To be a Useful Idiot

When I put the paddles to the chest of my dying blog site, I decided I didn’t just want to be the guy who occasionally blasts WTF rockets out into cyberspace from my frenzied little launchpad for your fleeting, token enjoyment. I also want to provide something a little more meaty, something you could really sink your dentures into.

I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned so far about the process of relocating to France, in case it’s an itch that needs scratching.

Welcome to this episode of Immigration.

I’m not going to talk in “shoulds.” I’m going to talk about me. Me, me, me, my favourite subject.

Being a serious clown, I did all the major lost my f…ing mind kind of shit first, like sell my house, park my business and give away truckloads of belongings. To make sure there was no turning back, I started with two reconnaissance (<—- french word alert) trips to see if it was even in the realm of possibility. I decided that it was.

Then I read as much online about other expat experiences as I could find to gauge what I might be up against and if I’d just been smoking crack. I then got on the website for the French consulate to review the application process. We reported to the consulate in San Francisco, depending on where in the States you live, you may be have to report to a different city.

After reading the entire contents of the world wide web on how to get to France, I  searched my soul- what’s left of it- for what I would tell the Consulate that I wanted to do while in France. This is very important, and typically not something one gets to change their mind about later, so don’t waffle, or pancake. You’ll have time to French toast after your arrival, but they just call it toast.

I went with my heart and decided I did not want to labor for a year. My answer was, “absorb all things french, learn the language and write a book.” I applied for a one-year visiteur visa and bingo. Turns out they value the arts in France, it was the right choice for me.

The site was crystal clear on what to bring to the Consulate in San Francisco. Do NOT emit anything. It will significantly delay the process, possibly as much as a year. Be organised.  You have about ten minutes to land the fish. And, bring three of each document, because the humans behind the glass do lose things and are not always on the same page. My appointment was at 9 a.m., the first of the day. I didn’t want the rudeness of scores of unprepared culture vultures to bubble up in their attitudes towards me.

Consider it a date.

The goal is to look appealing, so, mon Dieu, wear a clean shirt and learn a few French words while you’re at it. There are a couple of catch 22’s in the equation. My wife and I were told by a relocation consultant -yes, it is a thing- you have to swallow and book that plane ticket before you know if you’ve been accepted. This is where our blind faith came in.

Also, in order to get a visa, you must have confirmed lodging. In order to rent an apartment you must have a bank account and in order to get a bank account, you must have a place to live. If all that isn’t confusing enough, after you arrive, you will need the holy grail, an electric bill. Once lodging is confirmed, your proprietaire will provide you with another laundry list to be filled. France is big on paperwork. This is where my earlier extended visits to France paid off.

Getting help from someone already in France is a big plus. We discovered that Airbnb has long term rentals for a discount. Our angel came in the form of Claudine, whom we rented from for two months on our fact-finding mission. She agreed to rent to us for a year and helped with all the paperwork. We are blessed, but we did do the fancy footwork.

After arriving in France, it was on me to show up at the police station, the police station, to let them know I had arrived. Everyone has to do it, not just ex-bank robbers. But it does have similarities to getting out of prison and showing up at a halfway house.

Then there is a list of paperwork needed from the French side. Don’t assume. Read everything, Google Translate is your friend. My middle name was misspelled on one of their forms, and it almost brought down the Republic, or at least me. Arms were waving and I’m pretty sure negatives were verbalised. Even though I knew that this time fault lay elsewhere, I ought to have had all my documents with me. It eventually all worked out though and I now have my official French seal of approval with a renewable expiration date.

One thought on “To be a Useful Idiot

  1. Scott Hennes

    What an ordeal! I can’t go through with it. Fortunately for me, my ex-pat fantasies remain mere fantasies…for now. Nonetheless, if I look beneath my anxiety, I have to admit your detailed report is strangely encouraging, not discouraging. Thank you, Doug, and congratulations on your /visiteur/ status!


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