I don't know the words to La Marseillaise. I don't wear a beret. And I don't eat snails. (Cathey says that she eats snails. I wouldn't know. I've been spared the sight.) But as of today, I'm about as close to being French as I'm ever going to get. On March 12th, our applications for our titres de sejour (our temporary cartes de sejour) were approved. Cathey and I are no longer 'traveling' in France on a long-stay visa. We are now officially resident visitors. If this was the US and we were foreign nationals, we'd say that we'd been granted our green cards.
I suppose that I should feel different somehow. After all, I no longer list an American address as my home address. I'm not considered a resident of any American state. I'll be turning in my American driver's license for a French one. But the fact is, since before we bought our house in Quarante, even while we still owned our holiday house in Cazouls some years ago, on those one or two times a year that we came to France I already felt as though I was coming home. Now it's official. I am home.
I'm still an American citizen and I will remain an American citizen. I have no interest in giving up that citizenship regardless of any tax advantages that I've been reading about lately that relinquishing citizenship might entail. No. I'm an American, born and bred. The only reason that I have the opportunity to live this life that I've chosen is because I was raised in a culture that allowed me to think that this life was possible, that gave me the ability to amass the resources necessary to make it happen, that put no significant barriers in my path during the planning that led me to this day.
I am not going to detail what we were required to have done before our appointment with the office in the sous-prefecture in Beziers that deals with such matters as approving stays for foreigners and what we had to bring with us when we arrived. France is a sophisticated and ever-changing bureaucracy. A good bit of what I've read on the interweb in the past about the process no longer applies. What I experienced in March of 2015 may not apply when your time comes. That's not a coward's way out of giving advice. That's French reality. In truth, I'm about to give you the best advice that I can give. Hire a professional.
I know folks who have handled their immigration documentation themselves. I have read their stories on the interweb. In just about every case, if they had thought about it, they would have realized that the money that they saved by doing their paperwork themselves cost them hours upon hours of extra work. If you value your leisure time at just a couple of dollars an hour, by all means do the work yourself. We value our time more highly. So we went to Sarah Vedrenne, owner of the firm Advice France.
Sarah is an accountant and tax adviser who we first hired to do our French taxes when we began renting out our holiday house in Cazouls in 2006 or thereabouts. Since those early days of working by herself out of her living room, Sarah's business has expanded considerably, though still based in her home - or rather, an annex to her home built to house the work spaces of her and her several employees. Since Sarah is fluent in English, she numbers a good many Brits and a few Americans among her clientele. As a result, she is well known to the bureaucrats with whom an expat must deal.
We met with Sarah in her office. She made photocopies of several documents that she'd asked us to bring with us, gave us a list of documents that she wanted us to provide to her by email, and another list of items (like passport-style photos) that we needed to bring to the sous-prefecture when the time came. She made our appointment for us. She met us at the sous-prefecture. (By the way, a sous-prefecture is the administrative office of a French region that is not in the capitol of the region. The prefecture for our region is in Montpellier.) Sarah bantered lightly with the officer who handled our case and answered most of her questions. We were approved without a problem. Our titre de sejour will arrive in the mail shortly.
How much was all of that worth? Well, that was worth 180 Euros to Sarah. To us? Priceless.
As we left the office, Sarah assured us that once we received our titre, we would be able to buy into the French healthcare system. The cost would be a percentage of our income minus a small standard deduction. She would have the applications ready to go by the time that our cards arrived. More on that as the story unfolds.