One very awkward englishman, boldly goes…

French bureaucracy (a little moan)

Now, I am never one to moan. I am more a man of action rather than words. Upon arrival in France I was fully prepared for a long struggle with the infamous French bureaucracy I had heard so much about. I had many documents and files ready, sharpened and available for my upcoming battle with the various French systems in order to do things properly. I also felt that with all of this complete it would help my transition into life in France and make me feel more like I belonged here. Little did I know just what I was letting myself in for.

Here is just one example of the complications of the bureaucratic system here. I was advised by the British Consulate to register with the French Social Security system straight away, as this will be needed when I start work. On my first meeting with the Social Security office I was given a shopping list of documents that I would need to bring back on my next meeting to  be sent away. Once this has been processed I will then receive my Cart Vital (social security account). These documents included…

– My Passport

-The Contract for my apartment

-A letter from my fiancé to say that I live in the apartment (as I wasn’t in France when she signed the contract)

– Her French Identification photocopied

– My Birth Certificate ; the original however will not be acceptable as it must have a stamp from the local authority of my birth from the last 3 months. For this I had to phone up Canterbury county council to get them to send a fresh stamped and dated copy. (There was a fee for this)

– A translation of my birth certificate – Not just any translation which could be done by my fiancé, but a translation done by one of their registered translation companies. For this I had to travel outside of Marseille to a small company and wait 3 days for the document to be translated, to then go back and pick this up. (This also had a fee)

– A photocopy of a letter from my local Pole emploi to say that I had registered with them.

– 2 passport photos.

This all took the best part of a month to gather together, and yesterday I finally returned to the local social security office, hopeful in the knowledge that I might finally be closer to legality. After waiting a good 35 minutes I was told that they would not process my application, as in fact I needed to have a job lined up before they could send off for my social security. It was also fine to use my British social security number for the first few months instead. It turns out that the original information I was given by both the British Consulate and the first meeting I had at the Social Security office was incorrect and I had just wasted the last month and a half waiting for this documentation, when I could have been working.

The question of what happens when my birth certificate and translation expire was met with a shrug and a mumble. The question of why I was given incorrect information from the Social Security office to start with was met with the response “Oh he (the man I originally dealt with) is always making mistakes and getting the information wrong.” SO WHY IS HE STILL WORKING HERE THEN?

This is just Social security. I have had similar experiences when opening a bank account. My fiancé has just been told she can’t register to vote next year because she doesn’t have the right type of household bill! (How exactly are they meant to increase the amount of young people and people from the deprived areas of the city to vote when they make the process to register to complicated and pedantic). One thing is for sure – nothing happens quickly here and you have to be very patient. essentially, I don’t mind the fact that the system is complicated. I was prepared for this. What is more frustrating is when you are given conflicting advice from various people who are supposed to represent and work for the system. You get the impression that system is so complex that they don’t even understand it.

I would love to hear from other people if they have had similar experiences via the comments section below.



7 responses

  1. There’s nothing unusual about this. Be thankful you’re an EU citizen and don’t have to apply for a residency visa every year.

    As for the birth certificate translation – as long as it’s a notarized translation they will probably still accept it. But it’s a good idea to make friends with your translator so that they can send you an updated copy free of charge regularly (that’s what I did).

    December 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    • Ok thank you! I will try this.

      It just seems like nothing is simple here! I have to have a minder just to pick up some simple medication from a local Pharmacy, just incase I say the wrong thing and walk out with a box of nappies! I don’t even understand how to cross the road. I try to walk when the green man shows, and yet cars still seem to come towards me!?!

      January 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm

  2. Well it seems that you are living the nightmare we expats all live! I have also written posts on the lovely dealings with l’administration francaise. What is worse is that one administration doesn’t talk to the others so they never know what is going on. I’ve been here for almost 15 months and thank goodness that carte is good for 3 years. On the other hand, my husband has to renew his carte every year, Also, they lost my daughters info and she never got her carte. Life in the land of bureaucracy! Bienvenue 🙂

    January 7, 2012 at 9:12 am

  3. Amy

    I love hearing stories like this!! I came here in September and it took me 4 months and, as you say 50 different documents, to finally get my social security number through (I had a job contract signed from day one) compared to two weeks and 3 documents for my Spanish boyfriend in Britain, and two days and two documents in Spain. Thankfully social security accepted my DIY translation birth certificate, but we’re still waiting to hear if we can get the CAF housing benefit. We’re definitely entitled to it, but I don’t know if they’ll accept our documents! I couldn’t afford the fee for a new birth certificate AND an official translation, so I went for the translation, and explained in a letter that in Britain, we’re only born once, so my birth certificate is valid until I die (less sarcastically than that, obviously). My boyfriend for some reason had an bilingual birth certificate from 6 months ago, that he got just before we came here so, according to the French, it’s 3 months out of date. But if they hadn’t taken 6 months to process everything it wouldn’t be out of date!!! (the CAF wanted our social security numbers, so we couldn’t do anything until we’d got them).

    The weirdest bureaucratic moment I think I’ve had is when I tried to exchange £70 in notes for euros in la Poste, and he asked for my ID. I gave him my passport, and he started copying every detail onto a bit of paper, then asked me
    “who gave you this?”
    “er… the government?”
    “no I mean, more specifically, for example, the prefecture?”
    “oh, er… the Passport Office”
    “and what town was it issued in?”
    I don’t even know!! it was all done by post! I just made it up and said Liverpool. He was happy.

    It’s so true what you say about the green men at crossings! What’s that all about?!

    March 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm

  4. Thanks for your comment Amy. It’s all good fun isn’t it!?! I’m still struggling with a couple of bits but I’m pretty much there now.

    Regarding the CAF, you should definitely be eligible. The amount of people I have come into contact with who seem to be receiving it means it should be achievable (unless Sarko gets re-elected and cracks down on it as he has has stated!)

    I just get a bit miffed when it feels like the people who are employed to deal with this don’t seem to understand the rules. Incredibly frustrating!

    All the best,

    T x

    March 21, 2012 at 6:33 pm

  5. Pingback: Fighting the paper monster or Malagasy Bureaucracy « Jandré in Madagascar

  6. Administration since Napoleon Bonaparte and before him the Monarcchy of Louis IV is in the genetic code of French people. We must admit that in the turbulent economic crisis we are going throught it plays the role of a good crisis’s damper attenuating the deleterious effects of the crisis on lowers and middle classes.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:41 am

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