Thursday, October 22, 2009

La Sécu - French bureaucracy at it's best!

I was originally planning to post about the Salon du Chocolat, but that will have till wait until this weekend since I am too lazy to upload the photos onto my computer. Instead I am going to discuss la sécu, or sécurité sociale, a shining example of the misery of French bureaucracy.
So, I once again went to the social security office yesterday to try to turn in all my papers and finally start the processing of getting my carte vitale (the card you need to be able to benefit from the wonderful French health care system). And yet again, I left shortly after, disappointed, angry, irritated and no closer to getting my papers turned in than I was before I came. Because, as usual, I needed yet another document that wasn't on my previous list.
But to fully understand my never-ending battle with la sécu we must go back a few years to when it all began.
September 2007. I had just finished my Masters and was heading off to France to spend a year teaching English and living with my boyfriend. I was also thrilled about the timing...I was just about to be dropped from my parents plan, and it was perfect because I was going to get to France and be able to benefit from their amazing system. Little did I know how miserable a process this would be. Upon arrival in France I learned that I would have to wait a while before I would be able to go in and get my official social security number, my social security rights and my carte vitale. Ok, fine, I was sure that wouldn't be a problem. Just had to wait to get my carte de sejour, which would take a while, but I would have to avoid any hospital emergencies until then. It didn't bother me too much.
February 2008. I finally got my carte de sejour and at the beginning of the month I planned to visit the social security office in the KB on one of my days off. I readied myself, meticulously reading and rereading the list of documents to present and making sure I had them all as well as an adequate number of photocopies, and any other document I could possible think of, just in case (one can NEVER be too careful with French administration). I went to the office, waited my turn and when my number was called, proudly walked up to the woman and explained why I was there. I began presenting all of my documents, and that is where the problem began. The list I had been sent was for Paris, not the KB, therefore my list of documents was slightly different. While I had almost everything I needed, she said I was missing one key pay stub for October. I kindly explained that one the list it said I just needed 3 pay stubs, and I had indeed come with 3 pay stubs, I just couldn't find the one from November. Nope, she says. That list is for PARIS, this is the KB and you have to have the pay stubs from your first three months of work. Ok, fine. So I verify with her that if I go home, find this pay stub and come back with all these same documents and the October pay stub, then I will be good to go. Yes of course, she says. Ok, thank you and I will be back.
March 2008. Unfortunately right after my February trip I was on vacation for a few weeks, so I didn't make it back until March. After having turned my apartment upside down, I had finally found my October pay stub, so I returned to the social security office with all the papers that I had been told I needed (as long as every other paper I own, as usual). I went in feel confident. I waited my turn and when my number was called I walked over, excited to finally get this done. I explained why I was there and presented all my documents. And then to my surprise, the woman told me I was missing something. What? How was this possible? I was assured by the last lady that this was all I needed. No, I needed another document that unfortunately I did not have with me (I can't even remember what it was, that is how ridiculous it was). Fine I mumble, not at all okay with the situation. And so I verify, once again, that once I have that other paper, I would not need anything else. She promises me that this is the case. I leave, tail between my legs, mumbling about the stupid French system under my breath.
April 2008. I know, it took me another month, but I had a friend visiting. I go back, armed with all the necessary papers and everything else I own (including the kitchen sink). I wait my turn and wearily walk to the window when my number is called. I fearfully explain why I am there and hand over my papers. And then, those dreaded words came yet again telling me that I needed another document. What!?!?!?! I cry. This is not possible, I explain. I have been here multiple times and each time they assure me that this is all I need. But the evil French fonctionnaire just shakes her head no (without saying sorry) and says I need this form filled out by the school I work for before they can take my papers and process my file. She hands me the form and waits for me to gather my papers and leave. I ask her how long it will take once I turn in all my papers. 2-3 months she says. Well, I am about to leave France, my contract ends at the end of the month and I have no idea if I will be returning. She explains to me that it probably just isn't worth it then, unless I am sure I will be back. I organize my stuff and storm away, loudly cursing the entire time and I walk the entire 20 minutes home this way, extremely angry.
I finally decide not to return with the form and go through the hassle of hunting down the correct person at my school to have them fill it out. In retrospect, this was a bad decision, but at the time I had no set plans to stay in France and no reason to believe that continuing the torture would benefit me.
Fast forward. November 2008. I get married to a French man. Lots of paperwork. I'm here for good, I have to figure it all out.
March 2009. The carte de sejour stuff is finally finished and I finally have at least my recepisse for my carte de sejour. We can call the social security office and get me attached to Lionel's number until I find a job and everything. He calls. Oh, he had never changed his address when we moved to the KB. He has to do that before I can be attached. Should be simple right? In America we just give them our address over the phone, they type it into the computer system and you are done in 5 minutes or less. Unfortunately this is France. He has to prepare documents, make photocopies, find information, make requests and fill out forms. And then he can finally go to the office to have the address changed.
April 2009. We finally have time to go to the social security office without Lionel having to take a day off work. The lady tells us she must take the photocopies and that they must be processed internally before the address will be changed. We will get an attestation in the mail when this is all completed. It shouldn't be more than a few weeks. What!?!?!?! For a simple address change? Are you joking!?!?!?! At least she gave us the list of documents I needed to be attached. Fine, no choice, we have to live with it. So we wait, and wait, and wait. And yet no attestation.
June 2009. Lionel calls to see why we haven't received the attestation. Oh, they were changing the computer systems so it hasn't been processed yet. What? It will be done in the next 4-6 weeks. WHAT? Is this even possible? It is an ADDRESS CHANGE people. A few strokes on the keyboard and it is done!
August 2009. The attestation finally came over vacation. So we go into the social security office with the list of documents we were told to bring for me and the attestation. We explain why we are there. We also let it slip that I have a job now. Oh, you have a job? Have you done more than 60 hours in a month? No, not yet, but I will do far more than that in September. And then she explains that we shouldn't bother to attach me now because I will still have to apply for my own number in October. I should just wait and do it then. Fine. We decide to wait. She gives me the list of documents I will need and we leave, me cursing under my breath utterly dismayed at the fact that I am once again walking away from the social security office no closer to having what I need.
October 2009. I have my September pay stub and everything else on my list of documents to present. I have an afternoon off work (cancelled class). I have every other important and not so important document I own. I go to the social security office, feeling confident that this time it is going to work. There is no way it won't work. I go in, just barely making it before they close (half an hour early I might add). I thank the universe for my good fortune. I wait for my number and when it is called I explain why I am there. I hand over all my precious documents. The man takes one quick look at them and asks if I have filled out the declaration. What declaration? This one, and he hands me a form. I look at him puzzled, hardly believing this. But its a short form, perhaps I can just fill it out now. No. He tells me to fill it out at home, attach all the documents, and mail it in (what, I never even NEEDED to come here!?!?!?!). I ask him to verify that with this form and all the documents in front of him, I will be fine and will not need anything else. He assures me that this is the case. I leave in a state of complete shock that I have once again been rejected, turned away in need of yet another document that did not exist the last time I came. (How is that even possible...where do all these surprise documents come from!?!?! And why doesn't the previous person ever know about them?) I get home, look at the form, and it says I need other documents which were not on my list and which the guy had not mentioned. Including 3 pay stubs, rather than just one. Do they all need to be pay stubs with at least 60 hours on them because I won't have that until the end of November! So now I need to go back in and ask that precious question and I'm sure they will tell me about some other document as well! But if I have to wait until December to apply, and then it will take another 2-3 months to get the carte vitale I am going to go crazy on the idiots at the KB social security office! I can't even control my anger right now! I just want to know how they managed to find so many incompetent morons to work in one place! And how is it that I can't get a decent job in this country when I actually have a brain and these assholes are set for life with their fonctionnaire positions!!!!!!
And so the saga of social security shall continue...hopefully soon there will be better news (now I just need a conveniently cancelled lesson so I can go in to the office again and probably get rejected again). All I can say is the French health care system might be great, but you have to be able to get signed up first!!!!


  1. OMG - what a nightmare you're having! I had exactly the same thing when I first came to France as a student and then again when I moved back in 2007... My accountant dealt with it for me in 2007 as I couldn't face having to go through all of that again (it is a true nightmare) but it still took 14 months to get a carte vitale! Thankfully I'd already got a Secu number from when I'd lived here before so wasn't completely unknown to them. Good luck, I hope it all works out for you soon.

  2. Thanks for the words of support! It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who has suffered this torture at the hands of la Secu! It really is a nightmare and it amazes me everytime, but I should be used to it by now!