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Veronica: VISA

December 4, 2009

If you only ever read one of my posts, this one should probably be it. Getting the visa to go to France is a really long process, and it’s kind of complicated.

The first step is to complete CampusFrance. And I’m not going to lie, CampusFrance sucks. Lots. The site gives you walk-through instructions, but they only halfway match what it is you have to do. I thought I’d get this done in an hour or so. I was way wrong. Start it early. And I mean early. It took me at least 2-3 months to do it. If you have questions, go ask the Learning Abroad Center. I did and it made it SO much easier and go a lot quicker. You don’t actually have to fill out as much as the website asks for, which is nice. It’s weird though, because I’m a junior in college, and all they wanted to know about was high school. Made no sense. But anyway… So, the first two sections are hard to do because it’s difficult to tell what it is that they want, but once you get past the first two screens, it’s not so bad. Once you get it filled out you have to wait for your “attestation” from them. CampusFrance says it takes at least 3 weeks and I think I got mine in about a week and a half. Just make sure that you follow all the instructions that you get and complete the entire thing. If you get a part wrong, they won’t tell you. They just don’t process you, and that’s that. If you have a question about whether or not they got everything they need, call them…But I’ve heard it’s hard to get a hold of them, so keep trying. I didn’t call, so I don’t know first hand. Also, you can’t go on to the next step without the “attestation,” so keep an eye out, and if it’s getting close to when you’re supposed to have it and don’t, find out about it.

Once you finish CampusFrance, make an appointment at the Consulate (in the district you live in, not study. Ex: study in MN, live in CA–you have to go to CA. New rule they made up two weeks ago), but give yourself at least a month before the appointment. I would recommend making it more than a month in advance, but not too close to your departure because it takes about a month to get your visa once you go to the Consulate. I leave Jan 11 and my appointment was over Thanksgiving break. That’s probably a good amount of time (I hope, at least. I was only there on Monday.) You don’t need the “attestation” to make the appointment, but you can’t go without it.

Once you have your appointment, make sure you get all the documents you need for your appointment. The Learning Abroad Center gives you most of them. There are some forms you have to print off the Consulate website and fill out in French. There were some questions, like where will you live in France, that you don’t have an answer to yet, so ask the Learning Abroad Center what you should write. The list of documents you need to take is on the Consulate site under the ‘visa for long-stay studies’ section, do everything as it says. They like to have copies of stuff provided along with the original.

Also, make sure you apply for the ‘long-stay studies.’ I almost made the mistake of doing the short stay one. Long-stay is 3 months to a year, which is what you need for a semester or academic year program.

I had to go to Chicago for my appointment. For me this wasn’t so hard because I’m originally from Chicago, so I had plenty of people to stay with and to get me downtown. But if you don’t have people there, I could see it being a difficult and potentially expensive process. You could fly to Chicago; it’s not that expensive, but then you have to get to smack-dab in the middle of downtown from the airport, which can be a hassle. If you take the train, it’s more expensive, but the station is right downtown too. Or you can take the MegaBus, which is SUPER cheap. I’ve never seen it for more than $30 to Chicago. Sweet deal, seriously. And that stops at the train station. If I didn’t have family that took me from MN to home in IL after Thanksgiving, I would have done the MegaBus.

The Consulate is on North Michigan Ave, a couple blocks from the river, and a few blocks from Millenium Park. Really easy to find. It’s on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. Check in at the desk for an elevator pass.

So, the appointment itself. After how stressful everything leading up to it, from making the CampusFrance account to taking the Metra downtown at 6:30am from the burbs, I was expecting the appointment to be completely horrible and hard and just as complicated as everything else. But it wasn’t. They called my name, I stood at a bullet-proof window, gave them my papers, watched them sort them, and then paid the fee. It took all of seven minutes. It was so easy. Such a relief. For me, though, it felt too simple. Almost anticlimactic after everything else you have to do. I felt like there had to be a catch, or something I was missing. But I’m pretty sure that’s just all there was too it. So now I’m going to worry and fret until I get my passport with my visa inside in the mail.

The main things about the visa to know is that it is an expensive endeavor. You have to pay CampusFrance and the Consulate, and you have to pay to get to the Consulate. You’ll have to take time off of school to go. Be prepared to be confused in parts. It’s really stressful (at least CampusFrance is. The rest wasn’t as bad, but if you worry and get paranoid like me, it will be unpleasant). It takes a lot of time to get this done. Everyone I’ve talked to hated the visa process for France, but keep in mind that the appointment, which is essentially what you’re working toward, is easy and quick. And also that you can’t go and have the best experience of your life without the visa, so it’s worth it. Way worth it.

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