I’ve been holding onto this post for quite a while. I was waiting for the dust to settle. Today, it has. I have picked up my French driver’s license! This all started back in early March of 2016. Here’s the story…
Recently, driving home from our local prefecture on a license exchange issue, my husband exclaimed, “There’s nothing scarier than a nutter with power”. He was referring to a woman at the prefecture who has been hell-bent on making my life miserable.
You see, certain US states have an agreement with France for license exchange. My state, Florida, is one of them. So, according to the Service-Publique France website, I can exchange my Florida license for a French one if I apply within one year of the date of my carte de sejour. So, I drove up to the prefecture to meet a friend and translator to make my application several days before the deadline.
Knowing from past experience just how French bureaucracy works, I made sure I was over-prepared. I had every single document listed on Service-Publique, in triplicate, translated when necessary, in addition to one or two other things I thought might come in handy.
Here’s how it went:
First, the woman to whose window I was called had to check that Florida was in the US (I’m not kidding). Then she claimed she couldn’t read the license (hence I pulled out my certified translation). Then she said it was too new (2013) and that the best they could do was give me a provisional license reducing me to a new driver despite 30+ years of experience and a spanking clean record. So then I explained I previously has a NC license which I exchanged for this FL one when I moved in the US. She said there was no note of that on the license and shook her head (at which point I pulled out a certified translated drivers record that said exactly that!) Then she said she had no history for my former license in NC (which I produced). Then she said, “We don’t have an exchange policy with NC.” No shit, Sherlock. But my license is from FLORIDA! She couldn’t have cared less.
She said all she could do (as it was out of her hands completely…forget the fact that the previous year this same woman somehow found the courage to make an executive decision and issue my husband’s license on the spot) was take half my application, tearing up the required form to request the exchange claiming it was unnecessary. Then she told me to return the following week if I didn’t receive a letter beforehand denying my request.
This did, regrettably, ruin my day. I was despondent. But after a night of very little sleep tossing and turning over whether or not to roll over and play dead over this or to go back and face her royal highness, I chose to go back. For one thing, it donned on me I had failed to ask for a recipisse or receipt for my dossier, something that the Service-Publique website clearly stated should have been issued. It took all my faith and courage but I was determined that A) this woman not determine my destiny and B) that I do something productive and healing with the toxic feelings in me.
I called upon my French teacher at the time who met me at the prefecture and filled her in. I went with the intent of asking for a receipt for my visit the day before because I didn’t get one, and if possible, to plead my case to someone else. No such luck.
Madame bore her usual sour expression, at first scolding my friend for skipping line (we hadn’t) and then rudely refusing a receipt when my friend requested it. That’s when Madame noticed my phone. It was like a light went off in her head. Yes, I was recording everything! Suddenly she smiled brightly. She said it wasn’t a problem that there was blue ink on my application (which yesterday she claimed was an issue), and she helpfully asked if I had with me a record that she refused to take yesterday. Imagine!! She still wouldn’t take my required form saying it wasn’t important “yet” and that I’d still have to go back next week…yes, with the very form she wouldn’t take.
I didn’t know what would happen next, but I was hopeful Madame would think twice about yanking this yank’s chain again. Camera-phones rock! She may not have given me a receipt, but I left with one all the same! It’s unfortunate. Miserable people spread misery. They can’t contain all that agony themselves. In believing in their powerlessness, they fail to see their true power lies in helping people overcome their difficulties, not in creating more for them.
Anyway, after three more appointments (one to turn in that form, one to pay for my license, and one to pick it up, in addition to the two already mentioned, for a grand total of 5 trips), I finally have my license in hand, and it only cost me just under 300 euros factoring in translations, administrative help, all that gas, and the actual cost of the license! I’m not complaining. I’m really one of the lucky ones not having to take French driver’s lessons! Do I hear angels singing???
I know. I know. I haven’t been keeping up with the blog as well as I might. Real life keeps getting in the way. We are currently in the midst of our latest head-butting practice having to do with my US house closing from the distance of France. I’ll leave that fun story for another time…suffice it to say, it involves multiple complications, strenuous efforts, and lots of walls, oh…and a trip to Paris!
During this latest trial, Stuart and I were both struck with a certainty that there must be a special hell for bureaucrats. In fact, we’re pretty sure what goes on in that hell.
* * *
[The bureaucrat arrives in hell which is disguised to look exactly like the gates of heaven. He approaches the front desk.]
“Proof? I don’t have any proof. I’m dead.”
“Sorry. I can’t let you in without proof. Here. Fill out this blue form.”
“Do you have a pen I could borrow?”
“Yes. That’ll be $8543. Cash or charge?”
“Okay, here is my completed blue form.”
“This will never do. We need at least three copies…”
“Is there a copier here?”
“…three copies, that is, of your birth certificate translated into at least 5 languages.”
“Are you shitting me?”
“And I don’t see your parents’ signatures on here.”
“But my parents are dead. In fact, they’re probably here.”
“No excuses! I can’t let you in without their signatures.”
“You have another option.”
“Make an appointment for a signature exception.”
“Okay, I’d like to make an appointment for a signature exception.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t do that here. You’ll need to take the stairs down 567 flights, past the red tape, to the Signature Exception Department. They’ll be closed for the next six weeks, though. It’s vacation season.”
[Arrives at the Signature Exception Department and waits 6 weeks.]
“I need a signature exception please.”
“May I please have your stamp?”
“You were supposed to get stamped at the front desk upstairs.”
“I don’t…they didn’t…but…but…”
[Goes back up the 567 flights of stairs to the front desk.]
“I need a fucking stamp.”
“There are people ahead of you. Take a seat.”
“No! I demand a stamp now!”
“Fine. The stamp department is through that rotating door.”
[Goes through rotating door. Bureaucrat is now locked out in the freezing rain. Eventually, he finds his way back in again, gets his required stamp and goes back down 567 flights to the Signature Exception desk.]
“Oh, you again. Stamp? Let’s see. The next available appointment is 9 years and 37 days from today at 11AM.”
“Do you want it?”
“What am I supposed to do for 9 years and 37 days?”
“Well, you can start on the application.” [hands over an inch thick packet]
“This is the application?”
“Well, it’s the first part.”
“You mean, there’s more?”
“Yes. That’s Part A, the shortest. There is also Part B, Part C, Part D, Part E…and a few others, but the worst by far is Part ZZZ. Oh, and this too. This just requires you to name all of your siblings.”
“I only have one brother.”
“By siblings we mean cousins…1st, 2nd, 3rd once removed, and twice, and third removed cousins as well. This will need to be certified by a notary…from Belarus…with an affidavit from the North Korean government. All parts must be translated into every known language on the planet including dead languages such as Latin, Akkadian, and made up languages such as Klingon and Ubba-dubby. This must then be submitted in triplicate, no staples, along with a four leaf clover.”
“And where am I supposed to get a four leaf clover?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t help you with that. It’s not my department. But when you find the right department, they’ll ask you for a recent photo…no more than one minute old. I have to warn you, they usually have a very long line. I’d bring a camera…and a printer.”
[So finally, our weary bureaucrat hands in all his paperwork after many years of struggle and toil.]
“Here. I’ve finished my application. Can I please go through now?”
“What is this?
“But these are the old forms. We can’t accept those anymore. Dear me. You’ll have to start again using the new forms.”
* * *
Something like that anyway.
So, today, I have begun my research into moving all of my crap overseas. You may be able to tell by my use of the word “crap” that I am less than enthused by the impending process.
It’s a good thing I starting looking into this now, because like every international process, it is incredibly complicated, costly, and full of bureaucratic delights. Today, I discovered, for example, that I need what’s called a “Certifcat de Changement de Residence” from the French Consulate. (What would have happened, I wonder, if I had failed to realize this? A 21.2% TVA on my items?) This gets sent to me, I fill it in, it goes back to them for a stamp, and then gets sent back to me…or something like that. And rats, I think I also need a Certificat de Non-cessation to prove all items are for my personal use which I failed to request when I called the consulate not 20 minutes ago. Doh! Maybe, just maybe, they’ll include it?
There are other things it says I need but I don’t think they apply to my situation as a spouse of an EU citizen. I’m not relocating for work, for example, so I can’t provide documents to that effect.
I am not bringing a lot with me, and the more I learn, the less I feel attached to things. Nothing I own is really worth anything…’cept to me, of course. I have very little furniture anyway, and only three small pieces that I want to have in my new home. I do have several electronics items and my sound healing tools, and hopefully, I can locate some proof that I own all this…ahem…crap because supposedly, I may encounter difficulties without recus or receipts.
I’m also bringing some clothes, shoes, jewelry, suitcases, books, much-loved kitchen items like the colonial flatware I grew up with and ye olde US measuring utensils, and papers. Really, I can’t imagine it taking up more than 25 sq ft. of space. Though I would like to bring my unused cosmetics, supplements, and food items, it sounds like that will be more trouble that it’s worth. Best to start using it up (and yes, I will grieve the loss of my irreplaceable, beloved Neem toothpaste).
I apparently will need a detailed inventory of all items, one inventory per box, electronics separate, in duplicate, signed and dated…and of course, translated into French. Wee. And I’m not talking French! (Please pardon my oui joke.)
Now, as for getting it there, I seem to have several options starting with air or sea. They say sea tends to be more economical, so that’s most likely the way I’ll go. Now within that category, I can pack and transit myself to the carrier, pack myself and have it picked up, or have it packed, transported, and shipped for me. I can also have a private or shared container, in which my belongings would be created with the belongings of others. It can arrive at a terminal in France where I can pick it up or it can be brought to my French residence. So many options!
I don’t know anything else yet…and frankly, even this was more than I ever wanted to know. I’ll post more as I learn more. Wish me bon courage!
This post is a bit of everything you never wanted to know about international marriages and banking and Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs). Aliens who marry a US citizen…aliens of the “different country” variety not the “outerspace” variety… will need to acquire an ITIN, or sort of alternative social security number, with the IRS. Stuart and I are learning about this now.
It came to my attention when I began to research what would need to happen with my 2013 taxes as a consequence of marrying this year. What I discovered is that with a non-resident alien spouse, I had an option of filing “married separately” or “married jointly”. The ins and outs of that can be found elsewhere, so I won’t go into it here.
But in terms of this ITIN thing, if we elected to file jointly, then we would need to also apply for Stuart to have an ITIN. This application would then be attached to our income tax return when we filed before the April 2014 deadline. For various reasons, I’m pretty sure I’m going to file separately…keep Stuart out of the US tax maze for now…so I was relieved that I no longer had to worry about the ITIN.
You know how married people sometimes want to co-mingle bank accounts…and how, in fact, that is often a necessity in terms of proving a serious marriage to the powers that be…and how if anything ever happened to either of us, by sharing an account, the other would have easy access? The conversation with my bank went something like this:
“I’ve recently married a non-resident alien, and I’d like to add him to my accounts. What documentation do you require?”
“Please have your spouse call our contact center or visit any local branch office with your account number to open an account.”
To which I replied, “Yes, well, he’s in France. He is a non-resident alien, not a resident or citizen…and that process can take 12 months. What are our options for adding him to my existing accounts?”
“To open an account, he will have to have a social security number (ssn) or a taxpayer identification number (ITIN). We will also need his notarized signature on the paperwork to open a new account or add him to your existing account.”
This was starting to sound like a lot of fun.
I did some more research then about getting him an ITIN and found out it wasn’t that easy. In fact, the IRS is making it more difficult than ever. I would need a letter in order to apply without filing taxes. I also heard some forum rumors that others were successful in adding their spouses to bank accounts with a passport number. So my conversation with the bank continued:
“I have heard from sources that passport numbers are sufficient for nonresident spouses as ITINs are not generally available to people who do not currently file taxes in the US. Is that a possibility? As the account is also in my name as the primary holder, I will be the one responsible for associated taxes. If not, then I understand that I would need a letter from the bank to the IRS stating that an ITIN is required to be added to an interest bearing account to mail with his application. This, of course, will delay our ability to comingle funds which is a helpful for immigration purposes.”
“We do require either a SSN or ITIN, so we are mailing you a letter stating that fact for you to include with the application for the ITIN application. Once he has received his ITIN, you can both visit a branch to have him added, or you can send us another message, and we will mail out the required forms. Please note that signatures by mail need to be notarized, so visiting a branch is generally easier but we wanted you to know all your options.”
So, I have to wait for a letter from the bank to prove to the IRS that without it, I can’t add my spouse to my bank accounts which would prove that we really are seriously married which is a requirement in order to apply for a CR1, and it will take 4-6 weeks to get the ITIN, at which time we can finally do all the paperwork at the bank, making sure, of course, that everything gets notarized over in France so Stuart can send everything back to me to bring to the bank so I can add him to my account. Got it!
To top it off, in order to get an ITIN, Stuart must provide either original or certified copies of two of very specific documents such as his passport, birth certificate, or driver’s license. He can’t surrender his passport or driver’s license for 4-6 weeks as he needs both. Certified copies must be authenticated by the issuing authority. Now, if he lived in the UK, where all his documents originated, that wouldn’t be a big deal. But he lives in France. And I’m thinking…great! He has to drive 5 hours and take a 10 hour ferry to the UK? Thankfully not. It means to get certified copies, he has to go to an embassy or consulate. At first, we thought that meant Paris, a five hour drive. But there is a consulate in Bordeaux (can I get an Amen!) which is only an hour drive. It took several hours for me to figure all of this out.
It’s a heck of a lot of rigamarole just to get my spouse added to my bank account. It was much easier for Stuart to add me to his bank, although I have to say, they did ask a lot of rather strange questions: Does Madame have any unusual birthmarks? Just kidding.
Just as we were resolving ourselves to the complexities of our situation, I discovered that a person can apply for an ITIN in person at a Tax Payer Assistance Center. Woot! There just happens to be one two hours away from me. And, as Stuart is planning a visit for the holidays, we can make the drive, get his documents certified in person and immediately returned, then drive back and visit the bank…in person…to get him set up! So either we proceed with Stuart getting things certified now in France and maybe have his ITIN by the time he visits. Or we wait a couple of months, do the application here in person, and then wait the additional 4-6 weeks for the number to be granted. Either way, if all goes as planned, we should have that little number thingie by mid-February at the very latest!
Isn’t this fun? But really, I just keep counting my blessings. I can’t believe how fortunate we are to be able to research this stuff and find the answers we need. Some people barely speak English and have to get through this nutty international maze. Some people don’t have the option of applying for an ITIN in person. They have to do it from some wacky country, dealing with translators, lawyers, and fees. Some people aren’t aware of their options!
One thing is clear. As an international spouse, I am becoming a family member of not just my new husband, but of a large population of courageous souls treading the rapid rivers of dizzying bureaucracy.