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 the country of 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. 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 before 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 9. We were told to arrive no 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. Unless, of course, you enjoy sitting in folding chairs in an institutional waiting room that is overstuffed with other applicants wondering WTF is 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). Finally, we were fingerprinted, and our passports and applications were stuffed into an envelope for transport to the US Consulate in DC.
It took 14 business days to get our passports back in our hands. Since November has several holidays, those 14 business days meant almost a month of waiting. Our interview was November 9, and we picked up our passports (win) with approved visas (more significant win) on December 3. At this point, 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 of receiving our passports, power-drove south, and arrived in San Carlos, where Rhythm had been summering, on December 6.
There was only one remaining problem, our visa 'start date' was February 1, and we don't plan to depart for French Polynesia until March 1. So, what's up, you ask?
Well, you see, we used February 1 as our date because we needed to get to Mexico with passports in hand in December, and the Consulate wouldn't allow us to date the visas any further out than February 1 given our submission date. I know this 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 (90 days) to check-in and complete our paperwork for our CDS. That's what the Visa says anyway, so we're crossing our fingers that it's true. But stay tuned for Part 2 and how that process actually goes once we arrive in the Marquesas.