How to move to France: Part II

See Part I – which includes everything from scheduling your consulate appointment to actually applying for and getting your visa – here.

Bienvenue en France! It’s tempting to think that you’re done with paperwork now that you’re here, but unfortunately that’s not the case. The second half of the process of moving to France requires a couple more documents, an appointment with the immigration office, and at least three months. Moving to France is a marathon, not a sprint—but like a marathon, you get to enjoy the scenery along the way. And honestly, the second half of the process is way easier than the first!

A quick refresher on the process:visa timeline v3

This post covers everything after your arrival in France. You’ll first mail a residency form to OFII, the French immigration office (l’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration). Eventually (like, probably close to three months after your arrival) you will receive a letter assigning you an appointment at OFII and asking you to compile a few more materials, including paying another fee. You’ll bring all these materials to your OFII appointment, which you should leave with a totally-valid visa! (Before you have that OFII-approved visa, you’re only allowed in the EU/Schengen area for up to three months, as a tourist. Thus, the reason OFII requires you to submit your residency paperwork within three months of your arrival.)

The OFII Residency Form

After your passport, one of the most important things to bring with you when you move to France is your OFII residency form. You should have filled out the top portion and had it stamped by the visa officer at your consulate appointment way-back-when, back when you lived in the US. Once you’re in France, you’ll fill out the bottom portion and mail it to your local OFII office. (The back of the form lists OFII office addresses by département, or city/region of France. The département number corresponds to the first two digits of the postal code—e.g., Paris is 75.)

Although the form is entirely in French, it’s not difficult to follow. The top portion (which you fill out before your initial visa appointment) asks for basic demographic and passport information. The bottom portion (which you fill out in France) asks for your address and telephone number in France, plus your visa information. There were only two places where we had to ask for help from our French friends:

  • Batiment,” which means building, will only be applicable if you live in an apartment complex with multiple buildings, and your address is something like “29 Rue de Rivoli, Building A.”
  • Addresse internet” translates clearly enough, but it’s not clear why OFII would want a URL. We were pleased to learn that our French friends were as bewildered by this question as we were, so together we decided that it made more sense to cross out the “www” and provide an email address. This seems to have been acceptable because OFII ended up sending our appointment invitations by email.

The only other complication with this form is that you need a French address and phone number before you can submit it. We were all set with our apartment, but we did have to track down local SIM cards, which ended up being more of an adventure than necessary. Pro tip: learn from our mistake and just head to your nearest Tabac to get one.

You can see my translation of the OFII form here:

When you have everything ready to send (the OFII form, plus copies of your passport, visa, and border stamp) head to La Poste and ask to send your envelope recommandé avec avis de réception, which means you’ll get confirmation of delivery. We weren’t entirely sure how to do this, so we just waited in line to talk to an employee, and he handed us each a carbon-copy form to fill out with the OFII address and our return address. We then handed the forms back to him along with our sealed envelopes of paperwork, and he peeled off one carbon-copy layer to give to us as a receipt and stuck the others to the envelopes. (One of these layers is made of cardstock and becomes a postcard that is mailed back to you as proof of delivery.) Sending the forms this way cost 5.70€ each, compared to about 1€ for regular letters, but the cost is absolutely justified given the importance of what you’re sending. And it only took two days for our forms to get there!

The Letter from OFII

Then you wait.

You’re fine to stay in France or travel to/from other EU countries on a tourist visa for three months, so there’s no real rush for OFII to do anything. Around the three-month mark, though, Colin and I started getting nervous because we knew we’d be leaving for Greece soon and hadn’t yet received appointments. Would we be able to get back into France without long-stay visas? We were coming up with all sorts of backup plans, everything from bringing the avis de réception to prove we had submitted our paperwork in time to having my mom (who would be visiting immediately after my return from Greece) pack up our apartment if we weren’t allowed back in the country. We were fairly confident it wouldn’t come to that, but you never know, right? Americans can’t really complain about harsh immigration enforcement these days.

Thankfully we never needed our backup plans, because we each received an email and snail mail letter three weeks before our flights to Greece asking us to come to the OFII office on May 3 at 2:00 pm for our final interviews. Unfortunately, that was the day after we were planning to be on a plane to Greece! From talking to French friends and reading what we could find online, it seemed like it would be possible to request new appointment times (and a copy of the appointment invitation would be sufficient to return through customs into France), but with our mediocre French, we figured it would be a heck of a lot easier to change our flights than our appointments. So that’s what we did. As of May 3, we’d be the proud holders of official long-stay French visas! And, ironically, we’d celebrate by hopping on a plane out of the country the very next morning.

Compiling Requested Materials

The letter from OFII includes a checklist of things you will need to do ahead of your appointment. There are four possibilities: a medical exam, an individual welcome visit, paperwork, and a visa fee. We did not need welcome visits or medical exams (which can include a general clinical exam or a radiographic exam), to my great relief. In my quest to learn everything I could about what to expect, I had read plenty of embarrassing stories about the radiographic exam, which requires you to strip down to a bare chest and can be extra awkward if you forget and wear a dress that day!

Okay, so we didn’t need to strip down to our skivvies for a medical exam, but what did we need? The visa fee was the easiest thing to check off because we could pay it online according to the clear instructions in the OFII letter. Fees vary according to visa type, and they aren’t cheap—ours were 250€ each. The website where you pay the fee (http://www.timbresofii.fr) also had super clear instructions, so within no time Colin and I were 500€ poorer, but we had the printed tax stamps we’d need for our appointments.

The OFII letter also laid out our paperwork requirements super clearly. We each needed to bring our passport, the printed tax stamp, one passport photograph (tip: you can get these easily and cheaply at almost any Métro station in Paris—five passport photos for 5€ at a Photomaton photo booth!), and “justification of our domicile in France.” This justification could be a rent receipt from the bank, a utility bill in your name, or – failing those – an attestation d’hébergement, or a letter from your landlord or host certifying that you’re living at their address, plus a copy of their passport. Since Colin and I don’t have a French bank account and don’t pay any of our utilities directly, that’s the route we took. I found a sample attestation d’hébergement online (there’s no official format; it’s literally just a letter with some basic info), we emailed it to our landlady, and she sent it back, signed, with a copy of her passport.

Here’s a downloadable template based on the format we ended up using:

For good measure, because we prefer to be over-prepared, we also brought copies of our lease (which is in English, so we weren’t sure OFII would consider it appropriate documentation) and our latest rent payment (which was through an American bank, so again we suspected OFII wouldn’t approve). But you never know.

The OFII Appointment

In all honesty, the OFII appointment was practically the easiest part of the process. We showed up about 30 minutes early, which we decided was too early, so we grabbed a quick coffee across the street then made our way over to stand in the line outside the office. When the security guard opened the doors for people with 2:00 appointments, about ten of us wandered inside. We paraded upstairs and past the reception desk, where we handed our appointment confirmations to a woman who seemed to be both receptionist and visa officer. We sat in the seating area behind her and waited, which is a thing you do often in France.

After about 10 minutes, I heard her call my name, quickly followed by Colin’s name. Although we had heard her speaking perfect English to others ahead of us, her instructions were simple enough that we were able to follow along in French. She asked for our materials and we handed everything over; she scanned the QR codes on our tax stamps and glanced through everything else in about two minutes flat. The longest part of the process was as we all waited for her computer to print our official OFII visas. Once printed, she stuck them to blank pages in our passports, and that was that—we were officially finished with bureaucracy for the year!

Except… irony of all ironies, as she handed back our passports, she also handed us a small slip of paper informing us that, should we wish to renew our visas for a second year, we would need to schedule an appointment at the local préfecture de police five months before our visa expiration date. If you do the math, that would be: August. So by the time we finally achieved official resident status, a process that took from November to May, we had less than three months of bureaucracy-free living to decide if we wanted to do it all over again. The stereotype about bureaucracy in France? It’s 100% true. But all those superlatives about Paris being the most beautiful, magical, romantic city in the world? Those are 100% true as well. The process is long, but oh so worth it.

DSC00331-2.jpg

Your reward: getting to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

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