My temporary Carte de Séjour
La Carte de Séjour, one of several varieties of titres de séjour, is a French residency document enabling us non-European Union francofolles and francofoux to pursue Paris addiction undisturbed for an entire year.
In pursuit of La Carte, we will have proved to the French government, that, no matter what, we won’t go running to them for financial support — definitely not in the form, for instance, of free health care. Oh, by the way, without a carte de séjour, I discovered, one can’t even apply for French health insurance. But sans an approved health insurance policy, don’t bother applying for a carte de séjour. . . .
American expats, I was vaguely aware, commonly hire consultants to facilitate the process of prying the official séjour document from the bureaucracy — not to mention to help navigate the health insurance catch 22, and myriad other complexities of resettling in la belle France. The consultants charge what their expert help is worth. A lot. So, I opted for DIY. How did it go? I promise I’ll just hit the high points. . . .
In late 2015, I showed up (again) at the French Consulate in Manhattan to apply for a simple visitor’s visa. The visa is valid for a period longer than the three months (90 days) period when Americans may visit France with only a passport for documentation. At this point, I’d become accustomed to spending at least six months of the year pursuing my rêve français (French dream), so I’d been a repeat visa applicant.
“Ten months?!” the consular official’s Gallic eyebrows rose. “Well, okay — “but now you’ll apply for your Carte de Séjour. Here’s the address in Paris; show up within two months of your arrival in the city.” Inadvertently, I’d crossed a bureaucratic threshold.
La Préfecture de Paris (police HQ) done up in tricolor lighting — to celebrate my Carte de Séjour?
“We need to see more mouvement in your French bank account — more euros — so we know you’re actually living here,“ explained a bureaucrat last summer, on examining bank statements. Translation: more bank transactions to show that indeed I am here in the lovely capital, contentedly eating, drinking wine, doing my bit for the local economy.
What’s more, and even better — 2017 was the only year in my history when I lived in Paris all year long, in just one location. No more loading expatriated possessions into taxis and riding half way across the city to a different exchange apartment . . . . A different what?
For years, I’ve routinely searched home exchange sites to find une parisenne or un parisien to live in my Manhattan 1BR while I occupy his or her Paris digs — usually engaging in serial swaps with one Frenchy for a few months, then another Frenchy for another couple of months. Anything to manage to stick around la ville de lumière.
But in 2017, I exchanged all year with only one Frenchy, a gentil French MD doing some très important medical research in NYC. He pays his Paris co-op maintenance, oh là là! And I, likewise pay to maintain my co-op apartment in Harlem. An apartment with the special New York Affordable Housing distinction, accorded by the expensive city that created that budget-friendly, official real estate category. Along with a variety of related “guidelines” (more on those in a minute).
In Paris, on Tuesday, 14 novembre 2017, I heard the word I’d waited for since 2016 from the bureaucrat corps at Paris police HQ. . . Oui, said the beneficent bureaucrat in whose discreet booth I sat. Et voilà, I’m good to go — I mean, stay, officially — for an entire year in Paris. A confirmed parisienne.
“. . . That’ll be 269 Euros, s’il vous plait.” The bureaucrat readily recalled the days when the fee for la Carte was only 106 euros. Never mind, for the francofolle, Paris is worth it. Also worth some collateral expenses — translations of every requisite English-language document (official translations only, don’t try this at home!) starting with my . . . birth certificate. How many euros for the translations? Never mind. More mouvement on my French bank statements.
After months of bureaucracy angst — I mean angoisse — finally I was taking a deep, deep breath. And sharing a glass of bubbly in the select company of supportive amies, one of whom I met in the early 70s, in Morocco.
Meanwhile, back in Harlem. . . In an ironic twist, the Affordable Housing bureaucrats had decreed in concert with my co-op board that my 2017 exchanger, the Burgundian Frenchy MD, must now sublet — officially — the same charming, Affordable Housing 1BR apartment he already was enjoying in Central Harlem. But, about those Affordable Housing guidelines. . . might the Frenchy MD be deemed over-qualified to sublet affordable housing?! The jury of New York real estate bureaucrats did their esoteric thing, on their own timetable. The suspense would be over (wouldn’t it?) by the time I hit my native N.Y.C. for a holiday interval in late December. Did someone say bureaucracy angoisse?
The bureaucrat ‘jurors,’ hard at work somewhere in the downtown civic center, did pronounce the Frenchy MD an acceptable sublet applicant! Bureaucracy angoisse over — right? Well, what about that co-op board I mentioned? Right — another ‘jury’ with my case on their docket as 2018 blew in.
Meanwhile, back in Paris, more or less as my flight from Newark airport landed smoothly at Orly airport, the Préfecture text materialized in my French cell phone: Show up and collect your permanent Carte de Séjour! When. . .? Between noon and two PM, on the very next day. . . I’d trade in the document you see above left for the real, durably laminated Carte. My one-year (renewable) Carte boasts the same ID photo as the paper version, but is much smaller. I realized no one had ever shown me theirs. Size doesn’t matter; fits nicely in handbag (if you dare leave home with it; some prefer a photocopy.)
In the February Paris chill, I kept my Carte de Séjour cozy. In the February New York chill, a Harlem co-op board sifted through their overflowing IN basket. (Let’s not debate which city has the worst weather, it’s too close to call. . . .) What with one bureaucratic thing and another, thanks to the board, the suspense lasted until April-in-Paris cherry blossoms had bloomed and April-in-Manhattan snows had melted. When my exchanger’s sublet finally was stamped Official by my co-op, I was . . . just about half way to the — routine! — renewal deadline for my Carte de Séjour.