Getting Legal

Written by kvfawcett on July 12, 2010 – 4:35 pm -

Mention the phrase “French bureaucracy,” and most residents tend to break out in a sweat. Navigating the system feels more daunting than it should be, could be and frequently is. Talk about wanting to get a carte de séjour, you will hear horror stories, arguments about whether it’s even worth applying for one, and a year’s supply of misinformation—enough to drive you to drink, provided it’s decent French wine. But for that matter, it could be Plonk. When desperate, people aren’t necessarily selective.

Bonjour Paris receives so many emails about these subjects that I wish I’d been admitted to the French bar. But the reality is that even if I were, the laws, regulations, what’s needed and what’s not seem to change every few months and certainly when there’s a new administration.

And that’s not taking into consideration which clerk is reviewing your paperwork and whether or not he or she is in a good mood that day. Some friends have been asked to furnish supplemental documents only to return to the local préfecture and not be asked for them. Go figure.

Obtaining a French driver’s license for an American is a major undertaking and who cares if you’ve been driving in the U.S. for 25 years. Unless you come from one of the fifteen (Texans are now eligitable) states with which France has reciprocity, there are definite rules and regulations about how long you may be in France without obtaining a permis de conduire.

Don’t think you can set up house with a friend or a relative who lives in one of those states because, unless you did so more than a year before entering France, trading that license for a French one is a no go. I was going to try that route until I read the fine print.

If you import a car from the U.S. or any other country where taxes are lower, don’t fantasize you won’t have to pay the French taxman and be sure the car conforms to E.U. standards.

I’ll never forget the hours I spent in Paris’s préfecture de Police on Île de la Cité, watching a French executive nearly self-destruct because he’d purchased a Volvo station wagon when he was posted in the U.S.

He had to jump through hoops (not to mention spending a substantial number of euros having the car’s headlights and emission controls regulated to conform to E.U. standards). Since I was obviously an American, we struck up an instant and intense (albeit brief) relationship since we didn’t exchange business cards. For that matter, I’m not sure we knew the other’s name.

We were both frustrated, and he was so happy to have someone to whom he could vent. Did I realize how many hours he was having to take off from work and wasn’t this ridiculous? Plus, his dilemma was further complicated because he’d bought a Swedish car in the U.S. and had it outfitted so he could bring it back to France without having to have the car inspected yet again by yet another government entity.

I was simply trying to have my car’s registration changed from Provence to Paris but even though I thought this would be a no-brainer, I was missing some paperwork. We sat and waited for our numbers to be called (and called again) because we’d have to go to anotherguichet to collect more papers and instructions and please sign everything in triplicate. I do remember that I was able to exit the offices before him—all I had to do was pay a hefty tax and advise the insurance company that my car would be housed in Paris. Oh yes, then there was the cost of having new license plates made. C’est la vie and it’s only money—in this case, mine. When I sold the car (who needs a car in Paris, merci?) I had to supply additional papers.

Well, life goes on. It’s time to renew my ten-year carte de séjour and my lawyer is assembling all of the papers so I won’t spend weeks trying to accomplish something that I could easily mess up by not including one required document. Paris is my chosen home and it’s essential that mon statut juridique est en ordre (meaning I’m legal, please).

I’m also going to be dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles in Washington, DC next week. I keep a car here and was shocked the first time I pulled into the parking space adjacent to mine in the apartment building where I was staying, to see a car with the license plates “Bonjour.” The tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet” echoed in my brain.

The owner and I became friends and he promised that when he decided to give up driving or sell the car, those plates would be mine. I’ve spent hours on the DMV website, called the insurance company here and no one has been able to supply the information as precisely what’s needed to transfer the plates. I’ll spend half a day in that office next week so I may return with the needed data. But, why isn’t there a phone number for that department? I feel pretty confident my English is good enough to understand!

Let’s face it, no matter where you go, there are bureaucratic irritations and sometimes you simply have to bite the bullet. But, they do feel more daunting when you’re in a different country. Well kinda.

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