Visa Woes

Exactly a month has gone by since I last posted on Expatlove, and a lot has happened since then.  I want to update you on a few of the key developments in my life before moving on to a topic of interest – obtaining a visa for living in France.

I graduated, summa cum laude, and with one recognition, “Outstanding French Senior.”  I am not sure whether or not this particular degree will come in handy in the future, but it was a journey, an education, and a mostly positive experience.  I have no regrets.

Graduation

In a way, American university is like a fairy tale compared to the rest of the world’s higher education.  Luxurious, manicured lawns, professors who invite students to their townhouses to talk over dinner about philosophy and politics, fully-equipped fitness centers with swimming pools.  There are sororities and fraternities and honors societies and pre-professional programs that have little to do with Law School or Medical School or Dental School.  It’s the Life of the Mind, and it’s a nice retreat from the real world.  A few of my friends would like to spend the rest of their lives in this environment, as college professors.  Nothing could be a more apt ending than the iconic American graduation ceremony, where with tassel, cap, and gown we stride across a stage to receive an empty diploma case – it’s all symbolic, of course.

Commencement ceremony

I’ve also been doing a bit of local traveling, such as over Memorial Day weekend when I attended a family reunion at my father’s family’s historic residence for over four generations, in the middle of Northern Missouri.  I caught up with cousins and second cousins and first cousins once removed, and I snapped quite a few shots of the family graveyard, which holds the tombstones of my grandfather, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and great-great-great-grandparents, the patriach and matriarch of the family.  This man was quite wealthy and made the town into something back in the 1860’s, when he built this big brick house and barn, which are both in sad states of decay.  The façade is worth a peek, though.

Red brick houseI met up with my female friends from college in Chicago, Illinois, and Naperville, Illinois this past weekend.  Besides touring the city, we also ran like crazy painted fools in the Chicago Color Run, where at every few kilometers volunteers throw colored powder at us.  Chicago is one of my absolute favorite cities in the United States, of the few that I have visited.  It has fantastic architecture, lakefront promenades, beautiful parks, and plenty of culture without losing its good-natured Midwestern laissez-faire attitude.

Here’s a snapshot of my favorite café in Chicago, Intelligentsia, which is a specialty coffeehouse that rivals, and in some ways surpasses, the one I work for in St. Louis.  It was the highlight of a trip full of bad to mediocre coffee experiences, after now four weeks of endless cups of free cappuchinos, side cars, pour overs, and espressos under my belt.

Naperville was truly a paradise for a recently-graduated-from-college shopping trip.  Cute little boutiques, bookstores, cafes, William Sonoma (just for ogling), and a nice shady tree for picnicking.

What else have I been doing with my time?  Working non-stop mostly, in order to pay for my upcoming Master’s in France.  And trying to figure out all the items needed for the difficult process of obtaining a French visa.

  • I decided to accept the offer from Amiens, France, to pursue my Master’s in English literature at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne.
  • I bought a one-way plane ticket for the end of August to fly from Chicago to Paris.
  • I pulled out my hair trying to figure out how to come up with the $820 per month that is required to prove my financial support as an independent student.

Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, you might say.  A few clicks of the mouse and I am already on my way to France…  not exactly.

This is the third time I have sought a visa to live for more than three months (which is granted “visa-free” to Americans who choose to travel to Europe) in Europe in the last four years, but this is the only time I have felt the stress and anxiety of the whole process.

Unlike other countries’ consulates, the French consulate of Chicago, which represents the greater Midwest, requires that you arrive in person for a pre-arranged visa appointment.  If you are missing even a single required item, you must return at a later date and rebook an appointment.  Like any great bureaucracy, France requires a multitude of items in order to be granted a visa, and even a student visa is hard to obtain when the student is applying directly to a French university (as opposed to an exchange faciliated by an American program or university).  The scariest element of the process is the unexplicably negative response that you might be given, as you are left feeling helpless and must request an appeal to your visa refusal before ever setting foot in France.  And the waiting as the verdict is delivered.

Okay, so I am exaggerating a bit, and no, I have not yet received my visa for this Fall.  I have an appointment booked for later in the summer.  Next post, I will walk you through the steps of applying for a visa along with an explanation of the types of visas that you might encounter if you choose to live in France.

Has anyone else experienced applying for a student visa in France?  What was the experience like for you?

Categories: Bureacracy, France, Immigration, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Visa Woes

  1. Bonjour! First, thank you for linking my article on Visa issues. It’s true that for many fellow travelers, obtaining a Visa can be quite the lengthy process. For my own personal working Visa for France, I was lucky enough to not have to go in for what usually is a mandatory interviewing process. And you are right. 9/10ths of the time, if you are missing even one simple document, they will turn you away.

    The reason I didn’t have to go in for the interview this time, is because I chose to go through the 2E working Holiday Visa Youth Exchanges Agreement. It’s involves less red tape and obstacles. Plus, no interview required. It’s optional.

    The first time you go through the application process, there’s a high chance that not everything is going to be perfect. But I found the French Consulate’s Visa section very helpful in facilitating issues they had with my file, and me emailing them missing documents.

    In the end I got approved, but it took some running around and back and forth emailing.

    In the end, if you’re passionate about it and really want to do it, or anything for that matter…you go all out. Just because you get rejected the first time, doesn’t necessarily mean the battle is over…you can still win the war!

    RAWR!

    Happy Travels and thank you once again!

    -Lam

    • Yes, you are quite right about the helpfulness of the online Visa requirements. This is my third time getting a visa (2nd for France) so I am quite familiar with the proceedings, as well as the renewal process in France. However, I had some frustrations with the Consulate’s description of proving financial support when you are supporting yourself. The woman at the Chicago consultate who answered the phone told me you had to prove $820 x length of stay, which she interpreted for me as my two-year Master’s – thus, 24 months! Luckily the San Francisco consulate told me I only had to prove 12 months, since the visa is only good for one year. I’ll write more about the process on my next post. Your process certainly sounded much easier, lucky you!

      • Oh wow. Well, I can certainly understand how the lady at the Chicago consulate may not have immediately taken into account the financial means necessary for the entire validity of the visa [Which I believe, as you mentioned, is only good for the one year, and then you must renew it, correct?] I’ll be interested to read your version of your own experience in the application process. I can only assume my process was a touch easier because of Canada’s and France’s close cultural ties. :P

        Anyway,

        Bonne Chance Mon Ami avec ton Masters!

        =]

  2. Hi Colleen!
    Just think of the visa frustrations as preparation for the little frustrations of living abroad. Yes, it’s an incredible experience and opportunity but there are days when you just want to scream “Why doesn’t anything work over here!” :-)

    • Exactly, Rebecca! Last time in France I got frustrated with the registration at OFII, since I couldn’t leave the “espace Schengen” to visit London until I got my “vignette d’OFII” because they hadn’t given me an appointment within the first three months of my stay. I think it’s just the nature of the beast that is the French bureaucracy.

  3. Pingback: Baguettes and Red Tape (part 2) « Expatlove

  4. Pingback: Baguettes and Red Tape (part three) « Expatlove

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