Renewing our Titre de Sejour

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About 3 months after we arrived in France on our 1 year visa de long sejour, we started to think that we would like to stay longer.  The cost of living was much lower than we expected and with a little bit budgeting we felt we could stretch our resources another year. I had taken 2 years leave from my job, so there was no problem with that and Paige was “inbetween jobs” at the moment.

We had our initial year approved after going through the obligatory paperwork in Australia and then once we arrived in France we completed the next step of the process (identical to our friends Wayne & Sue’s account here, same place too) and obtained our first one year visitor’s titre de sejour. Fortunately French immigration laws allow for the titre de sejour to be extended each year. The process involves collating a lot of paperwork and proving that we can support ourselves financially. As visitors, we are not allowed to work here, so financial support is what we have in savings and any income stream we have back in Australia.

Unlike our initial titre de sejour which was issued by the L’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Integration (OFII), extensions are processed (more informally) by the local prefecture (or sous-prefecture) in our region. The prefecture is an administrative body that manages car registrations, driving licences, naturalisations and identity cards, as well as renewals of the titre de sejour.

Renewal applications can only be made within 2 months of the expiry of the current titre de sejour. It is best to apply when just within that time frame. That will give enough time to panic and reorganize things if it all goes wrong. We made an appointment at the Beziers sous-prefecture online. The sous-prefecture has an online booking system, that allows booking to be made up to 3 weeks in advance. Places fill quickly, so it is best to get online within 3 weeks of your two month application time frame. Bookings are for individuals, so we booked two consecutive slots.

We had been to the sous-prefecture a couple of times, once to change our address for immigration records and the other to change our address on our carte grise (car registration). When we went the first time to change our address, they didn’t want to know about that and gave us a list of documents we need to bring when we came back to apply for our renewal. The list they gave us was similar to the one here. They had ticked off the documents that were relevant to us.

We had separate appointment times, but went in together.

We needed 3 passport photos. Check

Most supermarkets in France have a self-serve photo booth that has OFII approved photos.

2 self addressed and stamped envelopes – Check

Copy of marriage certificate – Check

Don’t know why, but it was probably the document the interviewer spent most time looking at.

Passport. Check

Photocopies of passport ID page, visa, and initial titre de sejour.

We highly recommend purchasing a cheap printer, copier, scanner when you arrive in France. For about 50E it will save a lot of running around and hassle.

A copy of the medical certificate that was issued by the OFII when we first arrived – Check

This wasn’t on the list they gave us, but EVERYBODY we spoke to or read about that had gone through the process said it was required. The interviewer gave it a quick glance only.

Proof of residence – Check

We are renting a house for 12 months, so we just supplied a copy of the contract as well as a letter from our car insurer which had our name linked to our current address. Our interviewer only seemed interested in the letter and gave a quick glance over the contract. Unlike our initial visa application in Sydney where we had to supply a full 12 months of accommodation and copies of ID of our landlords, we only had to show that we were living somewhere. We had our landlord’s ID ready, but that wasn’t asked for.

We also had a letter (+ copies of ID) from some English friends in the north of France indicating that we would stay with them during the last 3 months of our time in France. The interviewer wasn’t interested in that and handed it back to us. She said if we move north, go to the prefecture there and show them the letter.

It appears that all that was required was some form of documentation that linked us to an address, eg, a bill or letter from some French organization. But based on previous experiences we came prepared with a swag of documentation.

Proof of Financial Resources. – Check

There is a lot of uncertainty about how much money one requires in order to demonstrate one can support themselves financially. French documentation don’t actually give a figure. However the document list we were given said that an amount equal to the French minimum wage per person is required. Which, at the moment is about 1425E a month. This is offset  (I assume) by whether you are renting or own your own property in France.

The document list stated we needed to provide any documents that we felt demonstrated our capacity to support ourselves.

We simply printed our online statements from our Australian banks. We don’t have French bank accounts, as fees for transferring money in bulk are slightly more expensive than credit card payments and cash withdrawals. We also rent out our home in Australia and had our property manager draft a letter (in English and French) that outlined the rental income we were getting from that.

The interviewer took a quick look at our first statement, then a more detailed look at it trying to find how current it was (all documentation must be no less than 3 months old). Satisfied that it was current, she put it and the other statements and our rental statement aside and continued to the next step.

She didn’t even do a currency exchange calculation given prevailing exchange rates. I had done a separate summary page that summed up our net worth in euros. She seemed to accept that and wasn’t bothered by any more detail.

Health Insurance – Check

By health insurance, we mean travel insurance. We purchased a year’s travel insurance online from an Australian company. It has a medical component that basically will cover the costs of any emergency or medical treatment that requires hospitalization and also includes repatriation back to Australia if needed. The interviewer had a quick look at it, asked if it was insurance. Yes we said. She put the document down and seemed satisfied with that.

This requirement was also not on the list we were given. But like the medical certificate, we felt that it was necessary, as it was for our original visa.

That was the end of the documentation. The document list also said that “originals” must be provided and an approved translator must translate any document not in French. We had originals ready, but they were not asked for. We had no translations done apart from our Google translated property manager’s letter. Our interviewer did not appear to speak much English, so I’m unsure how much of our documentation she understood.

However, all that didn’t seem to matter. We were fingerprinted again (as in Sydney) and we signed in a couple of boxes and was told that we would receive a letter in a few weeks with notification that our new titre de sejour (in the form of a plastic ID card) would be ready for collecting from the prefecture. For this we need to pay 87E each (when we collect the cards), but we must purchase 87E worth of “timbres fiscaux”. These are stamps that can be purchased from most tabacs. It seems officialdom does not like to deal with cash or cards. We bought ours from the tabac in town.

We are now waiting for our cards to arrive, contemplating how we can stretch our resources in to a third year.

Update: Notification to pick up our cards arrived a few days before our existing visa/titre de sejour expired. The notification said we could pick them up from the sous-prefecture in Beziers the day after the expiration (and no sooner). We did just that, paid out tax (we were required to pay 106E each, so we had to buy more timbre de fiscal) and now are good for another year.

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The French Way.

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At the start of September we moved back down to Languedoc in the south of France for some much needed sunshine and blue sky. We intend to stay here for at least 12 months. After that we will look at our options for staying longer in France.

Changing location meant that we had to notify the relevant authorities of our change of address. First up was to notify immigration of our new address. A quick check on their website said we had 8 days to do it (oops, we moved 20 days ago) and we needed to make an appointment (for each or us) online at the sous-prefecture in Beziers. Ok, get online, made the appointment, now to assemble the required documents.

  • Copy of ID, passports – check
  • Copy of visa – check
  • 3 passport photos – check
  • proof of new address – check
  • 4 (why 4 I don’t know) stamped, self addressed envelopes – check

We roll up to our scheduled appointment. Paige goes in first, I go in shortly after with a different interviewer. Lots of very fast french spoken (to us). The gist of all of that was that we do not need to notify them of our change in address and to come back in November when we want to renew our visa. Seems they don’t really care that they don’t know where we are. We are probably the least of their worries as I’m sure there are millions of people in France that they do not even know are there in the first place. But it once again highlights the discrepancy between policy and practice in French officialdom.

Second change was to notify the authorities responsible for car registrations of our change of abode. We could do this online. Just create an account with the online register and change our address. ok, did the first part, changed the address, all seemed ok. Logged out and got an email that basically said “Fail – go to the sous-prefecture”. Ok, check online, we need to make an appointment like last time and collect a pile of documents.

  • proof of new address – check
  • complete a form – check
  • 1 stamped, self addressed envelope – check

So almost running late for our appointment, we arrived just in time (more road works) to find that we had to take a ticket. Ok, but we have a booked appointment? We take our ticket (Number 56) and head off to the carte gris (registration) section to find a crowd of people waiting. Ticket number 20 was the current active job. Yes, at the bottom of our ticket it also said that (in tiny print) that there were 36 others ahead of us. Ninety minutes later, ticket number 55 is called, followed by ticket number 57! WTF! We quickly interjected and managed to get ticket number 56 a look in. Our man at the counter seemed pleasant enough, we had watched his style during the last 36 tickets and he seemed that he would be a reasonable frenchman to deal with.

He didn’t want to know about the appointment, but wanted a copy of our ID and registration. Hang on, they weren’t on the official list of required documents? Luckily we had copies of said documents (coming out of our ears). We are learning fast!

Our man quickly detected that we couldn’t understand a word he said and spoke very s-l-o-w-l-y, in French, which makes all the difference, not! Well a little bit, thankfully. He said we would receive a sticker in the mail with our new address to stick on our carte gris.

He didn’t need the envelope and gave us 3 pieces of paper to take to the cashier down the hall. He did say the change was free, but we needed to take our 3 pieces of paper to the cashier anyway. The cashier took our 3 pieces of paper and gave us a single sheet of paper and a receipt for 0,00 euros. She said we would receive a sticker in the mail with our new address to stick on our carte gris (yes, we know!). Don’t know why they couldn’t do that then.

So now the French know where to send the speeding fines to the immigrants of no known address.

Our next appointment with the French officials is in November when we attempt to renew our visa for another 12 months. The list of required documentation is huge. I’m sure we will make a copy of every document we have that can help our cause, just in case, but probably we will only need a few of the required documents. Based on our experience, we are sure practice will be very different to policy.

Having said all that, the French public service officials have been wonderful. Accommodating, friendly and patient. Certainly, so far, practice has been preferable to policy.

Like a Parisienne

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After our epic (well epic to us) Tour des Australiens – St Georges sur Erve to Paris, 274km over 4 days – we settled into to a lovely little quiet studio apartment in the shadow of Tour Eiffel for a relaxing 10 days. Having been to Paris at least a couple of times before, we’d seen the biggest monuments and were really looking forward to taking our time exploring Paris in a more leisurely way.

The apartment was gorgeous. Located on a quiet street in the 7th arrondissement (Eiffel) right opposite the Musee du quai Branly with a spectacular view of “the tower” from our little terrace (what other tower in the world is photographed this much?). We could actually see the tourists on the tower. We waved at them every day so I hope they saw us. By the end of the week she became “our tower”.  For those who don’t know, the tower is lit up in beautiful golden lights in the evenings, but after sunset, every hour on the hour, it also comes alive with thousands of sparkling lights for 5 minutes. We didn’t need a clock in the apartment, all we had to do was listen to the cheering from the street every hour as people were surprised and delighted by the lights! We had everything we needed inside – an almost complete kitchen with everything except an oven, a bed area, lounge area, dining area, bathroom and balcony. Along with French TV and fast internet, it was perfect.

“our tower” at night

We spent Saturday having a little wander around, letting our legs recover, stocking up on some grocery basics, before checking out the spectacular fireworks that lit up the sky over the Seine to celebrate the 14th July, or fete nationale. Interestingly, this date is not referred to as Bastille Day in France, only by the rest of the world. None of the pictures we took did the show justice, but this is what we watched:

The fireworks are set off from the Trocadero, so we only had about 200m to walk from the apartment to enjoy this fantastic show. What a pity they didn’t have any off the tower itself like last year though.

We wanted to go to a couple of museums that we hadn’t been to before so we got 4-day museum passes which generally allow you to “skip the queues” at most of Paris’ attractions. However (tip #1) it usually means just skipping the longest queue, but there is still a shorter one with other people holding the same sort of pass!  In order to buy the pass, you do have to queue up at the ticket counter somewhere so, (tip #2) we did this at our most convenient museum, Musee Branly, literally across the road, which also happens to be one of the less popular museums so there was barely a 5 minute queue before we had our passes in hand. First stop would be Musee D’Orsay on the Seine.

But first we decided to check out the system of community bicycles that has been going in Paris for 5 years now, the velibs. We had seen many people using these bikes on our previous trips and were determined to have a go since we had so much time. We found that you can easily buy a short term pass online (1.30Euro for a day, 8Euro for a week).  The way it works is that there are many many bike stations all over the city, you enter your code in the computer terminal at the station & choose a bike to take, then you can return it to any of the other stations in the city. The first 30min each time you take a bike is free, and if you go over the next 30min only costs 1Euro. Well what a fantastic system! We used the velibs every day for a week and only once did we go over that free 30 minutes, bringing the total cost for two of us for the week to a grand total of 18Euros! Now we got all over the city in that week. For example, on the first day, we decided to go to Montparnasse station to book our high-speed train tickets back home, so off we set from Rue de l’Universite. 29 minutes later we were “returning” our bikes to the bike station outside Montparnasse tower and walking in. After sorting that out, we decided to ride down to the St Germain des Pris area for a bit of a wander around & a drink in that quarter – always fabulous for its atmosphere. So with the velibs around every corner, we were set for our explorations.

Paige with our “velib” bikes

Musee D’Orsay was fantastic – a beautiful building full of art to enjoy. We also discovered the ballroom upstairs and the rooftop space which has a gorgeous view over the Seine, across to the Tuilleries and the Louvre. Magnifique, especially in the lovely summer sunshine.

Musee D’Orsay – looking out through the big clock

That evening we had the ultimate Parisienne dinner – we packed our backpack & took off on the velibs for a picnic on the banks of the Seine, complete with baguette, fromage, pates, olives, rillettes, and of course a lovely bottle of rose from the Cote de Provence. Mmm, heaven. We sat & ate our little picnic while dangling our legs over the side of the concrete banks in the late evening sun, waving to the tourists on the boats, just like a Parisienne!

Our next museum was the Palace at Versailles. Just a short train ride from the centre of Paris saw us joining the 1 hour queue for entry into this amazing place. We thoroughly enjoyed the beauty and splendour, but could understand why the people got sick of Marie Antionette and her spending ways! Wow. It was interesting to see the very rooms she & Louis occupied when they were invaded and the little doorway through which she escaped – if only for a short while.  A spectacular palace and gardens.  We stopped in Versailles for lunch but wished we hadn’t really. It’s all geared for tourists (and there are MANY)  and we left feeling that we had missed out on the real France for the day.

The front gates at the Palace of Versailles

Friday came and the sun was out again, a perfect summer day! The Paris Plages had been set up and were now ready for action so off we went on the velib bikes down the Seine to Pont Neuf. The Paris plages are beaches that are set up every summer for the enjoyment of the Parisiennes. They bring tonnes of sand on barges down the river and parts of the river bank, along with the square in front of the Hotel De Ville, are turned into lovely summer beaches. The Parisiennes love it, and many were seen out simply sunbaking on the sands. I was watching the little kids playing & realised how much we take our beaches for granted in Perth. I bet most of these kids hardly ever see the real thing. These beaches also come complete with ice cream stalls, playgrounds, boulles for hire, bars and buskers. They certainly do it well, and we enjoyed an afternoon strolling around with our icecreams and camera.

After the plages we set off on velibs again to the museum of the catacombs. Unfortunately we didn’t time this well, and arrived at the back of the queue just in time to be informed that they were cutting off the queue for last entries – we had missed out. Never mind, we’ll save that one for another trip. Wandering around the area we found, of all things, an Aussie bar!! We took photos but decided we were not sad enough to go drinking in an Aussie bar in Paris, haha. We had a laugh though, one of the giant beer cans was decorated with “Austria”… perhaps the painter got sick of all those letters in “Australia”?

Seeing the Aussie bar got us in the mood for a drink so once again we jumped on the velibs and headed for St Germain de Pris, found a nice bar/café and sat at the streetside tables to enjoy a rose and people-watch and get ourselves all excited for the big day tomorrow.

And of course, Le Tour….

Sunday was THE day. Yes, all you cycling enthusiasts out there know what I’m talking about… the day Le Tour arrives on the Avenue des Champs Elysees! The culmination of three weeks of hard work for all those cyclists.  We had been looking forward to this day for months and what a beautiful day.

We made a very early start in order to be with a tour group by 7.30am. Why a tour group? Well this tour was on bikes, around the Champs Elysees itself, yes the very course our riders would be taking in the afternoon. Decked out with my Aussie cycling shirt, off we set with a group of about 15 or so and our Australian tour guide (yes, from Perth no less). It turns out there were many Aussies in town that day, there were others in our tour group, and later on the streets we saw many of our flags proudly flying. The cycle tour was a lot of fun. In around 2 hours we had ridden up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, around the roundabout (thank goodness traffic was being closed down, it wasn’t the usual chaos) back down again to the Place de la Concorde,  and then off around the Louvre. We couldn’t take the whole circuit as the police were gradually closing everything off, but we had a good ride around well before the crowds came out.

Cycling around the Arc de Triomphe

Back home we packed a backpack for the afternoon, bought some fresh chicken salad baguettes from the boulangerie around the corner & set off to find a spot on the barriers. We got a spot with only 1 couple in front of us, and managed to hold our space despite more and more people trying to sqeeze in and around (and in front of) us. There must have been millions on that street in Paris. After waiting all afternoon, amusing ourselves trying to read the free French magazines that came with Paige’s new yellow cap, the time came for the riders to arrive. The Union Jack was out in force for Wiggins, but there were lots of Aussie flags on display too. The cyclists sped by us, again and again until the finish. Unfortunately it was all over all too quickly, but at least we saw those famous laps live and the atmosphere in Paris was worth it.

Go Cadel!

And the winner is…. Wiggins (with some of the peleton)

Lots of Aussies in the crowd

We celebrated the end of Le Tour with a few drinks at our local. After having a good chat with our waiter, and teasing him for not remembering us from our previous trip with Mum & Dad, it turned out that he did remember us when the penny dropped and he reeled off the drinks we had all ordered on that first night. He was so delighted that we had kept coming back through the week that he surprised us with a round of drinks on the house. Another lovely Frenchman – you see, the French are very hospitable!

Monday was spent having a quiet, lazy day, soaking up the last of ‘our’ Paris, and enjoying a quiet dinner in a small family-owned bistro in the 7th. Up early Tuesday morning, we were all packed & riding off to Montparnasse (on our own bikes again) before we knew it.

Au revoir Paris, a bientot!