Last week, I flew to San Francisco for my last step in obtaining my visa for a spouse of a French national!
For a French visa, you have to show up in person at the French consulate nearest to your place of residence. So even if you are living in Oregon (my U.S. place of residence at the moment)–you need to fly out to the consulate in San Francisco. Same goes for other states and their nearest consulates.
(For a list of the consulate closest to you, click here).
I hadn’t been in Australia long enough for it to be considered my place of residence, so I had to fly back to show up for my appointment in San Francisco and wait for the visa/passport to be returned to me in Oregon.
I sort of knew what to expect for my appointment since I had to get a student visa last year, but my spousal visa required a lot more preparation and work–but the appointment at the consulate ended up being pretty similar to my appointment last year!
French Consulates around the U.S. are not all the same, some consulates require different paperwork than others and some consulates are more strict than others.
My experience with the San Francisco Consulate last year was rather pleasant, but I heard horror stories from students abroad about the consulate in Los Angeles (and in other areas)–a friend told me a story of girls who had shown up to the consulate and didn’t have the right paperwork or number of copies. They were turned away even though they had driven for hours and they had to make a new appointment online, they couldn’t come back later that day with the right amount of copies or proper documents (and appointments tend to fill up pretty fast around this time because of students getting ready to go abroad!)
So, to save you from wasting time and money, I’ve listed out some of my tips.
BE ON TIME
This one should be kind of obvious, considering you’ve probably had to schedule your appointment months in advance! Do not be late for this appointment. Chances are your consulate is on a tight schedule, so don’t annoy anyone with tardiness and don’t expect for them to be forgiving about it. Just save yourself the trouble and get there early, if anything! You can always hang out at a café close by if you’re too early 😉 better that than being turned away for being too late!
TRIPLE CHECK YOUR INSTRUCTIONS
It will give you peace of mine! Especially if you have to travel a bit to get to the consulate, you’ll want to make sure everything is in order.
Your instructions can be found on your consulate’s website, and they’re very clear.
The night before my appointment, I went through my instructions all over again using it as a checklist and I went through each of my forms again. When I had a second look, I realized a couple of mistakes I had made on my application form! You need to complete your application in all capital letters and in ink, so you won’t really be able to fix mistakes on your way to the consulate unless you have a printer close by. When going through everything again, I also realized I needed an extra copy of a couple of documents, which reminds me…
EXTRA COPIES NEVER HURT ANYONE
Learn this now–the French love copies! I made three copies of each form that was required–which may have been overkill but it made that little “just in case” voice in my head feel a lot better. The consulate won’t make any extra copies for you, so better to be safe than sorry.
IF THERE IS A PROCESSING FEE FOR YOUR VISA, MAKE SURE TO BRING YOUR CREDIT CARD
This time around, my visa was free! But most of them come with some sort of processing fee. Your consulate’s website will list what kind of payment they accept and prefer. I overheard an appointment next to me not going so smoothly because the student had cash and not a credit card on hand! I think some consulates may accept cash, but to save yourself just check ahead of time and bring their preferred payment method.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PRE-PAID ENVELOPE AND THAT IT MEETS YOUR CONSULATE’S CRITERIA
Alright this tip is going to be a bit longwinded…
This is where paying attention to the instructions is especially important. If you live near your consulate, you can just come back and pick up your visa once it’s ready. But, if you don’t you’ll need to bring a pre-paid envelope with you so the consulate can mail you back your passport with your visa affixed inside of it.
Different consulates have different envelope requirements–some will allow FedEx pre-paid envelopes, while others will only accept USPS pre-paid envelopes, etc.
Last year the San Francisco Consulate only accepted USPS envelopes, but now they accept FedEx envelopes! With very specific instructions I might add:
A self-addressed prepaid envelope with a tracking number from USPS OR FEDEX ONLY. You may use one envelope per family. You don’t have to provide an envelope if you prefer to pick up your passport when it is ready. For FedEx, you must choose the option “BILL RECIPIENT”, not “BILL SENDER”.
Please keep copy of your tracking number (as we are not going to do so), stick the mailing label on the envelope and fill out like this :
88 Kearny Street #600
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94108
Your full name
I chose to use FedEx instead of USPS because you can purchase a 2day envelope and receive an e-mail as soon as your envelope goes out for shipment. But getting this thing ready was a pain! Pam from the FedEx in Lake Oswego, OR (YEAH I’M STILL BITTER PAM) refused to help me out. So, unless your local FedEx employee is a little nicer, you’re pretty much on your own.
I created a shipment at the FedEx store but my envelope came out as “Bill Sender” not “Bill Recipient.” When I tried to explain to Pam how I needed it to say “Bill Recipient” she said it didn’t matter (clearly she has not worked with a French Consulate before). She told me to just cross out recipient and write sender–YEAH RIGHT PAM YOU THINK THE CONSULATE WILL LIKE THAT. Crossing out and writing doesn’t change the actual coding. I think the consulate is worried about this because even if your name is listed as the sender, their address is also under the sender and they don’t want to be at all liable for paying for your envelope. I was able to create a new shipment paper at home (but took the folder from the FedEx office) and selected the option “Bill Recipient” however when you do this you need to enter in a FedEx account number for them to bill and because my name was listed under the to and from address, I wasn’t allowed to select “Bill Recipient” using my own FedEx account.
I had to create the shipment from another account so I could then bill my account and select “Bill Recipient” (does this make any sense lol), so I created a FedEx account under my sister’s name and made the shipment under her account. Then I was able to select “Bill Recipient” to bill myself and all was right with the world.
If you want to save yourself from this hassle, maybe just use a USPS folder…but I still prefer FedEx…even after Pam and the new accounts and wasted paper.
PAPER CLIPS > STAPLES
This is not formally written on the website and I don’t actually know if it’s the French Consulate’s preference, but after years of processing study abroad applications I can tell you that our office hated applications with staples in it! If there was ever an application with staples, we had to take all of the staples out because we would later need to rearrange the application or make copies of certain documents. I think the French Consulate has a similar process because each time I’ve turned in an application they have rearranged my application and taken off its paper clips–but paper clips are a lot easier to remove than staples! So if you want to organize your application, use paper clips, not staples.
DRESS APPROPRIATELY AND BE NICE!
Again, this is nothing that’s been formally written down or instructed by the consulate, but dressing appropriately is just a sign of respect! And as for the nice thing–the person working with you is a lot more likely to want to help you out if you’re being kind and patient rather than being rude and making a fuss!
All in all, I was in and out of the consulate within twelve minutes! My visa appointment went very smoothly. I had everything that was needed and I was told that they should finish processing it within two weeks–now I’m just waiting to get my passport back which should be around next week!
The woman working with me told me that as soon as I arrive in France I will be eligible to work (which is pretty cool!) and around a year after my arrival, I can apply for a resident card.
Vive la France!