Save Me from All This French Paperwork

Patrick O'Brian

One thing that I’ve noticed here in Paris is that the French take their administration very seriously, but don’t always care about helping those they’re supposed to be helping.

Even before coming over, the French paperwork was daunting. Their consulate forced me to get a signed letter from OHIP guaranteeing my health card;  I had to buy health insurance for the length of my stay; and they later made me extend it so that it lasted at least a year (even if I only wanted to stay for 8 months).

When I got to Paris and applied for work as an English tutor, I had to get a police record check done. When they sent the certificate back to my parents’ house in Ottawa by mistake, I lost a month’s work. When I finally did begin to work, I didn’t have a social security number so I had to ask my employer for proof that they hired me, and then go and apply for temporary work authorization number along with learning information on getting the new, lost and replacement social security cards. I had to repeat this when I began working for another company.

The Bureaucracy Makes French Paperwork a Nightmare

The Bureaucracy Makes French Paperwork a Nightmare

This past June, I was accepted to do my master’s at la Sorbonne, and I asked the French consulate back in Toronto what I should do to get a student visa for the fall. They said to fill out the forms on the CampusFrance website: scans of diplomas, ID pictures, cover letter, etc. Right away I got an email saying CampusFrance would process my application, but that they were on strike that day (French government workers go on strike at regular intervals). I have been waiting for months without a response, and have begun wondering if CampusFrance has any presence in Canada at all.

A few days later, I went to the Préfecture de Police, which is like City Hall, to see if I could get my residency card without having a new visa. After calling her superior, the clerk said I could, and to come back with all the necessary papers. When I got the necessary papers I went back in August, and after a five-hour wait was told my file was perfect but that it might be difficult to renew my card next August, because I might not have all of my paperwork done by then.  I wanted to risk it, but the immigration agent insisted I come back in October. He suggested I come back first thing in the morning to avoid a five-hour wait; I found this laughable since there were only two other applicants in front of me that day.

Too Much French Paperwork

Later that same week, I went to the social security office to try to finally get a SS number, and one of their clerks looked through all of my papers before sending off my file for approval. Six weeks later, I got a letter telling me I didn’t have the necessary paperwork and when I returned to their office the same clerk surprisingly agreed; she was astonished when I told her it was she who had checked my file. When I went back to the Préfecture in October, my agent’s boss told me that there had been a mistake, and that I had to return to Canada to get a new visa if I wanted to continue my studies.

After being rejected by another Préfecture de Police, and getting the International House at la Sorbonne to make a phone call on my behalf, I accepted my fate and bought a ticket for Toronto. After 3 emails and a call to the French Consulate’s emergency number (I got the machine, imagine that), I was told that the CampusFrance paperwork was no longer necessary, even if it was on the required document list.  I was allowed to get my visa by mail, but for some reason I had to be in Canada.

Anyone considering working or studying in France should make sure they get all of their paperwork done perfectly, and even then they should expect that something somehow will go wrong…