This is part of a series of articles about the final days of preparing for moving to France and what happens when you get here, and those articles are part of a promotional series launching our new book, 29 Days to France, a book that all the writers wish they had had before we started our French adventures. It’s now available for preorder, and those preorders come with a free 15-minute Q&A personal session about your French immigration plans. Click here to learn more.
You can find Vince’s first article in this series, when he was three months out from a move, here.
“Are you excited about Paris yet?”
It’s an innocent enough question.
I’m pacing around my room while on the phone with my friend Anne: “Nope. Not excited one bit. Paris isn’t real until the visa is real,” I deadpan. It is October 7, and I think I’m unofficially five weeks out from my Paris move. I’m still not fully confident I’m actually going to Paris, actually. I haven’t heard news about my visa since I submitted the application back two weeks ago.
I hope Anne didn’t take my answer as a snarky one. 52-year-old me was trying to be like water and quell the anxiety generated last week by my inner child — the eight-year-old version of me — who had been having a series of micro-meltdowns, worried that my visa application was anything but “foolproof,” even though I bleeping spent 1,900 € to make it so. I was still a bit raw from my mom’s passing and the end of my relationship with Sarah, as well as all the purging and the anticipation of all the major changes.
“It’s going to happen,” she assures me. I say nothing. I know she means well. “Why do you think you’ll have an issue?” she asks. I tell her what happened at my visa application appointment.
Flashback to September 27, the visa appointment at the VFS office.
The young clerk at the VFS office (the third-party company designated to pre-process the applications on their way to the French Consulate in Washington D.C) reviews my application and notes that it is incomplete but that she’d send the application anyway, as-is. “Wait, why are you writing that?” I plead.
“It says here on the checklist that since you are starting a business you need these documents, and you don’t have them.”
“I’m not starting a conventional business in Paris,” I say, “so, I don’t need a copy of a commercial lease agreement or proof of a credit balance from an account.” She takes a few moments to process this, but I can tell by her fidgeting that this situation is deviating from her script. This was probably above her pay grade to solve problems any more than a drive-thru clerk taking orders at a fast-food joint where you can’t have it your way. I give her a curious look that means, “Surely, you’ve dealt with other Profession Libérale visa applications in the past.”
“Since you don’t have the paperwork — even if you say you don’t need them — I can’t cross this off the checklist on the computer, so it won’t show that the application is complete,” she says. “So for me to send the application, I need to write a note.”
I want to pull the good ol’ American I’d like to speak to your supervisor, please, but I don’t want the VFS office to spit in my soup and sabotage my chances for approval. I bite my tongue instead, and tell eight-year-old me, “we’re going to have to trust the process.”
“But I walked out of the office with a massive knot in my stomach, ” I told Anne.
“It’s gonna be great,” she reassures me. I roll my eyes, when I notice an email that just popped up in my inbox, entitled: MISSING DOCUMENTS. It’s from the French Consulate.
“I gotta go.” I hang up the phone. My stomach is in knots again.
I close my eyes, take three deep breaths to keep me from going nuclear, and then open the e-mail.
Please provide the following documents in order to complete processing for your visa application:
– Your last 3 months’ bank statements showing your full name and enough funds to pay for your trip and expenses
– Proof of income related to your business activity in France (letter containing draft work contract with remuneration indicated)
– A housing lease or your host’s property deed
Please carefully read the following instructions on how to respond to this email:
– Please scan these documents directly back to this e-mail address in the next 7 days. Send them all in one email.
– Do not send the documents you already provided at your VFS appointment. We have already reviewed those and have deemed them to be insufficient or inadequate. If you send the same documents again, your visa will likely be denied.
– Only send your documents once and please refrain from writing to inquire if we received your documents. Too many e-mails received disrupt the organization of the visa department and result in longer processing times for applications.
Imagining being spoken by a French bureaucrat, I read the e-mail trying not to be annoyed by the surface politeness disguising the indifference, rigidity, vagueness, and trickiness, all of which French bureaucracy was infamous for. Too late.
“Nooooo!” I scream up to the sky. “I paid two grand for a service to deal with this! And now I have seven days to get the right docs!”
I’m livid. I leave the house for some air. I passed by my 95-year-old grandma in the living room reminding myself that I had yet to tell her I was leaving for Paris.
Why was I so incensed? Before I submitted the application back in September, I scheduled a one-hour consultation call with Franceformation to review my application, but in the actual call, she didn’t review or comment on any of the other parts of my visa application except for the business plan. The entire reason I paid her the exorbitant fee sight unseen was for her allegedly expert eyes to ensure my entire application was foolproof from top to bottom, not just the business plan. I emailed her a message expressing my concern. This was her response:
“Your supporting documents are fine. Your business plan needs some serious work if you would like it to be accepted in a visa application. I would strongly advise against submitting it without taking into account many of the recommendations I made on our call. Please note that the guarantee included with your package is that I would help you revise and review your visa application again if it does not get approved the first time (this has never happened to any of my clients who followed the Complete French Business Incubator process). If you do not take into account any of my recommendations prior to submitting your application, I will not be providing additional feedback if it is rejected.”
As you can see by the Consulate’s e-mail above, they approved my business plan, which to be clear, I revised on the astute suggestions of expats from Facebook and other friends with expert knowledge, NOT incorporating any of Franceformation’s notes, which were similar in tone and expertise to the kind of advice my father gave me as a 13-year-old regarding how to throw a fastball, having only read a library book called The Official Little League Way to Play Baseball and watched baseball on TV but had never actually played baseball, because well, they didn’t have baseball in the Philippines when he was a kid.
Note that Franceformation stated my “supporting documents are fine,” yet based on the Consulate’s email of my MISSING DOCUMENTS, my supporting documents were clearly NOT fine. Even if she was willing to provide additional feedback, based on every single interaction I had with her, odds were quite high that she was not going to put the work into my documents besides insisting that her advice was correct, which she was/is infamous for doing on her Facebook group, where, whenever comments go off script, they get deleted.
Thanks to the generosity and experiences of the expats on the Facebook group pages and the TAIP Facebook community, I was able to decipher the Consulate’s requests. My landlord didn’t have immediate access to the property deed, so I sent copies of her electric bill and property tax documentation instead. As far as proof of income, I whipped up contracts with my current clients.
Because I wasn’t confident they would get the stamp of approval, however, until my visa was in my hand, my brain simply would not commit to expending concentrated energy on the move. Even being only five weeks out, I put off my Paris to-do list and allocated most of my time either continuing my Goodbye L.A. tour or being a Dodger fan watching every inning of their playoff games either on TV or watching games at Dodger Stadium until they finally lost in the National League Championship Series, which I secretly hoped would happen, because Dodger baseball alone ate up at least sixty hours. I spent sixty hours training tennis at Silva Tennis Academy as well.
Every day, I’d spend hours checking my email and social media accounts for signs of my ex-girlfriend Sarah, hoping that she’d get in touch with me to see each other before leaving for Paris. It was horribly co-dependent of me, but that’s what it was.
Live music ate up another sixty hours, because with all the deaths, Covid, and purging that had happened this year, live music was my religion. In addition to a series of local acts at the Hotel Café, I saw Pearl Jam and the Lumineers a few weeks ago and saw Wilco twice in October. The lyrics from “Shot in the Arm,” Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm, and What you once were isn’t what you want to be anymore… totally encapsulated why I was moving to Paris. I played that song every day on repeat as I waited for my visa…
Two Weeks Later, the Biggest E-mail of My Life
The consulate sent me an e-mail merely notifying me that a FedEx package was on its way to me. They didn’t indicate whether my application was approved.
No matter. The most important FedEx package of my life containing the prospects for my future is due to arrive in my lap in less than three hours. I’ve cleared my entire schedule for the day to be home to sign for the package. After a couple of hours go by, I receive a text that FedEx tried to deliver the package, but I was not home, and they would attempt a second delivery the following day. Actually, I am home, but they didn’t bother to call. I want to scream.
What occurs next is a series of tragically comedic events in which I talk to three different customer service representatives for over five cumulative hours — all outsourced to call centers in other countries merely reading a script — to directly manage the delivery. I don’t trust their delivery process. The next morning, I drive fifteen miles to the FedEx facility.
Finally, the moment of truth is in my hand. It is anti-climactic, really, this nondescript FedEx envelope that held the promise of the rest of my life. I rip open the envelope. There’s nothing inside except my original passport. I brace myself for rejection and get ready to tell my inner child a narrative that the Universe is telling us it isn’t yet our time for Paris, then get my assistant director part of my brain to get past the disappointment quickly in order to plan for potential scenarios. I open the passport…and there it is, my profession libérale visa. I break into tears of relief and joy. It’s happening. I’m finally going to Paris. I am officially thirty days out.
I call Anne back. “Okay, now I’m excited.” “But just a little,” I added.
After I got my visa, urgency was everything. I booked my flight for November 16, four weeks from that moment. I secured a place for my cat Maddey on the plane. I confirmed my Airbnb reservations. I reviewed the procedures to obtain Maddey’s health certificate. I finally took the new suitcase I bought months ago out of the shipping box and laid it out with my two other suitcases.
Twenty days before my November 16th flight, my grandma was in the kitchen eating a Filipino dish of cow liver and rice when I finally told her I was moving to Paris. “Huh? Where are you going?” she asked in her shrill, Filipina from the poor province-laden accent. Her hearing was severely diminished, and she was too stubborn to wear a hearing aid.
“Paris,” I said.
“Oh. France. That’s far.”
“Yes it is.”
“How long you going?”
“I’m not sure. A long time, probably.”
“Oh, so you don’t stay here anymore?”
She started laughing. “Oh, maybe you stay there for a year!” More laughing. I wasn’t sure why she found all of this funny, but I said, “Yes, grandma, for a year.” And with that, she went back to the TV and started flipping channels. In retrospect, I don’t think she knew how to process the news that I was leaving. She was incapable of processing with nuance. At least outwardly.
After my mom’s stroke this year and enduring the trauma of not being given the chance to reconcile my relationship with her, I moved in with my grandma as a sentimental gesture to connect and say farewell after I was forced to leave the home Sarah and I made together. Grandma is 95 years old, and she just isn’t moving well anymore. We have cousins and aunts who will look after her, but I’m the grandchild of two closest to her. My sister lives two hours south in San Diego but she has her hands full. Besides, my grandma doesn’t trust my sister after the way she handled the responsibility as the executor of the power of attorney over my mom’s affairs. I feel horrible that I’m leaving grandma for Paris, but every day I’m here, I’m losing more of my sanity, and I simply need to leave if I’m going to stay alive. Not kidding. I gave her a hug, she hugged me back, and as my emotions started to stir and make me feel raw again, I disappeared into the garage with my nose back to the grindstone and turned on a little Wilco to get me through a tedious night of deciding what was going to make it into the five pieces of luggage that would be my Paris life.
Photo: A day in South Pasadena where everything was fine, and then a moment came when I felt like maybe Paris wasn’t in the cards.
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