How to Work in France
From the Christmas newsletter of a good friend of mine who just got a post-doc in France. Reprinted with his permission. Names omitted to hinder bureaucratic retaliation.
In early March I got accepted for a position in [city redacted] France, and regardless of any considerations of career path and so forth, that was that; when life offers you the opportunity to live in the south of France, you do not say no. But many things made the transition to France a slow one. First, of course, I needed to finish my thesis and pass my defense. Then I needed to convince France to let me in, which required navigating a long and complex bureaucratic process. One example: I had to show France proof that I had completed my PhD, but [school redacted] was not willing to certify that until after their Fall Convocation… almost six months after my defense! That caused all sorts of stress. Another example: to get an apartment in France, you need to show proof that you have a French bank account, but to get a French bank account, you have to show proof of a permanent address in France. Cracking that Catch-22 was rather tricky. And a final example: since we were then residents of New York, the only place on the face on the Earth where we could apply for our French visas was the French consulate in New York City. In person. That this might be inconvenient does not, of course, bother the bureaucrats. In fact, after they process your visa application, which takes an unpredictable amount of time, you are supposed to pick it up in NYC, again in person. I came prepared with a pre-paid FedEx envelope, and asked if they could send our passports back to us using it, but they said no. In fact what they actually said was this: we don’t provide that service, because too many people would want it. Rarely is the worldview of the bureaucrat stated so bluntly!
We’re still not finished with the bureaucracy; it continued even after we arrived in France. I carry a folder with me that has copies of our passports and visas, our birth certificates, our marriage certificate, our rental agreement, my employment contract, my bank information, my vaccination records… you never know what paperwork a French bureaucrat is going to ask for, so it is best to be prepared for any eventuality. We have certified translations into French of many of these documents, up to and including my N.Y. driver’s license. In order to open our bank account, we had to show proof that we had renter’s insurance; why, none can say. Soon it will be time to begin on the bureaucracy for the renewal of our visas.
Because of the Catch-22 I mentioned before, we started in a vacation rental, which is ridiculously large for two people, and even more ridiculously expensive (and it was hard to convince them to write a long-term lease for us, too!). Now that we’ve got our bank account and renter’s insurance and all of that, we can move to a proper apartment, and we plan to do so at the beginning of May.