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Creating your Expat Dossier

France is bureaucrazy. But to be honest, aside from my Visa arriving only two days before I left America, I haven’t really had any bad experiences with it. Granted, I have an employer that helps me know which papers need to be filed when and have otherwise smoothed the bureaucracy for me a bit. That being said, it’s really important for new expats to stay on top of their various paperwork and bureaucratic meetings that will be required the first couple months to set up everything from a cell phone and bank account to getting medical insurance and a social security number. That’s where the dossier comes in! 

The dossier is a bunch of copies of essential pieces of papers. It’s kind of like a stamp collection only the stamps are official seals and helps you do nifty things like open bank accounts. Staying organized and as thorough as possible really helps when I’ve had to go to government agencies. So I’ve decided to give you a rundown of all of the Important Pieces of Paper that I keep to help new expats make their own Fancy Dossiers That Help You Do Nifty Things With a Minimum of Scrambling and Fuss.

And once it’s complete (well, you’ll likely add to it as you go along) it’s nice to be able to look through everything and remember the headache of applying for everything and the thrill of actually getting approved! And trust me, it’s worth it to get a simple notebook with sheet protectors because 1) it’s protected from water and 2) you can actually see where things are. For a while I was using a ripped up DHL envelope but it’s much more pleasant with an actual folder.

The Dossier

  • Copies of your Passport. When you travel anywhere it’s always good to keep one of these in your luggage just in case your original passport gets lost.
  • Copies of your Visa page.
  • Certified Copies of your Birth Certificate translated to the pertinent language (I did this once I was in France, it was about 30 euros)
  • Marriage Certificate (not applicable for moi)
  • Vaccination Records
  • Passport size photos (I’ve gone through about a million of these. You can never have to many).
  • Proof of Residence (usually a gas bill or electric bill will suffice. Somehow the actual lease does not)
  • Work Authorization from OFII (if you’re American you’ll get this before you leave)
  • Employment Contract
  • 3 last pay stubs
  • 3 last bank statements
  • your United States tax number (found on a W-2) because the U.S. kinda sucks and makes expats file tax returns even if they haven’t stepped foot in the country all year
  • My hard-won carte vitale because I am very proud of it as it makes me super French (and insured)

Vive la France

Remember! Make way more copies than you’ll ever think it necessary. A printer/scanner will be your new best friend. Or at least the person at your workplace who has access to a printer/ sca nner. And get translations of the copies!  My company told me to bring to France 4 certified copies of my birth certificate which required writing to the State of California, paying $25 each and waiting several weeks. Thankfully, I decided while I was going through the effort I should order a couple extra copies. And guess what? I’ve used them.

You just never know what they are going to ask for but with all of this you will be more prepared than most! When I was opening my bank account the man actually laughed at me because I was throwing so many pieces of paper at him. But I’d heard horror stories! Anything you think you might possibly need or looks slightly official add it to the dossier.

I also keep

  • My house insurance statement
  • Copy of my rental lease
  • I actually have a copy of my chest X-Ray that I was required to do. I’m not sure why I have it but since they made me do it and gave it to me I figure I’ll just leave it in the dossier. Plus it’s kinda cool.
  • My relevé d’identité bancaire which is basically my French bank account info and what you need to do just about anything here
  • My resume

If you have prescriptions or an international driver’s license I’d pop those in as well.

Bon courage!


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