This weekend we travelled across the country (from Perth) to the French Consulate in Sydney to apply for a visa de long séjour (long stay visa). This is the first stage in obtaining permission to visit France for more than 90 days. Without it, we are limited to staying in France and the Schengen region – which is most of Western Europe for a maximum of 90 days in any 180 day period. Without it we would have to leave the Schengen region and stay in the UK, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and/or a handful of other countries for 3 months in between our 3 month stints in France. That’s not a bad alternative, but we really want to spend most of our time in France.

Unfortunately we had to travel to Sydney as it is the only French Consulate in Australia that has the equipment to perform all the biometric recordings required for the visa. We hope the application is successful, because its an expensive way to do things.

We were very confident that we had the necessary credentials to qualify for the visa. The only doubt was that the consulate website stated that we needed drawn up tenancy agreements for the full 12 months we planned to be away. We were a bit reluctant to go ahead with this as we did not know if we would get the 12 months visa, and if not, we may have occurred significant loss in deposits and fees if we had to cancel some of it. As well, most personal accounts of this process on the web indicated that the first few months of accommodation were sufficient. So we were ready with the necessary paperwork. Consulate documents in English and French, passports, photos, police clearances, bank statements, letter from financial planner supporting our financial capacity to fund ourselves, letter from employer with salary and leave information, letter from property manager indicating how much rent our apartment would bring in while away, evidence of 12 months comprensive medical insurance, marriage certificate and lastly, a tenancy agreement for our first three months in France (plus copies of all the above). There are a whole pile of other hoops to jump through (http://ambafrance-au.org/spip.php?article1099) as well

We arrived in Sydney around 6 am, tired and uncomfortable. We tried to book in early into our hotel, even indicating that we were prepared to pay for an extra night. But, they were full. So we spent the next few hours roaming the Sydney CBD waiting for our 11 am appointment at the consulate .Appointment time arrived and we made our way up to the 26th floor of St Martin’s Tower. At the consulate there were about half a dozen other people waiting, mostly French, with one young French girl in tears over something, but she was wailing in French, so we don’t know what that was about. An asian man speaking reasonable French was getting a hard time from the security officer greeting everyone. The security officer looked as french as french can be and kept shouting “pourquoi?, pourquoi?” at the asian guy. From this we were starting to have some doubts as to how helpful and obliging they were going to be.

We were expecting to be interviewed in an office or something, but instead we were called up to a counter, not unlike a old fashion bank counter with a full glass screen. I (Rod) went first. A young guy, scrappily dressed in jeans and t-shirt served me. He asked for my paper work, ignoring the originals and just wanted to see the copies. He shuffled the papers and zeroed in on the bank statements. He circled our bank balance and put a tick in a box. “Yay” I said to myself. He then looked for our tenancy agreement and spent a bit of time examining the 6 pages. He wrote down janvier a avril. So far so good. He then asked “How long did I intend to stay in France?”. “12 months” I replied. “NON! You cannot! You must have bookings for all of the year! You only have three months”.  I could have just died right there. I tried to explain why we did not have the full 12 months, but he wasn’t having any of it. He did say I could stay for six months and duly process the visa for 6 months. I was a bit puzzled as to why I could get 6 months and not 12 with only three months bookings. I couldn’t quite fathom the logic behind that decision.

Paige was next. She was interviewed by a young girl, similarly very casually dressed like the young guy. Same result, not eligible for a twelve months visa. The young girl then spoke to the other guy in french. He suddenly looked very concerned about something to do with my application. He grabbed my paperwork and realised that he had (mis)calculated that there were 6 months between janvier and avril, not three! No, we could only stay for three months, and as we did not need a visa for three months there was nothing more they could do for us. They said if we want twelve months we would have to make another appointment and come back. Easier said than done when you live on the other side of the country. At $1200 a visit, it becomes a very expensive process. No amount of persuasion would make them reconsider. So with no other option, we left, made another appointment, booked some flights back to Sydney and started the search for 12 months worth of accommodation bookings. We wanted to be a bit flexible with our accommodation while in France, but now we will be tied down to specific regions. Unfortunately we could not get another consulate appointment until 2 weeks before we are due to leave for France, and as the visa process takes a minimum of 2 weeks, we will have to delay our flights and cancel our first week hotel booking in Paris by a week or two.

One consolation was that they did say we would have been granted the visa based on all the other information we supplied. We half expect to be received by someone else next time who will probably tell us that it was not necessary to book all the accommodation. Such are the vagarities of public servants. We also expect them to find something else that they don’t like. Don’t know what, but I’m sure they could find something. Maybe just the look of us.

We should have known. It was our own fault. We have read a lot about the French way of life and its bureaucracy. They are sticklers for detail. Although, this was juxtaposed against the rather casual assessment of all our other documentation. Qui sait? Next time, we leave no stone unturned.