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Survival Home in Paris

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Proud Mary

October 2017

“Proud Mary” is from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s second studio album, Bayou Country, released in January 1969.

This title is more linked to the introduction than the rest of the issue. Indeed, this is the first time I have also named a section with a song title. I like this band very much. I chose this way to write about those topics as I am trying to stay away from controversy.

Some people will get the impression that I mainly listen to Seventies rock – this is true! Some might see Christian references throughout this introduction, which is fine with me.

My heart goes out to all victims of disasters around the world.

Who’ll Stop the Rain?
This 1970 song by Creedence Clearwater Revival has been on my mind these past two months, given the mood I am in and how the world seems. It would be unfair to say there was no summertime in Paris this year, yet it seems as though it rained every day, at least for the last thirty days. Since that is not an accurate description of the weather in Paris this past August and September, we can conclude that human impressions retain the negative more than the positive.

And how can I be so selfish as to complain about Paris weather when horrific disasters have hit parts of the planet, killing many people and devastating several countries? Even the mighty state of Texas seems to be on its knees. In my mind I see an image of a huge Texas bull, kneeling and looking beat.

Reading data, numbers or projections does not have the same effect as seeing people in real situations. It hits home when a family member or a close friend is a direct victim of a tornado, hurricane or other climatic catastrophe.

On August 15th my family attended a baptism deep in the Brittany countryside. It was not celebrated in a church but took place at a site dedicated to worshiping the Virgin Mary, a lovely grotto near the sea. This shrine was covered with plaques erected by sailors before their sea voyages, asking for the protection of the Virgin Mary. Even though it was their job, these sailors knew the potentially massive destruction the ocean could cause, so they knew that there was always a chance they would not come back.

I am not that interested in the religious aspect of this. These men were humble in the face of nature and knew they could not stand up to its fury. As scientists predict that nature will increasingly produce more destructive and more frequent climatic disasters, maybe we should be humble ourselves when we think of the condition of the planet. The common expression “Mother Nature,” represents nurture and illustrates that we get the food, air and water we need from nature.

Unfortunately, lately I have had the feeling (I hope incorrect) that the nurturing Mother Nature now holds a whip and is punishing humankind the old-fashioned way for what humans have done to nature.

“Long as I remember, the rain been coming down
Clouds of myst’ry pouring confusion on the ground
Good men through the ages, tryin’ to find the sun
And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain.”

In France, a PACS is like marriage – that is the understanding everybody now has. But there are two areas where it is not true. I have often addressed the rather complicated procedure to obtain immigration status related to a PACS and living with one’s partner, even if the partner is a French national. When such a couple marries, the foreign spouse of a French national gets immigration status once the wedding has been celebrated and they can prove they live together, sometimes in as little as three months.

A recent ruling from the Court of Appeals in Nancy states very clearly that when one member of a PACS dies, the surviving partner has no right to the estate, regardless of their community property, even if legal documents show a strong intention for the surviving partner to enjoy some benefits, even ownership.

In this case, the surviving party’s argument to the court was that their PACS certificate, in which they declared that all their property was jointly held and in case of death would go to the surviving partner, was the equivalent of a tontine clause. This provision, when found in a title of ownership, does just one thing in a radical and definitive way at time of death: it requires ownership of the deceased’s property to go exclusively to the other partner(s) in the tontine, who is or are mentioned in the title and cannot be changed. No one outside the tontine has any possible claim of ownership on the portion owned by the deceased. Things cannot be clearer.

The argument was there were a few documents indicating such a desire – but not the legal document called a will, drafted and registered with the state, making the surviving partner the heir of the deceased.

French inheritance law makes it utterly impossible to disinherit one’s children, whether blood or adopted. The law sets a ratio of ownership of the complete estate that must go to the children, no matter what the deceased wishes or tries to provide. This is a lot more about debt and liability than ownership.

In the case under discussion, the deceased partner had other heirs who were entitled to half the market value of the house, prior to enforcing the tontine clause. The surviving partner could not afford to buy them out, and was forced to sell the home. This is heartbreaking and adds insult to injury, being pressured to sell up and move out just after the death of your loved one.

The saddest part of the story is that registering a will costs about 45€, and the notaire fee to draft can be about 100€. This entire disaster could have been avoided, with some foresight, at a very low cost relative to what was being lost.

The advice here is crystal clear: each partner in a PACS should make a will, preferably at the time the PACS is registered. The argument that there are no assets owned or debts owed, and therefore no need for a will, is really bad, as this court case clearly shows.

As long as I can remember, there was always a cashier at the Paris prefecture headquarters, making the tax charged for obtaining or renewing immigration status easy to pay. In recent months I had observed that the line to buy timbres fiscaux (tax stamps) was getting longer and longer, with people sometimes waiting more than an hour.

In early September, the cashier office was closed, with a sign on the window stating it was for good(FERMETURE DEFINITIVE). Now the civil servants at the prefecture hand out a flyer at the end of the meeting, explaining how to buy tax stamps on the prefecture website. The system does work, even though it is not intuitive and of course both the flyer and the website are entirely in French.

I know from experience that many people who speak good French, even professors with a PhD in French, cannot understand the website. So I am sure there are many, many people who are upset about this development. Going online is not for everybody, but the alternative is going to either a tax office or a tobacconist. For obvious reasons, even though it is completely irrational, most people do not want to go to the tax office to buy these stamps. The other option is getting them at a tabac. Many, however, do not sell stamps of the large denominations needed – the amounts owed are between 200€ and 600€. Recently in an emergency I had to buy tax stamps worth 269€, the current cost of a normal carte de séjour. I went to the nearest tabac, which had enough stamps – but the highest face value was 20€, which meant getting 13 of them plus change. The form they were glued on was literally covered, as was half the space where the person signs, leaving hardly any room for the signature.

This may just be anecdotal, but I know for a fact that most of the time dealing with the prefecture is truly unpleasant, and it is quite possible that someone other than me would have been asked to come back with a “reasonable” number of stamps. If that had happened, who knows when the person would be able to pick up the carte de séjour.Furthermore, tax stamps are not refundable, so it could mean paying a high price twice over.

This is just to show that what appears to be a change of little consequence ends up creating nightmares for many.

Here is the first page of the website section dedicated to immigration procedures:


And this is the page to start payment for tax stamps:

Here is a story from a reader showing that good situations at the prefecture, while rare, do exist; throughout my career I have seen them more often than the general public thinks. Everybody feels unwelcome entering the immigration office of any prefecture or sous-prefecture alike, but keep this uplifting story in mind:

“I realized a bit late that I wasn’t coming back to France until after my student visa would be expired. This wouldn’t have been a problem but I also couldn’t get an appointment at the prefecture before I left France.

“After asking around it seemed my best course of action was to have my whole dossier (passport, visa, OFII stamp, EDF receipt for housing, letter from the school saying I was continuing next year with dates and certificate of study, 2 passport pictures, birth certificate and a French translation) together and just show up at 8:30 on any day and hope for the best.

“I had honestly prepared for the worst. One of my friends had mentioned that the attendants had literally laughed at her when she tried to come before her appointment. I was met with partial English but complete understanding. They tried to see if I could make an appointment before I left but there were none so they ended up just giving me a number for that morning.

“I was in and out in about 2.5 hours. Which in French bureaucratic time is about 5 seconds. They didn’t give me a physical receipt or anything from my transaction but told me that I would get a text (to my French phone) when the visa was ready to be picked up.

“I left my French SIM card with a friend and she was kind enough to go inquire about it for me when it was ready in May (process was surprisingly quick, they quoted me two months). Unfortunately she wasn’t able to pick it up even though I sent her with all of my relevant documents and a signed letter from me giving her authority to pick it up.

“I came back into the country via Germany on a tourist visa. Despite my best efforts to save my appointment text, … when I got my SIM back I only had texts from August and not May, when I had my original appointment. …

“Luckily they were able to pull up my appointment through my name and expired visa. Literally 5 minutes later my number was called and they gave me my visa. That easy. Shocking, to say the least.

“Definitely wouldn’t recommend doing this, but if you’re in a bind, it is possible! Or at least the stars aligned for me.”

I would reiterate that no one should count on this ever happening to them. This was a completely exceptional situation.

Best regards,


I am truly sorry that you and perhaps other readers objected to my “severe criticism (implicit, but undeniable) of the decision against that poor idiot in the HLM.” But I am happy that you say “implicit” because I never wrote like that – because my focus was not on the person in question. Whether this tenant acted out of pure ignorance or took a risk knowingly, in many ways I believe it makes almost no difference to the way the court ruled.

As for your other comments, I prefer not to respond other than to say that one of the first things we learn in law school in France and the USA, and probably all over the world, is indeed that the justice system cannot be just, and it is virtually impossible for a court decision to be “fair” as the word is commonly understood.

My focal point, last month and now, is this: The tenant was blatantly breaching the rental agreement and lived in a French low-income housing project, where rules related to illicit use are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

What is the French legal concept that is so strong, it supersedes all this? It is protection of domicile.

Foreigners are usually unfamiliar with this concept, since in most countries, the right of ownership prevails and the landlord has a lot more rights and flexibility, managing a rental, than the tenant does.

I would like to review this in detail one step at a time, so as to be better understood.

1 – The tenant made a very big mistake by renting out her apartment. The odds were always in favor of a court decision against her. Subletting violates the very essence of such leases, since the rent is partially calculated according to the tenant’s income, not just the market price.

2 – It is simply impossible to be in ignorance of the very strict limits defined by a lease with the HLM office. The procedure is very long and the landlord heavily scrutinizes the tenant before signing the lease.

3 – Since the amount of rent is partially linked to the taxable income of the household (usually a family), adding a person modifies the rent amount, by definition. It can increase if the person has a good income, or fall if this person has little or no income.

4 – The size of the family defines the number of rooms and therefore the size of the place.

So, to repeat: This court decision proves how strong the legal concept of principal domicile is, and it is a powerful illustration.

The second point, which follows from this, is the need to compare the above situation to the one described in the following paragraph regarding the huge increase in the amount of fines the city of Paris has collected over the past year enforcing this law. It shows the enormous difference in the way the courts rule, depending on whether what the person is renting out illegally is a main residence (domicile or résidence principale) or the person is an investor renting all year round.

My conclusion asked what it took to void such a lease when it comes to renting from an HLM, considering how powerful protection of domicile is for the tenant. I find this question very valid at a time when the media is highlighting the precarious financial situation of HLM offices due to non-payment of rent and the destruction of the common areas of their buildings. But that is a completely different topic, and one that would be highly political.



I am an American and I would like to apply for a long-stay visitor visa for France, for one year, since I plan to live with my girlfriend, who is French. Is it going to be a disadvantage for my application that I will be using her address for the application? I have heard that applicants with a romantic partner in France are less likely to be accepted. Should I mention my girlfriend at all? I would greatly appreciate any advice or opinion you have on this matter.

Can you explain any


I believe that you are confusing two different types of immigration status. There is no risk in having an affidavit of lodging from your girlfriend to ask for the long-stayvisiteur visa or in using it for the rest of the procedure even a couple of years later when you ask for the carte de séjour visiteur at the prefecture.

French authorities strictly answer the exact questions asked. In this case, the French consulate will issue (or not) a specific type of immigration visa requested. The applicant must know what status to ask for in order to know exactly what documents are needed to obtain it. Problems occur when applicants ask broad or vague questions, which French officials are incapable of answering. The consequence may be that the answer addresses only one aspect of the question, ignoring the big picture and thus making the question very dangerous. The other scenario is that they say “No,” the favorite French answer. In either case, it makes things very difficult. One rule in France is to test the “No” at least a couple of times in order to understand how definitive it is. Another rule when one gets such a precise answer is to ask the questions so all the details of the initial answer are covered.

By the same logic, the guidelines are strictly defined for each immigration visa. For the most part, when the file complies with the requirements and the requested immigration status is clearly indicated, the visa is issued without problems and pretty quickly, all things considered. At the consulate or prefecture, problems arise when a request is virtually impossible to understand. Perhaps the problem is that so many documents are lacking that the file is incomplete and so the request is denied. Or there may be so many documents that the file is not coherent and it is difficult to know which status is requested.

There are so many situations leading to French immigration status that such confusion is a lot more common than one might think. In your case, if you state – or, even worse, add a document proving the existence of a romantic relationship, a PACS or a certificat de concubinage, the French consulate is faced with two possible interpretations of your file. This is very likely why someone told you “applicants with a romantic partner in France are less likely to be accepted”: an applicant had complete documentation related to their affidavit of lodging, and maybe support too. Wanting to make these statements stronger, he or she added a copy of a PACS or certificat de concubinage. But now the consulate is confused; is it a request for visiteur status or vie privée status? Since there are documents for vie privée, they decide that’s what is being requested – but they conclude that the documentation is insufficient for that type of visa.

Your goal should be to have your file requesting a visiteur visa be as complete as possible, without documenting that the person who will house you in Paris is your steady girlfriend. That way you avoid the problem.

If you stay within these limits, the consulate knows you will be hosted by someone who might be your girlfriend, a roommate, a landlady who does not want to declare the rental income, or a close relative, just to mention the most obvious scenarios.

If your girlfriend puts together only the needed paperwork proving lodging and maybe even support, but she says nothing about the romantic relationship, the civil servants will know there is a relationship but will not be able to pin down which one it is.

You are making the wise choice, since obtaining an immigration visa based on having a romantic partner (vie privée et familiale) demands a completely different list of documents, and it depends on whether the couple is married, or to be married, or PACSed.

In conclusion, there is no problem with you using your girlfriend’s address to submit a request for an immigration visa.

A completely different issue, which you have not raised but is the natural consequence of holding the visiteur immigration status, is what to do at the end of your first year here? Note that living together for at least one year and being PACSed to a French citizen grants the right to a carte de séjour vie privée et familiale.



Can you tell me what is happening at the prefecture in the 17th (rue Truffaut) and can you give advice since I need to go there to apply for my first carte de séjour? When to arrive, wait times, etc.? I’m a Canadian married to an EU citizen (non-French) and I have done nothing so far.


To put your request in context, I would note that your spouse, as an EU citizen, has the right to live in France without any other documents, but you do not hold an immigration visa and you are going to the precinct of the 17th arrondissement located at 19-21 rue Truffaut to obtain an appointment at the Paris prefecture headquarters on the Ile de la Cité.

First, I would advise going in the afternoon between 2PM and 3:30PM. Avoid at all cost going in the morning. Often people start standing in line at 4AM, so someone arriving at the opening time of 9AM could wait about five hours to reach the reception desk.

Second, make sure your file is complete from the very beginning of the procedure so the prefecture can give you an appointment on your first attempt. The file is a lot more complex than you think. Even if you very carefully follow the list that the prefecture gives, you will miss more than half the documents needed.

The file must contain what France calls your complete état civil, the complete état civil of your spouse, proof of your French address and the fact you and your spouse have lived there at least three months, and proof that your spouse’s “anchorage” is in France, usually professional.

Third, when you get inside the building, take a number for “first request” (1ère demande) and wait to be called by the receptionist, whose job is to be an unfriendly watchdog. You must be prepared to be told that the file is not good enough. It is important to know your file so thoroughly that you can respond and maybe argue in such a way that the receptionist agrees the file is indeed good enough for you to go upstairs. This is not an easy task!

Fourth, when your number is called again (as much as an hour later if they are swamped), you go upstairs. A different civil servant looks at your file and then creates a computer file for you and gives you an appointment.

If the appointment is only a couple of weeks later, then most likely your file will not need updating. But if it is several months later, everything will need to be updated, including the parts concerning your spouse.


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