Getting Your Visa (Again)

New Visa Layout

I didn’t write about this (again) because I didn’t think I needed to. I assumed it was pretty self explanatory. However I read over my last post about getting a visa and yeah, it’s dated. However they still use Campus France so I’m betting the gist of that process is still the same.

This time, however, I applied for a Long-Stay “Visiteur” Visa. I can’t say how much that has changed. I remember back in the day talk was you needed to prove that you made at least something laughable like 640€ a month. Nowadays it’s no longer explicitly stated. Message me if I’m wrong, I didn’t do a deep dive. But a cursory look when I was researching and applying didn’t show an amount. 

So why this type of visa you ask? First, everyone will have different reasons for needing to visa, and you should definitely use the little tool they have on the website. It asks you a bunch of questions, and then tells you which one to apply for. And there are A LOT. But I chose long stay visitor because I don’t have family in France, I don’t have a spouse in France, I don’t have a job in France, and I would be financing my own stay. It’s called Séjour Privée, but for the visa application it was Durée Longe> Visiteur. That just means I’m staying for more than 90 days (in this case my visa is valid for a year, which is standard. They can’t make them for longer than a year. You have to apply for the carte séjour/residency permit). 

Remember anything less than 90 days doesn’t require a visa (if you’re an American).

However when I applied on the VFS website it did not give me that option. I spent 2 days emailing a French consulate employee who basically told me it’s not available, and to choose whatever I wanted when making the appointment on VFS. and they would figure it out when I got there... yeah no. I printed that out just in case I needed the receipt to prove I wasn’t making up what they said (always have the receipts).

But I got ahead of myself. So you create an account online, start the application, fill in the prompts, finalize it, and then submit. The questions aren’t anything too crazy. You need things like your passport number, and where you plan to stay when you are there (address). That one may be difficult if you haven’t found an apartment. For the time being you can use a hotel (you’ll need to include the receipt). This is where it gets different though. 

Where I applied the first time

Back in the day when I got my visa I had to make an appointment at the Consulate. Let’s just say I was deeply disappointed when I got there and it was in some high rise office building that looked nothing like I imagined, least of all not a stitch of Baroque to tell me it was in fact a French government building. These days the Consulate have outsourced this interview process to a company called VFS. 

You don’t necessarily have to go to VFS. You can pay $500 to have them pick it up at your door, and I was tempted, but I cheaped out. If I didn’t live close to Houston, I would have, but I began to tell myself $500 can go towards other things.

So I took my application number, used it to make an appointment on the VFS site, and paid my $64 fee to use them. I think it’s $55 but I paid for printing, I don’t know why since I have a printer, but the American Embassy (which doesn't charge for printer or computer access) taught me that sometimes you may have forgotten something and it's best to be able to print it. Even if you don’t use, have the option. I also paid for ‘photo booth’ because I thought I might get lucky and they would have a Photomaton and I love Photomaton because it’s so much nicer than going to Walgreens or Kinko’s. 

Oh Photomaton how I miss your blinding white light glamour shots and ability to do endless do overs

Just an FYI the fee I paid to use VFS doesn’t include the fee for the visa, that’s another 99€ ($120). They don’t exactly tell you the two different fees upfront. You make the appointment and then are told, oh by the way we want money or no appointment for you. As money isn’t an object I didn’t mind throwing them some change, but if you’re on a tight budget be aware and factor that in when budgeting for cost. Also note that different visa applications charge different prices. For this visa it was 99€. 

Plus you need to factor in $270 for insurance (the cheapest), which you have to have (it shows you won't cost the Republic hospital fees because you're insured, and no you can't use your American insurance, it has to be Schengen coverage, which sucks because I have BCBS and they’re great). I got my “French” coverage through Lloyd’s but you might be able to find cheaper. Axa didn’t have one for my length of stay (too long). 

I paid my VFS fee and I was given an appointment confirmation page. Now as I stated I had never used VFS before but they handle everyone’s visas these days so even if you’re not applying for France, chances are you’ll need to go to their offices. It is super weird that the consulates have outsourced this to a private company. 

The day came up and I had every stitch of paper, printed twice (because they say to have copies). I showed up to an office tower and was surprised by how quiet everything was. I checked into security and took the elevator to the floor (3rd or something), and found the VFS office. 

This is from Canada but is exactly what Houston looks like minus the Sheikh photos on the wall and no person behind the desk

Let me preface this by saying I didn’t care for it. VFS is an Indian company? At this VFS you had Austria, France, the Netherlands, Latvia, the UK, etc. How can you be accurately judged for entrance when the person interviewing you isn’t even from the Consulate? Your application has to be strong because there is no basing it on your winning personality. They’ll only see what’s written in black and white. 

When I got there other people were still doing their interviews so I sat just outside the door and could hear them. Two other people were nice enough but the lady I ended up getting was just barking at applicants. She was also the loudest so every time she became annoyed with an applicant I could clearly hear it. 

At one point some college kid came in with a folder, and she came out of the interview room, and was like “what do you want?”. And he was like “I’m applying for a French visa, I have an appointment a month from now, but I was wondering if you had any available appointments now?”. First of all this is Covid times so I’m not sure why you would think to show up at a place and pray for an interview. Of course she turned him away. And when he left she turned to me and said “he looked suspicious” (cause he was black?). “What was he doing looking at the appointment list?" (you have to sign in when you get there). I was just like “yeah... I don’t know. Weird right?”, and prayed I didn’t have her.

After that kid came in, an Asian guy came in and was like I have an appointment at 1pm too. The visa officers had to come out and ask because there wasn’t a sign telling you what to do and there wasn’t a receptionist. There was just a sheet of paper on the desk. 

I asked him what he was in for and he said he was applying for an Austrian visa because he was going to work for some atom/energy company there. And then we sat there in silence for 20 minutes staring at what I’m assuming was the UK room (it had a bunch of UK tourist propaganda with a giant picture of St. Paul’s and quotes of why the UK is so great). 

And of course the whole time I can hear the other visa interviews. And some of these people, man… I don’t know if some people don’t realize, and I only knew because it was my second time doing this, so I have experience with French immigration, but showing up without all of your documents… why? What makes you think you can just be like ‘oh I forgot to bring that’ and they’ll be like "no problem". Why would you want to chance it? A whole mess.

So then Austria gets called before me and I’m annoyed. He goes into the room, and I try to listen in to get a feeling of what's to come, but I can’t hear them because the other guy interviewing is a soft spoken low talker and so is Austria. But 3 minutes later he leaves. Weird right? I guess he didn’t have all of his paperwork. Again, why? But I digress.

Finally the other girl interviewing leaves too, and they’re chatting amongst each other in that room, and I hear them say they had 10 no shows that day. No idea why you would make an appointment, pay the fee, and then not show up. Especially when the appointments (at that time) were hard to come by. But I hoped it bode well for my chances (less people applying, more opportunities for them to say yes to me). At the very least 10 or so people did show up because I saw the list when I signed in. Which, by the way, they did not sanitize that pen so maybe bring one with you if you care. 

Can I make a deposit? Oh wait sorry this is a visa office, my bad

Finally I got called in (30 minutes after my appointment), and I went into this room and it was like bank tellers. There were 4 stations. Each station had flags on them. I got called to mean lady’s station. Because of course. My rotten luck.

So I have my cute little folder with lemons on it because I'm twee, and I have everything in order like a good little applicant. She’s asking for stuff, and I’m handing her my copies, which makes her angry. I don’t know why they tell you you need copies of everything because she got annoyed. Then she began asking for my plane ticket, and I’m like "that’s not on my list", and I show her the list from the French Embassy, and she’s like “oh, hmm, maybe…the French can look at that when they get your application” (so my application will be sent on to Post Oak Blvd later down the line or main Consulate in Washington?). And then she asks for my hotel information and I’m handing her my Garantme certificate, and frankly doesn't having an apartment in your name look better? But she gets mad so I try to explain to her what a dossier is. FYI I now understood why I could hear her barking about missing information. She didn’t actually know what paperwork was for what visa.

And this is what gets me, because if a French Consulate worker had been doing the interview they would have understood the dossier. But it was an Indian lady who had probably never been to France, trying to read over all of this stuff in French, and getting annoyed because she didn’t know what it meant. Stop outsourcing to India! I’m sure the French Consulate officer would have known what paperwork was needed for what visa, and wouldn't have made me doubt the merit of my application by asking me for things that were not needed, or getting mad at me because I tired to flex by showing I had an apartment in my name which is better than having some signed paper by a friend saying you'll be staying on their couch. Here is actual proof that I can not only afford an apartment, but a French landlord deems it fit to give me a lease in my name. And I make 5x the rent. Ta-da!

If you know French rental laws you know why this is a big deal. But she didn't get it. She just looked at me like I was dumb for not having the right paperwork.

Then she refused to accept the photo I brought and there was no Photomaton so one of the workers came out with a camera. The lady who took my photo was a tiny little Indian lady who took the photo from below because she was like 5’2, so I look awful, and if the French Embassy is choosing people based on looks, which I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a requirement because let’s face it there are no unattractive people in Paris, I’d be at the bottom of the list. 

Make sure you have your “passport photos” just right because she was a hard ass about it, and said she wouldn’t accept mine because I was “looking down” (I wasn’t). If you don’t have the photo you will have to take it there. I assume that they will add it to your bill at the end, but as I had already paid for the service I didn't need to pay again.

These machines don't work on me

Next came the biometrics. They took me to some little room next to the main area. I sat in a chair and the lady sat behind the desk which had the biometrics photo machine and the biometrics fingerprint scanner. The lady was nice but I have the worst luck with biometrics machines. She had me in there for 10 minutes trying to get my fingerprints. We did it like 20 times. I explained to her this happened last time the French Embassy tried to take them. I’m not even sure if she got them this time. I think she just gave up like the French officer years ago. So once again the French don't have my fingerprints on file.

I left the little room, went back to mean lady, and they took my payment. I paid my visa fee and $40 for courier service to have my passport returned (another expense to budget for), got my receipt, my tracking number for my passport, and was on my way. Compared to the other girls that were in before me, and minus the issue with the biometrics, the whole thing was probably 5-10 minutes long? But certainly not as easy as my appointment with the Consulate back in 2014. 

Yes, I bought a giant beaver and he only cost $35

I was so relieved after the experience, like a weight had been lifted, that I went to Buckee’s right after and spent $100 on Beaver merch. It was a bit surreal. If you’ve never been to a Buck-ee’s it’s like Disneyland, so very, very American after a visit to the in-between world. I didn't sleep at all the night before (I have terrible anxiety that causes insomnia whenever I have some important appointment the next day), and after the drive back home I had a doctor’s appointment, and an in store pickup appointment at Apple so the day was one big blur of appointments on no sleep, and no bathroom since I spent about 8 hours in a car according to my Apple Watch. 

It wasn’t until after that interview was over that I realized how anxious I had been about that appointment. I guess I did in fact care about getting accepted, which surprised me. The whole Paris do over was kind of lark, just to see if it could be done. I didn't care one way or the other if anything came of it. I'd give it a go, and if I didn't get accepted oh well I'd find something else. C'est la vie. But deep down I guess I wanted to prove that I could do it again.

I ended up waiting over a month to hear back regarding acceptance or denial. The first time I got my visa my appointment was on like a Wednesday and my passport arrived on Friday. It took them no time to accept my application. This time it took longer. I became worried.

Later I found out they had emailed me two days after the appointment because they wanted clarification on some paperwork (which I had already given but they wanted it again). I didn’t find this out until 3 weeks later when I emailed them. I didn’t think to bother them about the application because I never expected them to actually reply. But as soon as I emailed them they promptly responded. Like crazy good communication. I have never encountered such outstanding service from any French government office. And by email no less. Usually they expect you to mail a letter written with quail feather and ink and delivered by horse (let’s just say they are very behind the times). 

But we went back and forth on things and finally after almost a month my visa was sent by FedEx (who didn’t knock the first time so they had to come back the next day to deliver because it was signature required, and by that time my anxiety was on high because I was sure I had gotten denied). Suffice to say if I had gotten their email the first time I would have gotten my visa like I had the first time. They’re amazingly quick. And as an aside the decision does come from Washington. 

We all wish our passport photos were this good

Plus they went with my biometrics photo which is reaaaally good so thanks French Consulate for doing a solid. Now my French government paperwork has me looking like Angelina Jolie (all lips and cheekbones). And they didn’t seem to question why I only had one stamp in my passport, from Orly in March… or why my passport was issued in Paris... But whatever. I passed. 

My visa is so pretty. I almost wish it was my proper residency card, but it’s only valid for one year. You need to go through another process at the OFII for the carte de séjour (which is just a sticker in your passport like the visa). That experience involves a psych evaluation, an ex ray machine in a giant room where you’re made to walk around topless, payment by way of timber which you can only buy from a tabac, more passport photos, and then another appointment a year later at the outer edge of the 18th where you interview again but for carte de séjour renewal. It’s a lot of interviews. I didn't write about it the first time, and I should have because that was also a weird experience (the French immigration officials yelling “canapé rouge!” and laughing like it’s the funniest thing in the world, some freak on the metro trying to hump my shoulder and I had to punch him in the dick, French shenanigans abound), but I'll write about the new version of that process later when I am back from vacation. 

My visa now is slightly different from my first one. They seem to have made the print on them smaller these days. You can see what I mean by going to the old post. Everything has been shrunk by like 10% and the print is teeny tiny.

So that was the “new” visa process for those that care. I’m curious to know if anyone has ever been denied a French visa because twice I’ve done it, and in my opinion it’s super easy to get one. I almost feel bad for the French that try to get American visas. It’s not at all easy and it’s like $1200 compared to theirs. 

As long as I renew this thing properly I have the right to live in the Schengen area for as long as. A visa really is your passport to [European] freedom. And if Covid has taught us anything, when the world is shut down, as long as you have a visa you're allowed entrance, travel ban or not.

In the end my advice would be, be prepared. Have a strong application because with the travel ban ended the applicant numbers are crazy high. Apparently unprecedented numbers. Have all of your documents, pay attention to your email, and also be prepared to interview with someone who doesn’t know anything about France because she probably also interviews for 20 different European countries, the UK, and India. Good luck!