Another Long-Stay Visa Application

Since we will be staying in France for over 5 months this year, I will need to get another Long-Stay Visa, like I did in 2013. Since Rita still holds her Swiss citizenship, she doesn’t need a special visa to stay as long as she wants in Europe.

In 2013, the process seemed rather protracted, and just a little dramatic in the end (with my passport containing the Visa only being returned to me a couple of weeks before I was scheduled to fly out). But thankfully, there have been some changes in the rules, and as the spouse of a Swiss citizen, I get to take a few shortcuts in the visa application process.

Last time, in addition to filling out the application forms and supplying photos etc, I also had to provide the following:

- Written Explanation of Purpose of Trip

- National Criminal History Record Check (less than three months old)

- Statutory Declaration stating that I would not work in France

- Proof of Residence in France (not a barge)

- Bank Statements for the past 3 Months

- Proof of Medical Insurance while in France

- Proof of Return Travel Arrangements

This time, as spouse of a Swiss citizen, I just have to provide:

- Proof of Family Relationship (Marriage Certificate)

- Proof of Nationality of the Swiss Spouse (Swiss Passport)

- Proof that I will travel with Swiss spouse, or join them in France.

Seems much simpler this time, but I’ll keep you updated on progress with the application.

UPDATE #1: 13 March 2018

I had an appointment booked at the French Consulate in Sydney for this Friday, 16 March. But as I was filling out the application form yesterday, I realised that we couldn’t find the original of our Marriage Certificate. I have a copy, but the original (which was carefully filed) has gone missing. It’s probably in a box in the shed from when we were preparing to sell the house a year or so ago. And it will take a couple of weeks to get a new Certificate. So today I reluctantly cancelled my appointment, and will wait until the new Certificate arrives before making another appointment.

UPDATE #2: 30 March 2018

A new Marriage Certificate arrived in the mail today, so I made a new appointment at the French Consulate in Sydney. It is for Friday 13th April. I hope that is not an omen!

UPDATE #3; 13 April 2018

I drove up to Sydney on Wednesday and stayed at my niece Tessa’s home overnight. On Thursday, we went to visit my sister Mena, who recently entered an Alzheimer’s Care Home nearby. This morning I took the T-Way bus in from Winston Hills to the Queen Victoria Building terminus, which is directly opposite the French Consulate in Market Street - all very convenient. Had time for a coffee inside the Queen Vic Building (one of my favourite places in Sydney) and got to my appointment 15 minutes early. Waited while two people in front of me were attended to, and noticed that the lady at the counter was much friendlier than the guy I encountered in 2013.

When it came to my turn I had my papers all in order, and placed them on the counter with a friendly “Bonjour”. She asked me what type of visa I was applying for, and after I explained she replied "You’ve filled out the wrong form!”. I was quite taken aback by this, as I had checked this several times when I was twice completing the application form online. We talked back and forth a bit as I struggled to understand where she was coming from (strange visions of the 2013 appointment and Friday 13th kept going through my head).

Finally, she clarified what she meant by the “wrong form”, when she said that I didn’t need any visa at all, even though I was staying more than 90 days. Despite what I had read on the website, she said that as the spouse of a Swiss citizen, I could enter France without a visa and then apply at the local Prefecture (in Montauban) within the first three months for a Carte de Séjour (a Residency Permit). This would allow me to stay in France for as long as I wanted, although it would need to be renewed annually. This sounded too good to be true, so I explained what I had read online and she said she would go and check with “the boss”. She returned a few minutes later, and said that he had confirmed her opinion and that I didn’t need to apply before I travelled to France, but would need to do so as soon as I got there. My mind was still racing trying to comprehend the situation, and all I could think of was arriving in Paris and wondering what I would say when Immigration asked how long I would be staying, as they always do. When I said 5 months, I imagined their response would be to see my Long Stay Visa in my passport. So I asked if it would be possible to still get a Long Stay Visa now (for which I had all the paperwork completed) so that I would have no problems when I arrived in Paris. She explained that that would not be possible, and that I should just explain the situation and say that I would be applying for a Carte de Séjour in the next few weeks. I was still dubious, and so I asked if I could get a letter from the Consulate saying that I had applied for a Long Stay Visa and that they had advised me to apply instead for a Carte de Séjour when I got to France. She said they couldn’t do that, but she went back to the office again and came back with a photocopy of the pages from the website explaining the situation surrounding the Carte de Séjour for family members of citizens of Switzerland. She said just to show those papers at Immigration Control in Paris and have a copy of Rita’s Swiss passport and our Marriage Certificate at hand, if needed.

I walked out of the Consulate somewhat dazed. The trip to Sydney had been fruitless, but if the Carte de Séjour was the answer then it would make any trips to the Consulate in Sydney unnecessary in the future. Oh well, at least I got to see my niece and sister while I was up here!

Stay tuned for further updates.

UPDATE #4; 15 June 2018

My concerns about entering France with no Long-Stay Visa were laid to rest when I arrived at Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle airport today, and found that the customs procedures at CDG were a bit chaotic, with very few signs to tell you which way to go, and then a long queue which wound it’s way back through the shops in the duty free zone. Nearly everyone took it in good spirit, and the upside was that, with the huge number of people in the queue(s), it was the quickest customs inspection of passports I have ever experienced. When I got to the agent, I greeted him with a friendly “bonjour” and literally within 3 seconds he had stamped my passport and I was away. The total opposite of my departure from Zurich last year when I checked in early and, with no queue, they had plenty of time to nitpick about me being a day over my 90-day limit. A good lesson to remember. But then I realised that entering France without a Long-Stay Visa was not the problem; it was just like coming in for 90 days without any visa. The problem will be in leaving France if I have been here for more than 90 days without a Long-Stay Visa or a Carte de Séjour.

UPDATE #5; 26 June 2018

Having now arrived in Moissac, today we started doing some research about the Carte de Séjour, in preparation for our trip to the Prefecture at Montauban in the coming days. We double-checked that we had all the documentation that the French Consultate in Sydney told us we would need. Once we were happy with that, Rita rang the Prefecture to find out the procedure that we should follow, and found that we would need to book an appointment online. She looked online and found that the earliest free appointment time was 18 July - three weeks away. She then rang back to check the required documentation, but the guy on the line couldn’t really help. He told us just to front up early the next day without an appointment, and with a bit of luck they might process us then and there, if we had all the paperwork in line. Sounded optimistic, but we’ll give it a go.

UPDATE #6; 27 June 2018

Today, we drove across to Montauban around 8.30am to get in an early visit to the Prefecture as advised yesterday. When we got there, there were only 8-10 people already there, so we got a ticket from the Receptionist and waited our turn. Once our number was called, we went to the only window that was operating, and Rita explained our situation about the Sydney Consultate, the Long-Stay Visa and their advice to come to the Prefecture with the list of documents on the national Government website and apply for a Carte de Séjour. The woman behind the counter (who was the same one we had encountered when buying our car in 2013) looked at our paperwork including the copy of the regulations from the National Government website, and then said “you can’t apply for this here; you should have done this before you left your country”. Since this was in total contraction to what I had been advised by the French Consulate in Sydney, and what was on the national website, we explained again that this was a new regulation implemented in December 2016, for the family of Swiss citizens. She still looked unconvinced (since she obviously had never heard of this regulation), but took our copy of the paperwork back to discuss it with a colleague. She then came back with a couple of sheets of paper about the Titre de Séjour, and asked for my passport. She wrote this on a cover page and then started going through a long list of required documents, which she said we would need for an application. This included many things which were not on the national website for a Carte de Séjour for Swiss spouses. We pointed this out, but she was undeterred and just kept reading from her list.

In the end, there were three main things extra that were needed:

1. Originals of birth certificates for both of us

2. Medical Insurance for both of us

3. Proof of financial resources for our stay for both of us

I’m not sure why anything was required for Rita, since under the Schengen Treaty she could just come and live in France for as long as she wants without any visas or permits. The birth certificate issue was relatively minor, but still a pain in the butt, especially since we had been told we wouldn’t need them (and hence left original copies securely at home). Now we have to get duplicate originals from Australia and Switzerland, at a cost of a few hundred dollars, and hope that they arrive in time before our next interview on July 18.

The medical insurance is more costly. We have never used medical services in France on our previous trips, and have simply self-insured i.e pay for ourselves if need be. Now we had to obtain Medical Travel Insurance, and most companies won't issue policies once you have left Australia. So you are left having to pay premium amounts for ordinary policies - over $1000 in our case.

The proof of financial resources should not be too hard, providing they are willing to accept a letter from our Australian accountant stating that we have adequate financial resources to meet our living expenses while in France. We asked if a statement from Credit Agricole about our French bank accounts would suffice, showing that we had adequate funds in France to support ourselves, and were told that we needed a full statement of resources. So, we’ll get all this paperwork and go back on July 18 to see what they say. But I have a feeling of dread in my stomach that they may invent some new rules during that meeting, which will delay the process once more.

After we left the Prefecture building, I was totally depressed and sick to death of French bureaucracy. After my dealings this year with the rail strikes, the phone company and now the prefecture, I’d had enough. I was ready to change my flight and go back to Australia as soon as the Fêtes is finished in August, then sell the barge and the house to cut all ties with France. I was grumpy for most of the day, and Rita stayed clear (even though she was cranky as well). Then later in the day, I realised that I couldn’t go home early, since we had already invited friends to stay with us in September, and they had already booked all their travel plans.

So I grudgingly sat down at the computer and order a new birth certificate, paid for a medical insurance plan and wrote to my accountant. I then downed a few beers to numb the pain, and wondered what surprises we have in store for us on the 18th.

UPDATE #7; 18 July 2018

Early today, Rita checked at the house to see if her birth certificate had arrived from Bern, but no luck. In the early afternoon, we then headed over to Montauban for our Prefecture interview. While we were waiting for the Prefecture to open for the afternnon, Rita rang Bern to enquire about her birth certificate, only to be told that it hadn’t been sent to her because she had not paid. On further investigation, they realised that they hadn’t sent her the invoice that she was supposed to pay! After much apologies, they promised to send the invoice that afternoon. So we went into the interview knowing that one thing they had asked for was not present in the documentation, but Rita had included her Swiss community documentation as a backup, so here’s hoping.

We managed to get a different officer this time around (we could hear the “nasty lady” we had a few weeks ago in the next interview booth). Our new officer seemed very quiet and calm by comparison. He slowly went through our documentation and compared it with his checklist, asking just a couple fo questions along the way. When he got to the end of the pile of documents, we thought we were home and hosed. But, then he turned them all over and started again. It seemed like he was unhappy that he hadn’t found anything to complain about.

On the second way through, he queried us about three things:

1. He asked us where our Attestation was from our French Bank, Credit Agricole?  We explained that the first officer had said this was not required (when we suggested it). He could have leaned around the partition wall and asked her if that is what she said, but I suspect he didn’t want to confront her, so he just told us again that we needed it.

2. He also said we needed to get the letter from our accountant translated into French. We asked if we could translate it, given Rita’s knowledge of French, but he said “Non”, it had to be done by an accredited translator approved of by the Prefecture. He then gave us contact details for a local English-French translator - sounds like a nice arrangement for some easy money for the translator!

3. He then looked at the Policy that had been sent to us by the Travel/Health Insurer (for which we had to pay premium rates because we had already left Australia). He wasn’t satisfied with what they had sent, and asked if there was any more policy detail descriptions. I explained that there was a detailed Product Disclosure Statement in English, and he then said that we would have to get that translated as well (all 60 pages of fine-print).

At this stage I was about to get up and just leave the interview, and then leave France ASAP. It all seemed like the whole system was a giant make-work scheme, where each officer would ensure they had a different interpretation of what was required, where you never saw the same officer twice (so that they wouldn’t have to contradict themselves), and where the Prefecture officers got a kick-back from the translators in return for them sending lots of work their way. Of course, I realised this was just a reaction to getting knocked back again, and Rita raised the very good point that I should compare what happened at the Prefecture with what the Australian government continues to do to asylum-seekers in Australia, ignoring UN rules for asylum seekers, continually changing the rules, and keeping them in indefinite detention on a ramshackle island (for 5-6 years so far). It took me a while to calm down, but I realised in which situation I would prefer to be.

UPDATE #8; 18 July - 19 August 2018

We immediately booked another interview time online, realising that we would have to schedule it around the Fêtes des Plaisanciers in early August, our other concerts in mid-August, and our dry-dock booking in late-August. Eventually, we found an available time on August 20, when we would be passing through nearby Montech on our way to the Toulouse dry-dock. In the meantime, we took advantage of the kind offer of assistance from ex-Mayor Nunzi who we had met by chance last month. We sent him a description of our situation plus all the documents we had assembled so far, and he promised to bring them to the attention of the head of the Sub-Prefecture in Castelsarrasin, The Sub-Prefecture does not handle Carte de Séjour applications, but she can ask pertinent questions of her colleagues in Montauban on our behalf.

We also proceeded with getting the required translations (at 50 euro/page) from the approved translator, Mrs. Pemberton in Valence d’Agen. She advised that we would not need to get the entire Health Insurance policy translated (thank God, it is 60 pages!), but just the cover page and the table of inclusions/exclusions. We trusted her on this, and hoped she was correct.

We also got a Letter of Attestation from Credit Agricole stating how much we had in our local account, after transferring more money from Australia to ensure it was above the required 12000euro.

The assistance of ex-Mayor Nunzi must have been working, since Rita got a phone call in August from the head of the Immigration section at the Prefecture. However, when she returned the call 15 minutes later, she was told that the person had just gone on vacation till the end of August! Luckily, she had left details of someone to contact in her absence, so Rita phoned her and was told to send all our documents to her for pre-checking before our interview. A week before our scheduled interview, Rita received an email from her saying that our documentation was in order and complete.

So we were approaching our interview with cautious optimism (what else could go wrong?), and arranged with barging friend Phil Tyson (who was going through similar Carte de Séjour trauma at the Nime Prefecture) to bring our car down from Moisaac to Montech to drive us over to Montauban for the interview on the 20th. On the evening of the 19th, we had dinner with friends Don and Laura in Montech, and learned that they had eventually got their Cartes de Séjour from Montauban after 11 visits this year! We confidently told them that we wouldn’t be breaking their record!!

UPDATE #9; 20 August 2018

D-Day had arrived; our 3rd meeting at Montauban. We drove across with Phil and Ruth (who was travelling to Toulouse with us on the barge). We arrived early and had a cup of coffee together (we were saving the champagne for later), then Rita and I went over to the Prefecture to wait outside until the gates opened at 1330h (the time of our interview). There were only a couple of people ahead of us, so we entered the interview room just a few minutes late, to be greeted by our favourite officer (the one from the car registration episode in 2013 and our first meeting this year). We were not thrilled by this, but at least she should be consistent with what she had already said this year.

She took our folder of documents, and first looked at my passport, and then said “As an Australian, you can't apply for a Carte de Séjour without first having a Long-Stay Visa”!!  This was news to us, and hadn’t been mentioned by her in our first meeting when the first thing she looked at was my passport, and was in TOTAL contradiction of the advice given to me in Sydney, where I was told that I couldn’t get a Long-Stay Visa (which can only be applied for outside France) and must apply for a Carte de Séjour (which can only be applied for in France). Rita tried to explain this to her, but she wouldn’t listen and continually talked over the top of Rita. Rita was getting annoyed, but I just sat there in bewilderment (now I knew “what else could go wrong”).

Finally, Rita had had enough, and told her that our documentation had been approved by her superior by phone and in writing by email. This seemed to ring a bell with her (they must have talked about our case internally), so she left the interview booth to phone the supervisor. She wasn’t far away and Rita could understand what was being said in French (at least one side of the conversation), and it was clear that she was being over-ruled and told to proceed with our application. When she returned she was muttering under her breath and clearly angry at being over-ruled, saying that the supervisor didn’t realise I was an Australian, and just told her to proceed as if I wasn’t Australian. All this sounded weird, since the documents we sent to the supervisor clearly stated in several places that I was Australian, and anyway we have found not a single reference online that says an Australian needs to hold a Long-Stay Visa before applying for a Carte de Séjour.

So she went through the entire process, checking and approving our documents, then getting us to sign forms, and finally taking my fingerprints. However, after all this, we asked how long the process might take before we receive the Carte (if approved) and she said 4 months (by which time I will be long home in Australia, if I can leave France). We then explained the situation to her (when she would shut up and stop talking over Rita), and asked for the Receipt (récépissé) that you are meant to get to prove to Customs at the Airport that you have applied for a Carte de Séjour, and it is in process of being processed/issued. She then refused to issue a receipt (even though it is clearly stated online that you are meant to get one when your documents are submitted and accepted, through not necessarily approved). She said that I should just show the interview appointment letter at the airport, and get them to phone the Prefecture to confirm the situation). We suspected that this was highly unlikely to happen at the airport, but were again in one of those situations where we couldn’t force her to give us a receipt (unless we asked her to ring her supervisor again, and she was so pissed off already that we figured this might be a counter-productive move).

We left the interview more confused than when we entered it, on two counts. Firstly, where did this new requirement (about needing a Long-Stay Visa before applying for a Carte de Séjour) come from? Did she just make it up? Was there any documentation showing it’s validity? Why did the Consulate in Sydney give me directly conflicting advice? If it is true, why did the supervisor deny that she knew I was an Australian, and tell the interview officer to just go ahead with the application? Was it just to shut us up and get us out of the office, and then they would quietly reject the application on the grounds that I did not have a current Long-Stay Visa?

Secondly, why did the officer refuse to issue us with a receipt, when it is clearly part of the procedures? What will happen if I stay longer that 90 days (just 3 weeks away) and front up to customs at departure without a Carte de Séjour, or at least a Receipt? Should I go home within the 90 days or stay the intended 5 months and just hope all works out OK?

So, no champagne to celebrate a successful interview, and lots of questions to ponder over the next few days.

UPDATE #10; 21 August 2018

After considering the options overnight, Rita decided to take the bull by the horns and write to the supervisor (since she had her email address) asking her to clarify the above two issues. She replied quickly, but didn’t add anything new about the Long-Stay Visa requirement (just confirming that I didn’t have a LSV), but did say that we could return to Montauban to pickup a Receipt. So we will make a special trip tomorrow from Toulouse, and hope for the best.

UPDATE #11; 22 August 2018

We were up early to take the 7.46am train from Toulouse to Montauban to pick up the Receipt. Before that I had contacted barging friends David and Evelyn who had recently got their Cartes to see if they knew anything about the requirement to have a Long-Stay Visa first, and they said they had never heard of it. They also said they both got Receipts automatically and sent me a scan of one of theirs; so now we knew what we were expecting to receive in Montauban. When we got there, we took our ticket and waited for 5 minutes till our number came up, and we were directed to the counter with our favourite officer. We didn’t really have to say anything; she looked at us, leant over and grabbed the Receipt from her desk and gave it to us. All completed in 20-30 seconds. Why couldn’t she have done this on Monday? Despite trying not to have bad thoughts about her, all I can suspect is that it was pure vindictiveness. Before we left the Prefecture, we sat down to examine the Receipt in more detail and saw that it was the same format as Evelyn’s and that it was valid until November 20, the day of my flight out of Paris. So, no matter what now happens with the Carte, I can stay in France until then. I should have felt some emotion about receiving the Receipt, but in truth I felt nothing, not even relief. I guess it will sink in later.

In the meantime, we will contact the supervisor at Montauban again, to seek more information (and some documented evidence) about the need for a LSV before getting a CdS. If there is some proof, then others should be warned because it is not at all evident from the main online sources. If there is no evidence for the requirement, then we will seek to have them stop spreading this false information so that others who apply in the future will not be scared/inconvenienced by such rumour mongering.

UPDATE #12; 20 September 2018

Rita, who is currently in Dijon, received an email from the Prefecture today, saying that my Carte de Séjour was ready for collection at Montauban! This is less than one month after they said it might take 4 months! Since my friends from Australia, Ian and Flis, had only arrived in Carcassonne today and I was looking forward to spending some time with them, I had a decision to make as to whether I dropped everything and took the train to Montauban to collect the Carte before we headed any further away from Montauban, or whether to collect it at a more convenient time later. We decided to contact the Prefecture, explain the situation, and ask it would still be available for collection in early November after we had arrived in Auxonne, whereupon I could drive to Montauban to collect it.

UPDATE #13; 20 September 2018

After arriving and settling into Auxonne in Late-October, I then drove across to Moissac on November 6 and went to the Montauban Prefecture on November 7 to get my Carte de Séjour. This time, for the first time, there were no hassles. I took my ticket from reception, after explaining why I was there in my very best well-rehearsed French, waited 10 minutes, and then got the Carte in just a couple of minutes. The only problem I later discovered, is that despite the Receipt saying the CdS would be valid for 10 years, the one I now have says it is valid for only 1 year, expiring in August 2019. So, I now have to decide whether I want to go through the process again next year.

EPILOGUE; 20 November 2018

On my flight back to Australia, I decided to do a little experiment at the Passport Control at Charles de Gaulle airport, by presenting my passport with my right hand while holding my Carte de Séjour out of sight in my left hand, ready to show it when asked, since I had been in France for 5 months without any Visa stamp in my passport. However, the guy on duty just opened the passport at a random page and stamped it without asking any questions. I was through in 5 seconds, and there was no need for the CdS. As I walked through, I glanced over my shoulder at the Customs official, and saw that he had already returned to reading his Facebook page!! Makes me wonder why I went to all the trouble described above to get the CdS. But you can bet your bottom dollar that if I hadn’t, they would have asked me why I had overstayed my automatic 90 day permitted time.