I tried not to get emotional in front of the lady who had just handed me the card. I looked at the date that it was valid until: 17/09/2021. It wasn’t the right moment to reflect – there were a lot of people behind me in line, and this was just a chance for me to verify my identity, hand over the payment, and collect the card, which I did.
It was when I walked out of the prefecture on Ile de la Cite that I took a moment to reflect and process my thoughts. The reason I nearly got emotional as I was picking up the card was because I had no roadmap to this outcome when I first arrived in France in 2013. There were no blogs or guides on how to get a long-term stay visa, much less the citizenship-path visa which I now hold, and as someone who had owned businesses and hadn’t held a “job” for decades, I really didn’t know how my journey would progress in the Old World. I’ve said before, not just in articles here, but to friends as well, that if I had known how difficult it would be to build an entirely new life and way of being before I got here, I might not have come. Yet, I look back across the challenges and difficulties and can genuinely say it was worth it. But I can only say that now. I know that homesickness beat some, inability to earn income beat others, and the difficulty of adapting not just to life in a densely-populated city, but in one so sui generis as Paris, beat a few more. But at the dawn of my fifth year in my dream city, I knew with deep satisfaction that I had finished this first part of the race.
Credit where it is due
I want to pay particular credit for this renewal to Jean Taquet. Some weeks before my appointment I had gone to his office for a “practice run.” This is one of the many services that he provides: Jean would pretend to be an official of the prefecture, and I would present my dossier as if I were at my real appointment. He would then critique my presentation and I would take notes on what needed to be fixed, if anything. While he was happy with most of my paperwork, he was particularly unhappy with the income going into my business. “They aren’t going to like that,” he said in his usual grave manner when he sees a problem. I repeated to him what I had told my accountant some weeks previously when she had expressed surprise at the low income: I wanted to limit my taxable exposure until I had a better sense of how the social charges mapped out across a calendar year. Jean shook his head and reminded me that my one year visa was a trial – they wanted to see how I was getting on and if I seemed to be doing well, then they could possibly give me a 4-year card instead of just another one-year renewal. “Can you ask your clients to pay your French company instead of your American one?” I nodded in reply.
I had delayed this action for some time, because it would mean invoicing in euros instead of dollars, which would involve a bit of explaining, and it would pave the road for TVA charges in the future. He advised me to invoice as much as possible between now and the appointment, and to have a letter explaining the lag in billing (US clients were reluctant to change to billing in euros, etc.). I went to a few of my clients, explained how changing the billing would help my immigration process and they agreed to the change. What had been a division between countries (I had been billing my American clients via my American corporation and my European clients via my French company) was erased and I started billing more of my clients via the French company. Those invoices and a cover letter explaining the rapid increase in billings were a key part of my dossier.
So merci, Jean for the tough love and good advice during our practice session.
Jour-J (D-Day equivalent)
From the start this visit was not like any of my other previous visits to the Prefecture. Profession Liberale is handled separately from the visitor renewals, in a new office on the 1st floor (American 2nd floor) of the building. Instead of confronting the usual jam-packed standing-room-only room of 30 people that I had each time for four years, I came into a relaxed, sunny room with room for at least 40 but only half-occupied. My appointment was for 11h00, which meant I showed up at 10h00 (I’ve said this before, but always show up early to get seen close to “on time”). As usual, you present your appointment and paperwork in order to get a number.
An hour and a half later, or 30 minutes after my original appointment time, my number was called and I walked through a door to an very large room with roughly 10 different guichets (booths) for various cases. About half of them were in use. I sat down and exchanged bonjours with the gentleman who had my dossier. He flipped through everything, quietly speaking to himself and making notes. About 5 minutes later he told me he would review the file with his boss and call me back.
Thirty minutes later my number came up again and sitting on the desk of my guichet was a recipisse. “Great!” I thought, not really thinking to ask how long it was good for. As I was signing he said it was for a four-year card. I was thunderstruck. “A four year card!” I thought to myself, trying to keep my facial expression stoic, as if I had expected this outcome, as he continued, telling me that I would get a text message letting me know when I could pick up my card. “Text message!” I marveled. It wasn’t just the building that was getting renovated and upgraded!
Sure enough, roughly one month after my appointment I received a text message telling me that one month later I could come by and pick up my card, after I had dropped 269 euros for its manufacture. Now, before you start getting upset at the price, realize that for a 4-year card, this worked out to 67,25€ per year, which was by far the cheapest visa renewal I’d ever done.
He handed me a brochure that described how to buy my fiscal stamps from…the internet!
French bureaucracy discovers electronic payment
Even the process of buying fiscal stamps has been modernized. I can recall my first few months in Paris, embarrassed at the line of people (smokers anxious to pick up relief for their addiction) behind me at a tabac, as the owner counted out the proper amount of old fashioned stamps, dating back to the good old days of the ancien regime. Those days were gone. Now, all you had to do was go to the city’s website, provide your name and email address, then pay (using your debit or credit card) and you would get a PDF with a QR code(!) on it. This, along with the mandate to possibly move the entire country, starting in 2019, to taxation at paycheck (you would no longer have to file and pay annually, but would pay throughout the year, whenever you receive your paycheck) makes me feel like France is entering the space age, relatively speaking!
Even as I write this article I’m shocked by the idea that I won’t have to go to the prefecture for four years. No more recipisses, no more scheduling vacations and trips around appointments at Cite. So, while I won’t be able to regale you with administrative stories anymore (in four more years I will be putting together a citizenship dossier, not worrying about another visa renewal), I will be telling you more about life in France, and in Paris particularly, as I move on to other things, like buying property or (gasp!) hiring employees. What would you like to hear about? Share in the comments below.
As a coda to the story I didn’t realize when I got my text message informing me of the date of pickup, that it would be Thanksgiving Day in America. Needless to say, I am grateful – not just for a successful outcome for these first 4 years of the journey, but the ability to share the ups and downs with you, and hear all the fascinating stories of your journeys as well.
The picture is a map of the reorganized prefecture following some renovations. When you come to pick up your CDS now it’s the first door on the left, not the last door, as it was for all the years I had come before.