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French residency after our first year on a VLS-TS Visiteur visa


Previously, on Adventures in Becoming an Expat, we applied for and validated our French VLS-TS Visiteur visas, including the OFII medical exam.

⚠️ Disclaimer: I'm writing about my own experience going through the validation process for a VLS-TS Visiteur visa, in Strasbourg, in the last half of 2022 (and also the first half of 2023, unfortunately). I hope this information can be helpful, but please note that the process will vary between prefectures and from year to year.

If you've gotten this far in the French residency process, the hard work is behind you. Apply for the renewal on time, expect delays, and monitor your inbox and (in theory) you'll be fine.

We (inadvertently) applied late, and that — combined with a weird documentation glitch on their end — resulted in significant delays. From application to approval it took around four months; the day we picked up our Cartes de Séjour was nearly seven months after application.

If you're going through this process, I recommend joining the Legal France Facebook group as it's run by an immigration lawyer who's well-versed in the edge cases.

When and how to apply for renewal

This is, in my opinion, not stated clearly enough for first-time applicants: apply for renewal three months prior to your visa or CdS expiration date. Don't apply within three months. We misinterpreted this and it made our situation more stressful.

Application is done online, through the Ministère de l'Intérieur's Étrangers en France portal. This is a painless process, in my experience, as it's the same system used to validate a visa on arrival. You can begin the application for your Carte de Séjour and save your progress without submitting.

At this point, for us, the only requirement for the application that caused confusion was the official photo, and knowing what we know now it's super easy. The CdS demands an "ephoto", and you can obtain one at any Photomaton-brand photobooth. There are dozens in Strasbourg, from outside supermarket entrances to inside laundromats. The booths have touchscreens, allow you to select English (along with a few other languages), and accept credit card payments. Go through the process to select ephoto pour titres de sejour, get a photo you're happy with that meets requirements, and you're done. It'll print out receipt with a QR code, copies of the photograph, and an identifier that gets entered into the renewal application.

Do note that your photo on the physical CdS is printed greyscale — and borderline impossible to see — don't worry too much about getting the perfect photo. Keep in mind these photobooths can take photos sized for US Visas, which can be used for US Passport applications. If you need to renew your passport, this is the way to get a photo quickly and without hassle.

How we screwed up

Plain and simple, we applied late, on 23 October.

Right now, logging in to the portal tells me that I need to apply for renewal between 01 September and 01 October — this is a one-month window, opening three months prior to my CdS expiration of 30 November. As far as I can tell, because we weren't technically renewing a Carte de Séjour but applying for our initial issuance, the system didn't understand our visa's expiration dates and didn't warn us about the appropriate application window.

So: use caution and avoid waiting to apply or renew. If you apply too late you may be on the hook for an additional "regularisation" fee of 180€ on top of the renewal fee.

Requests for further information

Within a week of application we both received a "Request for additional information":

Merci de nous fournir une attestation d'assurance maladie privée dont les droits sont ouverts jusqu'au 31 décembre 2023, date de fin de validité du titre de séjour sollicité.

We'd sent in proof of health insurance from the Ameli website with our renewal application, and because of how the social security system's website generates certificates of coverage ("attestations d'assurance") they are good for exactly 12 months from the date you request the certificate and print or download it. This is a strange artefact of how the system works, and it appears that the specialists handling CdS applications may not be aware of this.

After contacting Ameli's helpdesk and being told that, no, they can't issue anything else, we downloaded new instances from Ameli and submitted those as a response. I tried to explain the situation in the comment form (in both English and robotranslator French — sorry, fluent Francophones):

J'ai téléchargé une nouvelle attestation Ameli. Il n'est délivré que pour 12 mois à compter d'aujourd'hui et ne peut pas présenter d'assurance jusqu'en décembre 2023. Merci pour votre patience et votre aide !

I uploaded a new Ameli attestation. It is only issued for 12 months from today, and cannot show insurance through Dec 2023.

This didn't get a response, and based on our eventual CdS issuance was satisfactory. Either the explanation (or the ability to generate a new date on the coverage?) was enough to convince them, or someone else processed it.

How they screwed up, maybe

As we approached the end of November and our visa expiration date loomed, we were getting concerned about what was going on. We messaged several times, and eventually were told that, essentially, they could not locate our (digital) fingerprints from our initial visa application back in 2021.

After checking the file in the computer system, we find that the application has been verified by the instruction service and that your fingerprints are missing. Your prefecture will check whether your fingerprints are already in the database. If not, they will contact you directly to take your fingerprints.

This delay continued with no updates until we received a retroactive extension to our visas, an "attestation de prolongation d'instruction", in January. At some point in there, they found our fingerprints. We've read that the switch to the new application system (ANEF?) is a huge undertaking and is running into glitches, so this type of issue will hopefully become less common in the future.

Wait and approval

In mid February, around 4 months after application, we received notifications that we both had a 'favorable outcome'. At this point, responsibility would now be on the Strasbourg Prefecture to print the cards, notify us they were ready, and schedule our appointments to pick them up.

About a month after that, in late March, the prefecture sent an SMS stating that the CDS were ready for pickup and linking to the site for appointments:

Votre titre de séjour ███████████ disponible en pref. Taxe à payer : 0225 EUR. AVEC TIMBRE FISCAL. PRENDRE UN RENDEZ-VOUS RUBRIQUE RETRAIT WWW.████████.GOUV.FR

After purchasing the tax stamps, we scheduled appointments over the weekend and realized the pickup dates available were about a month out. So it goes!

Pickup appointment

The appointment confirmation process made it extremely clear that you need to be on time, and described what to bring with us to collect our Cartes de Séjour:

  • le timbre fiscal dématérialisé du montant indiqué dans le SMS
    • tax stamp in the amount specified in the SMS
  • votre ancien titre de séjour et récépissé, le cas échéant, ou votre ancien titre de voyage
    • previous residency permit (in our case, our visas, in our passports)
  • une pièce d'identité (passeport ou CNI)
    • passport
  • un justificatif de domicile de mois de 6 mois
    • proof of residency from the last 6 months
  • un stylo noir
    • a black pen

On the day of, we brought the requested items and arrived about 20 minutes early. The police officer guarding the entrance helped us figure out which line (the one with no wait, labeled "visa appointments" — in reality the line for any appointments) and looked inside our bags. At this point it started to become clear that the document list from the appointment wasn't complete — he also wanted to see the emails confirming our appointments. I had, thankfully, printed these out and had them with us, as another prefecture's website had listed it as a document to bring.

Inside, there was no line and the windows listed for our appointments were staffed and open, so we walked up to ask if we needed to take a number or something like that. Instead, the friendly guy behind the counter asked for our passports and started the process early!

The only hurdle we ran into was when he asked to see our "Notification de décision" for the application, which hadn't been listed as a requirement. We managed to find copies of it on our phones, and this worked. Bring this document with you! After the fact, I realized I'd printed them off and stuffed them in our passports (they serve as a temporary visa), which was a facepalm moment.

At that point, all that was left was to sign receipts stating we'd picked up our cards. We didn't need to bring a pen after all.

Previously, on Adventures in Becoming an Expat, we applied for and validated our French VLS-TS Visiteur visas, including the OFII medical exam.

© 2023 Eric Gideon  •  archive