Bowl is a non-traditional holiday that combines football, food, funny TV commercials, good-natured “smack talking” between team fans, and general family fun. Even the kids that didn’t like football liked the annual Super Bowl party. This year we hosted our last family Super Bowl event and were lucky to have at least some of the adult kids and their significant others join us, Nick, Adam and his fiance’ Liz, and Casey with his girlfriend Nicole. Sarah had another commitment and Danielle, Tyler, Dirk, and Dallas are all out-of-state. It was a great time with kids that could make it and those participating via text messages. We had former University of Nevada – Reno quarterback Colin Kaepernick starting for the 49ers so he and his team as our hometown favorite had all of us (a first for our family) cheering for the 49ers. The kids followed Kaepernick from his first start to his last with UNR with season tickets and/or UNR v. UNLV games.
Tracy and I had made up a buffet of meats, cheeses, veggies, soft drinks, and craft beers. Lots of visiting, laughs, cheering, and Kiara received lots of attention. Kiara, however, is not a fan of football or Super Bowl. We loved the pre-game performance with Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keyes and made fun of Beyonce’s fetish outfits at half time. Though a dramatic and close game right to the end, the Ravens won 34 – 31, a bittersweet ending to our last Super Bowl party, but we really enjoyed it all the same. Special thanks to Dallas for being our official Ref [as in reference for rules of play] there was a bit of discussion about a play involving a player falling with the ball, getting up and running it again that ended with a text message to Dallas for the official ruling.
The following Tuesday (which continued into Wednesday) we held our “pre-flight” check. A trial run of the luggage/items moving abroad with us. We have minimized from a three bedroom house into a one bedroom apartment and now into eight bags. We will be carrying one carry-one bag each, one personal item each (a camera bag for me and Kiara’s carrier for Tracy). Our checked baggage will be one suitcase and one duffel bag each. We are limited to 50 pounds per checked bag. The first checked bag is free, a second bag is an additional $100, a third checked bag and any subsequent bag is $285. A bag over 50 pounds has an additional $100 penalty with a maximum limit of 70 pounds per bag. We opted for a second bag each (at the $100 rate) and to limit our bags to 45 pounds or as close to it as possible. It was surprisingly difficult to equally distribute the weight to be at our prescribed limits. Most of which entailed packing the bag, securing its contents, weighing the bag, unpacking the bag, repacking the bag and weighing it again, and again, and again. What we thought would be a few hours turned into most of the day and part of the next. After several hours of lifting and checking the weight of the bags the decisions to discard some items became easier and easier and easier.
To make certain that our actual packing day runs smoothly, we created a database, cataloged and photographed not only each piece of luggage but each packing cube contained within the luggage so that we know exactly how each bag was packed and where each item was inside the bag. Approximately 50 percent of each of the bags are still packed and our database notes which items have been removed for use through the end of March. The idea was to know exactly what had to go back into each bag so that the next time around it is done easily and quickly.
Tracy and I previously made a decision to travel with only two checked bag. Our plan is to move and live in a different city every year or so. We want to be able to travel light, especially with our intention to use public transportation and not own a car. Our packing trial run forced us to make some final decisions to lighten our load. We each packed a week and a day of clothes; eight complete wardrobe selections, two pairs of shoes, jackets, scarfs, and hats. Since we decided to make use of furnished apartments we packed very few household, picnic, and home office items. We have Kiara’s flight carrier, playpen, bed, chest carrier, harness and leash, and her wardrobe and blankets (hairless micro-dogs get cold easily.) We packed a few essential hard copy books, but for the most part we have gone digital for reading and reference.
Our biggest indulgence is technology. MacBooks for each of us, a PC netbook for me and a iPad for Tracy, multiple external hard drives, a principle camera and a compact waterproof camera for both of us, GPS unit, a Doxi portable scanner, Kindles for each of us, and finally personal iPods. Photography is our principle recreation and method of sharing our travels, we need the computers to communicate with family back home and to keep learning languages, the GPS with a pedestrian option to help us find our way despite lack of language skills, and iPods and Kindles for recreation and language studies.
Our luggage is meant to nest and store inside one another for compact storage after arrival and for use on future road trips around Europe. Amazingly, over the last 18 months we have managed to reduce our personal possessions from filling a 3-bedroom house to two large and two small bags each with a total weight of 270 pounds.