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Residency permits For Members

Top tips for dealing with delays or problems at your French préfecture

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
Top tips for dealing with delays or problems at your French préfecture
The admission desk at the Alpes Maritimes Prefecture in the French riviera city of Nice, on March 24, 2022 (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

Delays at the préfecture - whether to renew a residency card or simply pick one up - can be one of the greatest bureaucratic challenges foreigners face in France. Here are some tips if you're facing problems with your carte de séjour.

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Many foreigners have experienced problems with their local préfecture - from long delays in processing applications to difficulty getting appointments and problems in making contact with préfecture staff.

If you're a non-EU citizen living in France then you will need either a visa or a carte de séjour (residency permit) - and in the early years most people will need to regularly renew their cards - this means that you will have to interact with their local préfecture, or sous-préfecture.

This is the administrative body that deals with residency permits - so getting, renewing or altering a titre de séjour would all be done via the préfecture. Likewise, préfectures also handle requests for French citizenship.

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Readers of The Local have shared experiences of waiting months for a new card, having their old cards expire while they wait and in some cases being forced to cancel travel plans due to a lack of paperwork.

Here's a look at some of the most common problems and how to deal with them - full disclosure; there are no magic solutions (or not that we know of); 

Expired card or card close to expiry date

Your carte de séjour will have an expiry date printed on it and in most cases you should apply once the date is within two to four months of expiry.

However, an extremely common problem is having your old card expire while waiting for the new one to be prepared - leaving many people very stressed about not having official proof of their right to remain in France.

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In this instance, the advice is to request a récépissé - a kind of official receipt - showing that you have made the request. This acts of proof of your right to remain in France, and can also be used for travel purposes (alongside your expired carte de séjour and a valid passport).

READ MORE: Récépissé: Your questions answered on France's temporary residency permit

Some préfectures issue a downloadable Attestation de décision favorable, which can also be used as proof of your right to remain in France. However, when the time comes to renew again, many people report that the online system does not accept a reference for an Attestation, rather than the actual card.

The safest advice in this situation would be to go online and request a récépissé in addition to your Attestation.

In most cases, you can make this request online via your préfecture. For the Paris préfecture, you first go onto the website for 'demarches en ligne' (found here). Then, you click "Prolongation droit au séjour". This page will give inform you of what to do based on your individual situation.

You will either be advised to send a message to the préfecture requesting via the specialised contact form to request a first récépissé (in this case you should include your convocation, or confirmation of upcoming appointment, and a copy of your previous residency card with the expiration date visible) or you will be advised to use another government website to request an extension of an existing récépissé.

They are usually valid for between three and six months, depending on your situation. They be renewed if you're still waiting three months later (which does happen).

What do I do if they never notify me that my new card is ready?

Once the application is finally processed the usual process is that the préfecture will contact you to tell you it's ready (either by email or SMS) at which point you make an appointment to go and collect it. All préfectures have slightly different processes, but this is the most common scenario.

But numerous readers told us that the notification simply never arrives. 

Jeffrey Weihl, in Nimes, said: "The notification system for you to pick up your card simply doesn’t work. You have to lie and assure the website you’ve been summoned and hope it’s ready. If it’s not they say that you aren’t following procedure. If it is, they will wonder why you didn’t pick it up sooner as it’s been ready forever.

"I’ve personally never gotten the notification."

The most straightforward solution is to go in person to the préfecture to ask about your card - but while that may work in some areas, unfortunately many préfectures only allow people in if they have an appointment.

The other option is to take a gamble and make an appointment even if you haven't received the notification - however, some préfectures require a code or link sent by SMS in order to make the appointment.

In this situation, you may need to request a récépissé and continue to contact your préfecture by other channels.

Getting an appointment at the préfecture

When/if you do get the notification telling you that your card is ready, you will usually need to make an appointment at the préfecture to collect it. In most préfectures, you make an appointment on their website - but it's common for people to find that there are simply no appointment slots available.

In some areas, the lack of appointments is caused by staff shortages or other human issues, however there is also a well documented fraud problem, particularly in Paris and the suburbs.

This consists of scammers using automated bots to book up all the available appointments as soon as they are posted on the préfecture's website. They then set up web pages or Facebook pages advertising appointments for a fee. Although most permits and visas involve a fee, the appointment itself should always be free.

READ MORE: What to do if you can't get an appointment at the préfecture to renew your French paperwork

Several readers have recommended trying at different hours of the day.

Russ Braby in Hérault said: "Here in Montpellier (Hérault) - our local Facebook group of expats has long discussion threads of how ridiculous it is to get an appointment - giving tips to wait until midnight on a Sunday and try with multiple devices all refreshing the page as quickly as possible to try to get a creneau".

Some préfectures release new appointment slots online on Sunday at midnight, so it may help to be poised over your computer at one minute past midnight.

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But the basic advice in this situation is just to keep trying. If you cannot manage to get an appointment before the expiration date of your current card, then you should request a récépissé (as outlined above).

Getting in contact with your préfecture 

Another common thread was the difficulty in making contact with the préfecture -  the first step is finding the correct contact details. You can either go directly to their website, or use this government website.

Simply add 'préfecture' or 'sous-préfecture' plus the town, city or département. You will get to a page like the one below that shows the website, as well as a link for the contact page, email and phone number.

Start by using the official channels of communication, and be prepared to call several times.

If possible, send emails and keep a paper trail of all attempted contact. When emailing, be sure to give your dossier information (numéro étranger, dossier number (if you have one), full name, date of application, current card, expiration date).

When it comes to emails it really is the luck of the draw - some préfectures reply promptly to emails, others require a ling time for a response while others simply don't respond to email queries. 

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It's the same with phone calls - some préfectures an option for you to call while others don't. Likewise some préfectures - usually the smaller ones - accept walk-in appointments while others will only admit people who have an appointment.

Some préfectures have a 'sans rendez-vous' queue, where a certain number of people a day can be seen without an appointment. These are usually heavily over-subscribed and people resort to arriving in the early hours of the morning in order to secure one of the coveted slots.

I've tried everything and cannot get hold of anyone

If you have been unssuccesful with email, phone or walk-in queries there is a possible alternative if your préfecture has a "Point d'accueil numérique: étrangers" or a 'Point accès étrangers" for people to ask questions. Try searching those key words with your préfecture - you may be able to make an appointment to speak to a staff member.

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Aside from continuing to call and email, you might also consider sending a registered letter (lettre recommandée) - though be sure to verify the postal address of the préfecture as it may differ from the appointment location.

READ MORE: Lettre recommandée: Why you need them and how to send them in France

L. Buchanan in Clermont-Ferrand told The Local: "The only way to get a response is to address an LRAR (registered mail) direct to the préfecture location."

Others have combined sending a letter with reaching out to members of local government.

Graham O'Reilly in Seine-Saint-Denis, said "I finally wrote to someone (forget who, but an official person) explaining that I had to go out of the country to work soon and she arranged it straight away."

Meanwhile, one reader said they sent a complaint to the préfet, and another, William Chippendale in Perpignan said he got his local mayor on the case. 

"In late January 2024 I got our village mayor to phone up. Within a week, I'd got a recipisse and a request for more info and another week later was told my application was being processed. (They Mayor has insisted that it must be 'just a coincidence' but I'm not sure what I'm going to do next time!"

READ MORE: Will my French deputé help me with a local problem?

Legal action 

Some readers suggested taking legal action against the préfecture for an unacceptably slow processing time - in this case we're talking about delays that have gone well past a couple of months waiting.

While it may be comforting to feel that you have a lawyer fighting your corner, there is little evidence that launching legal action actually speeds up the application process, and of course lawyers don't work for free.

One final option is the Défenseur des Droits - a French government body that can intervene on your behalf and serve as an intermediary between you and the préfecture. You can contact them online (HERE) or call 09 69 39 00 00 Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 7.30pm.

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Comments (1)

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Pam 2024/06/12 10:13
The most useful way to get things moving at the préfecture, I discovered, will work if one half of a couple has an in-date carte de séjour, or an EU passport, but their husband, or wife, doesn't. We waited until my husband's carte de séjour was within a week of expiry, having applied for renewal several months earlier. We'd phoned and written, but could get no answer about when it would be ready. I made an appointment at our préfecture, in La Rochelle and accompanied my husband there, as I speak more French. The woman told him that he would have to wait until he was contacted to come and receive it. I said, 'but my husband cannot stay past next week, on his card, yet I already live here. as I understand it, in legal terms, you are imposing an Unnatural Separation on us'. (spoken in French.) Colour left the woman's face and she left the counter, going through to some back office. She reappeared with a drawer, containing hundreds of cartes de séjour, already stamped and signed by the préfecture staff. She quickly found my husband's one, got him to sign for receipt of it and off we went. Five years, not one year, this time. I hope that my relating our experience helps others.

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