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. 

Social Security Saga: getting l’assurance maladie in France (part 1)

When you work in France, you are entitled to social security and healthcare. That’s because they take away about 24% of your paycheck every month. Legally, you’re obligated to go through the process of getting a social security number, and hopefully a carte vitale, a green card that allows you to be automatically reimbursed for healthcare costs. Until you have it, you have to fill out beige forms to get reimbursed. (I have received approximately zero reimbursement so far, but everyone assures me that it will be processed sooner or later.)

Last year, I didn’t know how to get a social security number and my sketchy employer certainly didn’t offer any assistance, but this year, I was employed by the French government, so in October I got right to work submitting paperwork for my numéro provisoire.

“It’s very easy,” said the sécretaire at the lycée where I worked, “you just go to the office in the 4th arrondissement with your passport and your certification of employment, and they’ll give you a form to fill out with your temporary number. Once you have the temporary number, we’ll be able to process your paychecks”

I ran home to Vieux Lyon to get my passport, and zipped back up to Croix Rousse to get to the office before it closed.

Well, it was closed. Like, really closed. Like, they had closed the office in the fourth arrondissement permanently.

So I set off for Part Dieu, where the Assurance Maladie office was awake and functioning. They gave me a receipt with a number and a ridiculously underestimated wait time.

3 minutes? Mon oeil.
3 minute wait? Mon oeil.

When my number was called, the lady kindly explained that I had it all wrong.

“No no, the sécretaire was mistaken. We haven’t had those carbon forms with the temporary social security numbers for ages. You’ll have to come back with copies of your entire passport and a bunch of other papers you didn’t know you needed, plus fill out this form and then you should receive your temporary number in about three weeks.”

Assurance maladie form
The form looked like this. I took a picture because you always want proof when it comes to French bureaucracy.

After running all over town, the news that I would have to come back another day just to start the application process was not exactly welcome. But what could I do? I brought back all the necessary paperwork and was assured it would be processed quickly.

And then I waited. And waited. Three weeks, a month, came and went. Finally, two months later, I went back.

“What’s up, Sécu? Where are we on that whole getting me a social security number thing?”

They checked their system. And they checked it again. “Hm. We don’t appear to have your file. You’ll have to just start over. “

Are you kidding me?! Not even an insincere, “Sorry about losing all your paperwork and personal documents!” Just, “You’ll have to start over.”

Fine. Forty minutes home to get all my paperwork, plus a run to the school to print and copy what I didn’t have on hand (no! bad! Always keep a copy of EVERYTHING on hand on France!) and forty minutes back to l’Assurance Maladie at Part Dieu, and my dossier was resubmitted. Exactly how I wanted to spend my free Wednesday morning.

And I thought that would be it. They would process my dossier, I would receive my temporary number in the mail, and then after that, my carte vitale.

Spoiler: It’s almost July and I’m still waiting for my carte vitale.

To be continued… read Part 2 here