Basically what it feels like to deal with the French government
I thought I had published this post but it seems I never hit the publish button 🤦🏻♀️ And I really want to make a post about this because it is such a mysterious process that someone on the internet needs to bring it up.
This information is almost impossible to find and I'm going to try to explain it as best I can because even I don't really understand it. I've tried. I've searched. I want to understand, but it’s one of those “for why?” situations.
There are certain circumstances where you are in kind of a purgatory. Let's say you are waiting on the decision of your residency permit, or you lost your residency permit, but you want to travel. Most normal people won’t travel because it’s just smarter not to, but the French government is also taking 90+ days to reach decisions and sometimes you want to freely travel in this timeframe. In this instance you have to apply for a "Visa de Retour" or Return Visa. I know what you're thinking because I thought it too; why do I have to apply for a visa when I have a carte de sejour? The answer? This is France, nothing makes sense.
Finding this information was so very hard. First I contacted the Administration Etrangers. All of this is now done online so by "contacted" I mean I asked a question in my portal. For 6 weeks they did not understand, or could not understand, I don't know why, but we went back and forth.
First, there is no such thing as a récépissé anymore. They don't exist. They existed once upon a time, but that information is now out of date and with the new online portal system, they are no more. Now you wait for your decision, and if the deadline of your validity has passed, then you can request an attestation de prolongation de l’instruction (ADP, or certificate of extension of the instruction in English). Beware that you can only request this after your file is past the process stage. If you file is still in this:
Then the "instructor" has not looked at your file, and therefore you will not be entitled to anything. Yes, I know, it makes no sense because you can be in the above stage for months (one girl claims she’s been in this stage for 2 years 😒).
Let's say you need to travel during this period. That's where the visa de retour comes into play. "The return visa to France is a long-stay visa, issued on an exceptional basis, to people who can prove that they have a residence permit in France". And this is more specifically if you are traveling outside the Schengen zone.
Here's where it gets more complicated. The return visa is a long stay visa. How it exists while you have a residency permit doesn't make any sense to me, but it does exist. They say "exceptional basis" so things like you had a residency permit but it expired, you lost your residency permit (how?) or it was stolen, or you had a receipt showing your residency was in process but that too expired. This can happen if you've been granted one but haven't been able to accept it (you need to make an appointment to pick it up at the Prefecture and as mentioned previously that process can be difficult). They truly are exceptional circumstances because most people don't leave France while their residency permit is in limbo.
I found out about this because I was traveling before the end of my expiry date, but I would still be out of the country after. I had diligently put in my renewal 3 months before the expiry date. The system even tells you the exact soonest date you may apply and I applied on that day. But this is France, and nothing goes to plan, and they were clearly behind because 3 months later and it was still in review.
Everyone told me don't worry about it, but I never put one past the French so I started getting my ducks in a row as soon as possible. It never hurts to be prepared.
For 6 weeks I went back and forth with administration etrangers. They weren't making sense. When they told me I had to apply for a visa I was like are you mad?. So I reached out to Washington. When in doubt speak to Americanized French people.
It was weird because I hadn't heard from them for a whole week. They're usually really good about answering within 24 hours, but I didn't hear from them until a whole 7 days later and they were messaging me on a Sunday at 6am.
We went back and forth for like 3 hours but they were amazing. VFS didn't have any appointments available so they offered to reach out to VFS to get me an appointment. I didn't know they could do that. They also promised to keep on VFS if they didn't reach out within 24 hours. Imagine? The French government in France would never.
And sure enough the next day I received an email from VFS stating the French Consulate had reached out and requested they make an exception for me. VFS even said come whenever you like (usually they are strict about their appointments). Clearly it helps to have the Consulate do all of the talking because there is no way I would have gotten a meeting.
I wish I could give you a happy ending but in the end the visa process took too long and I flew into France anyway. I was all prepared to show Border Control the Prefecture's website, but the good thing about being American is they never check anything. They just let you waltz right in.
So now you know. This is an actual visa. It’s exists, and it seems completely pointless. But, again, be prepared for anything. Also know that that preparation sometimes includes spending $170, for what is essentially a sticker for your passport, that you never end up getting, and went through for nothing #TheMoreYouKnow.
I actually did eventually get the visa (when I was already back in Paris), and even though it was a "long stay" and only lasts for "3 months" (according to the paper included from the French Consulate), the expiration date was 4 months from the time it was issued. So bizarre. They also asked that you let the Prefecture know... so essentially you have to register like you did the first visa. I guess you get stacked residencies? Who knows, the whole process is weird.
These are some extremely helpful links if you are curious about your carte status: