How to live and work in France

Note: I recently blogged about the visas and jobs that have allowed me to live in France over the last 3+ years. This post is about all the different long-stay working visas for France that I know of, because I’ve received quite a few inquiries on this topic. My previous post doesn’t discuss most of these options, since they don’t apply to me personally. There certainly may be other ways to legally live and work in France that I do not know about. This list is based on my personal experience and research. Some of you may know more than I do about some of these visas, so please feel free to jump in with information, corrections, and links to posts you’ve written in the comments!

People contact me often with questions about teaching English in France. Some find me through my blog, some find me through the International TEFL Academy alumni group. I am totally happy for people to reach out to me with questions. I had so many questions before I came here, and I’m still grateful for the supportive expat community.

But when I looked back on the questions I received last year, I realized that almost no one had taken the time to say thank you for the long and detailed messages I wrote. That was a little discouraging. So I’m writing this to make everything I know accessible in one place. If you’ve read this and done your research and you still have questions, I would love to hear from you and I’m happy to take the time to answer your questions, share resources, and tell you about my experience teaching in France.

If you have questions about teaching English in France, I’ve written lots of stuff about it here including how I got my jobs and my visas. Right now I’m going to focus specifically on ways to get a long-stay visa that allows you to work in France.

(And I’ve included a ton of additional resources, because I am not the first person to write about French bureaucracy.)

I am an American citizen, so I know the most about visas for Americans. If you are from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some other countries, you may be able to obtain a working holiday visa. (Sorry, Americans! No working holiday visa in France for us.) Check with your local French consulate.

Actually, that’s just a good idea in general. Go to your local French consulate’s website and read about visas. They have a lot of information. (I’ve gotten visas in Chicago and San Francisco.)

Okay, let’s go. Here are all the ways I know to live and work legally in France.

Have an EU passport

If you have an EU passport, get out of here! You already have the right to work legally in France. Even if you are not European, sometimes European heritage can get you dual nationality. So if you parents or grandparents immigrated in the last century, check out the rules of the country they came from. (Start at the country’s consulate website.) You’ll probably need a lot of birth, death, and marriage certificates.

Marry a French citizen

Boom, a French spouse gets you a vie privée et familliale visa, which gives you the right to live and work in France. You have to renew it every year for three years (right, people with French spouses?) and then you can get a ten year visa. During that time, you can probably apply for French nationality too.

PACS with a French citizen

PACSing often gives you a vie privée et familiale visa if you have proof of cohabitation and already live in France, although it’s not as ironclad as marriage. (PACS is a civil union.) You usually need to have proof of at least year of cohabitation in France in order to get a resident’s permit as a pacsé(e). Emily wrote a great post on this here.

Student Visa

A student visa gives you the right to work about 20 hours/week. You must be enrolled as a full-time student. (If you want to live in Paris, Studying at the Sorbonne by Where Is Bryan? is great.)

If you want to live in France long-term, getting a degree from a French university opens a lot of doors in terms of legal status and employment (plus, it’s cheap!)

TAPIF language assistant program

This program will place you in a school (or two or three), hopefully in one of the regions you requested. It gives you the right to a travailleur temporaire visa. I’ve written about the program here.

Lecteur/Lectrice visa

This is a university teaching position for foreigners that allows you to have a one-year visa (renewable one time at the school’s discretion. You cannot be a lecteur/lectrice at another university – two years total as a lecteur/lectrice is the legal limit.) Your status may be travailleur temporaire or salarié, depending on how the préfecture is feeling. I’ve blogged about being a lectrice here.

Franco-American Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Trainee Visa

This visa is for Americans who have a four-year degree and are under 35. You must first obtain a work contract that meets the requirements, and then they will provide you with a visa for up to 18 months. More information here. (P.S. I’ve never actually met anyone on this visa, so if you’ve done it, do tell.)

Au Pair Visa

If you get a job as an au pair, you will be allowed to live in France. The visa requires you to take French language classes part time. The pay is usually low, but your living expenses will be taken care of. (Read How To Become An Au Pair from Ashley, who was an au pair in France.)

Research Scientist

I know nothing about this visa because I am the opposite of a research scientist (unless methodically tasting pastries counts as research) but I know that it is a thing. I think you would be a “chercheur scientifique.” Check with your consulate.

Compétances et Talents Visa

If you have a long-term project (usually something in the arts, hence “talents“) that will somehow benefit France, you may be able to get a three-year visa. Check with your consulate for requirements. More from Jennyphoria.

Work visa sponsored by employer

This is very rare for English teachers, but never say never. Your employer can sponsor your visa but most will not because it is expensive and complicated for them, and they have to justify why they chose not to hire a French person. The request can be denied if the government feels they should not hire a foreigner. There are many ways for companies to hire native English speakers without this hassle – there are many E.U. nationals and anglophones with long-stay working visas. Most English teaching jobs specify that you must have working papers to apply. If you are an in-demand specialist (think more software engineer, less English teacher), this one may work for you!

Note that when I say “English teacher,” I am mainly referring to people with a TEFL certificate or a year or two of experience as a language assistant, since the majority of anglophones who come to France to teach English for a short period of time fall into this category. If you are a certified teacher with classroom experience, you may be able to get a job teaching at a private or international school. Dana has written a great post about how she got her job at an international school here.

Alternatively, your existing employer in your home country could send you overseas to work temporarily or long-term. (If you’re married, your spouse will probably not be able to work in France, depending on the type of visa they’re eligible for, but they can come and hang out with you.)

———-

Please note that I am not a lawyer or immigration specialist, and you should not consider any of this legal advice. I have simply been in France for several years and have read a lot about visas. I have personal experience with a few of the visas I mentioned. You can read more about my experiences with French bureaucracy here.

Additional Resources

San Francisco French Consulate: Long-Stay Visas

Getting A Visa: France Diplomatie

Transient Local: Working Abroad in France

As Told By Dana: Teaching English in France

Almost Bilingue on French Administration

Prêt à Voyager: French Bureaucracy, Explained (Also try {Un}glamourous Paris: Bureaucracy)

Chez Loulou on Moving to France, French Citizenship, and the Cost of Living in France

Where Is Bryan? The Cost of French Nationality

Lil & Destinations on getting PACSed in France (and the cost of living in Paris).

The Paris Blog: Snagging an Artist’s Visa to Stay In France

Je Parle Américain: The Anatomy of a Visa Renewal

Oh Happy Day on getting Long-Stay Tourist Visas as Freelancers

Franco-American grants and exchanges

Anything I missed? Please share a link or a story about your experience. When it comes to French bureaucracy, we all have to stick together!

How to get a visa and teach English in France

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three and a half years. In July 2012, I was working on my TEFL certificate in Chicago. By the end of August, I was living in Paris.

Now I live in Lyon and I’m in my fourth year of teaching English in France. Here’s how I found work and got my visas.

Year 1

Private language schools in Paris

My visa: I had a six-month student visa through a study abroad program. When I got it, six months seemed long, but they went by fast. You need to be enrolled in school full-time to get a student visa, which allows you to work about 20 hours a week. Public universities are inexpensive (a few hundred euros per year). You can also study at a language school. You can find more information on how to get a student visa via your regional French consulate.

My jobs: I was hired by a private language school soon after arriving in Paris. I had emailed my CV and was called in for an interview. Schools often recruit in September because everyone comes back from vacation for la rentrée – back to school, back to work. I worked 15-20 hours a week for the first three months, and then the school gave me fewer and fewer hours because they did not have enough new students. I had to find another job, but I only had a few months left on my visa, so most schools refused to even interview me. “Call us when you sort out your visa,” they said.

Finally, a language school for kids hired me to teach groups of children ages 3-10. I responded to their job posting online and then interviewed in person. I worked for them 10 hours a week until my visa expired, and then I worked for a wealthy bilingual family under the table on a “tourist visa” for a few months. I made more working for them than with language schools, even though I only worked two weeks a month. (I found their job posting at the American Chuch in Paris and sent them an email with my CV.)

The pay: Both language schools paid 18 euros/hour brut (so around 14 euros/hour net before taxes.) The other job paid 15 euros an hour net (with a fixed number of hours per week) and 100 euros/day when traveling.

See Things I Wish I Had Known About Teaching English In France for other helpful information.

Year 2

TAPIF Language Assistant in Lyon

My visa: TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program In France) is a program for foreigners under 30 that allows you to work legally in France. I had a travailleur temporaire work visa. This visa is usually valid for about 9 months because the assistant contract is 7 months, but the San Francisco consulate did me a solid and gave me a 12 month visa (the maximum length).

My job: I worked 12 hours a week at a lycée in Lyon. I taught groups of 10-15 students ages 14-18. I got the job by applying to the TAPIF program, who placed me in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. The local education administration (the rectorat) gave me my school assignment over the summer. I also worked remotely for an American company as a travel assistant during this time.

The pay: Assistants net about 790 euros/month in metropolitan France (Paris too) for the duration of your contract. You work 12 hours a week (this can be split between several schools in the region.) This includes quite a few weeks of paid vacation (during the vacances scolaires.) Some schools provide low-cost housing on campus.

Years 3 & 4

Lectrice in Lyon

My visa: A lecteur/lectrice work contract allows foreigners to legally work in France for up to two years. (It’s a one year contract that can be renewed once if the school opts to keep you on.) I renewed my visa at the préfecture in Lyon instead of going back to the U.S. (If your visa is still valid and you are not changing status – from worker to student, for example – you can renew it in France.) I’ve blogged all about this process in case you’re interested. This year I had to wait in line for almost nine hours, starting at 3 a.m.! But now you can make appointments online… three months in advance. (Don’t worry, the préfecture is relatively painless in many other cities.) My visa is good for 1 year because that is the length of my lectrice contract.

My job: Lecteurs/lectrices are foreigners who teach at French universities. There is no national program; instead, you apply directly to the university if they have an opening. The job description and the application process vary depending on the school. Many schools will insist that you have a Masters degree, or a year of study towards one. Some schools will accept a TEFL certificate in lieu of this. I got an interview by sending my cover letter and CV to the head of the English department. Hiring season for lecteurs/lectrices is usually March through May, depending on the school.

Last year I taught 11-14 hours a week and this year I’ll teach 20 hours a week (we are compensated for teaching extra hours.) Some of my co-workers juggle another job on top of this. I’ve written all about the perks of being a lectrice here.

As I said, the lecteur/lectrice contract is 12 months long. If your school renews your contract, you can hold the position for a maximum of 2 years. It’s competitive because there are far fewer positions available than there are for assistants. In my opinion, this is the best job to have in France as an American teacher.

The pay: Lecteurs/lectrices earn a salary of around 1500 euros/month brut, or about 1250 net. This is paid for the twelve months of your contract, so it includes a significant amount of paid vacation. (Summer vacation, Christmas vacation, Toussaint vacation, winter vacation, spring vacation… and then some.) The number of hours vary by institution, but around 10-12 per week is normal. Beyond that, you are paid hourly for the extra hours you teach, 40 euros/hour brut. This is usually paid annually or bi-annually.

Note: French salaries are lower than Amerian salaries across the board. It’s really, really normal to earn less than 2,000 euros/month in many industries, especially at the beginning of your career. A lecteur/lectrice salary allows you to live comfortably almost anywhere in France (with the exception of Paris) even though it’s not a ton of money. For example, in Lyon you can live with roommates for around 400 euros/month and by yourself for 500-600 euros/month. Phone plans and public transport are cheaper, you won’t have car payments, and healthcare costs are negligible.

Other ways to work in France

Working Holiday Visa

If you from a country that offers a working holiday visa in France, it’s an excellent way to work in France. Americans cannot obtain a working holiday visa in France.

Franco-American Chamber of Commerce: American Trainees in France

If you are American, you may be able to get your visa sponsored by up to 18 months via the Franco-American Chamber of Commerce. You have to find a job that meets their requirements first, you must have a four-year degree, and you must be under 35. I have never actually met someone on this visa, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be done. More information here.

Freelance lessons and tutoring

Some language assistants and students earn extra money by teaching private students. Many families look for native English speakers to tutor their kids. You can also post an ad in upscale neighborhoods, at schools, or online. People also post up-for-grabs gigs in city-specific Facebook groups (e.g. “English teachers in Lyon”). I don’t recommend that you count on this for your main source of income, but it can be a good way to earn some cash on the side.

Vacataire

Vacataires teach at universities like lecteurs and lectrices do, but they don’t have a monthly salary – they are paid only for the hours they teach (40 euros/hour brut). Like heures supplémentaires for salaried teachers, they are usually paid in chunks once or twice a year. You must have another primary employer, and you cannot get a visa for being a vacataire.

I’ve written a more complete post on how to get a visa here.

———

This is meant to be a brief overview of my time working in France. It is based solely on my personal experiences, which may not pertain to everybody. If you would like more information, you are welcome to contact me with questions. You might want to check out the other posts I’ve written about teaching English in France. The most popular ones are Preparing for TAPIF, Things I wish I’d known about teaching English in France, and my favorite lesson plans.

If you’ve written about teaching English in France, feel free to share a link! If you’d like to mention something I missed, I’d love to hear from you. 

Renewing my visa in Lyon: 9 hours at the préfecture 

In Lyon, going to the préfecture is surprisingly like a transatlantic flight (minus the in-flight entertainment). You pack snacks and something to read, and then you sit in a chair until you lose all feeling in your ass.

(If you’re wondering what the préfecture is, it’s a big bureaucratic office that deals with things like immigration and drivers licenses. You go to your local préfecture if you need to renew your visa, or if you’re extremely masochistic, for example.)

Not all préfectures operate the same way. At some, you can make an appointment. Sometimes you can show up at 9 a.m. Sometimes you can make an appointment online. In Lyon, you wait in line outside the building to get a ticket, and then you wait inside the building until your number is called. They give out about 150 tickets per day starting at 8:30 a.m., and you have to come early to get one. Last year, that meant showing up before 6:30 a.m. This year… well, let’s just say that things have changed.

2 a.m. Alarm rings. I consider going back to sleep but instead I get up and drink a weird iced coffee. I think it’s been tainted by fridge smell.

2:30 a.m. I walk to the préfecture with an enormous bag filled with snacks, books, a cushion, and photocopies of all the documents I need to renew my visa. Plus a folding chair. I call my parents because it’s only 5 p.m. in California and they’re like, will anyone be at the préfecture so early? Is it safe?

3 a.m. I arrive at the préfecture and the line is already all the way to the end of the block and around the corner. There are about a hundred people ahead of me. The girl at the head of the line tells me she’s been there since 6 p.m. the night before, and at least thirty people are stretched out sleeping because they’ve been there all night. I set up my chair at the end of the line and get as comfortable as I can under the circumstances.

4 a.m. I’m glad I brought Calvin & Hobbes with me. I thought about bringing L’Écume des jours, but then I got real and reminded myself that this was not the time to challenge my brain.

5 a.m. My phone battery is already down to 30%. This doesn’t look promising.

5:28 a.m. The line is now so far down the block that I can’t see the end. I’m vaguely paranoid about not getting a ticket, but I think it should be fine. The people next to me are speaking a language I don’t understand. Ukranian? Only three hours to go…. until the préfecture actually opens.

5:29 a.m. I should have gotten fries on the way here.

5:46 a.m. This is when I GOT HERE last year. I’ve been here for almost three hours now.

5:50 a.m. A man asks which way to the end of the line. This means that the line is so long in both directions that he can’t tell where it starts. He sits down on the sidewalk and is politely informed that he actually needs to go all the way to the back of the line, because apparently he either doesn’t understand how queuing works, or he thinks we are all dumb or passive enough to let him cut in. Never assume that about people who have been in line since 3 a.m.

5:55 a.m. Three hours down! I can’t wait to go home and sleep later. And maybe eat a burger.

6 a.m. The street lights click off. I guess this means it’s officially morning.

6:30 a.m. A mosquito buzzes around my head. Seriously?! A mosquito?!

6:50 a.m. People are munching on pain au chocolat and I can smell the butter. #jealous

7 a.m. The line starts moving. We round the corner… and wait some more. Queuers step off the sidewalk to smoke their morning cigarettes. Blech.

8 a.m. I’m now all the way up to the employee entrance on the side of the building. There’s a steady stream of fonctionnaires coming in to work, sliding through the throng of immigrants outside. I wonder if they know how long we’ve been waiting.

8:45 a.m. I’m in! I set up my chair in the corner by an outlet to charge my phone. I’m ticket number E118… And they’re on number E019. Settle in and wait, part two. I eat my last cookie to celebrate.

8:57 a.m. A dude comes up to me and asks to borrow my glasses. He needs them to sign a paper. I try to explain that they’re not reading glasses and I forget the word for “near-sighted” because my brain is set in English/zombie right now. No one has ever asked to borrow the glasses off my face before.

9:16 a.m. omg I smell coffee.

10 a.m. They’re up to E055. Only 63 more to go. I just want to go to sleep. I look at the woman soothing her four-month-old. It must be tough to come here with a baby. There are a lot of families. A seven-year-old with a cast on her leg riding on her dad’s shoulders, a woman breast-feeding her baby, a blonde with a sequined top pushing a double stroller.

10:01 a.m. The people who wanted to borrow my glasses an hour ago have just finished at the guichet. No wonder it takes so long to bing-bong through all the ticket numbers.

11:26 a.m. E100! Only 18 more to go. I feel brain-dead but Josh and Chuck (of Stuff You Should Know podcast fame) are helping me stay zen. (With a podcast on road rage, ironically.)

11:39 a.m. The room is emptying out. There are less than 30 of us remaining.

11:45 a.m. Yes! E118, guichet 22. My turn!

I get a nice girl who is probably younger than me. Her supervisor is the dude with glasses who wouldn’t accept my dossier last year. I called her window a “guichet” but it’s really a glass cubicle. There’s a transparent wall separating us. It’s nothing like stepping up to the window to buy a train ticket, even though that’s also called a guichet. You don’t wait in line for half a day to buy a train ticket, even if you want to go somewhere really cool like Croatia.

I hand over copies of my carte de séjour, my passport, my justificatif de domicile, aka proof that I’m not homeless (my lease and electric bill, just to be sure), my last four paychecks. She compares them all to the originals and initials each page. I give them the attestation from the university that says they’re hiring me next year and my autorisation de travail from DIRECCTE, the department who gets to say, “Yeah, it’s cool if you work in our country,” or not.

Wait, there’s a problem. “No, this work authorization is from last year. We need the one from this year.” I start to panic. Should I have gone to DIRECCTE first? Did I screw this up? Then I remember I can’t get that form by myself – the university has to do it for me, and they won’t until September.

Another person is telling her that I absolutely need the one for this year, not last year. She comes back to the window. I’m shaking my head and internally freaking out.

“Don’t worry,” she says before I have a meltdown. “I’ll still take your dossier. You just need to bring in the form when you get it in September. You don’t have to come back early in the morning.”

She takes my fingerprints (“Uh, your right hand is the other one”) and has me fill out a form and sign my récipissé, the temporary document that says I’m legal while I wait for my new carte de séjour, my visa.

And then it’s over. All her coworkers have already gone to lunch. It’s 12:15 p.m. so I wish her a bonne journée and get out of there so fast I almost forget my chair. The line for the 1 p.m. tickets is already spilling out the door. (Afternoon tickets are for different orders of business than morning tickets.) The sun is shining but it’s not too hot. My adrenaline keeps me running just long enough to eat lunch and walk poor Tigrou the dog, and then I crash.

Today of all days, I give myself permission to do nothing but sleep, lounge, and Netflix all afternoon. Because I won my préfecture battle of 2015 and got my récipissé on the first try, dammit.

And it only took nine hours.

This was not my worst trip to the préfecture, even though it was the longest. You can read about my past adventures in French bureaucracy here.

Winning an epic battle with French lab billing

A great pastime, particularly among foreigners in France, is complaining about the bizarre inefficiency of the French system and all the frustrations that come with it. I’ve ranted about French bureaucracy a considerable amount, but all of these experiences that make you want to clunk heads together are the rule, not the exception. Everyone has lived them, even French people.

So I’m happy to present to you a France success story! I like to tell it because I get to rant for most of the story (ranting is only fun after it’s all over) and it still has a happy ending. Are you ready?

In January, I went to the doctor. She said she was going to do a test that would cost 7 euros once it was reimbursed in part by social security. Fine, I said. In France, the doctor actually gives you your lab sample packaged in an envelope and you have to take it to the post office to mail it to the lab yourself. Weird, but okay.

A few weeks later, I got a bill for 23.10€. I sent a check, because that was the only way to pay. And that was that.

Except that a couple months later, a scary collection agency note showed up at my door, threatening to fine me over 100 euros for not paying the bill, which I had paid. So I called them up.

“Um, actually I did pay this bill a few months ago,” I explained.

They insisted that there was no record of my payment.

“Fine, then I would like to pay it now. Can I use an American credit card? I’m having some problems with my French bank.”

“Yes, clearly you are,” the woman smirked condescendingly.

(My French bank problems are an entirely different saga, and do not involve a lack of funds to pay a 23 euro bill.)

I argued with her until she conceded to let me pay the original amount owed, minus additional charges.

And that was that.

Except that it wasn’t, because in May (remember, this all started in January) the laboratory cashed my check. They cashed the check that they had said they had never received, after sending a collection agency after me, months after I had paid the collection agency!

I only had the number for the collection agency, and naturally, this debacle was not their problem.

“You’ll have to take this up with the lab because they are the ones who cashed your check.”

“Okay, could you please give me their phone number?”

“I can’t share that information with you, but here is there address. You can write them a letter.”

I can write them a letter?! (Side note: Sometimes, in France, you will be told that the only way to accomplish something is to write a letter. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t.)

Thankfully, Google seemed to think it was okay to give me the lab’s phone number. You’re the best, Google.

So, in my best polite French, I explained that there seemed to have been an error.

“You’ll have to take that up with the collection agency, that’s not my problem,” the receptionist brushed me off.

“Oh no no no no nononononono.” My polite French got less polite. “I have paid almost fifty euros for something that was supposed to cost seven. Do you find that normal and correct? I did send the payment on time, and when I was told you had lost the check, I paid immediately a second time to resolve the issue.”

“We didn’t lose your check!” She was indignant.

I was confused. “Then… why… but… the collection agency?”

“I don’t know what my colleague did, but we didn’t lose your check. We sent you the reimbursement form, didn’t you get it?”

“Madame, the issue is not the assurance maladie reimbursement. The issue is that you have charged me twice and you need to reimburse me.”

Here, there was some hemming and hawing, and she put me on hold. Apparently, she didn’t share my view that reimbursement was obligatory in this scenario.

Finally: “My supervisor says we can send you a check.”

“Wonderful! When might I expect to receive it?”

“Bah, je sais pas madame! We have other clients, not just you. It won’t be tomorrow.”

“I understand, but could you give me an idea? A week? Two? I’ll be moving in a month.”

“You had better give me your new address. Ca ne va pas être demain!” she repeated.

“I don’t have it yet, and I really think that three weeks is sufficient time to send a check.”

“You’re moving in a month and you don’t have a new address? You’re really pushing it, madame.”

It sounds polite because we were calling each other madame, but the whole thing had turned into quite a spat.

“Look,” I said. “I am sure that you will be able to successfully mail this check in two weeks. In the event that I don’t have it before I move, I will contact you again. Will that work for you?”

“Yes. Au revoir.”

“Thanks so much for all your help and bonne journée!” I spit out sarcastically, sure that I was going to have to call and harrass her for the money in a few weeks.

But. BUT! Here’s the happy ending. Are you ready?

The check came in a few weeks time, and I cashed it. HOORAY!

The end.

Have you ever battled the French system? Tell me your story, or leave a link to your own rantings!

The préfecture: it’s not over yet!

Well, at least I had the sense to put a question mark when I titled this post “The End?” of my battle with the préfecture.

Because of course it wasn’t the end. That would have been too simple.

In case you missed it, I went to the prefecture not once, not twice, but three times in order to finally get my récépissé, the piece of paper that gives me the right to stay in France until I get my carte de séjour, the official legal card. And they said something along the lines of, “Congratulations, you have shown great patience and determination in this quest and will now be awarded the golden récépissé. Come back in October for your carte de séjour (and in a year you can do it all over again! Bienvenue en France.)”

And silly me, I thought I could just come back in October and get my carte de séjour. Oh, so naive.

Continue reading “The préfecture: it’s not over yet!”

The préfecture: the end?

You’ve been holding your breath waiting for me to finish my story about the préfecture, haven’t you? If you missed it, I’ve already been once in Vienne and once in Lyon trying to renew my visa. (FYI, I have a job contract specifically for a foreigner like me which gives me the right to live in France for the duration of the contract, so it’s not a legal problem – it’s a bureaucracy problem.)

To cut a long story short, I flew back from Barcelona a few days early specifically to do this whole thing over, because who doesn’t love waiting on the sidewalk for hours while the sun comes up? I brought snacks this time.

Continue reading “The préfecture: the end?”

Why you should go straight from the bar to the préfecture (and other practical advice)

Remember when I told you about going to the préfecture in Vienne? It didn’t go so well. So I decided to try again… in Lyon. (Note: I had to change my address on paper to change préfectures.)

Unlike in Vienne, I knew what to expect at the préfecture in Lyon. My awesome expat friends gave me the inside scoop, so I knew I had to get there early and bring something to keep me busy.

I went so early that there were still people out from the night before.
I went so early that there were still people out from the night before. (Note: this is Hotel de Ville, not the préfecture. I imagined that the préfecture would look like this, but it doesn’t.)

I took the bus over around 5:30am. I worried that I was too early. What if there was no one around and I didn’t feel safe?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

There were over sixty people in line when I arrived. It was 5:45am. The préfecture doors open at 8:30am. By 6:15am, the line had doubled, and by 6:30am, it stretched the length of the entire block and around the corner.

So I settled in to wait. I wished I had something to sit on. I wished I had something to eat. I wished I had a latte and a blueberry muffin. But what I did have was a smartphone and a book, and so two and a half hours went by faster than you’d think.

At 8:30, the doors opened and the line moved forward. I showed my passport and visa and they gave me at ticket – number 64. Everyone rushed into the préfecture and tried to grab a seat before they were all taken. There are about 30 guichets, or windows to talk to a person, about half of which were open, and ticket numbers popped up on a screen with a bing-bong sound to show when it was your turn and which guichet you should go to. I jerked my head up every time a new number bing-bonged onto the screen, as though 64 was magically going to appear after 11.

image (6)
This means that sixty-three people got to the préfecture before 5:45am.

It was 10:02am when 64 bing-bonged onto the screen. I jumped out of my chair, shaking, and rushed over to my guichet. It was almost over, and the man seemed nice. Everything was going to be fine.

He asked for my documents one by one. Copy of your passport? Work contract? Birth certificate original and copy? Last pay stubs? They piled up on his desk as I slid them through the slot in the window.

Justicatif de domicile? This is the paperwork that proves you have an address. I was worried about this one. I didn’t have a recent bill because I didn’t have access to one, but I did have a lease, which I had used before without a problem. I thought unless I got stuck with someone really mean, it would be fine. I had even brought my bank statements to prove I did have the means to rent an apartment and wasn’t living on the street. That’s the point, right?

He peered at the documents I handed over.

“I can’t accept this. Do you have anything else?”

I tried to explain that there were no other documents available, that I had used the same ones before with no problem, that I was leaving on a plane the following morning and couldn’t come back (excuses, but all true.)

He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t unfair. He simply said, “Ma’am, your dossier is not complete and I cannot accept it. It won’t do any good to cry.”

I knew I had lost, and I knew I should have known better. There was nothing I could have done about it, but I knew that unlike the woman in Vienne, he was just doing his job. And he was right.

I walked out into the sunshine in a daze. I had come to Lyon specifically for this at an inconvenient time, rushed to get my dossier ready, waited for hours on my feet as the sun came up – all for nothing. And I was leaving for Barcelona the next day and wouldn’t be back in Lyon until after my visa had expired. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I sobbed shamelessly as passersby stared.

Normally when French bureaucracy gets me down, I go to the boulangerie and get my favorite pastry, pain aux raisins, but this wasn’t a frustration that pain aux raisins could fix. So instead…

IMG_4803
…we went to Starbucks.

One latte, one blueberry muffin, and a lot of love and deep breaths later, I was ready to pick myself up and carry on.

And by the end of the day, I had schemed a Plan B.

To be continued…

If you ever find yourself at the préfecture in Lyon, here is my advice to you:

Triple-check your dossier

Bring all the documents listed, and anything else you think the might need. I was asked for a document that was not on the list, so it’s better to be prepared. Have originals and copies whenever possible – they won’t keep the original, by they like to see it. It’s a good idea to organize your dossier so that you can find the documents easily – that way you aren’t shuffling through everything at the guichet. You can see a list of required documents for your particular situation here. (If you’re outside of Rhône, check with your préfecture.)

Go early

The later you get there, the longer you’ll wait, and if you’re too late, they will run out of tickets and you won’t be able to get in at all. I’d recommend before 6:30am. If you’re a party animal, just skip going to bed and go straight to the préfecture from wherever party animals party at 3am (I really wouldn’t know). Try to lure your friends along to keep you company with snacks and whatever you drink at that hour of the morning (limoncello?) The other people in line will be so happy you’re all there.

Bring something to sit on

The sidewalk is not the nicest place to sit. It’s dirty and uncomfortable. It’s perfectly acceptable to bring a folding chair or a stool to sit on.

Bring snacks

If you get hungry in the morning, and I do, bring something to snack on. That means get something the day before, because nothing will be open when you’re on your way there. Starbucks opens at 7am here. Beverages are at your discretion – a mug of coffee could be nice, but remember, you’re going to be waiting in line for three hours at least and you can’t leave to go pee.

Bring something to do

Anything that will keep you entertained for a few hours that you can do standing up! (unless you brought that chair) I was pretty jealous of the girl with her iPad watching a movie next to me. I watched over her shoulder until I started feeling like a creeper. Cell reception isn’t great inside the building, so make sure you have more than your smartphone!

Bring your patience

You’re going to be there for a while.

Do you have a bureaucracy horror story?

The Préfecture: Hell in France?

The préfecture is not a popular destination in France. It’s the place where foreigners go to take care of bureaucratic nonsense like visa renewals, and it usually involves waiting in line for hours and dealing with cranky civil servants who hold your fate in their temperamental hands. Or so I hear – I’ve actually never been to the préfecture after two years in France. Well, not until Tuesday. On Tuesday I went to the préfecture. It did not go well.

Let me back up. There is of course not one préfecture for all of France. You go to the one closest to your residence and you have to provide proof of your address. There has to be some order. Otherwise it would be a disorganized bureaucratic shitshow. (If you’re not familiar with the bureaucracy of France, let me just clarify that this is sarcasm. It is of course already a bureaucratic shitshow.)

I wanted to make sure that all went smoothly, so I contacted three préfectures in the area to make sure that I went to the right one with the right paperwork. It was determined that I should go to the sous-préfecture in Vienne, and I prepared my dossier all nice with those little plastic folders to keep it organized.

The sous-préfecture in Vienne was a bit of a mystery. My attempts to contact them were unsuccessful, and I don’t know anyone who has been there. But since it is a much smaller préfecture outside of a major city, I figured that there was no need to go at 6am to wait in line the way you would do in Lyon. And that part, at least, was true.

My chéri kindly drove me to Vienne and we sat in the waiting room for an hour and a half with a ticket that said “Etranger sans rendez-vous.” (Foreigner without appointment). Just the luxury of having a waiting room with chairs was enough for me after all the préfecture stories I’ve heard about camping out on the sidewalk.

Finally, my number (A008) was called, and I ran up to the window with my dossier.

“Good morning, I’m here to renew my visa long séjour.”

The woman looked at me confused. “Les visas, c’est pas nous.” We don’t do visas here.

I was pretty sure I was in the right place. “Um, my titre de séjour? Travailleur temporaire? I want to renew it?”

She fished out a piece of paper and started to read me the dossier requirements.

“You’ll need a copy of your passport, four ID photos-”

I pulled them out of my neatly organized dossier and started to hand them over.

“Oh, but I won’t take anything today,” she stopped me.

My jaw dropped. WTF? Then why did I come here?! 

“You don’t have an appointment, so I can’t take any of your paperwork.”

I explained that I had tried to contact them beforehand without success, and that I certainly would have made an appointment had I known it was an option. How does one make an appointment, by the by?

Oh it’s perfectly straightforward. You simply go all the way to the préfecture in person, wait until someone has time to see you, and then they tell you when the next available appointment is, in a month or two.

Is there seriously no better way to do this?!

I made her confirm several times because it seemed impossible that I had understood correctly, and she managed to act like it wasn’t remotely absurd.

So I was at the préfecture with all the right documents in front of the woman who is supposed to take the documents and process them, but she refused to take them because I didn’t have the formality of an appointment on the books (literally, by the way – they note their appointments in a giant spiral notebook.)

Crazy World
Are we in crazy world?

To add insult to injury, she didn’t understand how the titre de séjour renewal process worked. I had to explain it to her. Um, isn’t this your job?

“I don’t have any appointments available until September,” she informed me brusquely. “You are supposed to come two months before your visa expires.”

“Really? The Office of Immigration actually tells us that it’s one month.” At the préfecture in Lyon, you’re not even allowed to start the process until you have less than four weeks left on your visa.

“I don’t know anything about OFII, but here it is two months. ” She managed to be defensive and snooty at the same time. Does it strike anyone as at all strange that the people who deal primarily with foreigners immigrating to France have zero knowledge of the Office of Immigration?

By now she had dropped her fake smile and was openly bitchy.

What choice did I have? “Fine. I’ll take the appointment in September. I’ll just need the récépissé since my visa expires before then.” A récépissé is a receipt that shows you are legal while you are waiting for your new visa or titre de séjour.

“I can’t give you a récépissé. You don’t have an appointment. Right?” she turned to verify with her coworker.

Are you kidding me?

I explained to her that it was 100% standard for me to receive a récépissé, and what did she expect me to do when my visa expired?

Apparently, that wasn’t her problem.

In hindsight, I can’t believe I was naïve enough to think I was just going to waltz into the préfecture with my dossier and that everything would go smoothly because that never happens.  It’s actually an anomaly when things go well. Ask anyone who lives in France, including the French.

Moral of the story? Stay far, far away from the Sous-Préfecture in Vienne, and bring a flask to your next bureaucratic appointment.

 

Oui In France
P.S. You can read what happened next here.

Preparing for the TAPIF language assistant program in France: What to do, and what not to do

Hello future language assistant. If you’re getting ready to come to France for the next school year, I’ve got some tips for you. I was an assistant in a lycée in Lyon in 2013-2014, and although I initially had my doubts about the program, I ended up having a great experience. Even though I had already been living and teaching in France for a year before I went, I reached out to past assistants to get tips from them and they were delightfully helpful. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas or resources in this post!

Do practice your French

In my opinion, the better your French is before you move, the easier it is to improve while you’re there. Before moving to France, I used Conversation Exchange to do a French/English language exchange. I also used Meetup to find a French language group in my area.

When you watch French movies, challenge yourself to take the subtitles off if you can, and watch French videos on YouTube. Try Golden Moustache Videos – they are hilarious and you can put on subtitles. (I know I just said to take the subtitles off, but you may want to have the option with Golden Moustache – their jokes go by fast, and subtitles can help you learn some of the slang they’re using.) The best one is the longest one, Le Fantôme de Merde. There’s also Norman fait des videos and Cyprien. You can also watch Quotidien in French, and for something a little more serious, C dans l’air.

The number one thing I wish I had known about sooner? Comme une Française TV. Géraldine makes great videos demonstrating expressions and cultural quirks that you just don’t learn in the classroom. I’m fluent in French and I still learn new things from her videos all time. Even if you’re a dude, it doesn’t matter – most of the topics are gender neutral.

French words
Note: do not call your waiter “garçon” in French.

Don’t overpack

You probably don’t need as much stuff as you think you do, and you are going to have to carry it all. You know you’re going to be going home with more stuff than you came with anyway!

(As I wrote in another post on teaching English in France, the dress code tends to be on the casual side, so don’t worry too much about bringing dressy clothes for work.)

Do connect with other assistants in your region

There should be a Facebook group for your city or region – find it and join it. Even if you really want to spend your year making French friends, not other anglophone friends, it is nice to have that online network when you have a question about lesson planning or opening your bank account. You don’t necessarily have to hang out with other assistants, but it’s a good idea to stay connected in the anglophone community. Sometimes being a foreigner is rough, and we have each other’s backs.

Do get in touch with your school

There’s some information you’re going to want sooner rather than later – will your school provide lodging? What will your schedule be? Will you be teaching your own classes, or having small conversation groups? You have no control over when someone gives you this information, and chances are no one will be in touch until the end of August or September because of les vacances, but at least if you send them an email (in French!) you’re opening the door for that communication to begin.

Do bring some props from home

You’re going to be talking about where you come from and your culture as much as you will be teaching English (more, in some cases). It’s great to have visual aids to present. Depending on your responsibilities and teaching style, you might want to have real English-language materials, like magazines, etc. to bring to class. Tip: think about presenting your city or region rather than (or in addition to) your country as a whole, especially if you’re American.

Don’t be too nice

If you’re responsible for a class, even if there are only eight students, be prepared to lay down the law from the start. Decide what is and is not acceptable in your class, and what the consequences will be if a student is uncooperative, and be consistent. If you don’t follow through, they will never take you seriously. Ask a teacher what the school rules are and what your options are to discipline, since you probably won’t be grading them.

Don’t mess up your consulate appointment

Going to the French consulate should be a million times easier than any French bureaucratic process in France. If you schedule your appointment ASAP, get all your paperwork lined up (there should be a list of requirements on your consulate’s website), and show up on time, there’s no reason it should go wrong.

Do feel free to tell the consulate if you have a reason to stay in France after the end of your contract

Your visa status is “travailleur temporaire.” You can have a visa with this status for up to a year. An assistant contract is usually seven months, and the visa is often valid 8-10 months – it depends on your consulate.

When I was getting my visa at the San Francisco consulate, the woman asked me if I would be staying in France after the end of my contract. Since I live in France and am annually plagued with visa obstacles, I wanted my visa to be valid as long as possible. That didn’t seem like the right thing to say at the consulate, though. I explained that my friend was getting married in September (true), so I needed to be able to stay in France until then. This kind sweet lady sent my passport back with a visa valid for 12 months. Woohoo!

Note: the 12 months start the day you arrive in France, not when your contract begins. That’s why you have to have purchased your plane ticket before your consulate appointment.

Of course, this all depends on which consulate you are at and who you speak with, but it can’t hurt to ask as long as you present a good reason!

Do get a new copy of your birth certificate with an apostille and don’t wait until the last minute!

You’ll need this to get a social security number and healthcare. They should accept a copy (color is better) at your appointment, but better to have the original on hand in case you need it. When I went to the Assurance Maladie, they didn’t require a translation for a birth certificate in English, but many people recommend that you have one done by a translator certified by the French consulate. (Note: L’assurance maladie is sometimes finicky with American birth certificates since they vary by state. Be persistent. You can read about my ordeal here.)

Do start looking for housing before you arrive

Finding somewhere to live can be a challenge. If your school offers lodging, I recommend that you take it. It will most likely be the cheapest option, and you can always move out if you find somewhere you’d prefer to live. Otherwise, network with other assistants and expats and search on leboncoin.fr (like French craigslist – it’s your best bet for finding a place.) It’s not necessarily likely that you’ll actually have somewhere to live when you arrive, but at least you’ll know the lay of the land. However…

Don’t get scammed on Leboncoin

Just like Craigslist, use caution on Leboncoin! There are tons of legit offers on the site, but if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Of course, never send money or personal information ahead of time. You might be tempted to wire a deposit if you’re in a panic about ending up homeless, but don’t do it! You will not end up living on the street. Okay?

Do have a credit card with no international fees, and do find out where you can withdraw cash with no fees

You’ve got to set up a bank account in France to get paid (but you need an address first!) but in the meantime, you still need money. Having a credit card with no international fees is a no-brainer, and you also want to check with your bank to find out where you can withdraw cash without getting charged (you gotta have cash!)

For example, in the States, I have an account at Bank of America. I can withdraw cash at BNP Paribas ATMs without getting charged per transaction (but I do pay a small percentage fee). I also have their Travel Rewards credit card, which I love a) because there are no international fees and b) because it has the little European chip in it, which makes it easier to use over here. (You literally have to show people how to swipe a credit card in their machine here, unless you’re somewhere with a large influx of non-European visitors. It is a completely foreign concept.)

Note: Even if you have a credit card with the chip, there are still some places it won’t work because it’s a foreign card, like the SNCF train station automated machines.

Don’t forget to tell your bank and credit cards where you’ll be so that your account doesn’t get blocked!

Because that is no fun for anyone.

Do have enough funds to last you a month or two when you arrive

You’re not going to get paid until the end of November. You might get an advance of a couple hundred euros at the end of October. You will still have to pay for stuff.

Euros

Don’t expect everyone to speak English

The English teachers at your school will speak English (right?) but the administration and the other teachers probably won’t. Some people will want to practice their English with you, so if your goal is to speak French, figure out a polite way to communicate that (just continuing to respond in French often does the trick.)

If you struggle with speaking French at first, that’s okay! Look up a list of necessary vocabulary before going into new situations. For example, if I go to the doctor, I make sure I have all the words I need to explain what my symptoms are, and if I go to the préfecture, I make sure I have a long list of profanities handy. (…Kidding.)

Good luck!

I’ve written more about teaching English in France (including lesson plans, types of visas, and getting a TEFL certificate) here.

Have you been a language assistant in France? What advice would you give?

Social Security Saga: Getting l’assurance maladie in France (part 2)

So where did we leave off? (Pretend I’m the grandfather in The Princess Bride about to launch into something epic. Because French bureaucracy is like an R.O.U.S. that jumps out of the fire swamp and attacks when you least expect it.)

In case you missed it, I told you about the hoops the French assurance maladie made me jump through like a circus animal, and how they lost my dossier and made me start over. I finally resubmitted everything in December and was told my dossier would be processed in a few weeks.

And it was… kind of.

I returned from the US to France in early January, and a fat envelope from l’Assurance maladie  was waiting in my mailbox. At first I was happy – finally, a response! No more waiting! But as I mounted the five flights of stairs to my apartment, that fat envelope started to feel heavier in my hand – maybe it wasn’t good news after all. Sure enough, they had returned my entire dossier, saying I was missing necessary documents.

The “missing documents” were in the envelope with the rest of my dossier. Literally, in the same envelope with the paper that said they were missing. How is this possible?? Did they even look at my dossier? Was this some kind of psychological torture for foreigners? WTF, France?

French bureaucracy is always a gamble
French bureaucracy is always a gamble

So back to the office of l’Assurance maladie I went. I put on my nicest face, and sweetly explained that there seemed to have been some mistake, as there was nothing missing from the goddam dossier. The lady, visibly underwhelmed by my presence, did her best to find something wrong with my file. She sniffed through all the papers, called in her supervisor, and made a few phone calls. Finally, she triumphantly announced that she had found the problem. It was my birth certificate, she said. The state of California had not placed the official apostille stamp to their liking, and so they could not accept it.

I was dumbfounded. First of all, if that was actually the problem, wouldn’t they have said THAT in their obnoxious letter instead of inventing an excuse about missing documents? Second of all, what did she expect me to do? Call up the California Secretary of State and ask her to please FedEx me a new stamp customized to the liking of Madame Sécu ?

No, actually, she expected me to go to the American consulate and ask for something mysterious that she scribbled down on a scrap of paper. Dubious. When I wanted to know what it was and why, she brushed me off with annoyance.

“That’s not my problem, entre guillemets,” she shrugged. Seriously?

To top it off, when I called the American consulate, they had no idea what the woman was talking about, and they confirmed the stamp on my birth certificate was completely standard.

“Yup, she’s pretty much crazy and incompetent,” they said. Welcome to France.

I was ready to bash my head into a wall, so I did what I do every time I’m mad at France and it’s too early to go to the bar. I went to the boulangerie.

Pain aux raisins
It’s hard to be mad at the country that makes pain aux raisins

Luckily, the next time I went back to l’assurance maladie (sixth time’s the charm?) they took the 100% complete and satisfactory dossier off my hands to be processed. I didn’t even have to wait in line.

Within a couple weeks, I had my temporary French social security number. Win!

It only took five months.

And the actual carte vitale? The clock is still ticking on that one – eight months and counting. Keep your fingers crossed!

 

Update: I finally received my carte vitale in late August 2014.