Below is a slightly comical, play-by-play of how my passport and visa were stolen, as well the steps I’ve had to take in order to replace everything and successfully conquer and defeat the French Bureaucracy.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
3:15 PM- *Concentrates very hard on the metro map.* “What the actual fuck do these metro lines mean when they intersect with the tram lines? Can I get there from here? Okay. I think I got it.” *Reach for my metro ticket in my bag.* “What the f—!” Realize how light it feels, see the zipper is open, and wallet is gone. Commence mini panic attack.
3:17 PM- Search the floor, the bottom of the metro tracks, the trash cans, and everything around me. Check my jacket and my pockets. Let’s be frank, I was just pick pocketed. Imagine myself in a movie where everything around myself becomes blurry and unforeseen, and the world starts crumbling down into pieces as I run, petrified, into the distance.
3:18 PM- Approach two homeless dudes about my missing wallet. Am scolded at by another man after he tells me to, “N’ayez pas peur” after he asked for cigarettes and centimes.
3:20 PM- Leave the metro. Retrace my steps around the city. Who am I kidding, my wallet is gone.
3:30 PM- Race back to the hostel. Think to myself, “OMG I need to get to Paris. No, I’m in the capital of Belgium, there’s got to be an American Embassy in Brussels. Shit, it’s Saturday, it’s probably closed. But wait! It’s still early, maybe they’ll be open! Americans work at the embassy and they’re used to working on Saturdays! Okay. Breathe, Dana. One thing at a time. OMG, I have no money or credit cards or train tickets, how am I going to get home!?” Arrive at hostel, skip the line of twenty people to talk to the front desk staff, beg them to use their phones, explain what happened. Dial number of the American Embassy in Brussels with hostel phone.
3:48 PM- Put in touch with a woman running the emergency line. She asks what happened, and then scolds me, “You ALWAYS need to have your eyes on your bag in the metro.” Because victim blaming. And that’s what I needed to hear right then and there. Start crying for the first time since the mugging. Lady proceeds to file a report and says I cannot be helped until Monday. I have no money to pay for anywhere to stay because I had just been mugged, but of course that’s not her problem. She connects me with an American Federal Agent. He files an additional report and asks me if I can get in touch with anyone to wire me emergency money. I explain I have no credit cards to access any accounts. He suggests calling someone to pick me up in Brussels since I’m not far from the French border. Think to myself, “I’ve been in France for two weeks. I don’t know if I have strong enough friendships with anyone quite yet to beg them to come pick me up in BELGIUM. Besides, hardly any of us have cars.” The man is trying to get my attentions. Advises me to go to the Police Station ASAP to file a report before leaving Brussels.
4:00 PM- Call my parents. Explain what happened, leak out a few tears. It’s still too early in the states but mom will go to my American bank when it opens to cancel the credit cards. She tries to find and send copies of my papers left with her via iMessage. Assures me that this happens all the time and at least I’m not in Morocco and am extremely better organized than the average person. Tells me not to be so hard on myself. I start to feel a bit better.
4:15 PM- Call French-Brazilian friend (aka one of the dudes I’ve been couch surfing with for three weeks) who was in Brussels earlier today. He has already left but will call his friend to meet me and lend me money for a train ticket home. Will also send me pictures of my papers via email.
4:25 PM- Arrive at police station in Brussels. File report. “OMG Thank God I speak French!” Receive copies of my stolen documents with a reassuring message via email from new American friend. Smile a bit, feel slightly less alone. Wait around police station. Become buddy-buddy with the police women. Talk to them about life in the United States.
5:30 PM- Leave police station with police report. Run into Welsh friend from hostel who gives me spare metro ticket and cash for the train. Bless people like him. Exchange contact info. Will send him card, quid, and heartfelt email later.
6:00 PM- Grab tram to train station and purchase ticket back to France. Feel sorry for myself the entire way home. Watch Love Actually on my iPad because Christmas. Clutch purse and bags the entire time. Receive text message that my American credit cards have been canceled.
9:00 PM- Arrive in Valenciennes. Hop on bus. Take screen shot of ATM at my bank featuring emergency line so I can cancel my French credit card. Call French bank, report card stolen, and confirm a new one will be sent to me. Pass out.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
All Day- Report passport stolen online at the American Embassy in Paris. Schedule an in-person appointment for the following week. Make lists–lots of lists, of documents to get together. Research internet for resources regarding how to replace a stolen work visa for France.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Morning- Inform work colleagues and French host family of my situation. Colleagues give me food money for the week. Bless them. I can’t even eat.
2:30 PM- Start filling out applications and printing documents for my new passport appointment at the American Embassy in Paris (25€ Chronopost Envelope from the post office, 45€ RT train tickets to Paris,15€ carte jeune replacement, two official forms to be filled out and signed, American-sized passport photo, and appointment ticket.)
10:00 PM- Call Chicago Consulate. They are open two hours per day. Because of course. Am connected with someone in the visa section of the Consulate. Explain my situation and inquire about the appropriate steps for replacing my work visa. Woman tells me, “I have no idea what you have to do. Come home and sort it in Chicago. I’m not sure. Not my problem.” Cool. Go to bed defeated.
Thursday, September 18, 2014:
10:00 AM- Attend appointment at the American Embassy in Paris (on Place de la Concorde) for replacement passport. I have all the documents I need and everything is smooth sailing. However, I don’t have the correct sized-photo and have to trek a few blocks to take one. Cool. During the appointment I speak with two women. The first woman is French. I inquire about my work visa and how I can replace it, and if I can replace it here. She says she has no idea and maybe I should just go home at Christmas (even though I will have been here for four months already) and sort it out at the Consulate in Chicago because, “It’s just really complicated to do it in France.” start to fume on the inside. Because “going home to Chicago is absolutely no problem at all. Let me just get on a plane and go to the consulate who has absolutely no idea or motivation to help me. This is despite the fact that I live almost two hours from Chicago. But I’ll just go home because it’s complicated in France. Speak with second diplomat, an American from California. Cracks a joke about my Midwestern accent, then reassures me that I won’t have to go home since I did everything to come here legally. Inquires with colleagues and gives me information for OFII in Lille. Start to relax a little.
2:00 PM- After enjoying lunch in Jardin de Luxembourg, call OFII. Am put on hold for 35 minutes- not even exaggerating. Am finally put into touch with a hostile woman. Explain my situation. She annoyingly tells me to go to the embassy to get a new passport (“Yes, I’ve already done that.”) She then tells me to bring the passport to get my visa approved like normal. Astounded that she doesn’t make the connection that stolen passport means stolen visa, and that there is not a new visa in the passport, I explain this to her. She tells me that they cannot validate a visa not in my possession. I tell her that I understand this, and want to know how to fix it. She tells me (a woman who works at the IMMIGRATION OFFICE) that she has absolutely no idea, and to re-do my visa at the embassy. I tell her that the embassy told me to call her to do the visa. She responds, “Well I have no idea, go back to the United States then, you’re wasting my time, BYE!” Hangs up the phone.
2:45 PM- Start sobbing in the streets of Paris. Feel like Marie Antoinette (because I am in Place de la Concorde) before she gets guillotined because her life is ending. Trek back to the American Embassy. Security won’t let me in without a ticket. I explain the phone conversation I just had and want clarifications before going back home to the north. Random man in a suit explains that if OFII won’t do anything, I need to contact the Sous-Préfecture. Advises me to breathe, be patient, and have faith. Just hang out and chill until I receive my new passport.
3:00 PM- Email Carolyn Collins from TAPIF. I surely cannot be the only Lectrice or assistant to ever have their visas/passports stolen. Maybe she will have some advice on what to do about replacing the visa.
3:15 PM- Down several drinks with my old roommate, Chloé, at a random bar in Paris. Bitch about the French Bureaucracy.
4:30 PM- Take the train home. Have drinks with co-workers to de-stress.
9:00 PM- Receive very thorough and detailed email from Carolyn Collins. Tells me to either go to OFII (nope!) or the Sous-Préfecture and apply for a new Titre de Séjour as a replacement for my visa. MERCI BEAUCOUP, CAROLYN COLLINS.
Friday, September 19, 2014
10:00 AM- Email Sous-Prefecture in Valenciennes. Explain my situation. Beg for clarifications, appointments, anything.
10:15 AM- Call the Sous-Prefecture in Valenciennes. Am told that they only respond to appointment requests via email. I will need to wait. Cool.
2:00 PM- Get the keys to my new place. That’s actually pretty cool. See that my convocation for OFII has arrived, and I have a doctor’s appointment scheduled. Email OFII and explain the situation to them, and ask what to do about the doctor’s appointment.
Monday, September 22, 2014
2:30 PM- Receive new credit card from my new bank. Unfortunately there’s no money in my new account because the credit card that was stolen was from my Toulon branch! Also, receive response from OFII. Am told I have to come to the doctor’s appointment regardless of my missing visa. Okay.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
9:00 AM- Receive emailed response from the Sous-Prefecture. I have an appointment to submit my dossier for a new Titre de Séjour on Thursday, November 25, 2014. Cool. Two days before my three-month stay would be up. Oh, and the 25th is on a Tuesday, not a Thursday. Email for clarifications. Start comprehending attached document of paperwork to include in my dossier.
Friday, September 26, 2014
11:00 AM- Receive my new passport in the mail. Yay! Progress!
3:00 PM- File insurance report with the bank. I will get reimbursed for my new passport and my new visa! I need to submit the paperwork when I will have it all, aka months from now. Because France.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
10:00 AM- Receive new American credit cards, and a new credit card from Toulon. I finally have access to my money and can pay back my colleagues and send money to my Welsh friend! I can also apply for a duplicate driver’s license and STA Youth Card, to be mailed to my parents’ in the USA, and then sent to me later in the month.
Wednesday, September 30, 2014
2:00 PM- Have a meeting with the chef de pôle at the university. She helps me with my Sous-Prefecture dossier and tells me to bring everything on Monday. She knows someone who works there and will call her to submit my dossier 1.5 months early. Is this real life!? I am in high spirits. She explains that I will probably have to go to OFII, complete the doctor’s appointment, wait to receive a new titre de séjour from the Sous-Préfecture in my passport, and then go back to OFII for the vignette. Because that makes total sense. At least she’s being helpful.
3:00 PM- Realize the only piece of the dossier I am missing is the copy of my entrance stamp into France. The only existing copy lies with OFII. Because of course. Email OFII to see if they have the copy, and if they can scan it to me. Receive response an hour later to ask at the front desk. Great.
Monday, October 6, 2014
8:00 AM- Submit my dossier to my university supervisor in Valenciennes, who sends it off to her friend who works at the Sous–Prefecture. Feeling damn good about myself.
11:00 AM- Receive call from secretary stating that I need a quittance de loyer from my landlords. Frantically call and text landlords, who will quick make something up and email it to me. Forward their document from my phone to my secretary’s email. Problem fixed. Dossier complete.
12:10 PM- Leave class 20 minutes early. Sprint like a madwoman to the train station and catch the train to Lille for my OFII appointment, with all printed emails in tow.
2:00 PM- Arrive at OFII Office in Lille. Wait to be called. Ask man immediately for a copy of my entrance stamp. Woman who I spoke to on the phone almost a month ago interjects and says I cannot be here without my passport or visa. I pull out a copy of every email exchanged between us and give it to her. She says to continue with my doctor’s appointment and we will touch base at the end. I’m not sure I trust her because there are 30 people in an office built for seven.
2:30 PM- Am confronted and told that I will not receive a vignette at all, and will not be required to come back and get one later, as the Sous-Prefecture will give me an actual card, and not a new visa in my passport. Not really in the mood to argue, but still completely confused.
3:00 PM- Leave OFII with a copy of my entrance stamp and a certified document from OFII stating that I attended and passed my doctor’s appointment. Scan these documents via iPhone camera to the secretaries at the university, who add it to my dossier to be sent off later that day.
3:15 PM- Enjoy drinks with a friend to celebrate.
Friday, October 10, 2014:
Receive email from the secretary at the university where I work. Someone from the Préfecture will be on campus on Tuesday to complete the next stages of replacing my papers: Sign the CERFA and give my fingerprints. Email back to confirm if I have to schedule an appointment time or not–am told it’s not necessary and to just show up because it’s only a 5-minute ordeal. Okay.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
2:00 PM- Finish teaching and jet off to the Maison d’étudiante to meet with the prefecture representative. Walk into the building, and am directed to the correct room. Am told I need a rendez-vous— there are at least seven other students in front of me. They all have scheduled appointments. Cool. I call my secretary, who reassures me that I do not need an appointment, and that the woman called her specifically regarding my situation. Okay. Wait for 40 minutes on a chair. The woman opens the door, calls a student, and immediately slams the door again. No nonsense here. Backtrack to secretary number one, who brings me to secretary number two, who brings me to secretary number three. Secretary number three says she was never informed of my situation or this service for me, and that this service is strictly for students– I should go directly to the Sous Prefecture in the city instead of the office at the university. I’ve been running in circles for an hour, and have been told three different things by three different people. Because France. I show her the emails from my secretary and beg her to give her a call. Nope. She tells me to go back and wait for another hour and a half to see if she will “see me at the end.” Feeling defeated and especially pissed off, I retreat. However, a few minutes later, secretary number two comes back, knocks on the sous-préfecture door, and enters. She comes back out, tells me that indeed the lady is waiting for my arrival, and she will take me after the next student- secretary number finally decided to make the call to my secretary to clarify. SUCCESS.
3:30 PM– I enter the office, have my finger prints taken, and sign two different documents. Then I am given my golden ticket– my récépissé– basically my substitute carte de Séjour until the actual card arrives. I can travel again. I’m here legally again. I should receive my carte in the next 1-2 months.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
I finally got around to sending the papers (Insurance claim, copy of the police report, copy of my new passport, a copy of the receipt for the passport, and a copy of my bank statement indicating the withdraw for a new credit card) to the insurance company so I can be reimbursed for my passport and my new credit card. Hopefully, I will also be able to send in papers for my new visa, as I will be required to pay a tax on it that I normally would not have had to pay had I not had to apply for a carte de séjour.
Friday, November 14, 2014
I receive a notice in the mail from the Sous-Prefecture in Valenciennes that my carte de séjour is ready for pickup, and that I should report to them on November 20, 2014, at 14h30 PM, with the correct amount of money- 260 euros, for the timbres fiscaux.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
I have been reimbursed in full for my credit card and my passport by the insurance company!
Thursday, November 20, 2014
I arrive promptly at 14h30 at the Sous-Prefecture with my money, but am told I need to buy the timbres fiscaux elsewhere, before arriving. Thankfully, the lady working was really nice and flexible with me, and was able to get me my carte de séjour. I am now legally in France until next October! I am extremely proud of the fact that I was able to receive my new carte de séjour before the original date of dropping off my first dossier— the 25th of November!
Saturday, November 22, 2014
I submitted the rest of my visa reimbursement papers to the insurance claim, and am patiently waiting to see if I will be reimbursed for those as well.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
The insurance called me stating that they had received my final paperwork for my visa reimbursement, and that I definitely had the right to the money, but that my receipt wasn’t valid. I needed to go to the Sous-Prefecture to get a new one. I went there, grudgingly, original receipt in hand, but was told that it was not possible to produce a new receipt. The woman working even called another, higher up woman to ask, and she too said it was “pas possible.” The woman then told me that I should have asked the day I was there (I responded that I had, and that her co-workers gave me the receipt I was holding, assuring me it would suffice), and she told me that was “not her problem.” CHARMING. I returned home, sent an email to the Sous-Prefecture, and waited.
Thursday, December 4th, 2014
I received an email from the Sous-Prefecture saying that they cannot produce a new receipt for me. So, I call the insurance company, telling them that I tried but have hit a wall. I ask the woman kindly if she had any other suggestions, and she simply says, “Madame, I have just forwarded your reimbursement for 260 euros; you will receive it in the morning.” And that was that.
Overall, I am still in awe over the lack of process for replacing stolen work visas. What a wild few months it’s been. Welcome to Admin Hell.