carte vitale

How to Get a Numéro Provisoire or How to Sign up for Assurance Maladie

For the first year after I arrived in France, every time I went to the pharmacy or doctor, they’d ask for my carte vitale. This is the health insurance card every French person has which allows them to be reimbursed for medical expenses, and each time I politely explained I didn’t have one, the person checking me out would be shocked. To be paying out of pocket for my medical costs was unheard of, even though they were fractions of what I was used to in the U.S.

It took me longer than it could’ve to realize I also qualified for medical insurance or assurance maladie. After going through the process, the first document I received was a temporary social security number or numéro provisoire. If you’re in France on a carte de séjour visiteur, this is the only number you’ll be assigned. However, if you are here on a visa talent or visa vie privée, you’ll be eligible for a permanent social security number, as well as a carte vitale.

Who Qualifies?

Anyone living in France in a “stable and regular manner” qualifies to be covered by France’s healthcare system. This means you do not have to be born in France, married in France, or even working in France to register. However, it means you do have to have spent at least three months in the country and have a valid titre de séjour.

How do I Register?

To register you need to send copies of the following documents to the closest health insurance office. You can look up which one that is here.

Required Documents:

  • National Identity Card or passport or residence permit, as well as any documentation of your civil status.
  • Extract of birth certificate with filiation or full copy of birth certificate
  • Completed “Demande d’ouverture des droits d’assurance maladie.” (The second page of the form also lists the necessary documents to include.)

In my case, I sent copies of my passport and current titre de séjour, as well as the récépissé of my PACS — all documents which showed I was a ‘permanent’ resident in France. I also included a long form copy of my birth certificate which had an apostille and had been translated into French, as well as a letter d’hébergement saying I lived with Fred. Luckily, I was doing this process soon after being PACSed and had all these documents on hand. Proving you live in France usually all boils down to the same set.

Why is it Taking so Long?

  • The Short Answer: Assurance Maladie is a single government health agency which serves the entire country of France. Unsurprisingly, it can take them a long time to process documents, especially since you’re required to mail in your application.
  • The Long Answer: There are many reasons why an application can be deemed incomplete –– perhaps you sent an abbreviated version of your birth certificate, perhaps you forgot to sign a certain form, perhaps your dossier is inexplicably missing. This was the case for my first attempt, and after waiting three months and without a word from the health insurance office, I went back and discovered they had no record of my ever having filed for a numéro provisoire. Whenever possible, try to keep track of who you’re speaking to, their name and contact info, and any trace that could be helpful in tracking down your file. In my case, I simply resubmitted everything and waited a few more months. As you can see, it’s always worth it to follow up and be on top of these processes.

Bonus Question: What’s the difference between a temporary and permanent number?

Your temporary number allows you to be reimbursed for expenses, assuming to keep the form the doctor or pharmacy fills out, as well as any prescriptions, and mail them to assurance maladie. The reimbursement is done directly to your French bank account on file, though the entire process can take up to a month.

With a permanent number, you qualify for a carte vitale which acts as a debit card and means the French government is paying the up front costs, or at least the percentage of costs covered by the health care system.  You can create an online account on Ameli (the French government’s healthcare site) which means you no longer have to mail completed forms and proof of doctor visits to be reimbursed. That said, as I’ll talk about in a future article, being reimbursed doesn’t mean that one hundred percent of the costs are covered.

If, like me, and you’ve assumed that you don’t qualify for healthcare because you’re not French, I hope this article is helpful. As you can see, the process of applying is relatively straightforward and worth it from a financial sense and for the mental relief of being “covered.”

Photo is of my new card finally arriving!

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euros

“Free Money” for French Classes via FIFPL

Nine hundred euros?”  I was stunned.  The admin person for a French school in Paris had just called me back and told me that was the budget I had to spend on French classes.  I had spent a couple weeks sending some paperwork, stopping by their office to do an assessment, and just waiting.  It turns out that part of my social contributions as a small business owner in France goes into a fund which is then augmented by the government should I choose to use them.  I hadn’t made anywhere near to 900 euros of contributions into this particular fund, but the government said I was entitled to that much.  Great!

As an aside, this sort of program and goofy math necessarily anticipates most people not taking advantage of this benefit.  For all the talk about the benefits the French have, many of them, like this one, go unused.  Oh well, that’s not my problem.  I’m not usually going to pass up “free money” if the conditions attached are not onerous.

I had spent years seeing the humorous ads for Wall Street English in the Metro.  This is a well-established international company that teaches English and has an enormous office at Republique.  In the fine print at the bottom of the ads it always notes in French that these classes are eligible for reimbursement via CPF.

What is CPF?

This is a social program which stands for Compte Personnel de Formation.  Its overarching goal is to provide people with opportunities to train and study throughout their working life in France.  You earn credits for your CPF via your job.  It’s tied to you personally, not to your employer.  It’s available to private sector employees, the unemployed, and young people who are just entering the workforce.  You can use it to train for another career: for example, you could take coding classes, hoping to leave your current career for a new one as a programmer.  Or maybe you’re happy in your current job and you use the funds to take Japanese classes because you want to.  The amount of money available to you depends on the type of courses you are taking and whether those courses are considered “priority” or “non-priority.”

I had stupidly assumed that CPF was only for salarie types, never thinking that of course entrepreneurs would have their own corresponding scheme.  Such a scheme has existed since 1993, and it’s called FIFPL.

FIFPL

This stands for Fonds Interprofessionel de Formation des Professionnels Liberaux.  It’s essentially CPF but for us Prof Lib types.  I suppose I could use the funds for other classes, but I have no interest in coding (or Japanese, or anything else at the moment).  I decided to use the money for more French classes to progress to B1 and beyond.  The company I used in 2019 charged only 35€ per hour for private lessons in my home.  I wasn’t entirely happy with them so I am looking to spend my 2020 funds elsewhere, but the point is, these are “use or lose” funds so make sure you use them this calendar year.  I’m chagrined that I never used the 2016, 2017, or 2018 funds that I was entitled to (and had made a small contribution towards).

How to get your “free money”

  • go to URSSAF’s website to get your attestation
    • after you log in at Urssaf, go to the “attestations” menu and download the “Attestation de Contribution à la formation professionnelle.”  This form and its numbers won’t really mean anything to you, but the school you select will use this information to find out how much of a budget you are entitled to.
  • pick a school that accepts FIFPL money and email them this attestation along with the courses you are interested in
    • register on the FIFPL site: https://www.fifpl.fr or ask the school to help you establish an account
    • agree on a course of studies with the school
    • pay for the course upfront (for example, if the course costs 559€ and 500€ is what has been allocated for you then you are only out of pocket 59€)
    • complete the course, receive a certificate of completion from the school, and send it to FIFPL
  • get reimbursed a couple weeks later

Some years ago I wrote about the unbelievable work benefits that salaried workers in France have access to.  Turns out we small business owners have a few of our own. 🙂

Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

the challenges of French bureaucracy

Administrative Adventures in France

To maintain order in your bureaucratic life, you more or less have to stay home; go away for any length of time and you’re always likely to run foul of some agency or another.” – Michel Houellebecq, Submission

One of the realities of life in France is that you never really know when something is going to come from some agency that requires your (more or less) immediate attention.  Sometimes you expect it, like the tax forms that are released in May and expected to be filed in early summer, followed by the official government acknowledgement of the correctness of your sums in late September.  Sometimes these documents and declarations arrive on time, sometimes not, because, after all, this is France.

Taxes

But sometimes you’ll get something for an unexpected reason.  One such correspondence arrived towards the end of 2018.  It came in an envelope from the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques, which never contains good news, and can be paralyzing enough to some of my French friends that they tell me they set aside such envelopes to read a week or two in the future, when they have “gotten up the strength” for it.  I’m a “bad news first” sort of person so I will sometimes tear into the envelope on the way up the stairs from my mailbox.

This note contained a request for my taxe d’habitation as well as a “contribution a l’audiovisual public” which was a charge I was liable to if my building had a television antenna on top of it, even if I didn’t use the connection to that antenna.  I know, you can’t make it up.  But right away I knew that my taxe d’habitation would be less as in 2018 I was no longer living in the flashy and central 2nd, but in the quiet gardens and parks of the 19th.  I replied, letting them know that I had moved and to please tax me appropriately at my new address.

Keeping in mind I had lived in France over five years at that point, I should have known to include PROOF that I had moved.  Hence I was not all surprised to receive a response in late February from my note in January saying that if I might please provide my “etat des lieux” I might get the administrative result I wanted.  I’ve spoken about this document before and it also relates to another adventure later on in this article, but in case you don’t know, this is a document completed between you and your landlord that certifies you moved out on such and such a date and sometimes includes an inventory and notes of a walk through upon your departure.  This is a key document.  Thankfully, I keep all of these sorts of things, both in hard copy and digital form and happily sent it on to a M. Cavaro who had sent the reply to me.  All good, I thought.

The next exciting letter from the Direction Generale was actually two notices, one for my taxe d’habitation which was, as I had guessed, 33% less, as well as the silly TV tax, which was exactly the same.  But I had a majoration, which is a “late fee,” attached.  How could I have gotten a late fee when this is the first time I was properly billed, and only due to my own intervention?  Now, keep in mind I have lived here long enough to have a corrective French voice living inside my brain.  “Now, Stephen, let’s be fair, euh?  If you ‘ad told the mairie when you ‘ad moved into ze 19th, none of zis would ‘ave ‘appened!”  It’s true, there is a twisted logic to the administrative game, so I bowed to the logic of my internal Gallic voice, and went on playing it.

I composed a letter which explained that I had only recently received these billings, and included previous correspondence which documented the paper trail.  I also enclosed two cheques (that’s how Commonwealth countries and the French spell what we call “checks” in America) for the proper amounts, less the “majorations,” hoping my explanation would be sufficient.

In early June, seven months after this correspondence began, I was returned both cheques under a cover letter of a M. Guigues who let me know that as of 18 March 2019 neither of those charges applied to me, and I dumbly examined the cheques which were for more than 400 euros back in my hands.  Very rarely does the Direction Generale send you money you had written off but I wasn’t going to question it.

Carte Vitale

Last year those of us who were in the Profession Liberale classification (think solopreneurs) and paid an agency called La Ram for our health care costs were rolled into the CPAM agency, which covers all the rest of France.  It was part of the efficiency measures Macron had campaigned on, and I for one, was generally happy to have one regime instead of two.  That said, my Carte was programmed to bill La Ram for my health care charges.  The only problem was, when I went to an orthopedist and dentist in early February, the change had taken place.  I was supposed to stop by a pharmacy and get the card reprogrammed, but I had neglected to.

I thought this was solved by my orthopedist’s assistant, who punched away information into the handheld device which was asking her questions, probably forcing her to do what I should have done at the pharmacy. And, as usual, within a week, my reimbursement was in my account.  I went to the dentist the day after the orthopedist and for some reason or another his terminal sent the charge to La Ram, which, as a defunct agency, meant that the bill went nowhere.  I sent a letter to CPAM explaining this issue, with a terminal printout from my dentist, asking for reimbursement, but that was shortly before the entire covid shutdown here in France, so who knows what limbo it is in now?  As an extra precaution, I went to a pharmacy that same day and ensured that the card was, indeed, switched over to the new (for me) CPAM regime.

I then realized I needed to change over to the CPAM system online so I could track these charges and registered, as I was instructed, at Ameli.  It asked me to create a login and at the bottom showed an option called “FranceConnect”.  What is FranceConnect?  It’s a service that allows you to automatically log into one of your government accounts using information from one of the other accounts you already have a login for.  To put it in US consumer terms, it’s like the “login with Facebook” feature that allows you to bypass filling in all the normal fields when you establish a new account somewhere.  I was incredulous, as this is very convenient, but why fight the future?

The shock would continue.  After establishing my account I found out that there was an iOS app for health insurance which I could log into using facial recognition.  In the app I could see what charges had gone through, when, for what amounts, and when my reimbursements were sent.  I also took a moment to request my EU “Carte Vitale” which was something I could use for emergencies within the EU.  That took about four days to arrive, despite them warning it might take two weeks.

Office Depot

I recently took the chance to grab some office supplies and with free delivery from Office Depot on order for purchases of 75€ and above, I added some toner to my purchases of batteries and pens.  The very next day a package arrived.  I stood outside the vehicle as my socially-distant delivery driver handed me the package and told me “there’s another box coming, this is only one” in French.  I looked down at the delivery receipt and saw that yes, this had been marked one of two.  Fine, I thought.  I understood just-in-time logistics and thought that perhaps the toner would be coming from a different warehouse or even via the mail.

That afternoon I got a follow up phone call from Office Depot asking how my delivery went.  I told him fine, except that there was an item missing, using the meandering flaneur French I use when trying to describe something I consider technical using everyday terminology.  I heard keys tapping away, “C’est noté,” he responded amiably, and told me that if nothing arrived in the next 24 hours to give them a call or email, then kindly gave me the details for both.  The next day I sent an email and the day after I made a phone call.  That day I was told by a recording that I should call back during normal office hours, listing a closing time of 18h30.  I looked down at my phone.  It was 17h05.  I chalked up the inconsistency to changed corona hours.  I tried again the next day, but much earlier, and the person who answered had that smooth, comforting customer service voice (what former FBI negotiator Chris Voss calls the “late night FM DJ voice”) and I almost wanted to prolong the interaction to get just a bit more zen for my Friday.

He told me that I should hear something in the next day and that my toner would be with me soon.  When I pressed for precision, he simply said, “as soon as possible.”  Alas, that was contradicted by the email I received later that day from someone in the same department who told me that the item was backordered and that is why it was not sent.  She wanted to know what I would like done.  I asked for a refund and she complied, letting me know that it would arrive within 48 hours.  We’ll see if I need to follow up, but as you can see, even in private corporations in France, the left hand sometimes has absolutely no idea what the right hand is doing.

Groupama

I’ve often recommended Groupama for renter’s insurance over the years, but after 3-4 consecutive incidents in which the franchise (read “deductible,” my fellow Americans) was higher than the cost of the repair, I figured that I didn’t need the renter’s insurance any longer after moving from the 2nd to the 19th.  I went in person into my agency, as instructed by the kind lady on the telephone who told me no, I couldn’t cancel with her by phone.  When I repeated the story there, they said, “That’s fine, send us a letter requesting that.”  I’m sure you can guess that despite my years in France, I laughed.

I calmly explained the only reason I was all the way here, in the 17th, was because this was the arrondissement I first moved into in 2013, and I was here because one of her colleagues had instructed me to come here to cancel the insurance in person.  Insert Gallic shrug.  “In any case, monsieur, we need a letter with these elements included to show why you are cancelling.”  I’m cancelling because I moved out of that apartment, I replied.  “Do you have proof of that?”  I laughed, remembering that my word is insufficient in this country.  Proof is what matters.

Suspicious, I sent a letter “suivie” (which is simple tracking, not registered mail) with all the proper wording and completely forgot about it.  A year passed, at the end of which I received an email from Groupama regarding my new billing schedule.  Not only had they not refunded me for the months up to the time I received this notice, they continued to charge me, and had eaten up my billing credit.  Now, they wanted to bill me again.  “C’est suffit,” I resignedly chortled, and printed out the billing schedule and took the metro to the agency.

I began as nicely as possible to explain the entire situation.  After politely hearing my explanation, the young man at the office told me I needed to send a letter.  I stopped him mid-explanation, presenting my tracking number for the letter.  His brows furrowed and he went back into my account.  “Hmmm,” then he turned the laptop around so that I could see it.  “Est-ce de toi?” he asked.  There I could see what was clearly a scan of my long lost letter, sent almost one year prior.  He apologetically U-turned from his previous recommendation that I write a letter and as he banged away at the keys I understood his rapid French to say that, essentially, the request had been scanned in but not completed, and that he would ensure that would happen, and to follow up with him in the next 48 hours.  A bit taken back by such a reversal, I asked about the money owed from the cancellation.  He frowned again, then said he would do what he could.

I did indeed email him exactly 48 hours later, CCing the colleague he told me that was in charge of such requests.  A week after that I received a final cancellation notice, but no word about the 175 some euros I was owed.  Grateful to have had it put behind me, I put it in the collective mental “gain/loss” account whenever one decides how to respond to administrative injustice.  Would it be worth my time to chase down this money?  Would I even get it should I put in the effort, given how much it had taken just to cancel my account and stop them charging me more?  Groupama had always been responsive when I was a client in the past, but was almost entirely useless when I was no longer a client.  This brings me to the final point which I alluded to in a previous article about cancelling my Societe Generale bank account.

“It’s not worth it”

In America we often love to tell stories about amazing and dreadful customer service.  Indeed, one of the more recent ones in my repertoire is, “Why I’ll never fly Qatar Airlines again,” but that’s another story for another time.  For us as Americans, these are parables of good vs. evil.  The agent who goes out of her way to make sure we get on a flight, or get that corner suite, or allow us to return an item, she is good!  The airline that lost our bags, the hotel that didn’t have our reservation and was sold out, the store that won’t accept our return, they are evil!  These parables reinforce a quintessential American value: the customer is always right.

No equivalent value exists in France, though I have noted in the past that this doesn’t mean there isn’t customer service here.  It’s just based on a different set of assumptions which live cheek-by-jowl with the administrative realities I’ve outlined above.  So, when the French complain about how terrible their bank is, or how worthless their internet company is, or how bad their phone service can be, it’s simply to vent their spleen, not to ask you for advice.  I long ago learned that the proper response is not to ask, “Why don’t you change?” but simply to nod my head in solidarity.  The answer is simple: “it’s too hard.”  The French in question would have to go through the (relative) administrative adventures I’ve outlined above, which also includes going changing all the direct debit (autopay, my fellow countrymen) information for all the companies that access that bank account, which for an average French person, is perhaps in the dozen.  Why do that when you can just leave things status quo, and have one more reason to complain?

So much of the French economy trudges along in inefficiency and mediocrity simply because the French cannot be bothered to change providers.  While the customer isn’t always right in France, vigilant customers do get what they want, in the end, as long at they are willing to put in at least double the effort they would normally have to in America.

As with quicksand, the more you struggle against the realities of France and its administrative adventures, the more you sink.  Instead, accept the realities and dutifully trudge on.  You’ll still get to your destination in the end.  And remember, you’re living in one of the most amazing places in the world.  Consider it part of the price of admission.

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Change Your Address? Not So Fast!

It didn’t seem that long ago that I penned an article explaining the few steps necessary to change your address.  So, as a “veteran” of the process, I thought it would be just as simple to do it again.  Not exactly.

The Post Office

As I did the last time I wanted to change my address, I showed up at La Poste with a copy of an EDF from my new address as well as proof of my old address.  The clerk helping me seemed fairly new to the whole process, and after 15 minutes of typing in my information, he asked his supervisor to certify the form, and the supervisor squints at the computer monitor and says in French, “Oh, sir, this is much easier to do at home on your computer.”  “Why would I do that at home, I’m already here,” I responded in French.  Then he did it.  The shrug.  “It’s better,” he said, and walked away.

No need to get upset, I thought.  I just walked home and went to the La Poste website.  I laughed out loud at the tagline it sported: “Simplifier la vie.”  Oh yeah, you’re making it really simple.  I clicked through to get to this page.  I clicked the 6-month option to find out that I was required to create a La Poste account to do this.  Remember to smile, I thought.  It’s just France being French.  I created the account, filled out the contract for the change, paid, and got a confirmation.  At the bottom of the confirmation, in fine print, it told me that I needed to take this printout, with a copy of my ID, to the post office, to certify the contract.

I looked at the Paddington Bear on my desk with disbelief, asking him to commiserate.  But, remembering where I lived, within a couple days I duly showed up as required and two minutes after I got to the front of the line my contract was certified.  But, that was just my personal change of address.

INSEE

You might remember that I did a post on the alphabet soup of agencies that entered my life once I switched over to Profession Liberale.  The most important one is INSEE.  Their database serves as the clearing house for all the other agencies connected to your professional French life.  Your postal change of address is insufficient for INSEE.  You essentially need to do a professional change of address, using this exciting form.  Send that in to INSEE, or if you’re like me and like to outsource things like this, you can simply ask your business accountants to file it for you before or after tax season.  For a fee, of course.

The Banks

I’ll start with the easy one first.  My French business bank is BNP Paribas.  I opened it post-FATCA, but I had been in France for years at that point and I had a working visa, so despite the extra forms I had to fill out as a “US person” the account was opened without question on my first visit.  Additionally, BNP Paribas has amazing tools (disclosure: I’ve done some contract work for them so I really got some insight into how tech-forward they are) and technology and it showed in this simple desire to change my address.

I was able to change my address inside the online banking suite within two minutes.  I was also able to change agencies.  I then ordered a new chequebook with my new address.  This all happened with zero friction and to be honest, a fair amount of (pleasant) surprise on my part.

Not so with Societe Generale, holders of my personal bank account, and one of my very first “paperwork” experiences in France.  They required me to go to my original branch, in the 17th, with proof of my new address (EDF bill) that was from the last 90 days as well as ID, etc.  This only permitted me to change my address.  There’s no way to do it online.  “And, may I change my agency, too?” I asked in French with a smile, thinking, maybe it will be that easy.  “Non, monsieur,” she gravely replied to the lady who had dutifully stamped my address change dossier just moments before.  “You’ll need to go to that branch and request the change yourself.”  I laughed.  She was a bit bemused, but I gave her a smile and a bon journee and out I went.

I live in the 19th now and there’s a Societe Generale very close to my house, and I went there to request an agency change.  “You have to make an appointment,” the nice young man told me.  Of course I have to make an appointment, I thought.  It’s not like you’re my bank and have been for the last four years.  To be fair, this is simply politesse.  The new branch wanted to “get to know me” so they could serve me better, and to do that I’d need to come by, have a coffee, etc.  Fine with me.  I made an appointment and brought everything I thought I would need (and as usual, even stuff I didn’t think I would need) and fifteen minutes into our appointment he was on the phone with someone higher up asking about “US persons.”  I knew he was discussing FATCA stuff, but I was a bit puzzled as SG had been filing my FATCA paperwork for years now.  “I need you to bring your French tax return,” he said.  I handed it to him, from the pile of “stuff they may ask me for.”  “Okay, give me a week or so and I’ll get back to you.”  A week came and went.  No word.  I called and left a message.  No return.

I reached out to a banker I knew at my old branch in the 17th and asked her what the hold-up was.  She made a couple calls and found out that the branch manager at the branch I wanted to transfer to didn’t want to accept an American into her branch.  The implication was obvious to me: she would have to do all my paperwork and be responsible for me and she didn’t want that merci beaucoup.  I laughed as the banker who had chased up the intelligence told me about her refusal.  “But you’re the same company,” I switched into English as I didn’t have the French to properly express my confusion.  “I know, I will talk to my branch manager to talk to her.”  That was four weeks ago, and even the friendly banker seems to have forgotten how to reply to my email.

I’ve decided to let it be.  There are only a few functions that require you to visit your branch (I’ve detailed a couple above!), and that branch in the 17th is in a lovely neighborhood, my very first one in Paris, and I can always find other useful things to do if I need to head out there.  But it’s just an example of two banks with differing approaches.  One, stuck in revered (and inefficient) Gallican ways, the other, daring to be a bit more Anglo-Saxon and customer-friendly.  One will receive my undisputed recommendation when friends ask where to open a bank account.  The other?  Well…let’s see if I ever get a call or email back.

As for that pesky French bank account question, I’ve been doing some research to get more updated information to you than I furnished in my previous articles here and here.  As an intermediate free solution with minimal paperwork, you could open a Transferwise Borderless account.  That will get you a euro-denominated IBAN as well as a free debit card so that you can start enjoying the privileges of a French/European bank account right away.  I’ve discussed Transferwise as an easy way to send or transfer money to France (I think it’s by far the cheapest way to send money to France) in the past but that assumes a European/French account to transfer funds to, and I wrote that article before Transferwise created their multi-denominational Borderless account (you can hold up to 40 different currencies), which is awesome (I have one as a backup in case anything ever happens to my French accounts).  Once my research is complete, I hope to have some updated options and scripts for you to carry into a bank with you to open your own French account.

In the meantime, remember to smile and consider: this is France.  This is how they do things here.  Love it or leave it 🙂

Metro Bureaucracy

I was standing with a number of my fellow passengers that had just disembarked at the Saint-Germain-des-Pres metro station.  There were a number of ticket inspectors in front of me scanning the Navigo passes or simple tickets of the passengers.  Were we on the Metro legally or not?  They were there to find out.

My thoughts on fare cheats in general, and on those in Paris in particular, are for another day and another article.  Suffice to say there are always at least half a dozen people receiving tickets of between 35€ (you have an unused metro ticket in your possession) and 50€ (you have nothing) fines.  If you’re using a friend’s Navigo (we all have our pictures printed on them) you’ll get a 70€ fine.  And those are the “on the spot” payment costs, and yes, they do take credit cards.  It’s more if you pay later, and even more if you pay that fee past a certain date.

So why am I telling you this?  Obviously I had an intact Navigo (I’m on the annual pass plan), right?  Yes, except when my inspector tried to scan it she had a bit of trouble.  “Follow me,” she said in French.  We went to the main ticket window and they verified that my pass was indeed valid and that I had scanned in correctly from the last station.  “I’m going to get you a new card, this chip has worn out – it’ll be at your home metro station, which is?” Her French was fairly fast but by the time she stopped speaking I had put it all together and told her, “Reaumur-Sebastopol.”  “Okay, so I’ll have it there for you this evening.  In the meantime, here’s a day pass good for all 5 zones.”  I smiled, shrugged my shoulders, and verified, “Pensez-vous qu’il pret ce soir?”  “Definitely, perhaps even in an hour,” she replied.

True to form, I got a text message telling me that my Navigo was waiting for me at my home metro station about an hour later.  I was flabbergasted by the efficiency of, of all agencies, the RATP.  Some time later I got there and showed them my text message and asked for my Navigo.  It was indeed there, but then commenced a 15 minute ordeal for the woman who tried to activate my card.  She called three different colleagues asking them about “a little checkbox that won’t click” in my profile on her screen and then asked me in French if I was in a hurry.  I nodded.  “Well, if you want to come back before midnight…” “Ici?” I interrupted.  “Non,” “not here, and not me, but my colleague in Les Halles.”  My head swam as I thought about which window to go to in the largest metro station in the world, Les Halles.  “Which exit?” I asked.  “9.”  I thanked her and some hours later I wandered into Les Halles and her colleague had not had a card printed for me but used my text message to create a new pass for me.  I tested it, and it worked, and I went home.

The next morning, I got a text message saying that my card was ready at Reaumur-Sebastopol.  On my way into the office I stopped in and told them that I had already gotten a new card made the night before, and after a bit of checking, he marked that I had picked up a card and tossed the extra card made for me in the trash.

All this is to say kudos to the RATP, who are proactively trying to fix a problem: updating people’s defective Navigos at an inspection point, and even making it easy, using a day pass and text messaging.  But even when they make it easy, it isn’t necessarily frictionless.  And that’s okay.  Be patient.  It’s France.  Why are you in a rush anyway?

The image is of a Paris Metro ticket from the WWI era.

Changing Your Mailing Address in France

Most Americans are used to being able to go online and for the cost of $1 (USPS says this is for identity verification) and the time it takes you to fill out the necessary online form you can change your address for 12 months for no additional charge.  I’m sure you can guess, the French have no reason to make it that easy for you.

You need to bring:

  • Mail from the old address
  • Proof of your new address (a lease or QDL would be fine)
  • Money – a full year of forwarding costs 26,50€, 6 months about half that (you can pay cash or CB).
  • ID – passport or CDS is fine

When you arrive you will also need to fill out a form recapitulating all the above information.  After you hand them everything and pay, you’re done.  The process took about five minutes from start to finish and it only took that long because I took two minutes to fill out that form.  They recommend that you come at least five days before you want the forwarding to begin.

This visit was occasioned by my old concierge in the 17th telling me that she was leaving France and as such would no longer hold my mail and packages still going to that address for my monthly pickup and nostalgia coffee in my old haunts in the 17th.  I’ve lived in the 2nd for three years now so that tells you how long she’s been doing this great service for me (and getting treats for doing so!).  My concierge in the 2nd was aloof for my first year in the building but we’ve become fast friends as I’ve passed on to her old luggage I no longer wanted.  Oh well, all things have to go at some point, and it was nice to learn about this rather simple piece of administrivia.

Getting My French Carte Vitale and Going to the Doctor…Finally

It felt futile. I knew the French didn’t operate this way, but I was feeling worn out and was reverting to American habits.  I was writing, in French, on a post-it note, the following message:

I am very happy to send another yet another check to cover my health insurance charges, but I still have not received my Carte Vitale.”

I knew as I sealed the envelope that some French functionary processing my cheque would see this note, laugh scornfully, then peel it off and place it delicately into the circular file.

So you can imagine my surprise when, one week later, I received a letter in the mail letting me know the only thing missing to process my Carte Vitale was a photo and my signature, after I had verified some information they had on me.  It is one of those times I was quite happy to be wrong.

This was the only part of my paperwork processing that had gone sideways as I left visitor status and transitioned into my profession liberale life.  But, since I’m not a frequenter of doctors anyway, it simply remained a slight irritation.  When four months had passed without any sign of my Carte Vitale, I made a copy of my translated birth certificate, as well as a copy of the original, and sent it to RSI with a pleasant cover letter.  No reply.  Another four months passed.  That’s when the wry (but polite) post-it note was written, which just goes to show you that every now and then an unexpected tactic might just work.

* * *

The visit to the doctor felt like an interstitial in an Inspector Clousseau skit.  I had crowdsourced a good doctor from my Paris network, one who had a decent command of English, though I made the appointment in French.  I made the mistake of not asking how to find the place (surely an address is good enough?) and when I walked into the vestibule of the apartment building that was the address for my doctor, I searched in vain for signage that would indicate my desired destination.

Not quite willing to admit defeat yet, I decided to climb the stairs (surely the doors will be marked?).  But by the time I reached the 3rd floor (American 4th) I realized that this was a fool’s way to figure things out.

Humbled, I turned around and went all the way back down the stairs.  Thankfully, on the ground floor, a resident was having her door locksmithed and I asked if she knew where the “medecin” was (on a side note, “doctor” is one of those words in French that doesn’t change ending whether you put a “le” or “la” in front of it).  She responded insouciantly (as if she gets this all the time) that “all the doctors are on the fifth floor.”

Bingo.

I took the elevator up to the fifth floor, found her office and checked in, roughly ten minutes after my original appointment time.  Ten minutes after that, I heard a gentle, “Monsieur Heiner, S.V.P” from the hallway and went in.

Her room was cheery and welcoming and full of books.  I felt like I was in a comfy study, not a doctor’s office.  She took out a clean sheet of paper, wrote my name down at the top, drew a straight and clean black line under it, then looked up at me, smiled, and asked how she could help me.

Puis-je parle avec vous en anglais?” I queried.  She smiled down her glasses at me.  “Yes, of course.”  “I just don’t have the vocabulary to speak well about my health in French.”  She nodded.

Ten minutes later she was asking for my Carte Vitale and 40€.  The carte goes into a card reader just like a chip-and-pin card, but with no pin.  “Cash or cheque?” she asked.  “Oh, you don’t take bank card?”  “Non,” she gave the slightest of pouts and shook her head.  “Is this the case for all medical appointments?” I asked.  “Non, it is a choice,” she said.  I had just enough cash on me: “You cleaned me out,” I laughed.

On the way out she handed me a form which designated her as my “medecin traitant” which in American parlance is “primary care physician.”  Getting this form to La Ram/RSI would make sure I got properly reimbursed.

I was off to the lab after that for some testing and I thought I had understood her directions about how to get there (it was in the same structure, just down a different hallway) and seven minutes and a few dead ends later I was in front of the receptionist at the lab.  Twenty minutes and roughly ten glasses of water later, I was prepared for my lab work.  When it came time to draw my blood, the nurse gazed at all the vials which had been set aside for me (around 11) and asked if there was a reason I needed all the tests.  I responded in French that I hadn’t been to a general doctor for 2-3 years and I figured why not check on everything?  We both laughed.

I went back to the waiting room and five minutes later the receptionist called me.  A swipe of my Carte Vitale and 80€ on my bank card later, and I was done.  I went home, dropped the form for my new “medecin traitant” in the mail, and went back to my day.

Two weeks later, to the day, an envelope arrived in my mailbox.  I had completely forgotten that I had some money coming back.  There was a check for 15€ against the 40€ I had paid for the visit, as if even 40€ was “too much” (as an aside here I’ve mentioned in the past that you can acquire a “mutuelle” policy that tops up even this copay so you are 100% reimbursed all the time, but I don’t go to the doctor enough to add that extra cost to my budget).

My first encounter with the French medical system: easy, painless, friendly, efficient, and inexpensive.  Against the roughly 700€ a year I pay to cover my national health insurance, not too bad.

A Trip to the Police Station

I apologize for the very long break from the blog.  It was an amazing summer – my second spent working in the spectacular beauty of Switzerland (here’s one of my favorite images from that time).  I kept a journal, but didn’t have Parisian reflections to share with you.  But I am back in my beloved city and regular programming will resume 🙂

On my travels I was stupid to lose my wallet, which contained things that were by and large replaceable, but which contained my French identity card, which allows me to travel passport-free inside the Schengen area.  For those who face the calamity of losing a wallet, in addition to shutting down all your cards and getting new ones – you need to go to the main Police station of the arrondissement you live in – ideally this address should match the one on file with OFII.  I have said this before but do everything you can to maintain a consistent address throughout the immigration process – you’ll be surprised that many gardiennes are willing to keep your mail for you even after you’ve moved out – if, of course, you maintained a positive relationship with him/her (who am I kidding, there’s no such thing as a male gardienne in Paris!).

Once you’ve identified which station is yours, bring your passport and/or another form of ID (remember the rule of always overwhelming the French with documentation, thereby removing their ability to intimidate you).  If you show up around 15h00 on a Friday (as I did last week), the whole process should take about 5 minutes.  You will need to clarify whether you lost it or it was stolen.  If it’s the latter, be prepared for a lot more in terms of questions (where did you lose it, what else did you lose, etc?).

You will then obtain a “récépissé de déclaration” which will allow you to apply for a new identity card.  Since I’m only 2 months away from renewal I’m not going to drop the 100 some euros to get a replacement but will simply wait to get a new one when I get my new visa.

What would you like me to write about this next year?  #YearThree in Paris begins December 11th.  I have so much to share with you but am also happy to write about your thoughts/questions/concerns.

Featured photo comes from Daxis on Flickr.  Labeled for reuse.