In a previous post — Giving France A Chance — I discussed the small mountain of paperwork required for me, the non EU citizen of the two of us, to get residency in France. That all went swimmingly and I am now in possession of my Carte de Sejour — the French residency card (with all registry numbers removed) that you see below.
French residency card
That was so smooth that I was positive and upbeat about the speed of all other French paperwork requirements. Ahem! (cough-cough!) I now have to downgrade that optimism quite a bit.
I am quite pleased that Mark has happily settled into his new work routine and he happily buzzes off down the road with a smile on his face to work each day in one stunning mountain location or another (photos of those in posts in the coming week!!), but I do get stuck with the drudge work of ‘les papiers’ and that isn’t exactly thrilling.
The next bit of plastic that you are meant to have with you here in France is the Carte Vitale — another credit card style card with your photo on it that gives you access to the French health care system. This is one of the big pluses for people who want to change their lifestyle and move to a very civilised and amenity-abundant country in Europe — the quality of the health care system which always ranks either #1 or #2 in the world. For a very tiny co-payment of about €24, you can see the doctor of your choice who will then refer you on to specialists as needed. And there is an income-tiered system in place that also means that in some cases, you pay nothing whatsoever for doctors, medicines, or hospital stays.
The first stage is receiving your Attestation which shows that you are actively registered in the health system and have the right to use the subsidised French medical care. Mark qualified on the very first day that he registered as an Auto Entrepreneur in the building trades — a freelance, self-employed building tradesman who either sub-contracts his skills to other builders or works independently on individual commissions.
Part of that registration included selecting your mandatory insurance agency — the people you pay your quarterly contributions to and they, in turn, maintain all of your records and assure that you get the full French social benefits including health care. We chose RAM which is under the umbrella of the RSI — the insurance branch for people who work as Auto Entrepreneurs or Artisans.
Having Mark instantly covered was all well and good, but getting me covered has been another kettle of fish altogether! We’ve frankly been agog at how complicated it is and we still haven’t resolved everything.
We had a time delay in receiving some of our mail from Normandy, but once everything arrived we went promptly to the office in St. Girons where everyone had told us to go and register. And from doing my research online about the paperwork required, we went armed with originals of everything from Mark’s work registry to my residency card, our original birth certificates, our marriage license, our proof of solvency, copies of our lease and mobile phone bills to show where we lived, and other assorted documents with photocopies galore of all of that.
The French just love paper copies! They do not reside in the digital world yet (I am quite serious about that statement!) and you go up a notch or three in their eyes if you arrive for an appointment with your own photocopies so they don’t have to be bothered walking to the machine.
Into the office we went, down we sat, and Madame behind the desk immediately began shaking her head back and forth saying, “Non, non, non! RSI! RSI!” as she pointed to the header on one of our documents. What she was referring to was the name of the umbrella agency that covers Mark’s particular employment subset and we had mistakenly gone to the office that oversaw people who received regular salaries (not the self-employed) or who were on government subsidies.
That was certainly a wasted afternoon off of work for Mark! And we were just beginning to understand how many different offices of government there are in France for every single aspect of life.
NONE of it is centralised and, in our opinion, it makes for rather a lot of chaos. Trust me, it isn’t just ex-pats who move here who think this either. We’ve met French people who think that it all needs to be sorted out, centralised, and made a bit more uniform instead of having changeable and varying requirements according to what region of France you are living in or even what district of a region you reside in.
The rules and regulations are not uniformly applied from area to area and things can either go as smooth as silk like they did in Normandy, or they can be a quagmire like the situations that several online friends I have in Paris have revealed. We seem to be a bit in-between those two extremes here in the Midi-Pyrenees.
Our next trip was an hour drive in each direction to the large and traffic-clogged city of Toulouse for an appointment at our insurance coverage company RAM. Did I mention that outside of Paris, people do not routinely speak any English at all? Thus we are not only climbing mountains, we are dragging our French speaking skills up by our fingernails as we maneuver through government offices!
The lovely woman at the RAM office was soothing and gently (but all in French!) gave us the shocker that I had to get our birth certificates translated into an official French document which then had to be notarised or stamped as official by some government agency BEFORE we could submit them, along with a list of other paperwork, to a SECOND French government office to get the ball rolling for our French health care cards. Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhhhh!!!!
That is my task this week while Mark goes off to work every day. I have to get translations on an official government form and then find someone at the local Marie (mayor’s office) or the Sub-Prefecture (local branch of government for this section of the Midi-Pyrenees) to stamp it as a genuine and acceptable translation. Then and only then can we send another wad of paperwork off by courier to at least get the paper Attestation for me. And then and only then will we be allowed to have the form in our hot little hands to attach our passport sized photos to, send them off to yet another government agency, and wait for an average of 3-4 months for their return.
Do I sound like I’m having fun right now? (sigh!)
Note to self — it’s a learning curve in every new country. Patience, patience, patience…
©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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