Warning! Unless you have an interest in acquiring a Long Stay Visa (LSV) for French Polynesia this will prove to be the most boring blog post you will ever read. And if you are interested, get ready, cuz the process is a bumpy ride but it's well worth it (so we're told).
The process is much more confusing and much less efficient than I suspect it need be. I imagine it makes perfect sense if you apply for a LSV for France and you are getting on a plane on a scheduled date. The confusion comes when you apply for a LSV for French Polynesia and you are sailing from Mexico with uncertain departure and arrival dates. And the really stressful part is that you need to apply and interview while in the US and are required to surrender your passports for several weeks. In the United States, the French Consulate contracts a third party to negotiate the visa process. The company is called VFS and they have a half dozen offices throughout the country. The closest and most convenient for us was in San Francisco.
Here's what happened: We were told that the earliest we could apply for our visas was 90 days prior to departure and that we would be able to interview within 45 days of departure. (And to be clear, what they mean by departure date is really arrival date.) Our interview was scheduled for 10:30am on November 9th. We were told not to arrive more than 15 minutes in advance and to expect to be there for 30 minutes. What really happened…we arrived at 10:15am and we were finally called to interview at 12pm. The process did take 30 minutes but the wait time was truly excruciating. Well, unless you enjoy sitting in folding chairs in an institutional waiting room that is overstuffed with other applicants wondering WTF was going on.
The frustration really built when we discovered that the ‘required’ paperwork listed online did not match with the paperwork requested at the interview. Luckily VFS was willing to make additional copies for us at $1/page (eye roll). As a final step, we were finger printed and our passports and applications were stuffed into an envelope for transport to the US Consulate in DC. We were given tracking numbers for the envelope and the wait began.
VFS told us that it would probably take 10 business days to get the passports and visas back. In reality, it took 14 business days but November had several holidays, so those 14 business days really added up to almost a month. Refreshing that tracking page didn't make it happen any quicker either. Our interview was November 9th and we picked up our passports (win) with approved visas (bigger win) on December 3rd. We had been eagerly awaiting the reunion with our passports because we were about a week behind schedule for our departure to Mexico. But what ya gonna do without a passport? We left San Francisco within a few hours, did some power driving in the Dodge, made a brief stop in Arizona, and arrived in San Carlos, where Rhythm had been summering, on December 6th.
Now with passports in hand there is only one remaining problem, our visa ‘start date” is February 1 and we don’t actually plan to leave on our 25 day journey across the Pacific Ocean until early March. So, whats up? Well, you see, we used February 1 as a date because we needed to get to Mexico with passports in hand in December and they wouldn’t allow us to “date” the visas any further out than February 1. But here’s the good news, this is only step 1 of the process. I know that sounds like bad news but its not, its the loophole. The LSV has a start date of February 1 but also has a 90 day window for which to complete part 2, submission for Carte de Sejour (CDS), at the office in French Polynesia. So, we have until May 1 to check in and complete our paperwork for our CDS. That’s what the Visa says anyway, so we are crossing our fingers that it's true. But stay tuned for Part 2 and how that process actually goes down once we arrive in the Marquesas.