You have to know a thing or two about the French to make it through the visa process without losing your shit. That could be an alternative title to this entry. I’m now somewhat initiated to the ways of the French bureaucracy after the paperwork scavenger hunt that was required to get married in Bazus last year. Hoping these callouses will last long enough so I can hold it together once we move.
I will say, the online experience was actually extremely quick, clean, friendly, and clear–none of these adjectives typically describe a French experience be it a security line or a dinner. After some googling of things like “how do I even get a French visa,” the French visa website will direct you to a third party handler who facilitates the visa appointments for the Embassy, VFS Global. This was a cinch, perhaps because VFS has cornered this niche market and is doing this for several countries. Make an appointment, VFS tells you what to bring, boom. Privatization isn’t always bad.
I knew better than to believe that the simplicity of these initial steps would be a predictor of the ease of the rest of the process. I knew better but I believed it anyway. But of course once I physically got to the VFS Global office things started to get… FRENCH AF.
I arrive at a weird, boring, midcentury building on Wilshire near the Flynt building that I’ve probably driven by at least 200 times. It’s not the French Consulat which my husband visits for his visa, it’s the home of this third party handler. FYI, they only have valet so park around the corner if you don’t want to get shived for $12. The tiny VFS Global offices are on the fifth floor, where I was searched by security, then sat in a room that’s set up like a tiny but much less depressing DMV office: windows at the front, rows of seats, myriad signs with directions, French tourism posters.
For some reason there is a VIP waiting area that is behind a glass partition, almost half the size of the whole waiting area, without anyone sitting in it. The room is decorated like a tacky Americna living room with a couch, coffee table, and television. As I stared at it, grasping to comprehend its existence, I was thankful that I didn’t have to sit in there and signal to the rest of the room that I self-identified as a VIP.
Anyway, my turn came and I gave the dude that spoke English all of my documents, which I knew would be sufficient because I followed the instructions from the French Consulat and VFS Global. However, I was informed that the copy of our French marriage certificate that I’d brought was too old–it was less than a year old, but it needed to be less than three months old. Of course, none of the instructions specified how fresh these docs had to be, one would assume they just had to be real. Nope, I have learned that the French have a thing for super fresh docs: when we got married last year I had to procure a NEW birth certificate for myself as the one I had from 2006 somehow might not reflect new information about the date and location of my birth. Whatever, I told him I’d send a fresh certificate.
Nearby I overheard a woman asking how she was supposed to complete the online visa application with the address of where she’d be staying in Paris if she needed a visa to secure a place to stay in Paris. This is classic French bureaucracy, and the only way around it is to fudge a little, put your Airbnb address even if you’re only staying there for a few days, and cross your fingers. This is essentially what the Visa dude told her. The bureaucracy famously moves at a snails pace, and is greased by these small fudges, otherwise nothing would get done. To this day I feel like someone is going to realize we didn’t provide the right paperwork to get married, but most likely no one even cared.
For anyone reading because they actually want to learn about the visa process, the next step is you go into a tiny white room, give them your finger prints and take a photo. I made the mistake of wearing a bun that day, so now on my visa I look like a 12 year old boy. When I left the little white room, someone was sitting in the VIP area.
As expected, I got an email from the French Embassy stating additional documents were required. I needed to send a copy of my Livret de Famille (family book), and a copy of our marriage license that was less than TWO months old–VFS Global had told me THREE months. See, this is why people talk mess on French bureaucracy. Also I had provided the copy of my Livret de Famille at the appointment, but because of the certificate situation of 2018, I just kept my mouth shut and sent another copy. Grease the system with fudge. My husband’s family had to mail a fresh copy of our marriage license to prove we hadn’t gotten a divorce within eleven months of marriage. My passport was returned to me with visa about two weeks later.
See, I told you it wasn’t that bad, especially not if the system has beat you up in the past. But as an American, getting conflicting info from the powers that be is maddening–what is reality if the system isn’t in agreement. But now, I know you just kind of split the difference, smile at the visa dude, don’t argue about the conflicting info, and it all turns out okay.