I have been waxing poetic in many posts of my love of all things French. There has been another side of this experience that’s been brewing in the shadows of my adoration and it’s the paperwork.
Here’s an overview of the different groups of paperwork we have had to coordinate beginning in Seattle. I will go into more painful detail about a few below.
- LIVRET DE FAMILLE: Registering our U.S. marriage from Seattle with the French government so we could get our Livret de Famille. This is a book that follows you for the rest of your life in France and I always need to provide a copy when we are applying for a government service.
- VISA: Obtaining my VISA from the France Consulate in San Francisco (which I had to do in person) and which could not be done until we received our Livret de Famille.
- OFII: L’Office Francais de L’Immigration et de L’Integration. I had to send in my European entry stamp to receive an appointment 2 months later to an interview, medical exam and lecture. At this meeting I signed a contract saying that I would do my best to integrate into the French culture and to prove my dedication I had to take two 8-hour courses (Civics & History and Living & Working in France) plus I received free French language classes which was the best part of all of this paperwork. The OFII is an on-going flow to renew my VISA in 2013 but in the big picture, this has been the least painful.
SECURITE SOCIALE: This is my medical insurance. We submitted our application in May. My application was returned to me 3 times, each with a new item the application was missing. There was was not a comprehensive list sent once to me so each time I sent it back I thought: This is it. I’ve sent them everything. But no. The final item was my birth certificate with an Apostile stamp (thanks Sarkozy) on it that can only be done in the issuing state of your birth certificate. It should be noted that I had brought 2 certified birth certificates with me to France for this very emergency purpose. But after calling the Apostile office, they said my birth certificate did not have the correct signature and you could only get the correct signature if your birth certificate is issued in the county you were born in. Luckily my dad is retired so he drove to Santa Clara County Clerks Office, got me a new birth certificate and sent it to the Apostile office. I finally received my Securite Sociale number October 1.
- SECURITE SOCIALE CON’T.: The next step was to mail in my form that designates my primary care physician which I couldn’t do until I got my number. I diligently made a copy of the document and sent it in the post on October 1. It usually takes about 2 weeks for them to process this paperwork. Note that I cannot get any of my past incurred medical receipts reimbursed until this doctor is attached to my account. Around October 20th I called the English speaking help line and they said they would research and get back to me. Five days later, I received a call back saying there is no record of my paperwork. I said, that is fine, I have the copy and can mail it that day. But no, a copy would not suffice, I needed a new original. I phoned my doctor on Oct. 29 and told her it was urgent I get a new form and asked if she could send it in the mail. She sighed and said “well, I might not be able to get it to you for a few days.” As if she was so incredibly inconvenienced by putting it in the poste. She then said, “I can leave it on my door since I’m leaving today at 3:00pm.” So, she could fill it out and leave it on the door with my name, but not go that one extra step of putting my address and a stamp on it. I then dragged myself on the metro to a very busy part of Paris to get my envelope. I mailed in the second copy via certified post on Oct 31.
- PÔLE EMPLOI: This is the unemployment office where I am registered as looking for work. I am not eligible for any benefits since I have never paid into the system except my registering with them gives me a document that can be used for discounts (free entry at State run museums and pools, reduced rate at some movie theaters) but most importantly, we get a discount on Maxime’s mutuelle (our secondary health insurance). For some reason, the system, after 4 months thinks I am asking for money and won’t issue me an updated certificate (needed for proof for all of the above mentioned benefits). I have been registering monthly, met with an employment advisor and have even been sent a job to apply for. So, I have now gone to 2 Pôle Emploi offices and emailed my new employment advisor with no success. My next step is to go to my advisor’s office unannounced and see if I can get in past the security door (you have to prove you have an appointment). There is still no resolution but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can navigate the system.
In summary, the benefits that are afforded to French citizens are amazing but it’s a process. Recently, a friend who has lived in Paris for a long time responded to my exasperated account of a few of these problems: “You can’t fight it, you just have to provide what they are asking for and not try to figure out why. It’s futile.”