French Bureaucracy, Explained

One of the things about having a social media presence and clearly being an expat in France is that people can easily find me. Hence I get a lot of questions and emails that go something like: Dear Anne, I want to move to France. I’ve sent dozen of email responses which I tend to never hear back from (I fear it’s because what I say isn’t always what people want to hear). After numerous blog posts on the topic as well, I thought it was time to pull together a mega post with all my ideas, insights, and resources on the topic. Life in France is everything – amazing, humorous, inspiring, frustrating, invigorating, amusing, and … nonsensical. So here is my attempt to make sense of it for you.

First things first: think about if you were France. You have this large, beautiful house which is rich in history. It is also is where your job and welfare takes place. Everyone sees pictures and stories from vacations and “knows” how awesome it is and comes knocking at your door wanting to enter your house. Ok, so there’s an application process, and you need to pay the people who manage it. You also want job security, so you make sure there is plenty of paperwork to keep them busy. Internet age? That will be another 10 years until the service provider can have this house fully wired.

But who do you actually let into your home for more than just a visit? That awesome but poor struggling artist type who is trying to figure out life and can’t really pay rent or that boring rich guy whose going to pay taxes and contribute to the economy. This is by no means to say that this is always the case, but it does start to shed some light onto why it can be so convoluted and frustrating to live here no matter who you are. (There is a Competences et Talents 3-year visa aimed directly at creative types – although I have yet to meet someone who is on said visa). Status is important (more soon), but social influence in terms of internet clout doesn’t count, as it did not exist in the time of Louis the XIV. French society doesn’t want promises, it wants to see something measurable and tangible of how you are going to contribute to this fine house (ahem, show me the €€€). Ultimately, this house is a house rooted in tradition.

Systems are in place and change comes slowly. France had the minitel long before the internet, and hence was slow to adopt. Digital pictures at the Préfecture? Pmph, that’d be too simple and would take a job away from the Photomaton repairman, and we can’t fire him because labor laws are very strict and extremely expensive when letting someone go. Besides, c’est comme ça, it’s always been la programme to take ugly, non-smiling pictures with hair out of your face and glasses off in a way that really looks nothing like you, and get a set in bulk for all your official visits (or to get a 3-monthly pool pass). It’s just another step in the scavenger hunt to prove that you are suited for life in France. It’s like a real life pop quiz in attempt to weed out the weakest links.

Even people + machines have to go through certain hoops to get to the level of being honored by bureaucratic measures. It is by no means a “less is more” approach to design. Birth certificates must be translated by certified translators who have jumped through a lot of hoops and paid a chunk of money to earn their status. Often theses birth certificate translations run 50€ and are composed of words learned in French 101. Similarly not every photo booth or shop can give you regulation photos. You must follow instructions to the T. This is your mission should you choose to accept it.

So now that I’ve painted a glorious picture of what the House of France looks like, let me remind you that my home, and the homes of most of my friends look more like this.

Given that we are talking about Houses, with a cameo by a king, it only appropriate that we bring status into play. Conveniently the French word has a similar ring: statut. Here, it is not just us étrangers (foreigners, with a literal translation of stranger) that have a statut, but the French do too. In fact, just last month a French illustrator friend “launched” a second status for herself so she could now sell stuffed dolls. Despite having a highly illustrative quality that looks much like her work on paper, there are even limitations for truebloods as well. Her existing status as an artiste (under La Maison des Artistes – yes, the house of artists!) specifically defines what forms her art can be created in. (And no, I cannot make this stuff up). So she created a new société under the Auto-Entrepreneur status to test out this business. Yes, there is a lower tax rate, but any savings is lost in the time you could have been used creating. She will then lance a proper French business should this endeavor succeed, where once again she will lose time in bureaucratic measures making sense of her new status and getting all her ducks in a row rather than generating income to contribute to society economically.

I must digress for a moment to explain the Auto-Entrepreneur status. This was a secondary status technically created for French people. Say you worked at a bank. Technically, this is your job and under French law you are not allowed to do any work on the side. WHAT!?! Even to freelance you must have a legal number known as a SIRET number. So yes, expats, if you want to work in France for French companies you need one of these puppies, and even then expect caveats and to get news that an organization can’t work with you because they need even more Prefecture issued numbers.

Now the Auto-Entrepreneur could be a beautiful status for you if you’re an EU citizen or never desire to make more than €32K / year (don’t worry, it’s normale for someone with a Masters to be earning €25 K out of grad school, so that’s a big step up!). The Auto-Entrepreneur status and I have a tight bond because it’s what I became after finishing my Masters and opting to go out on my own as a freelancer rather than playing the game of getting sponsored by a low paying job.

Long story short, two summers ago I wrote a 50 page business plan en français in the month of August – when the rest of the country is on holiday and doesn’t even bother to check their email. As well I collected a couple dozen documents. I had just finished my thesis so I needed another endeavor, right!? Actually, writing a business plan from scratch was a process I enjoyed compared to collecting all those documents that didn’t really exist for me (and I’m begging the Centre des Impôts [tax office] to write a letter on official letterhead that I exist and pay my taxes here. They along with URSSAF [where I pay my social charges] seem equally as frustrated by the Prefecture’s demands).

By a small miracle I collected all of said documents and had completed my dossier. A month later I went to pick up my carte de séjour (the card that validates the visa in your passport – and chances are you had to go to Washington D.C. or some other major city to get that before moving). However, I quickly noticed that they were not about to hand me a card, but a piece of paper – a récépissé. What I really wanted a was a plastic card with my name and ugly photo on it (which ironically has been digitized by this phase), but instead got a temporary document allowing me to stay here. “As you know, with this status you must come back and renew every three months.” [Jaw drop]. This game went on for several months before I consulted a lawyer-guy specialized in helping expats and decided to change my status. After two more visits to the AE office at the Prefecture with the bon-bon eating pregnant lady wearing a grey t-shirt with a typographic fetus on it (she wore this BOTH visits, and the really weird thing is that I never see the French wearing t-shirts, EVER), I changed offices. You have to be careful what you wish for sometimes. The woman who I thought was tough on my first visit to the AE office was a doll compared to fetus-girl. Now dealing with new paperwork requirements and different government workers I felt like I had entered a happy place of slightly less dysfunctional bureaucracy.

After all I had been through changing my status to profession liberale was a cake walk (seriously, I was like Marie Antoinette eating macroons!, except for the fact that it wasn’t so glamorous and I was actually starving because it turned into a four hour visit where I ran into my fellow habitués [regulars] from the swimming pool).  The worker literally laughed at my dossier and how thick it was (I’d been living in France  ~2.5 years at the time) and the four pages of crazy fetus t-shirt induced handwritten notes. But this time all my documents were in (and only ~5 required for this status!), so ~360€ in timbres [expensive bureaucratic stamps they lick and stick on a piece of paper in your folder] and one month later I had my official carte de séjour with my ugly now digitized picture in my hands!

The way I see it there are few ways to live in France as a foreigner. Each has a “status” to go along with it. I’ve also attempted to share the mentality/ challenges behind each option:

  1. Be super rich. If you don’t need to make money + you have money, getting a visa is much easier. It’s the whole working thing that complicates things. Let’s all just be retirees + live the life.
  2. Marry in. Technically you only need an EU-citizen these days, not just a Frenchie. However, realize that even this is a process, involves certified birth certificates (issued within 3 months), culture classes, etc. Hopefully your partner speaks French to assist you in this process. You still have to go to the Prefecture every year to renew for a few years before you’re eligible for a 10 year card or naturalization, and there will be more papers + processes with that.
  3. Get PACSed. This is the French version of civil marriage, for both gay and straight couples. It’s gotten more complicated over the years. Couples need to have proof of living together for a year (think matching address on both your bank statements, names on lease, etc.), as well as lots of documents (it’s France). One friend’s partner’s parents were originally from north Africa and getting their part of the required documents was no walk in the park. Yes, you get to dig into family archives for this one.
  4. Get sent over to work by a U.S. company. This option is awesome. It probably means you’re really making it in life + you will have a HR department to deal with all the bureaucratic crap that will come your way in this country. It will save countless hours + sanity to have someone dealing with this for you. It probably also means you’re working more than a 35-40 hour work week. Make sure you negotiate the 5-9 weeks of vacation a year into your contract!
  5. Get sponsored by a company. The main thing you have to realize here is that the company has to prove that they need you (think one-of-a-kind skill set) and that you’re not taking a job from a French person. There may be costs involved in this process or you may succeed + 6 months later decide to leave the job, so is it a risk the company is willing to take? From what I’ve seen French salaries are notoriously low, but if you are making above a certain amount, it’s considered that you are an upper level employee, and hence not taking the job from a countryman, so go for high level positions and bypass some steps. (Most of my American friends here completely acknowledge that they’d be earning $10-20K more / year for doing the same job in the U.S.).
  6. Be a student. This is an awesome way into France. It’s probably the easiest visa to get. If you’re in the French university system it’s far less expensive than the U.S. education. You even are allowed to work part-time under this status. However, the issue comes when you want to stay in France when you’re done with your studies. Being a student does not cut a step out of the process to whatever is next. A changement du statut [change of status] is required and not necessarily easy. Here you either have to attempt #2, #3 (hope you too the time to make sure all your addresses were updated a year ago!), or #4.
  7. Start your own business. This is what I fell into and somehow am still alive. [See above]. But the catch? I have le droit de travailler sauf salarié – I have the right to work except for salaried. Don’t worry, I’ve created a skill set for myself where I have no desire to take a French person’s job, only to improve their work ability. However, I was offered a part-time teaching gig at a university here. Teaching – even if it’s just 3 days – at a university level is considered salaried work, and I do not have a right (but if I was married, PACED, or working PT on a student visa, pas de problème). However, as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, or in my case, more creative. I’ve come up with a few solutions that actually fit my personality better. What I can claim is that I have a professional association de gestion (specifically for graphic designers, because in France you do ONE thing and you don’t change job types in life), that I pay for, that watches over me, and offers me “free” accounting classes, so I have the joys of learning the business and hearing how complicated those processes are too. They always give me that look of “I know it doesn’t make sense, but this is how it is.”   Note to self: get rich fast. (But all while ensuring to never become a millionaire should this 75% tax ever go into effect).
  8. Become an English teaching assistant. 12 hours a week, 2 weeks of vacation every 6 weeks. I did this after college. I think this lifestyle was definitely an impetus for coming back. Granted that was in 2003, so terms and conditions may have changed. I’ve had my French social security carte Vitale since then.
  9. Realize the process is ongoing to renew. In order to schedule an appointment at the Prefecture you must book 4-5 months in advance. I tried 4 months in advance this time, all slots were taken until 1.5 after my carte de séjour expires. Instead will add an extra step of getting a temporary récépissé that will validate my carte de séjour until I can go to my official appointment. See the theme here? Let’s vaguely communicate ideas and add in as many extra steps as possible. Also know that often times in holding pattern you will not have the right to work. And we wonder why there are problems with the economy…

In conclusion, those of us in the House of France don’t always lead those charmed lives you imagine from our Instagram streams + blog posts where we chose to share happier times. Instead, more often than not it is a long and exhausting process to be ordained, or at least to hang on by a thread, but we bond over these moments and they become hilarious stories and trump moments of “you can’t make this stuff up.” And we’ve all been there in some way, shape or form. Also, realize that no French person is going to hold your hand or volunteer the information for you; you’re going to need to know the right questions to ask. So hopefully this post has helped armed you with a basic understanding.

As my friend Jenni says about me: yeah, I love France and all, but I am really here for the challenge. Thankfully my American mentality of “anything is possible” is deep under my skin. You can do anything you put your mind to, and knowing is half the battle.

Other considerations to consider are language barrier, legal expenses, travel expenses home (or to the consulate or for not over-staying your 3-month maximum stay if you don’t have papers). I feel like life is a giant exercise in managing expectations, so this post is an attempt to put it all out there. If all goes well I’ll attempt to hold every French status possible. Kidding! But to answer your question about wanting to move to France, seriously, the 3 month tourist visa is definitely worth considering. All you need to do is travel like a local while you’re here. Otherwise, find the path of least resistance for you. In my own life/work I’ve strove to create a “job” that I can do from anywhere, for whatever the future may bring.

Everyone who lives here as an expat has a different story, and no two stories are the same. A few final words of wisdom from myself + friends who have been there.

My take:

More great tips:

LAST WORDS: Have a sense of humor. This stuff is hilarious and you really can’t make it up. Take a deep breath and make the most of it! Not everyone gets to live these experiences. Your friends here have been there and will make sure you know it’ll all be ok.

Disclaimer: These are solely my opinions and based on my own experiences and the experiences of those I know and are meant to be taken with a grain of salt. While slow to change, laws are subject to change so please consult an authority, as this author cannot handle any further bureaucratic measures of being held responsible for any misfortunes. She does however love hearing a “good” story.


P.S. On a lighter note, everyone should sign up for my map making class on Skillshare!! :)


  • This couldn’t be better timed. I just stood outside the prefecture in the 17ème for 45 minutes this morning in -5°C weather waiting for the them to open the doors. All to get a recipissé (extension?) of my visa since I couldn\’t get an appointment at the ‘real’ prefecture until after my visa expires (and I booked it 3 months in advance, lesson learned). I asked the clerk what the difference is between the different prefectures and she said “I do the recipissés and they do the renewals”. So if I understand correctly, her sole function is to handle visa extensions because there are so many people who can’t get an appointment before their visa expires! Madness.

    • Perfect timing indeed, Lynn! Thanks for sharing your example. Simple, yet brilliant example. I wonder if when you ask these questions if it makes them think twice ;)

  • I’ve had plenty of paperworks in the last few months, and the one video that kept me sane was the Asterix’s clip!!! F couldn’t believe how much more difficult things can be, until he has to deal with some of these himself alongside with me. He has new respect for foreigners who battle through these!

    • Asterix is amazing, right? @ecinparis ( shared that with me on twitter last night when I mentioned working on the post. It/she are getting a proper shout out in a separate post. Didn’t want the quality footage to get lost in this novel.

  • I’m breathless after reading that! I “married in” so the process was “easy”. A note to those marrying Frenchies in their home countries: make sure your nuptials are registered at the French consulate where you reside. This can give you a little step ahead. We had our upcoming marriage announced (having the banns published) first.

    It really is like an ongoing endurance test. Only those dedicated to the task can stay. Great post!

    • Thanks for the insight, Tanya! Most of my married friends see the paperwork process as pain/inconvenience, but not a horror ;) They’re happily here now!

  • Anne, all of the hoops you have jumped through continually amaze me. My bureaucratic journey hasn\’t been a cakewalk, either, so I know of what you speak. But I also think you\’ve had more statuses than anyone I know!

    Just chiming in to say I know two people who obtained the carte de competences et talents so it\’s not a total myth. There\’s a post about that over on Jennyphoria if anyone wants to know more:

    I also know a writer who was able to secure the visa.

    I used to get a fair number of \”I want to move to France\” emails, too, and like you, very few people responded to the long email I sent them back. I\’ll direct future inquiries to this post :)

    • If only there a was a prize, Sion!! That’s great Jenny got competences et talents. I met her a couple years ago when she mentioned hoping to get that. I swear the expats sharing resources is the only way we survive sometimes. Merci!

  • Don\’t forget that after two years (= renewed the titre de sejour two times) you can apply for a 10-year titre de sejour. I do not know if this is only valid if you marry in (my case).

    [More from Phil via

    Ah, interesting. I guess I get 10 years because I’m married to a French citizen and we have French kids (also means I get 300 eur/month from the state to ‘pay for diapers,’ AKA, pay for a babysitter & a visit to a bar every now and then).

    Also re the bit about French housing: we pay 1250 / mo for a 100-sq-m house in the boonies (40 min from Bibliotheque on the RER). We got lucky because our house is more or less safe to live in. Things get crazy when you start looking into houses to buy. There are no interior building codes in France (smoke detectors are not required by law in houses, rented or otherwise, until something like 2016) and the prices are ridiculous. This means you can buy a 90 sq m house for ~400,000 eur and have the stairs to go to the first floor have a higher rise than they do a run. I got the funniest/most frustrating look from an agent immobilier when I asked her how she thought she could sell the house when the stairs were a serious health hazard and violation of code. She said, “What code? The stairs are fine, you must be careful on them but they are usable.”

    The unanswered question in this blog post, as I see it, is “why are you staying in France.”
    P.S. – I dunno if you’re interested, but we just started a monthly beer & food pairing event. next one is feb 10, cajun theme:

    • Phil, I had always heard after 5 years. (I think because I got my MA here, the time gets cut down a bit). . . Just dug this up that a friend had shared regarding getting a Masters / paperwork:
      Réduction de stage
      La durée de résidence habituelle en France est réduite à 2 ans pour l’étranger :

      qui a accompli avec succès 2 années d’études en vue de l’obtention d’un diplôme délivré par une université ou un établissement d’enseignement supérieur français,

  • Thanks for the shout-out and the compliment on the flowcharts. They were definitely fun to put together — and almost cathartic. Definitely more fun that the actual renewal process in Seine-Saint-Denis!

    • I’ve always thought I’ve need to start diagramming my experiences visually. What a wonderful souvenir you’ve created :)

    • Thanks, Molly…. Let’s just call it “Expat Therapy.” I’m secretly excited that I can just send this link to answer emails in the future :)

  • I did the get married option… twice. The first time almost 22 years ago, the 2nd time, about 14 years ago. You haven\\\’t tackled the divorce subject. Which does come up, in 1 out of 2 marriages nowadays. And THAT my friends, is a whole other ballgame. I did it twice. Never again.

    • Had to chuckle a little about that, Jen, but happy you have found love. Please, enlighten us! I know people who have done the PAC divorce, but never a true divorce.

  • Hi Anne, I just saw Sion Dayson’s link to this post on her facebook page, but I also just started following your blog myself. I used to be one of those “I want to move to France” dreamers. Then I read a ton of expat memoirs and learned about the slow-as-molasses, amazingly complicated process that you have described. I think your post is the best description of the process and the most helpful. I am still dreaming, but now I’m also more realistic. Since I am already married to an American, my best hopes are for (1) winning a multi-million dollar lottery so we can simply be rich there, or (2) convincing a U.S. company to create a permanent job that can only be done there. I don’t have a lot of hopes of obtaining either, so I am saving my money for a vacation :). I will enjoy following your adventures from now on, and will let you (and all my other blog-writing “friends”) if I ever make it to Paris! Thank you again for such a wonderful article!

    • Thanks so much for the nice words, Karene. “Be real” is one of my mottos these days, and it was frustrating when people wouldn’t respond to emails just because it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Really, take a look, and it’s hilarious, but you have to learn to see it that way. I do think it’s possible. Start looking for companies that have international offices. Sabbaticals are brilliant too! A healthy break, but maintain your sanity.

  • I’m a long time reader but I felt compelled to add my two cents to the conversation. Over the past few months I’ve my fair share of French bureaucracy because I’m engaged to a French man plan on marrying and settling in Paris. The first thing that shocked me was the application process to get married in the first place, here in NYC we (even though he’s French) would simply have to go to the City Hall with proper i.d., pay our $35, fill in a few forms, and call it a day but in France it is clearly different.

    We applied 3 times before we received the final ok to get married, 3 TIMES! That means 3 flights between NYC and Paris just to get it done. The first time it wasn’t approved because I had a stamp in the wrong place. The second time it wasn’t approved was because my birth certificate needed to be authenticated by the ministry of foreign affairs in the country I was born and the French embassy in that country then had to legalize it, even though I have an American passport and have lived in the NYC for the past 23 years. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. The third time was because I need to get a certificat de coutume and certificat de celibat from an American consulate in Paris, not from a lawyer that is allowed to practice both in the US and France, even though the French consulate in NYC told me that was the procedure. What really pissed me off about this was that I could have been told what was wrong and/or missing during the first visit when it wasn’t approved because of the stamps, everything else was the same (certificat and birth certificate stuff) but they failed to tell me during my first visit and it took multiple visits to get it all cleared up. Finally, on the last trip my fiance and I made sure we had EVERYTHING we could possibly think of but of course there were issues. The person handling our file at the City Hall was questioning the career changes in my parents lives because on my birth certificate it says they had occupation “x” but on the official application it says they have occupation “y”. I thought it was understandable that after 27 years people may change careers…but I guess not. At one point I just wanted to say “Listen lady, I’m not trying to become President of this Republic I just want to get married that’s all.”

    I will end by rant now, but this was my first taste of the French bureaucracy and I didn’t like it. Now we’re 6 weeks away from the wedding and I’m mentally and emotionally preparing myself for the titre de sejour battle and everything that comes along with that.

    The one lesson I did learn from this experience was to always always make sure that all the documents that prove my existence as a real person with a real home country (birth certificate, passport, etc) is always up-to-date and with the corresponding translations, legalizations, certifications and any other legally binding stamp I can think of.

    • Wow, Sutanya, I am floored (yet not totally surprised). What a nightmare. And that part of questioning your parents changing their jobs. YOUR PARENTS. Not you. OMG. Thank you for sharing and participating in ‘Expat Therapy.’

  • First of all, ,YOU GO GIRL.

    This post is spot on. It’s nice to have everything in one place, and gosh it brings back so many memories.

    I do have to say I did the PACS thing, and it is a bit stressful but totally worth it when it’s done. From what I’ve heard how closely they look at your dossier also depends how long you’ve been in the country (i.e. really just the 1 year you’ve been with the person, or more). Either way, I was in and out of the préfet in 45 minutes. I’m not sure if it had something to do with the “ENTREE EN FRANCE: 2008”. HA!

    Either way, we will see how the renewal of the new status round 1 goes this coming summer.

    I would most definitely agree that it can be pricy to get things sorted out here and that starting out like anywhere one transplants themselves to…as a student it was definitely an up-side, as now I realize just how RARE (as in I have never ever heard of or met someone who knows someone who even knows someone who was ALREADY been in France and then got a job that sponsored them). I feel like the ideal situation would indeed be being transferred for work TO France ;-) Those lucky ducks!

    And you’re so right. This is about the challenge! We giggle and complain, but hey, it adds a little spice to our lives!

    Thanks for the great & complete post!

    p.s. I’m so sick of translating my birth certificate that is in ENGLISH and not CHINESE or ARABIC. Most of the words are basically the same! Since I’ve been in France, I’ve done it 3 times, and now am going for the Driver’s License. I asked the translation agency if their fixed translation price for legal dox could be less as there are fewer words ON A DL, and that they are almost all cognates ;-)

    • Meg, you bring up some good points. I’m really curious the reverse situation. While there are expenses here, I feel like I pay more in my sanity – can’t help but imagine that foreigners have to pay more to get their visa settled in the U.S…. Spice to life is a good way to put it!

  • If I ever do get crazy enough to try the whole living in France thing. It will be through route number 4 or 5. So I’ll hopefully have it easier than some.

    Great post btw. I love when people put out the lowdown of dealing with living in France. Helps keep things in perspective. If all I had to go on where my trips to France I would imagine a paradise. :)

    • Immigration was actually supposed to get “easier” under Holland, but all signs are pointing to complications for now. … Enjoying France from afar is also a lovely past-time!

  • I have been told it was 3, 5, and/or 7, depending on who you get. It seems to change annually. Plus there are fiscal requirements, etc.. that are equally “fluid” and change as well, from year to year, person to person.

  • Perfect way to explain the House of France! A year and a half in, and do I have stories to tell – chest x-ray, cold room, no paper robe, man saunters in to talk to the female x-ray technicians while I stand there, freezing, arms trying to do what they can to preserve dignity, me thinking, this is NOT Saint Tropez – get out! Like you said, these stories will keep us laughing, maybe not while waiting in a 4-hour line way too often, feeling completely out of control, but we do seem to keep coming back for more… That may say more about us than about the House of France. Felicitations on your progress through bureaucracy; I am indeed impressed!

    • Audrey, I have yet to see a paper robe at a doctor’s office. I think they are much more free here. Also I think it cuts down on medical expenses ;)

  • Wow. After 7 years of research and 11 years as an American expat in Ireland, married to a British citizen, my experience in getting my Carte de Sejour has been only slightly easier than your experience and many of the others documented here. We knew about the bureaucracy, all of the requirements, and what I could expect being married to an EU citizen and already being a long-term resident of another EU country. We had all of our documents ready and copied and translated before even going near the Mairie and the Prefecture. But because we are considered \\\’inactif\\\’, there is a Catch 22. I have been offered a teaching job but they cannot take me without my Carte, yet I cannot get the Carte without a job. Nor can I start my AE business without a Carte. Being \\\”inactif\\\” means we are required to take out private health insurance, which we have now done at great expense. The EU Commission has told France they cannot treat \\\” intact ifs\\\” differently from others, and the French govt has agreed, but, in practice, the are still requiring this, so we are stuck. I know my story is just one in a thousand, but after 8 months here I am still waiting for my Carte ( my prefecture does not issue the récépissé ) and this, of course, is seriously impairing our ability to remain in France ( though we own a house and just want to be contributing members of French society), but I realize 65,000,000 French don\\\’t care, and I don\\\’t blame them. And the husband speaks fluent French, and I am working hard to improve mine. We are in deepest France Profonde, where, quite frankly, they need people like us to help improve the dismal economy. I feel like I can\\\’t truly get started ( and I can\\\’t!) until this is resolved…. Sigh. And yet reading of your own hard fought and hard won battle is encouraging…I don\\\’t have it anywhere near as hard as you did ( and do.) Thanks for posting it. And may I just add that Je Parle Americaine is another fabulous blog, which you have rightly mentioned!

    • Painful! The dreaded catch-22. And we wonder why the world economy is in the crapper? In my dream world I’d “Redesign France” offering simple solutions to streamline these processes. I think employees would actually appreciate it too. Fingers crossed for you!!!

  • The thing is, settling in ANY country other than your native land when you don’t have the credentials (papers) isn’t a right and people tend to forget that. People encounter similarly maddening processes in Italy, Germany and surely all over Asia and from what my foreign-born friends residing in the U.S. have told me, it’s equally as arduous and more costly.

    I know several people who have made it over with the skills & talents visa so that definitely is possible. But I think above all, I take issue with the people who think they can and SHOULD be given the right to live here without speaking the language. We also like to think that if we shove money at the government (or, ahem, shop owners, as history has shown), they should acquiesce.

    My own personal journey to get where I am has been a long one and may have been facilitated at a certain stage by marriage but that doesn’t mean the everyday after that is a cakewalk. And that’s the other element people need to understand and that’s what I try to convey in my posts as well. Life here or further afield in Australia, for example, is going to come with the same baggage as in our home countries, it just speaks a different language (maybe) and manifests itself differently but the challenge will always be there – whether you’re in the préfecture’s good graces or coasting with a French passport. That shouldn’t be forgotten.

    I admit it’s hard for me to read that you’re here for the challenge and not for a love of France since that, for me, is key :) In the end, it’s about showing dedication to this country and being resourceful and resilient to make it a permanent home.

    • But I do love France, but I don’t think I’d love it as much if it was a walk in the park to stay. Then everyone would do it and it’d looks so much of it’s charm. I secretly get some pleasure out of the dysfuntion I think – and clearly others do too as they’re my most popular posts.

      I agree that it’s not easy anywhere, but Paris hides behind this beautiful façade where it’s easy to forget that there is a whole world behind the walls. For this reason I think that it is more challenging than most. And so many stories in these comments mention how the website said one thing and a person said another, and everyone they talked to said something different.

      Also big on the language thing. The French I learned in high school is by no means the French I speak in daily life! Language is a joy and a way to connect culturally (and learn that people think/see differently and it’s all ok – like the cone snowman!)

  • hey, i also know 2 people with the visa talents et competences. i’m not close with either one, but apparently they used the same (great) lawyer, so if you want me to hook you up, let me know. i’m in the process of figuring out what my next statut will be when my current student CDS expires october 3 . . .

    • Good to know! Turns out I know one other success story. Would be curious who they used though … Good news for you is that you’re PACSed, so hopefully that makes choosing your status a bit easier, or at least more options than I had. Bon courage!

    • Dear Sophie, I am an Australian currently living in Paris. My current titre de sejour will expire and I am interested to apply for the Competences and Talents, but I heard that it is very difficult to get. I just read that you know people who had a great lawyer who helped them? do you mind giving me his details? Thank you so much!!!! Jessica

    • Hi Sophoe, hopefully you still get to read this. Who’s lawyer did the people you know who got the competences et talents visa? I’d be interested in contacting them.


  • I think there is a baseline of human dignity and respect that should be followed. And people, including immigrants should have the right, and access to, information. And in a country that is as technologically progressive as France, it is unfortunate that the basic information about visas, enterprises, etc, is so elusive and in many cases, impossible to track down. Much could be improved if the website actually contained accurate, up-to-date information and there were fewer dead links. The massive bureaucracy really isn’t helping anyone and is actually harming the image of the country: for example, having a Competences & Talents visa which was meant to make it easier for people who want to come here and engage in an activity that promotes France and French culture, but not issuing it to people who want to promote France.

    Yes, there are obstacles to living anywhere in the world as a foreigner. But having people wait out in the cold for 2 days, only to be told they need to come back tomorrow, or being blown off, making women parade around without a stitch in front of strangers (one I know had an experience she felt was very inappropriate but because she could not say anything because she wanted a visa), asking questions about s/xual orientation, etc. are really things that should be addressed by the government. I can not believe there is not a better way for all – for the people who want to be here, for the people who work at the préfectures, and for the republic of France.

    • I agree completely, David. Everyone’s lives could be made “easier” (a good thing, not a bad thing!). It’s a mission in life for me to “Redesign France.” It’s not a graphic problem so much as a communication one. Streamline, simplify, standardize. I think it could do wonders for the economy too.

      My dad recently pointed out to me that the last major innovations of France were the TGV (1970s) + Concorde (which had financial woes before the crash). Honestly, with the system how it is I don’t see how innovation can take place. In fact, I see some great minds and innovators leave (or base their businesses elsewhere) because it is far too complicated here. You can make a PDF claiming that France is highly innovative, but as a general tweet on the internet once said “claiming that you are innovative probably means that you are not.” France needs to adopt the “show, don’t tell” mentality, and leading by example + actually examining what people are trying to do, and help them accomplish that rather than putting dozens of road blocks in their way.

    • Definitely agree with this bit, I should have specified :) The perpetually incorrect or insufficient information on government websites has only served to create this reputation (among other factors) of French government workers and the questionable functioning of the system. You’re absolutely right – and waiting in the cold, especially in a country that renders it illegal to expel residents from their homes even if they’re late on their rent during the winter months, is inhuman. From what I’ve heard, US citizenship-applicants are greeted with similar conditions :-/

    • A couple of years ago when I did a bunch of research into moving, living, and working in France I was amazed at how hard it was to find information. Not only that different sources would give me different answers. And I am talking about official French websites. Crazy stuff

      • Totally! The official sites are horrible, and part of the problem complicating the whole process. The changes that need to take place to streamline these processes are not earth shattering by any means. Expats totally bond together here – you need word of mouth to help get you where you need to be (and sane).

  • I love visiting France, but I have to admit that the experience of getting through customs and immigration on my way in and security on my way out – four screening machines, only one open, with ten security employees lounging next to them as those of us in the long, long, and getting longer line became more frantic, has been enough to convince me I don\\\’t want to live there and experience the bureaucracy every day!

  • PS I have to laugh at the commenting process – I was kicked back the first time for inputting the incorrect code. I put in the next one and was kicked back for not inputting my name and email – which of course I had written the first time but the system wiped out when it kicked me back! Very French!

    • HA! I’m glad you could find the value in that experience. So much spam, unfortunately it’s a necessary step. Merci for your diligence!!

  • Could anyone describe the experience of somebody, lets say from Mexico or the Philipines, having the desire to live in the USA ? Dont get me wrong – the process in Europe is ridiculous – but I we are not the only ones !

    • Muclomo, honestly every time I go to the Prefecture in Paris I ask the same question as there are many [north] Africans wishing to stay in France. I know how hard it is for me, so I can’t imagine what they go through. Someone pointed out to me that it really is THAT bad in their home country that anything is better. . . I don’t think it’s any walk in the park to stay in the U.S. either.

  • Hi,

    I just found your blog and boy, this post couldn’t be more spot on!! I lived in France for about 5 years a while ago and I still yearn for the quaint lifestyle and my dear friends. But it got SO difficult that I finally just moved back to the States. Even when I go there on vacations which is at least once a year or two years, it\\\’s the most frustrating place to be. And the women in particular can be so bitchy and rude. Maybe, as you said, when I retire and I don\\\’t have to hustle for work or be on a schedule, it could be a plan.

    All the best to you – bon courage!


    • Thanks so much for the compliment, ML! I wish it wasn’t this way, but just had to say it like it is. When you haven’t been through it, it’s hard to imagine, but glad others like you can back up what I’ve said.

  • I love your comment: “Thankfully my American mentality of “anything is possible” is deep under my skin”. I’ve been living in Japan for six months and been told that my “American ambition” is obvious. I love how living abroad makes me appreciate home.

    • Exactly, Erin! Just with travel in general you can learn a lot about yourself in another country. My aunt and uncle read this post and wrote me: you have inherited your grandfather’s stubbornness and ability to stay the course till you get what you want…and with good humor! — I probably would not have realized that (and was young when he passed away). Funny a post about my experiences in France can bring out qualities (and a connection I hadn’t made yet).

  • Wow you hit the nail on the head. While Instagram etc can make our expat lives in Paris look glamorous, I like to compare life here to an addictive video game that makes me keep wanting to beat it for the next level…

    I did the teaching assistant thing for two years, the maximum possible, and then was at the crossroads of either leaving France or getting PACSed to stay. Luckily we had been living together for a year, otherwise I would have been SOL. Nearly a year after getting PACSed and 6 months after first requesting my appointment at the préf, I have my récépissé…Can’t wait to have the plastic card!!

    Olivier at Excuse my French was a HUGE help before my appointment, as I am in a tricky situation regarding freelance work etc. I am still wondering- is it possible to be Salarié (w a CDI) and have the statut auto-entrepreneur for side projects that earn money?

    PS- I’m signing up for your map class!! xx

    • Lindsay, what a great analogy to the video games. I’d never thought of that, but it’s so true. The levels are more like baby steps ;)

      Great too to hear that Olivier has been a great help! …. I think the real challenge here is to be able to work salarié. I don’t think being AE/freelance on the side would be an issue, based on what I know. I’m in the opposite boat, which is frustrating.

      Can’t wait to have you in my maps class too!! :)

  • David – I totally agree with your comments about respect and accurate information. I can’t even count anymore the amount of times I have been yelled at, insulted, have had my personal motivations questioned in an impolite manner, etc. by folks in both the Préfecture and the Consulates. And really, it could have all been avoided if people had just listened and website managers actually did their jobs/communicated with the policy makers.

    That being said, I am one of those rare birds that got a work visa by having a company sponsor me. There was no HR help – I had to do it on my own. But it is feasible. You just have to take a deep breath and remember why you want to be here. You also probably need to realize that while you seem perfectly decent and normal as a candidate for residency, these folks have probably seen it *all*: reversed birth dates, razored off fingerprints, three million excuses that don’t make sense. I’d probably be jaded after 2 weeks. There is a new EU Blue Card (similar to USA Green Card). It is renewed after 3 years, and generally you can get it if you have a Bac +5 equivalent and are making above ~55K Euros per year gross. It actually is easier to get you and can work around some of the Préfecture BS. Company still has to sponsor you, but it is a friendlier alternative…

    There are worse countries out there. If ever some of you all want to have a drink and talk mobility in Africa – I’m your gal; it’s what I do for a living!. It makes living in France look like a darn cakewalk!

    Thanks for the shoutout Anne, and excellent summary for those wanting to come conquer France!

    • Yes, France is totally in need of a re-design. I don’t think anyone realizes how awesome that streamlining the information/websites would make their lives.

      Kudos to you on surviving the process on your own. Great to know about the Blue Card, but bummer you have to have a company sponsor you, but then again that goes back to my whole post on entrepreneurs ( However, after talking to an Italian friend in the U.S. I do think being an entrepreneur is one of the best ways to get into another country.

      Also, nothing like hearing stories from other countries/situations for a bit of perspective.

      Thanks again for sharing Asterix, Erin!!

  • Powerful and inspiring post! Merci Mille
    For those seeking temp medical insurance I can recommend Mondassur.
    I found them through my lawyer and they’re French so the papers are correct etc.
    Thanks again for this Anne

  • Anne est trop belle votre voyage et votre force. J’aime la France et Paris, mais ce que vous avez écrit m’a vraiment fait voir les choses un peu mieux car ils sont (même si je sais que rien n’est facile dans la vie). Cela sert aussi à valoriser un peu plus notre pays (São Paulo / Brésil) et se plaignent un peu moins de nos bureaucraties locales.

  • Wow! Anne thanks for all your advice on your blog and in with everyones comments. I have been following you on Instagram and commented today on piscine post. Last year was looking into visas for France. After I got back from a visit I Italy with cousins and a quick week in France visiting my penpal. The processed seem daunting and life happened and I gave up. But it still speaks to me, the need of wanting time in France other than a tourist. In college, fear got in the way and I didn’t study abroad, a regret as many might feel. I’m hoping to just go to France on a tourist trip or a student visa, been looking into French classes? If you have any ideas on classes?. I would appreciate. I have spoken via email with another blogger and her advice on being positive and dreams has really helped me. I also love you quote on page about travel and enjoying where one is in the world( I can’t remember you exact wording as I write this) . I live in beautiful Southern California. You are so determined and creative and an inspiration, again thank s for the blog. I see that the want and determination is the tool to making things happen in life. I may not ever live in France but 3 months would be a goal for me.

  • I have a dear friend that was born in France to a French mother and was adopted by a US Army couple. A few years ago as an adult, she wrote to reinstate her French citizenship. A few weeks later, a letter came in the mail from the French Embassy in DC requesting she come see them in person, providing an appointment. Can you Believe that she was not only denied, but shown a 6″ thick book filled with photos and writings submitted by an American that was requesting French citizenship. The Embassy representative recommended that my friend resubmit her request with a possible scrap book of her own! I give up and so did she! I’ll retire in 2021 and will take the 3 month visa. I turn 60 in November and have a one week trip planned with my daughter. I hope to find plenty of recommendations for the trip on your blog. I just found your blog and really am enjoying a different perspective. Thank You!

  • Great post, and some excellent comments, too. Unfortunately, none of them address my unusual situation…

    I’ve known all of my life that I was born in France and that my mother was French; we even lived in France for a few years when I was a child, but left just before my 11th birthday.

    I’ve recently come into possession of family documents, including my original French birth certificate! Now I’m wild about the idea of reinstating my French citizenship… but nowhere can I find how to go about it!

    By the way, the ‘re’ in ‘reinstate’ doesn’t actually apply; as far as I know, my mother never applied for my French citizenship before we left the country.

    Am I right in understanding I can simply go to France and register myself at the proper regional office?

    Any direction you could provide would be so great… thanks!

  • Hey Anne! I just found your website; I listened to your recent episode on The New Paris podcast. I was going to ask if you studied the French language in college or just learned when you moved there? If you studied in college, how many years did you study?

    I’m hoping to move to France in the next 5 years; I’m wanting to do supply chain in luxury fashion. All of the job positions I have seen says I need to be fluent in English and French.

    Thank you for your feedback.

    • I started studying French in high school, started over in college, studied abroad in Paris, and then moved here for grad school. I’ve missed having full immersion (so much English in Paris + my work is primarily in English)… Recommend watching movies with subtitles on ;) Reading can help a lot too — I need to do more.

      It’s fun to be able to speak the lanuagage!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *