Passports & Visas

Here’s another post filled with some of the practical bits of moving to another country. Today I thought it would be fun to chat passports and visas.

Our long-stay visas were approved last week!! They are an addition to our passport that allows us to stay in France as visitors for an entire year. Hooray!

A word about visas: these aren’t visas as in credit-cards. These visas are a document issued by governments, allowing a non-citizen to live or work in their country. In France, you can automatically receive a 3 month visitor visa without having to apply for anything. But if you’d like to stay longer than 3 months, you need to apply for a long-stay visa.

I found the visa process to be a bit grueling. If you’re interested, I’ll tell you more about it below.

PASSPORTS

For passports, it took a couple of evenings to gather the correct paperwork and fill out the applications. It also required a visit to Walgreen’s for the kids to get passport photos.

The trickiest part of the passport process, was finding a time the whole family could visit the passport office. Both parents and the children applying for a passport have to be there in person. And the office hours of the passport office don’t coordinate very well with school hours. Happily, we found a perfect day when school was out, but the office was open, a couple days before Thanksgiving. Alternatively, we would just have pulled the kids out of school for a morning.

Passports can take up to 6 or 8 weeks to arrive, but they often come faster. Ours took about 3 weeks.

A couple of passport tips:

-Go really early on a Tuesday morning, as soon as the passport office is open. It seems to be the least busy time, and you’ll hopefully get helped right away.

-Use black ink, or they won’t accept your application. Yikes! We used blue and almost had a fiasco on our hands. It had taken me 2 hours to fill out all the applications and I was about to cry when I found out about the blue ink/black ink situation. Luckily, I asked the passport office if they would please photocopy the applications in black and white, and they kindly said yes.

-When having your passport photos taken (or when you’re taking them yourselves), print out a second set of two (for four photos total), because you’ll need them for your visa applications as well.

VISAS

I found the visa application more challenging. One of the tricky things was the timing. In order to apply for long-stay visas, you need a signed lease showing where you’re planning to stay, and you need to know the day you’re entering the country — which means plane tickets need to be confirmed. It felt confusing to me to commit to a year long lease, without knowing whether or not we would be approved for year-long visas. But apparently, that’s the way it’s done. So we went with it.

Our signed lease arrived around New Year’s Day, and that’s when we started our visa application process.

Adults, plus children six and older, are required to show up in person at the assigned French Consulate office. The office assigned to Colorado is in Los Angeles, and although we would have preferred visiting the San Francisco office (because we have lots of family there), that was not allowed.

So. Ben Blair, Ralph, Maude, Olive and I hopped on a plane to LA early one morning during the first week of January. We had our visa appointments right after we arrived, and then caught a flight back to Denver the same day. There were a few hours before our return flight, so we took the the kids to some fun touristy spots — like Venice Beach and Grauman’s Chinese Theater. (The photo above is film-obsessed Ralph in front of the theater. This was his first trip to LA and you can imagine how excited he was to be there.)

We made sure to go before January 9th, because Oscar turned 6 that day, and we wanted to avoid getting the additional plane ticket. : )

The French Consulate firmly requested that we schedule 8 appointment time slots for 8 separate visa applications. But, on the one and only day we could make the trip, there were only 6 appointments available. We were afraid they would turn us away at the door because we hadn’t followed their strict directions, but happily, they didn’t even mention the discrepancy.

The Visa applications required far more work than the passport applications. It took me about 30-40 hours to put everything together and make requests for letters from employers and insurance agencies. Plus, the last-minute trip to LA took a hefty amount of coordination (both for the travelers and the kids staying at home).

For me, the most trying part of the visa process, was putting in the preparation hours, spending the money, making the trip to Los Angeles, and knowing all the while that our applications might be rejected for reasons I didn’t really even understand. I told Ben Blair that if our visas weren’t approved, I would have to have a day of mourning to get over the waste of all the time and work. : )

But our visa story has a happy ending. Our appointments at the consulate went smoothly. We had to fax 2 more things the next business day and we received our passports — with approved visas inside — two days after that. Hooray! We were told to plan on about 2 weeks to get approval, so we were surprised delighted with the quick response.

A couple of visa tips:

-We wanted to make a good impression, so we carefully put together our outfits and little details like a pretty file folder for all the documentation. I don’t know if it helped, but I felt far more confident going into our appointments.

-I would have loved a bigger window of time to work with. If I could do it again, I would try to confirm our lease and plane tickets earlier, so that I didn’t feel rushed getting our visa applications in.

-Even if our visa applications hadn’t been approved, we still would have moved. Apparently, there are a couple of work-arounds. Visitors are welcome to stay up to 3 months, so some visa-less folks make a point of leaving the country every 3 months and then re-entering to start a fresh 3 month stint. A good excuse to make a trip to Egypt. : ) This is exactly how Ben Blair and I handled visas when we lived in Greece. At the 3 month mark, we visited Turkey and then returned to Greece with a fresh start on our visa. IMPORTANT UPDATE: According to helpful comments from readers, the work-around I mention is no longer valid. Thank goodness our visas were approved!

-Some expats told me they’ve lived in France for long periods without a visa at all. They said as long as they weren’t taking French jobs or asking for government help, no one seemed to mind.

What about you? Any visa or passport tips you would share?

67 thoughts on “Passports & Visas”

  1. …I would love to read the article and all the comments in full…but, am I the only one who can’t see the article in it’s entirety becaues the words are being partially blocked by the Sponsor ads (on the left hand side). It’s not undoable, but it’s making it painstakingly difficult to read with fluidity… I’m relocating to Spain soon, and the information seems apropos…

    Any suggestions…??? TIA

  2. …Never mind, after hitting the “Refresh” button for what seemed like the 100th time, the page layout changed. :o)

  3. We lived in France for a year and had to do similar things for a visa, although it was easier, as they were student visas. I can’t wait to read all your stories about your carte de sejour. That will be the exciting part. I would recommend keeping at least one passport photo, because in France many applications and documentation require a photo. They have booths that you can get entire sheets printed out from one of your own passport photos. This was easier for us (and cheaper) then having to get passport photos taken again in France. Honestly, my blood card even required a self-provided photo. Good luck and have fun with the carte.

    My advice for others would be to always bring extra copies of everything (don’t you love the word triplicate). I have seen people denied identity cards in France because they didn’t bring one copy. Also, try to move through your employer if possible. They take care of a lot of the red tape. Oh, I almost forgot. For our carte de sejour (identity card in France), we had to have our birth certificates and marriage certificate translated into French by a consulate-approved translater. This was expensive, but made things so much easier when we arrived in France and already had all the documents ready. If you have any questions, email me. Bonne chance and bon courage.

  4. What was the motivation you gave for wanting a longer stay visa?

    One little thing with your story though. The three month period does not restart just because you leave Schengen and come back in. It is 3 months every six months. So the clock only stops when you leave within that 6 month period it does not reset. You are misleading people into thinking they can ‘cheat’ the system by leaving and entering that way.

    And because the EU includes MANY countries now, if you are caught overstaying your max 3 month tourist ‘visa’, you are banned from the ENTIRE Schengen area for years, not just the country you left. That means you will have trouble even transiting any Schengen country because when you pass through passport control, a hit comes up in the system.

  5. Just found you through a blogger friend in Paris and I’ve enjoyed reading about your upcoming move. Congratulations! I’m sure you’ll love living in France.
    We’re going on 8 years living in a small village in the south of France (my husband and I are both American) and have never regretted the decision to move here for even a moment.
    Good luck! Look forward to reading about your upcoming adventures.

  6. In the US a child must verify their relationship to their parent simply by stating that she’s my mom or he’s my dad. Be sure to practice before going to the passport desk. I watched as one little shy little girl almost totally blew the application process. Finally, with lots of coaxing from the clerk, she understood what he was asking her and said the magic words.

  7. Hi Gabbie,

    Congrats on your big adventure. I’m so glad your visas came through, because your back-up plan likely would have been a huge nightmare for you! I can just envision a scenario where you and your husband go on your vacation, then couldn’t get back into France to get your kids and all your stuff–yikes!

    Those 3 months are cumulative, not consecutive, and you are going to need your visa when you want to travel after your first 90 days. And, it does apply to the entire Schengen area (so, many of the countries you might want to visit while abroad.)
    My experience here in Italy was a little different than yours. My husband traveled to our consulate in Houston to turn in his application for his work visa, we fly on that visa and my tourist visa, and then I did my long stay application and processing once we arrived here, with the help of a translator hired by my husband’s company. You should post a follow up on your experience checking in at the local office, I found my experience to be hugely entertaining and gave me a lot of respect for anyone who tries to navigate that experience in any country.

  8. I can relate to your visas. My husband and I went through a huge ordeal when I was issued the WRONG visa to enter the UK back in October. Thankfully, the UK consulate let us change it. We no longer have to worry about visas, though we now have indefinite leave to remain!

    Enjoy life in France! :)

  9. I’m impressed that you received yours so quickly! When my husband and 1 child at the time, moved to Paris for a year we had to go through all that run around too. My husband, interned for the first 3 months, so he used a visitor visa (or perhaps even business) and did not need to fly to San Fran (we lived in Provo at the time). But my 8 month old baby and I had to fly to San Fran a week before we were to fly to Paris (bcse it took them soooooo long to complete their side of the paper work….typical French bureaucracy, you’ll find that they LOVE their paperwork). We did the same as you. Took 1 backpack as carry on, flew in to San Fran, had an uncle generously pick me up, drove me to the consulate, gave him the approved paperwork and that was it! It took 10 minutes. Then, my after my husband’s internship was over and he started classes at the Sorbonne in the Fall he had to fly from Paris to San Fran and back in 24 hours (I think he did get a hotel for that night) to get his different visa. Once I was in the country I had to immediatly start applying for the long term visa. It took the ENTIRE year of living there to finally get it. I had to go in, over and over again, with new paperwork that they did not tell me I needed at the last visit. Wait to get a new appointment, struggle with their inability (or desire to see me struggle :) ) with French ( I came out in tears, even after praying like crazy before hand, every visit, unless my fluent hubby was with me), get my chest x-rayed for TB, etc, etc and finally got the stamp! Plus, did you know that with their socialized system you *may* be approved for housing assistance. We were only able to take advantage of it once I got my visa, so for one month. But they supplement your rent. I can’t remember if it’s you fall under a certain income or are a student or not. Anyway, it would have been helpful.
    I am glad your visas went so much smoother! You never want that feeling of being deported. You want to be legal, right?
    Thanks for sharing!!

  10. Oh, yes, I forgot and someone mentioned it above. The very first appointment w/the visa people I had to have all my documents, translated into French with an official approval stamp. I think we paid someone to do that. And I don’t know what it’ll be like in Normandy but each new step you have to go to a different building. So in Paris I remember going to at least 4 different official locations (some several times, I went monthly, bcse like I said before, they love paperwork!). I hope it’s not nearly as painful for you.
    But it’s so worth it!!!!

  11. I realize this is an old post, but thought I would comment anyway since I found a total lifesaver for getting passport photos – http://www.epassportphoto.com/

    You take your own passport photos at home (no fancy camera, lighting, or backdrop needed), upload the files to their site, use their cropping tool to get the passport photo dimensions, and then select to have them printed at a Walgreens, CVS, etc or have them mailed to their house. Especially great for when you have to get passport photos for your kids (mine are 2 and 4 and would NEVER sit still at a drugstore for passport photos). Plus, the photos don’t come out like mugshots – no awful fluorescent lighting like in the stores!

  12. my partner is a South African with a British indefinite leave to remain visa, problem is he works in France and has over stayed by 5 months, he is still their working and was wondering what problems he might have trying to leave France? (flying this sunday) any answers will be greatly appreciated

  13. Hi Gabrielle,

    I just discovered your blog today and am so blown away and inspired by some parallel paths we share. I’m also a designer as well as blog personally and have been ever so slowly planning to live abroad in France ( indefinitely to forever). My husband and I also run our own business online, making it possible for us to not need to work in France. I’m curious, as I haven’t found any definitive information, what type of visa did you apply for? I know there is the Skills & Talents visa – where you must present a type of work that would contribute to the French economy ie. by working in France, but seeing as we run our own businesses like you, we don’t wish to establish business in France (yet). I hope you can take a second to share, thanks so much. I’m a excited fan of your work and am eagerly reading every French post.

    Cbeers!
    K

  14. Une carte visa est un moyen de payement qui
    vous permet de faire des achats surr internet et dans les magasins où
    la carte visa sont acceptées. En utilisant une carte bancaire dee type visa card en Algérie
    comme ceole que nous proposons, vus pouvez recharger la carte plus facilement que Mastercard, et avec tout ça vous
    avez la possibilité recevoir l’argent avec paypal et ou Skrill et
    bien d’autres ce qui n’est pas le cas avec les cartes de
    type Mastercard.vous avez la possibilité d’utiliser
    cette carte visa directement pour régler en ligne en utilisant
    les seize chiffres de la carte visa et les numéros de sécurité.

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