Forays into French bureaucracy: Birth certificates, translations and apostilles

Because I’m going to be employed (and paid and taxed) by the French government, I get have to become part of the Sécurité Sociale (the Sécu for short, a.k.a. the French health care system).

To start this arduous, red-tape-laden process, the French need proof that I was born.

I was advised waaay in advance by the higher-ups at TAPIF in Washington, D.C. to procure an official copy of my birth certificate. This meant paying money to the State of California and getting a replica copy of said birth certificate, rather than just photocopying it.

In late June, my fellow TAPIFers and I received a bevy of emails about the birth certificates and about getting them translated into French. This seems silly to me, as birth certificates aren’t too complicated as far as documents go and any French person working for the Sécu could probably figure out what words like “Name,” “Date of Birth,” “Mother’s Name,” etc. mean. But apparently not.

So, as suggested, I perused the LA French consulate website’s translator page to find one near me. My mother contacted her. She’s a real French person, and a legit certified and accredited translator, recommended by the French consulate. She translated my birth certificate and made it comply to the requested crazy French format. Should be good enough, right? Wrong.

Even though the translator has all the credentials, her translation had to be approved by the French consulate (this is of course communicated to me after having started the translation process). The French consulate, however, often does not offer this service. The alternative that is then suggested is to just get the damn thing translated and certified once you’re physically in France. (But this is pretty much impossible, as the TAPIF people in France want it before I get to France…another catch-22…)

Luckily, the translator’s husband used to work for the LA consulate and somehow swung it in a super cool behind-the-scenes navigating and surpassing of red tape and got my translation officially approved. Sigh of relief.

But wait, the fun doesn’t end there!

Around the same time, I got another email from the TAPIF people in Washington, D.C. alerting me that I had to procure an apostille for the official (English) copy of my birth certificate—an apostille is basically another verification attesting that the people who signed the birth certificate are legitimate. This involved paying the State of California more money and getting a fancy piece of paper with some stamps and signatures attached to the birth certificate.

The most annoying aspect of all of this is that instead of receiving one comprehensive email detailing the required elements and the suggested steps and processes to attain them, I got a series of emails that more often than not contradicted one another. You’d think, since TAPIF is a yearly program, that they’d have this all figured out by now and it wouldn’t be a new discovery each and every time.

The best part is, once I get all these documents to them, it’ll take three months before my Sécu application is approved and I can reap the benefits of socialized health care. In the mean time, I have to purchase supplementary health insurance.



  1. even when you think you’re doing something right, you still end up hitting road bumps? man. sounds like such a stressful run-around!

  2. […] birth certificate (complete with apostille) and its certified […]

  3. […] Around the same time, I got yet another letter from the CAF. This one asking for a copy of my birth certificate. […]

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