Establishing French Residency: Part Two

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We are officially French residents! The process of establishing our French residency took seven months, but we finally made it to the end. Read about our latest adventure with the France administration below.

If you haven’t read part one of our journey, check it out.

We received temporary residency cards at our first prefecture appointment in June. These half sheets of paper were kept in a clear plastic bag to not get ripped or damaged. We used these when traveling to Italy by car and Norway by plane with no issues. However, the temporary cards confused the border control agent in Norway! He had never seen one before and took his time reviewing it. After scanning my card underneath a blue light, he let us continue into Norway.

Our temporary residency cards were good for two months and expired in September. A text message would be sent to us when the cards were ready. We received a text message on August 11. The cards were ready for pick up! We had hoped that they would just mail them to us, but that was not the case. The agency helping us with the process booked the next available appointment to pick up our cards. It was a date! We would go back to the prefecture on September 11.

Text message received on establishing residency in france

Before we could go to our appointment, we had to pay for our cards online. There was no option to pay for the cards on-site at the prefecture. The cost of each card was 225 euros, and we would be reimbursed by Jordan’s employer. After paying for the cards online, we each received a .pdf document with a QR code on it. We had to take these to our appointment to verify our payment.

Fast forward to September 11, and the day has finally arrived! Our appointments were in the afternoon, so Jordan only worked a half-day. We left early to eat lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Frite Alors!, which has some of the best (and only) poutine in Lyon. We walked to the prefecture for our appointment after finishing lunch. We arrived a little too early and had to wait until fifteen minutes before our appointment time to get in line.

The day started to unravel here.

We got in line fifteen minutes before our appointment, but the line was chaotic. The security guard called out time slots, but barely anyone in line was moving. We wrongly assumed that everyone in line had an appointment time in front of ours. Our appointment time was called, but only a few people moved. We were still near the back of the line. It was a few minutes after our appointment time, and we were still waiting (now, less patiently) in line.

Finally, we decided that we needed to cut everyone in line to get inside. And that’s precisely what we did. We moved past everyone and made our way to the front. Some gave us dirty looks as we walked past them. The security guard looked at our appointment time and let us through. Phew!

Once we went through security, we walked up to the ticket kiosk. We scanned our appointment time at a kiosk and were given a ticket. Our ticket number was AB08. We walked towards Gates 5-16, where our number would be called. We only sat for a brief moment before our number was called. As we walked up to the gate, there was immediate confusion.

The gate was explicitly for “Guichet Réfugié,” meaning “Refugee Counter.” Now I am sure that it is quite apparent that we are not refugees. But, given the state of America right now, we actually may be closer to being refugees than initially thought.

Refugee counter at prefecture in France while establishing residency

Hesitantly, we sat down. We handed the gate agent our ticket and appointment information. He communicated there had been a mistake; this was not the right window. We checked our initial appointment confirmation that stated we should be at Gates 5-16. The ticket matched this information. However, he was insistent that the ticket kiosk had made a mistake. The gate agent looked up our names in the system. He confirmed that our residency cards were ready and available for pickup in the prefecture. He directed us to go back to the ticket kiosk to explain the ticket had been printed in mistake.

We packed up our items and walked to the ticket kiosk. The woman working in the area looked at our documents for a minute. She then assured us the ticket kiosk could not possibly be wrong. We explained that we were here to pick up our residency cards and that our appointment was for this. She directed us to go to the counter against the back wall to get it sorted out. The woman was not very helpful.

At the counter, we encountered an even less helpful woman. We explained our situation and restated how the gate agent confirmed our residency cards were ready for pick up. We needed a different ticket so that we could pick up our cards. The woman confirmed this was not a possibility. The ticket kiosk could not be incorrect. She took Jordan’s information and came back with hand-written instructions on what to do. Our appointment type was wrong; we would have to schedule a new one online. 

At this point, frustrations on both sides were high. All of this communication was taking place in Franglish. That part was already complicated enough. The woman behind the counter was becoming increasingly frustrated with us. Jordan was annoyed he had to take off work. He was also getting frustrated because this situation fits our “nothing is easy” motto of France. I stayed calm during this time. I have always been a relatively patient person, but moving to France has led me to have an even more patient mindset. It is what it is, and we will figure it out eventually.

The woman at the counter was done speaking with us. It seemed like we were out of options. We were not going to finish establishing our French residency today. However, we did not have one appointment; we had two. I took my appointment information to the ticket kiosk to see what would happen. It gave us another ticket, AB09, and directed us back to Gates 5-16. We were already inside the prefecture and wasted away the afternoon. There was no harm in trying again.

document confirmation for prefecture to help establishing french residency

We sat back down at Gates 5-16, and the gate agent who spoke with us initially noticed us sitting there. He came out to talk to us after finishing with the person at his desk. We explained the situation to him and left to speak with the rude woman behind the counter.

A few minutes later, he walked back and said, “I do not have nice coworkers.” He confirmed that he could not help us since we were not refugees. We felt defeated at that point but accepted we would have to make another appointment to pick up our cards. We only hoped it would not take another month to get an appointment! The gate agent offered to make our new appointments, and we were so appreciative. He was able to get us in for next Friday, September 18. We were so close to establishing our French residency, but also so far.

Now I’m confident at this moment that he made two appointments, one for each of us. The times were back-to-back and were only five minutes apart. However, the gate agent only printed out one confirmation time, and Jordan only received one email for an appointment. This will be important soon.

We left the prefecture and ran some errands before heading home that afternoon. On our tram ride home, the tram stopped due to a delay. Many people got off the tram, but we stayed on. Besides, there was nowhere we needed to be! After about ten minutes, the tram started again and continued to the next stop. Then, the conductor came over the intercom and said all the T1 lines had stopped running, and everyone must get off. We were about three miles from our apartment. 

Already defeated from our prefecture appointment, the tram line kicked us while we were down. The trams had stopped due to a suspicious package found in a nearby station. We walked the three miles home to our apartment, just in time for the tram to start running again.

Our new appointments were in the morning, and Jordan took the entire day off from work. It was now Friday, September 18. We left our house at 8:00 am for our appointments an hour later. Not wanting to experience another potential tram fiasco, we drove to our prefecture appointment instead. The prefecture was only a fifteen-minute drive away. 

Jordan had found a nearby parking garage to park in. When we arrived, the parking garage was valet only. Why anyone would want to get in someone else’s car right now, I’m not sure. But the driver had to park it because the spaces were so compact.

We arrived in line for the prefecture and now felt more confident in what to expect. Only get in line fifteen minutes before our appointment. Wait for security to call our appointment time. Cut everyone in line waiting for later appointment times in front of us. Don’t go to the refugee station. Got it.

We made it through security and were back at the ticket kiosk. I thought, “please don’t send us to Gates 5-16.” The printed ticket said L018 and directed us to the first floor. Phew! Gates 5-16 were on the main level; we were in the clear.  

There were about five numbers ahead of us in line. We sat down and waited for L018 to be called. After about fifteen minutes, it was our turn! We walked up to the gate agent, and thankfully, it was not a refugee counter. 

The gate agent looked confused as both of us sat down. She said only one person per ticket could be processed. But, we were only given one appointment for both of us. One appointment equals one ticket! We pleaded with her as we explained our situation and confirmed that her coworker in the prefecture had made the new appointment for us. All while I was thinking in the back of my head, “knew that we had two separate appointments.This will be an unsolved mystery in our expat journey. 

She seemed exasperated but agreed to help us. After all, our cards were right next to each other in the file folder sitting behind her. How much more work would it be? We were so thankful that she could give us both cards.

A few minutes later, we were leaving the prefecture with our new residency cards! We had done it. The journey of establishing our French residency was complete. Elated and relieved, we walked back towards the car to continue on our day.

Now that we finished establishing our French residency, we have more freedom. We can rely less on our United States passport. When we travel, we can use our residency card to go anywhere within the EU (excluding any COVID-19 restrictions). The cards will stay in our wallets and replace the need to travel with our passports and visas. Thankfully, our cards are good for four years. Fingers crossed, but we should not have to go back to the prefecture during our expat assignment.

The process of establishing our French residency was complicated. It was not something we could have (easily) done independently. Jordan’s employer and a third party agency helped us throughout the entire process. As we told friends or coworkers this story, they all said the same thing. We had now met the French administration.

And if you’re wondering, it turns out that it wasn’t actually a ticket kiosk issue that led us to the refugee counter. The woman at the prefecture was actually right; the ticket kiosk was not wrong. The third-party agency booked the incorrect type of appointments for us.

One thing is for sure, we are having an adventure!

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6 thoughts on “Establishing French Residency: Part Two

  1. Know you are glad to have that behind you! Makes me wonder what all those other people were in line for. I call the attitude of government people who are unhelpful the Barney Fife syndrome. Give them a little authority , it goes to their head and they are sure to abuse it. Similar thing happened here to our foreign exchange student when I took him to get his driver’s license. It was a nightmare. And I believe the only reason he was a foreign exchange student was to get his license as it was easier and cheaper to get it in the US! Then exchange it when he got home.

    1. Hah! The authority definitely goes to their heads. We have to exchange our driver’s license next. South Carolina is one of the few states in the US that offers reciprocity for France (probably because Michelin’s headquarters is in Greenville). This is going to make it so much easier to exchange them, but I have heard horror stories! I will update the blog on the process once we go through it.

  2. I don’t like the thought of going through that especially with languages I can’t speak… it will be horrible! but actually experienced a different situation in Paris and it put me off since then.

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