You may have seen on my social media accounts that I recently changed my status in France, one that now allows me to work full time and will make my stay here much more stable. The new visa I’m on is called a vie privée et familiale, which translates to “private and family life”, and is based on a number of factors- namely, the fact that we’re PACSed and have lived together for more than a year. People commonly call this the PACS visa, but it’s actually the same visa status that they have for married people or those who have lived together for a number of years. Side note: I refer to this as a visa, as most do, but it’s actually called a carte de séjour. A visa is what you get in your passport when you first go to a country. In France, if you renew and stay longer, they do not keep your passport and put any more documentation into it- instead, you will receive a physical card from the prefecture.
Getting this visa has been a huge source of stress for me over the past year, so it’s such a relief to finally have it (and get down to the business of finding a real job). The biggest issue with it, however, is the lack of transparency around the process. Within the expat Facebook groups alone are easily 10 people who will tell you different things about what happened to them when they went in for their appointment. This isn’t even counting my friends who are on this visa status, whose stories are all so different from each others’ (though they’ve all had to go in more than once to deal with it) which isn’t helpful when trying to figure out how to prepare. So in the interest of all our sanities, I thought I would put together a guide of how to prepare for the appointment and what paperwork to get together for this status change. I’ve included the experiences of 3 others at the bottom of this article as well, so you can see how the process differs for different people.
DISCLAIMER: This is my own experience and that of my friends, not based on anything but that and the list of papers I was asked to provide by the prefecture to apply for a visa vie privée et familiale as a non-married person. It is subjective to the person who is handling your file- this is just my advice about how to prepare based on what happened to me. I am not a lawyer or immigration professional and this does not constitute professional or legal advice.
BEFORE THE APPOINTMENT:
The most important first step you can take in getting this visa is to put as many bills and papers as possible in both names. The key here is to prove that you have been living together for at least the past year- they won’t be terribly interested in anything further back than that. Ideally, you should have 12 months of these papers with both names. In our case, this meant that we provided the following papers:
the contract of the joint bank account we opened together; the electricity bill in both names; the internet bill in both names; an attestation that we are both on his company’s health insurance plan (mutuelle).
If possible, it’s a good idea to have the rent in both names too, but it cost 200€ to change our lease so we didn’t bother. Additionally, you should prepare any other papers proving that you have both lived at the same address for at least a year. I told Didier we needed this and his response was “I don’t need to prove that, I’m French”, making it all the more amusing
for me when our prefecture agent specifically told us that French partners tend to come in thinking they don’t need to prove they live there. Here you absolutely have to bring 12 months of proof at the same address– otherwise, they will send you away and ask you to come back a full year of proof, month by month. In this case, we each provided:
both of our payslips; both of our mobile phone bills; the rent receipts in his name; my bank statements.
If you are changing from a student status to a vie privée et familiale, you’ll need to provide proof that you were in school. For me, my exam results and inscription certificates were enough.
MAKING THE APPOINTMENT:
When I called to make the appointment in September, there was nothing available until January. I recommend you call at least 4 months in advance of the expiration of your current visa to avoid ending up like me and having a two month period where I had no valid visa and thus could not legally work. If you are currently on a student visa like I was, you are not registered with the Centre de Réception des Étrangères, and as you will no longer be under the jurisdiction of the student prefecture in the 18th arrondissement, it is highly unlikely you will be able to get an interim récépissé to allow you to be able to work. This is why it’s very important to make an appointment as early as possible unless you’re in a position where you are comfortable not working for the period between the expiration of your visa and the renewal appointment. If you are on another visa that is handled by the prefecture de police at Cité, you should be registered with the CRE and won’t have this issue, though it’s still good to deal with a visa renewal in a timely fashion.
When you call, it will be in French, so if you don’t speak the language ask someone else to make the call. It’s an automated system, and at one point they will ask you something that you won’t understand and you will need to press the pound key- just trust me on this one.
You’ll speak to an actual person and you’ll give them the number on your current visa (which can be found on the top of your visa sticker in your passport or vertically on the right hand side of your carte de séjour) so they can look up your information. You’ll tell them you want to switch to a visa vie privée et familiale and they’ll ask how long you’ve lived with your partner and whether you’re married or PACSed. They’ll tell you a date and time over the phone, but they’ll also send you a convocation in the mail with the date and time, location of the appointment, and the list of papers you’ll need to bring, with the boxes of papers required for you conveniently checked off by the person who sent them to you. Don’t lose the convocation! You’ll need to bring it to the appointment.
DAY OF THE APPOINTMENT:
We organized our papers in the following order: personal documents (passport photocopies of both partners, foreign partner’s old visa card, birth certificate and translation, PACS or marriage certificate, 3 official-sized photos, housing justification); joint documents (joint bank account, mutuelle, electricity, internet); and separate documents with the same address (payslips, rent receipts, mobile phone bills, separate bank statements). They will ask for them in this order so it’s best to organize them like this ahead of time. You’re told to bring originals and copies, but we were only asked for the copies so have those at the front of your file. By the time we had put everything together, my bag looked like this:
You’ll go to your prefecture- if you’re in Paris, it’s the one on Île de la Cite right by the metro entrance. After you go through security, go out the doors at the back of the room on the left and you’ll come to an open courtyard/parking lot. The offices are divided by area of the world and marked by color, so you’ll go to a different one if you’re Australian than the one I went to, which is for Europe (non EU), the close Middle East and the Americas- Door 8, Yellow.
My appointment time was 13:30 but after having a friend be turned away the day before for the office being “understaffed” at the end of the day, we went early, taking no chances. The French partner is required to come with you, so Didier took the day off and we spent the morning ensuring we had every paper we needed. We arrived at 12:30 and were told we’d have to wait a little while before getting a number to officially be in the queue, so we sat down. A little after 13:00 the lady at the accueil called me over and asked for my papers in the order listed above, copies only. She took the personal papers, the joint papers, and both sets of our payslips, put them together in a white piece of paper acting as a folder and attached a number to it with a paper clip. We said we had more papers than what she had asked for, and she told us “normalement comme ça, c’est bon”- normally like this it’s fine. It was at this point and this point only that I began to relax a little bit.
However, this was also the point that I began to analyze each person working there and which one seemed the nicest and the most likely to say yes to my file. One agent seemed to keep joking with people, which appeared promising- however, the couple right before us who seemed to be PACSed as well walked out of the office empty handed, so I was very relieved when we were called up to see the lady with the glasses, who was the closest to us as we waited and thus the easiest to hear with the other patrons, and seemed very nice. We were right- she joked with us the whole time, bonded with Didier as she was also from the same region of the south of France, and was of the same opinion as the accueil lady that our file was fine. I started dancing in my seat and practically giggling at Didier as she walked away to go print out my récépissé, ecstatic that all the months of stress were finally about to come to an end. We were at the prefecture for a total of about 3 hours.
She gave me the récépissé, which is essentially a receipt that says that your application was accepted by the prefecture and gives you all the rights of your visa until you come back to pick up the physical card (meaning that I now had the right to work). She informed me that since I had not done a Master’s in France, I would need to attend a seminar at the immigration office (OFII) and bring the paper saying I had attended in order to collect my card, which I would be notified by text message when it was ready. The taxes to pay for the card cost 290€; there is conflicting information on the paper that says which papers to bring in, but this is the price if you already have a visa for France and have paid the taxes for it. You will need to buy timbres fiscaux (fiscal stamps) from a tabac for this amount and bring them with you to collect it.
We were extremely lucky that we got people who liked us and didn’t ask us for more proof about our vie commune (common life together) than what we had brought in, but I’ve heard stories of people who aren’t so lucky. Additionally, my payslips all had “chez” followed by Didier’s name written on the top because when I started working and receiving payslips, my name wasn’t on the mailbox and our gardien hadn’t put it there yet- I had heard other stories of people whose papers were disregarded because they said “chez” on the address, indicated that the French partner was housing them, not that they were living a common life together at that address. Fortunately, they didn’t care about that for us, but it’s something to pay attention to on your documents.
In the end, we ended up having to shred a ton of documents, as they didn’t even ask for most of the papers we brought. It may have helped our case that I speak fluent French and that it was clear how much we had prepared- I had even brought a copy of my agreement with our gym to prove that I have a life in France. I had my old host mom write an attestation for me saying that I have lived with Didier since moving out of her apartment, and a cop friend of Didier’s cousin also wrote us an attestation on his honor saying we lived together, and they didn’t ask for either of those. It’s always better to be overprepared than underprepared. The agents will respond well to you if you’re friendly and prepared- basically, if you make their job easy by providing everything you need to in the order for which it is asked, and do it with a smile and maybe a couple jokes (I made both accueil lady and glasses lady laugh, and in French no less!). A little cheeriness goes a long way in fighting the stress of the appointment for you and the long workday for the agents.
N. is Colombian-American but uses her Colombian passport in France. Changed from a student visa. PACSed September 2015, visa January 2017.
She provided: personal papers: academic records; joint papers- bank statements, electricity bill, taxes declared together, health insurance; separate papers- phone bills, her personal bank statements, their individual payslips.
N’s Tip: Despite it being listed as a paper that proves the PACS on the list provided by the prefecture, do not bring only the birth certificate of the French partner- bring the PACS certificate. She had to leave the prefecture and go home to get it before they would give her her récépissé.
B. is American. Changed from a student visa. PACSed August 2016, visa November 2016.
He provided: personal papers- academic records; joint papers- attestation from French partner’s mother; separate papers- payslips, bank statements, phone bills, electric bill in French partner’s name, rental agreement in French partner’s name
B’s Tip: Even if you don’t have a lot of papers together, just gather as many papers as you can with the mutual address on them. He doesn’t have a lot together with his girlfriend, but they had enough at the same address to be granted the visa.
N. and B. both said that they were initially under the impression that they needed to only bring proof of the first month and last month of living together in order to get the visa. Though if you’re reading this article, you already know that’s not true, it’s just further proof of the need for transparency around this process.
K. is Australian. Changed from a long stay visitor visa. PACSed March 2015, returned to Australia to apply for new visa, returned July 2015, visa appointment June 2016, visa granted September 2016.
She provided: personal documents- OFII certificate from when she first arrived, proof of travel insurance, French language certificate, copy of livret de famille of French partner, PACS certificate; joint papers- tax return, rent receipts, electricity bills, joint bank account; separate papers- French partner’s payslips, rental agreement in French partner’s name. Additional papers: personal photos, plane tickets together.
K’s Tip: Go ahead and make the appointment even if you don’t have all 12 months of living together if your visa is going to expire. Since her visa was set to expire in July, she and her boyfriend called in April/May to make the appointment and got one for June. Despite not having the full year together, as not all of their joint documents were changed to include both names until September 2015, they gave her a temporary récépissé and she just went back in with the documents for those months once she hit the year mark in order to be officially approved.
I hope sharing my and my friends’ experiences with the visa vie privée et familiale will help you be better prepared for this process! Honestly, in the end you never know what to expect, so just bring more than you think is necessary and be confident that they have no reason to turn you down. As a friend told me while I was freaking out about this process, it’s not their job to deny you! Good luck, and feel free to share your experience in the comments- I’d love to hear your story!
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