Just one week after I’d written our new address on the envelope at the French Embassy visa office there it was in our PO box, the reply to our request for a Long Stay Visa. My hands were shaking. I couldn’t believe how nervous I was to open a simple envelope. Not because I thought that we didn’t meet the requirements, we did, but because everything was riding on this one reply. We already had our plane tickets, yearlong lease, French bank account, etc. There was no plan “B”. And no, after spending hours preparing the paper work our visit to the visa office didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. I stepped outside the Post Office, took a deep breath and opened the envelope. Our visas were ready to pick up.
The consulate website provides a wealth of information on requirements and what documents you need to submit for the various types of visas, so my intention here is to give a personal account of what is not on the website. First of all the visa office looks more like a small DMV than an embassy office – rows of plastic chairs bolted to the floor, high tables along the wall furnishing forms, pens, and blank paper, and most importantly the counter of French officials safely behind thick glass. Ours is the first name called of the morning. We walk up to the counter and in a crisp French accent the official behind the glass starts down his check list asking for the various forms and documents. Application, passport, passport photos, no problem. Proof of residency in DC, OK. “Statement of what you will be doing in France.” “What? No we don’t have a statement.” I don’t point out that it wasn’t on the website list. I must have read that list a dozen times to ensure that we had everything exactly right but that is not possible when dealing with bureaucracies. The French official kindly informs us, amplified for all the room to hear through the thick glass, that there is blank paper and pens available at the back of the room and we can turn in our statements when we pay our fees. We return to our seats and hastily write out our plans for France. I’ve been thinking and planning for this trip for so long that I have difficulty condensing my thoughts into a few simple lines in just a few minutes time. Would it be so hard to include this requirement on the website list?
Our number comes up and having ripped up my first two versions I still don’t have my statement ready. “That’s OK, you can hand it in when they call you to review your documents.” We pay our fees and she takes our picture. She takes our picture? Then what’s with the long list of example passport photos demonstrating acceptable and not acceptable photos? Don spent hours trying to produce an at-home photo without too much shadow. And why do they require a photo to be turned in with the application anyway, if they are just going to take their own for the visa?
We are given a number and wait to be called again. I’m still frantically writing my statement and finally finish just before our number appears on the board. We hand the statements under the glass to a third official. She looks at them quickly and checks off another box on her form. “Why don’t they show this check off list on the website?” I wonder. She then reviews the list for missing items. “You’re retired? Do you have proof of retirement?” “ No,” we reply trying to explain our financial situation in clear enough terms without saying anything too personal, conscience that the entire room of applicants can hear every word we say. In the end she says she’ll look over the statements and email us if she needs additional information. Otherwise we’ll receive a letter within two to three weeks letting us know if our application has been approved. I leave the embassy grounds with an uneasy feeling, but hopeful that everything will work out.
What we learned from the process:
- As US citizens we needed only 1 copy of our passport identification page and one copy for each applicant of each of the required documents.
- Do have a copy of your marriage license ready. They did ask us for it.
- They don’t do anything with the birth certificate translation mentioned on the website. They may or may not be required when you finish the visa process in France.
- Have ready some proof of income such as a tax return rather than just bank statements.
- Write a statement purpose concerning what you will be doing in France.
Although this is just one experience at the French Embassy in DC, I hope this give you an idea of what to expect. Note that the various consulate offices in the US are region specific. Thus, you can only submit an application at the embassy in DC if you live in Delaware, DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia or West Virginia. Be aware that different regional offices may have different requirements. And good luck!