French paper(un)work

Look, I know the French have a bit of a reputation for lots of red tape and striking, but this is ridiculous. Three attempts at progress yesterday failed at every mark.

Attempt 1: Carte Vitale

I applied for my French healthcare card back in March 2009 (and wrote about the nightmare here). I’ve  paid €3,500 for the card’s benefits in 2009, but have yet to receive the card. Calls in July to three separate places (diverted to a new place each time) led to someone saying I should have received a temporary paper card, and a week later, it did show up. It isn’t all that useful and I still have to pay full price for most things. So, another call yesterday — and a referral first to a number for a whole separate area of France, then a referral back to the original number, which the guy actually got wrong anyway —finally led to a woman saying that yes, sometimes it takes years and she really had no way of telling when it will arrive. Meanwhile, I’ve received a 2010 payment request of €4,650! So I’m paying for something I don’t even have, and I’m paying way more than I would claim back in a year anyway. Great. Thank you so much, healthcare people in France. I wonder how much extra stress your ‘healthcare’ causes.

Attempt 2: fuel for heating

At the start of December, a man delivered heating fuel. I have a 600 litre tank, plus two 200 litre barrel reserves. He couldn’t get his fuel filler hose into the 600 litre tank, so he filled the two smaller reserves, said the whole setup was dangerous and refused to come back to fill up again. He said he’d get someone from the company to come and have a look at it. At the start of January, with the fuel line going down quickly, a call to the company was short and sweet with the woman saying that no worries, someone would be having a look very soon. Amazingly, I received a call from them yesterday! They called me. They called me. I explained nobody had been to check out the danger and then she asked me to explain the whole thing. I did so, then she said thanks and goodbye. Before she could hang up, I asked her if that meant somebody would be visiting and she said no, it wasn’t up to their company: they just deliver the fuel. I explained that in January, the person on the other end of the phone said someone from the same company would come to check and she agreed that someone would come. I don’t know if I was more confused with her inability to stick to one story or if she just didn’t have a clue what I was saying in French. She’s going to speak to the fuel filler guy and call back today, she said…

Attempt 3: car registration change of address

Now, you might think that this would be easy, but it is not. Rewind: when I finally sent the letter from my old landlord (which he gave me two months later) to say I had left his place, my home/car insurance company asked for proof that I had also changed my address on my car registration (carte grise in French). I hadn’t even thought of that, so I went down yesterday afternoon, prepared after reading what I needed to take with me, to visit the prefecture in Annecy. I had ID, a bill in my name, my old car registration, and the long change of address form that I had to fill out. I’d noticed on their website that they were closed the day before yesterday for some ‘exceptional’ reason, but the web site said nothing about yesterday or any other day in the future. I drove in the snow to Annecy, parked the car and walked in a near blizzard to get to the prefecture. When I got there, it was closed. There was a notice on the door saying that from September 2009, the office would only be open in the mornings. Their website did not mention this. How can their website not mention this? In addition, when I do get around to changing my address, I will have to pay for the privilege and attach new number plates to my car. I moved five minutes down the road from my old house. Is this not overkill?

What really bothers me is that the French tax office sent me a form ten days before Christmas demanding tax information before the end of the year. They expect such a quick response from me, yet here I am still waiting for any and every administrative function to actually function in my favour. I don’t even know if they received anything from my accountant: I couldn’t get hold of him on the phone, so I e-mailed him an explanation and sent the forms to him, hoping he’d do something. He’s on holiday until next week, but that’s okay: the tax office haven’t sent anything else, so I’m wondering if perhaps it’s just a standard of communication in France, and in actual fact, they mean they want my tax details before the end of 2010. I’ll keep you posted.


I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with: , ,
6 comments on “French paper(un)work
  1. I think it pays to never move house in many places in Europe because the whole process is so expensive, time consuming and frustrating. When I arrived in Germany I caused consternation when registering myself at the local town office as they had NEVER had a New Zealander register before. So out came all the rule books, which were consulted and then there was some doubt as to whether my husband and I were actually married since they decided they needed a marriage certificate to prove this which I had the foresight to bring with me though we were not told to. In the end they decided to let me be registered but I feel I had a lucky escape and never went near the city office again, thankfully.
    Good luck with the health insurance thing.

  2. Dana says:

    Hi April, It doesn’t supprise me that the cost of your health care ins. has gone up, but what can you get for your money? Hospital stay? Surgery? House calls? I have ins. through the school I work for and it cost them almost $15,000 a year for me. Do you still pay a deductable? Here’s hoping you never need the ins.. Post more pictures!

  3. April says:

    GaijinhousewifeinJapan, that sounds so familiar! How often have I had someone frown at my valid paperwork and told me they’re not sure it will do. I’m glad it’s not just me.

    Dana, I’m not sure what the health care ins are. This isn’t private insurance: this is the mandatory insurance that everyone in France must have and it covers only the basics. If I want hospital cover etc. I must pay my own private insurance on top of the mandatory insurance. Here’s a guide to what the standard stuff covers:

  4. SebV says:

    Hi April,

    I know that French Paperwork is hell and I can only imagine how you, as a foreigner, should have trouble to get through all this process.

    Two years ago, I had American friends that stayed. I used to help all of them with the paperwork, because we now, as French people how to deal with theses administrations.

    Anyway, I have two advises for you: the first one is to ask someone to help you through this process. The second one is not to hesitate shouting a little bit harder when you find it too much to get answers (attempt 2).

    When you are dealing with the French fiscal administration, you’d better give them a call, ask for legal deadlines and in the meantime write a registered mail to your tax collector. He HAS to give you clues to your questions.

    The car registration bureau is hell. I don’t have any advice to give you, because it’s the worst of all. You never have all the papers they want you to have; they are never open; when they are open, the place is crowded. The only trick I know is getting in before lunch break. People will only go out, and no one can come in. You’ll still have a lot of difficulties to get what you are looking for, I’m afraid.

    To finsh with, go to your CPAM in Annecy, they have also to give you temporary paper card not to pay anymore for the whole price of health care especially when you’re paying tax in France, you have to be insured by the French Social Security, btw this is an obligation when you are working in France. And the amount for health that you’re claiming are referring to what?
    The day you have all of them, take the time to get back all the money you payed for the whole health care…

  5. April says:

    SebV, wow, thank you so much for taking the time to give me (and others in the same situation) some great advice.

    I do have a French friend helping me with the phone calls. He’s able to use the language far more effectively and politely than I am and I did receive a new paper attestation in the mail just yesterday after the phone call to CPAM.

    My new number plates are now with my mechanic, and you’re right about difficulties: the woman who gave me my first queue number shook her head and tutted that the RENTAL AGREEMENT might not be enough to prove I’ve changed address. Then there was a queue number mix-up which caused a big argument amongst queuers, and finally, I paid my €2.50 for the joy of waiting in a second queue and spending an hour in an office to tell them I’ve changed address. I feel like I’m getting on top of this paperwork at last though. Just the taxation issue to go…

    Thanks again SebV, I really appreciate it.

  6. April says:

    Well, the good news is I’ve finally received an application form for the Carte Vitale. Form with photo attached is now in the post, so let’s see how long it takes from here!

Leave a Reply

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by, my other site.

Be entertained

Want the latest blog post in your inbox? Subscribe here.