I’ve been living in Bordeaux for about five months now, and this week I finally had my long awaited OFII appointment, giving me the legal right to stay in France!
While I completed all of the proper visa paperwork long ago, there was more work to be done when I arrived in France.
Because I’m married to JP, who is a French citizen, I hold the vie privée et familiale long stay visa. This gives me legal working authority in France and it’s a renewable visa, meaning I will be able to get a resident card when my current visa gets close to expiration and I’ll be able to renew without having to return to the US.
However, this initial visa was not valid until I got my sticker from OFII.
When applying for your long stay French visa in the US, there will be a residence form you have to fill out. You simply fill out the top portion and keep the bottom part blank until you arrive in France.
You’ll turn this form in along with your application, proper paperwork, and passport to the French Consulate. When your passport is sent back to you with your visa affixed inside, the residence form will be sent back as well, with a stamp given by the Consulate. Make sure to keep this form safe and make plenty of copies! It will be essential as soon as you arrive in France.
Once you arrive in France, you’ll want to start the OFII registration process ASAP. Your visa is not fully validated until you have completed the OFII procedure, and as this process can sometimes take a very long time (take me for example, whose visa is finally validated five months later…), it is extremely important to start this process as soon as you can. The OFII registration process will eventually give you a sticker affixed in your passport, serving as your titre de séjour and validating your visa, allowing you to travel in and out of the Schengen zone. Your first three months without a validation sticker, you’re still considered “legal” and allowed to enter and leave France. However, after this period you can be denied entry if you do not have the OFII sticker or a letter from OFII (“Attestation de dépôt de dossier”) stating they have received your documents and you have not yet been sent an appointment time. This temporary document is super important as it gives you the legality to stay in France while you wait for your visa to be fully validated by OFII in person.
To start your OFII registration process, you will complete your “Demande d’attestation OFII” form (aka the residence form) that you were given with your visa by filling out the last part of the form (“rubriques à compléter dès l’entrée en France et avant l’envoi à l’OFII). This will include your arrival date in France, address in France, telephone number and the full number of your French visa. Make sure you will have access to your written French address! OFII will later send a receipt that they have received this information (which serves as your temporary legality in France) in addition to later sending information about your mandatory medical visit.
In addition to your residence form, you will attach the following documents:
- A photocopy of the first 2 pages of your passport (identity page + signature page)
- A photocopy of the stamp you received in your passport upon entering France (or the relevant country of transit)
- A photocopy of your long-stay work visa for France
You’ll mail the OFII form and appropriate photocopies to the OFII branch closest to you. To find the address of your closest OFII branch, check the second page of your OFII form.
Make sure to send your request “lettre recommandée.” This will give you a notification once OFII has received your paperwork. While it is a bit more expensive than normal postage, it will give you piece of mind in case OFII loses a form or something. This way you are blame free and can prove you have sent in all the proper paperwork as you wait for a response from OFII!
I sent all the paperwork to OFII within my first week of arriving in Bordeaux. I received an “Attestation de dépôt de dossier” several weeks later and finally, in late November, I received several letters including my appointment time and which documents I would need to be bring to OFII.
However, the appointment time that OFII had scheduled was during a weekend I was going to be in the U.K. visiting family, so I had to request a new appointment.
I went into the OFII office to do this (calling their office never worked, no one ever answered!) and was able to request a new appointment very easily.
I started to get a bit worried as December 28th came up because this marked my 3 months in France and made me somewhat “illegal.” I went into OFII to ask about this but the receptionist assured me I was fine and to just carry around my “Attestation de dépôt de dossier” if I were traveling in and out of France.
Still, time passed as I received no new appointment time from OFII! I went into the office again, to both check to make sure that my request for a new appointment time had been received and to update my address as I was now living in an apartment with JP and no longer at my homestay family’s place.
At the end of January (a few weeks after going into OFII) I received my new appointment time! However, the documents were sent to my old address rather than the new one, so OFII either never really updated my address or the address wasn’t updated quickly enough. Luckily my homestay family notified me of the mail and I was able to get everything sorted for the appointment in time.
I was given my appointment time and which documents I would have to bring with me:
- Identity Photo
- Proof of housing in France (quittance de loyer, facture d’électricite, de gaz, d’eau, etc…if your name is not on these bills, thing you will have to have an “attestation d’hébergement” filled out by whoever’s name is written on the bills!)
- OFII stamp, which can be purchased online. If you are an assistant or student, this stamp is relatively cheap. However, my vie privée et familiale stamp was a whopping 250 euros.
Because my visa is vie privée et familiale, my OFII procedure may vary from those of you with student or assistant visas. One difference being the price of my OFII stamp!
From what I’ve heard, the OFII visit for students or assistants is a simple quick medical exam (general exam plus an X-ray portion), however, my appointment also involved a French exam and interview.
OFII is long for pretty much anyone who visits as they see hundreds of people a day, so you will be doing a lot of waiting–make sure to bring a book!
My appointment was scheduled for 8:30 am on Valentine’s Day (how romantic). JP drove me to the appointment and we arrived at 8:15 but OFII’s doors weren’t even open yet…they actually didn’t open their doors until 8:34, because hello, this is France.
I don’t think there’s any reason to get to OFII early. The order of your check-in doesn’t really seem to affect the order in which you will be seen and get out of OFII.
When the doors finally opened, JP and I said our goodbyes and I checked into OFII. I showed the security guard my letter detailing my appointment time and date, allowing me entry. I then checked in at the front desk where an employee checked my name off and directed me to a room in the back. (I don’t think any students or assistants had to do this part).
Each visitor had to speak with an employee and he asked a few questions, getting a basic idea of our French level. If your French was very poor, you were given the option to be interviewed in English. (The only other option I heard was English, though there may be other possibilities, I’m not sure).
Once we were all settled in our desk chairs, he spoke very slowly explaining to us how the day would go. First, we would take a walk to the Radiology building (about 10 minutes away from the actual OFII building) to have a lung X-Ray taken. Then, we would return back to OFII with a copy of our X-Rays. We would then take a 20-minute French exam and wait for our medical exam. We would also meet with another employee who would test our oral French and explain some French basics to us (social security, employment, etc). Finally, once we were given medical clearance, we would be given our OFII stickers.
The X-Ray was over extremely quickly, it was the waiting that took the most. Word of advice, don’t wear a dress! You will have to take off your bra and shirt and chances are you don’t want to be standing completely naked. However, this X-Ray only lasted a few seconds and the technician was super professional. So even though standing half naked in front of her should have probably felt somewhat uncomfortable, I wasn’t phased.
I then waited about 15 minutes or so for a copy of my X-Ray and headed back to OFII where I turned in the copy to the front desk.
After, I took the French written exam. This exam tests an A1 level of French, so it’s a very basic level of understanding. My French is not fluent by any means, and I still got a 50/50. If you do not pass this exam, you are required to take French courses paid for by the government. The minimum amount of hours is 50 with the maximum being 100. Still, I think it’s pretty cool that the government is this invested in you being able to understand their language!
Once the exam was finished, I waited to be called into an office with one of the OFII employees. He went over my exam results (because I fully passed, there wasn’t much to talk about) and started to go over French social security, employment, etc. Once I explained I had a job as a teaching language assistant, he realized my social security and employment were covered and because I had already applied for French social security, he didn’t have to explain the process to me.
I was expecting more questions or proof about my marriage to JP, but OFII didn’t require any documents in regards to this. All that was asked was how long we had been married, no other questions! (Though I guess I already had to send in a lot of proof to get the visa in the first place, so they did the vetting then).
I was sent back to the waiting room where I waited to be called on by a doctor for my physical exam. She looked at my X-Ray, determined it was normal and took my height, weight, and blood pressure. There was also a basic eye exam.
I then was seen again by the same employee from before in his office. He scheduled my two mandatory formations (I’m fairly positive if you are a student or assistant you will not have to attend these formations) and explained my rights with my visa now being validated.
The first formation I have to attend is “formation civique” where I will learn about French history and values. These formations are scheduled for late April and will last from 9am all the way until 5pm! The second formation is “vivre et accêder à l’émploi en France” going over how to find a job and live in France. Attendance is 100% mandatory!
The administrator was extremely nice about scheduling my formation times. He made sure to choose dates that did not conflict with my work schedule and when he first chose a date on JP and my wedding anniversary (OFII trying to kill my romance, first with Valentine’s Day then with our wedding anniversary), I asked if it could be changed and he switched it no problem.
Finally, he affixed my official OFII sticker inside of my passport and I was all set! I was given some papers about my formations and a copy of a contract I had to sign stating I would respect French rules and attend the formations. Plus, I was given my X-Ray copy.
I was told I can apply for a resident card two months before the expiration of my current visa.
The whole ordeal took about three hours, though I know some people got out sooner and others later.
I think it really depends on the staff and the type of visa you have.
I’m looking forward to not having to worry about French administrative tasks for a while!
Hope this was helpful!
If you have any questions about OFII, TAPIF, or living in France, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail 🙂