Tuesday, February 16, 2010

what to expect if you ever plan on being in france for more than three months

Apparently, obtaining an official student visa en France is a long process. I thought I'd share how this happened for me, because it's definitely been an experience.

Step 1 (May 2009): I apply for my study abroad program, and am accepted.

Step 2 (September 2009): I begin to receive information about the necessary forms I need to fill out and the things I need to do before I go. The forms that I have at this point all go to separate offices -- both the study abroad office at school, and the general UC study abroad office (the UOEAP) in Goleta, which will forward things to the Centre Californie located at Bordeaux.

Step 5: (October 2009) I receive medical forms which I need to send in to the UOEAP, which means that I need to see my doctor in Burbank. This is my first visit to this doctor (I stayed with my pediatrician for a looong time), which means that I need to have an actual appointment with her and give a blood test. I also get my tetanus shot while I'm here.

Step 4 (November 2009): I am forced to create an INCREDIBLY inconvenient profile on an official French government website called CampusFrance. It must be filled out on a Window computer, and one absolutely MUST print out the final confirmation page right away, because once the window is closed it cannot be accessed again. This is a pain because I don't have a Window, the study abroad office HAS Windows but doesn't let people print from them, and I don't trust the other school computers to let me print something so important from across the crowded library. Finally, I finish it and print it out on my roommate's computer. Then, I mail my confirmation page and a $60 cashier's check to the French embassy in Washington, and wait for the confirmation.

(Side note: The thing about all of this that is so stressful is that all of these steps have to be taken in order. We're supposed to allow 60 days for our Campus France confirmation to clear, and we absolutely won't be seen by the consulate without the confirmation. BUT, we have to make our consulate appointment before we officially have the confirmation in our hands, hoping that it will arrive in time, because if we wait to long to make the appointment, we might not get in. And we're warned that it can take up to 2 months for our Visas to arrive. It's also important to know that we were only allowed to begin this process in October, and considering that we leave around the beginning of January, we're all going crazy trying to complete everything on time).

Step 5: (November 2009) I have my Visa appointment in LA. Luckily for me, I live in Orange County -- and a 40 minute drive is nothing, considering one must apply for their Visa in person, no matter what, AND that France's LA Consulate is ALSO the office for people living in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado :/

At this Visa appointment, I need to bring 2 passport-sized photos of myself (2 additional photos needed to be sent to the UOEAP), my official UC acceptance letter to the program, my official acceptance letter from the University of Bordeaux, my passport, my CampusFrance confirmation page and the confirmation from the embassy in Washington that they received my cashier's check, a notarized paper signed by my parents about something that I no longer recall, $70ish, and my parents' financial records (proving that I will be financially supported while in France), among other things. In addition to having them, I also need to have seemingly arbitrary numbers of copies of each of them, which the guy there looks at but doesn't actually take from me. It was good that I had them, though, because the people without them are turned away right away until they come back with the correct number. The office is only open from 8AM to 12PM Monday-Friday (ugh!), but because there were so many people ahead of my who weren't actually from LA and who probably did NOT want to take another flight out, they made their copies elsewhere and got back in line. It took many hours to actually be seen.

A week later, my Visa is mailed to me (on a page in my passport), but at this point all of our French Visas are only 60% official.

Step 6 (December 2009): I arrive in France!

Step 7: (January 2010): The Centre Californie shows us how to finish our Visa process. I send a form about my nationality and about my current address in France, along with a copy of my passport and Visa (registered mail), to a specific office in France that deals with these things.

Step 8: (the end of January 2010): I receive a bunch of papers, telling me my scheduled OFII (I don't know what this actually stands for...something about being a foreigner) doctor's appointment.

Step 9: (February 2010): I go to the OFII office to finish the Visa process than began in October, more than a month since I arrived. At the appointment, I have one mini consultation with one doctor, then a chest X-Ray (no TB for me!), then another doctor's appointment with a different doctor. These three things go well, so I'm allowed to continue to the paperwork part. I need to show official proof of my resident, my passport, and I need to give them (yet another!) passport-sized photo my myself. I also need to give them a "stamp" that is the same shape and size of a normal postage stamp, and which looks like a normal postage stamp, but which ACTUALLY has something to do with taxes, and which cost 55 euros. I'm still not exactly sure what that was, but it was necessary.

So basically, as of yesterday, 4 months after I received the first part of my Visa, and more than a month since I've already been in France, I'm officially allowed to be here :)

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