Forays into French bureaucracy: Making a visa appointment

One of the most frustrating (and most fun to complain about) things about interacting with, going to or living in France is French bureaucracy.

I had a doozy with it when I was abroad for a semester my junior year (for more details see these posts about the French medical system: Flu shots, burns).

I’m pleased annoyed to announce that it has already recommenced! And I won’t even be back in France for another two and a half months!

Last Monday, I got my arrêté de nomination and all my other confusing French paperwork in the mail. Last Wednesday I spent a solid three hours reading through it all, making to-do lists and researching various things (housing, translating my birth certificate, etc.).

Then I decided it was time to make my visa appointment.

To live in France for seven months, one has to get a visa. To get a visa, one has to schedule a visa appointment and go in person to one’s regional French consulate, bringing all the necessary nitpicky paperwork, of course. For me this means going home for a few days. (For the record, this is only the first half of the visa process…the second half happens once you’re in France and involves a ridiculous medical examination including a chest x-ray. Stay tuned for more on that in December/January…)

The Los Angeles consulate (and probably all of the French consulates for that matter) requires that you make your visa appointment online through this weird system on its website. I opened up the page, selected my desired date and time, entered all my personal information, and clicked the “schedule my appointment” button.

Then disaster struck—the confirmation pop-up never popped up (you need to print out the pop-up document and bring it with you to your visa appointment). So I tried to schedule it a second time and received an error message telling me that I was not allowed to have more than one appointment scheduled at a time and to cancel my appointment if I wished to schedule another one.

ROADBLOCK: I couldn’t cancel the one they thought I had because to do that you of course need your confirmation number, which I of course never received.

Then I noticed the “system requirements” disclaimer that I had skimmed before the first attempt. Here’s what it says: “The appointment system is NOT compatible with Mac computers or Chrome browsers.” (When I initially read it I thought it said,  “The appointment system is NOT compatible with Mac computers on Chrome browsers.” Hence I had tried to schedule my appointment using Firefox on my Mac).

It’s OK, I thought, I’ll just call the consulate tomorrow during its operating hours and talk to a real person and get it all squared away. 

I thought wrong.

I called the consulate the next morning and after speaking two sentences of nervous French with the operator (after being on hold for 15 minutes, of course) she snottily said, “Do you speak English?” to which I said, “Yes.” Then she plugged me into the automated message in English about visas which told me to read the visa section of the website and that I could call a different phone number during different hours or email a provided email address.

That afternoon, I called the visa number (during the hours the earlier phone message had specified).

This phone call was even worse. Instead of having a real person I could try to talk to who could then insult my language skills before shirking me off to an automated message, it went straight to the automated message which told me to read the visa section of the website or to email if I had questions. It warned me, though, that it would take two to three days for them to respond to my email (if they would respond to it at all—they only respond to queries whose answers can’t be found on the website).

For the record, the website says NOTHING anywhere about what to do if you were and idiot and tried to schedule your appointment with your Mac. It just says over and over again that you MUST schedule online (they will not schedule appointments for you over the phone) and that to cancel an appointment you must have your confirmation number.

At this point, I knew I was in total and utter visa limbo. The only thing I could do was send an email and hope they deemed it worthy of a response.

I sent one explaining the situation in both French and English (just to be safe, and also in an attempt to redeem my previously injured pride by blowing them away with my exquisite written French skills).

Then I waited in anguish for three days, contemplating the irony of being accepted to a program run by the French government but then having another branch of the same government deny me entry to the country because of my choice in computers.

Finally, I got a response email (On a Saturday! When the consulate is supposedly closed! Lies, I tell you, lies!) that was very brief and snarky, but which gave me my confirmation code!

A victory for Upfish.



  1. What a nightmare! But omgsh, DULY NOTED – I’ll be sure to not use my mac or google chrome iffff I ever get to this point…

  2. […] last, I took a brief trip home for my visa appointment at the L.A. consulate. If you remember my post about trying to make the appointment, you won’t be surprised to hear me say that I didn’t have high expectations for the […]

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