Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Adventures in administration

This morning I was thinking it was about time for a new post on my blog but I couldn’t decide exactly what I wanted to post about.  Plenty of possibilities came to mind – the progress of the renovations, our car, random pictures of Rasteau being cute (because who doesn’t love pictures of cute furry little animals), another post related to our trip to Angers, etc, etc, etc.  But I just couldn’t make up my mind.

But then, as always here in France, inspiration struck in the form of French bureaucracy.  And we all know how much I love French bureaucracy (and if you don’t, I’ve posted about my experiences with French administration a million times on this blog…far too many to keep track of or even link to at this point)!  In fact, probably my second favorite thing about being in the US (after friends and family of course) was being free from the bureaucratic nightmare that is French administration.

Well today I’ve had yet another run in with the extremely pleasant and delightful French bureaucratic system.  You see, since I arrived in mid-May, I’ve been struggling to declare myself as an auto-entrepreneur and set up my own micro-entreprise so that I can continue to work for my American company from France. Everything I had read about the process made it seem very simple, and dare I say, efficient. According to the website all I had to do was declare my activities online and it would be done.  I would receive my SIRET for my company in the mail shortly after (according to the two different conseillères I spoke to this would take 2-5 days).  Et voilà.  Easy right?

Well, naturally, knowing what I know about France, I seriously doubted it could ever be THAT easy.  I figured there would be one or two more hoops to jump through and a few more papers to provide than what was indicated.  But still, I told myself, they can’t make it that hard, right?  Isn’t it good for France to have companies being created, even if they are small ones?  And isn’t it better to have someone with a job as an entrepreneur than have them unemployed and adding to that already extremely high unemployment rate?

No, clearly to France it just doesn’t matter.  Why would they care if someone is legally set up to work, pay taxes, contribute meaningfully to society in any respectable amount of time?  And, of course, this is France, so clearly it is NEVER as easy as it sounds like it is going to be.  I lost my first week to trying to do it all myself.  Big mistake.  At the end of that week I admitted defeat and called up a conseillère at the Maisonde l’Emploi de Bordeaux who said she could assist me and answer any questions I might have.  But she wasn’t available until a week later, so there went another week.  I left my meeting with her feeling more confident, but not entirely sure that I had all the information I needed.  As she suggested, I called up a few organizations to get my final questions answered, and after paying 11 centimes a minute to speak to an extremely rude bitch with URSSAF, I ended up with just more questions.  What do they mean that my prinicipal activity isn’t actually an activity?  I’m pretty sure millions of people around the world do this activity as their job every day…but fine.  I decided to get a second opinion and called up the conseillère at my mairie whose job is to assist people creating companies.  She was able to squeeze me in just before lunch the following Friday, so another week lost.  But she was very nice and went out of her way to try to assist me going so far as to call URSSAF to help me get an answer to what “box” my activity fits in (the problem being that I actually do too many different kinds of activities for my job) and trying, unsuccessfully, to call la Préfecture to get answer to some questions we had pertaining to my visa/carte de séjour stuff.  Naturally, however, the Préfecture in Bordeaux no longer provides telephone assistance, but they don’t tell you that until you’ve gone through all the prompts to get to the service you want.  Since we still weren’t entirely sure what “box” my activity fit in, she finally just told me what she thought I should write when doing my déclaration, something nice and vague; to make them figure it out later.

I left this meeting feeling confident that I would finally be able to declare my activities and get the ball rolling on getting my company set up, so I headed home to get on the internet.  And that’s where I encountered the next problem, the stupid website wouldn’t let me get past the section where you enter your titre de séjour information.  It kept saying that it recognized that it had been issued in a different country and asking me to put the country in, but it wouldn’t accept it or give me another space to enter the country.  I tried everything and it wouldn’t work, so I just got really angry and gave up.  I ended up having to print out the form, fill it out by hand, and mail it in.  But of course the paper version and what I had seen of the internet version didn’t ask for all the same information and the paper version was only one short, poorly laid out page.  I ended up having to leave a few spots blank because Lionel and I couldn’t figure out what they could possibly be asking.  Anyway, I mailed it into the CFE de Bordeaux, as the conseillère at the mairie told me to do because we both agreed after speaking to URSSAF that my activities at least fit into the general box of “activités commerciales.  Well, then imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox the following week and saw a letter from the CFE telling me that my activities are not in fact commerciales, and therefore not their problem.  They kindly informed me that they forwarded my file on to URSSAF to be handled by them.  That was June 18.

Today, as I have every day since June 18, I checked the mailbox hoping against hope that I would have a letter from URSSAF, or better yet my SIRET.  However, rather than getting what I hoped for, I got a letter from the OFII (French immigration office) telling me to present myself at 8:30am on July 15 for my medical visit and "welcome meeting" in order to “validate” my titre de séjour temporaire which is my visa for the first year.  It also explained all the documents I need to bring and what different encounters I would have during my half day of immigration hell.  I knew I would have to do another medical visit, and I knew they would want me to sign a contrat d’accueil et d’intégration which also involves 2 days of seminars on life in France and civil education.  I also knew from previous experience in the Val de Marne that I could get out of signing the contract and the 2 days of seminars by showing that I had studied for at least one year at a French university.  So that was fine.  However, I was shocked that they now also require you, as a “new” immigrant,” to participate in a half day bilan de compétences professionnelles (basically a half day meeting to “help” you plan your professional life and prepare you to enter the job market).  Of course, for those that already have jobs, they can get out of this by showing proof of employment, i.e. job contract, paystubs. Great, except the only way to prove my employment is to have my company get set up and to officially have le statut auto-entrepreneur.

So I resigned myself to having to call URSSAF today to get an update on the status of my file.  And what do I find out?  That yes, they have received my file but no, it is not 2-5 days to get your SIRET, it takes them about a month to process your file and get you your number.  So I should expect to wait about another two weeks.  And no, there is nothing they can give me to provide to the OFII to prove that I have a file being processed.  So now, if I don’t get lucky enough to get my SIRET before July 15 I am going to have to fight with French immigration to avoid losing a half day of pay for a bilan de compétences professionnelles that serves me absolutely no purpose because I already have a job!

Not to mention how angry I am at URSSAF.  A month to process a one-page form!?!?!  And for people who are setting up their own micro-entreprise and who might just need that SIRET as soon as possible in order to be able to set themselves up and work and get paid!?!  Wouldn’t it be better to have the process go a little faster so that people don’t risk losing money or even losing the possibility of having work?  Isn’t the creation of any kind of company good for France?  Wouldn’t they want to smooth the process out a bit and speed it up?  Isn’t it better to have someone working as soon as possible rather than not?  There are some things that I guess I will just never understand in France.  But this whole process hasn’t been very encouraging and I’m really starting to get angry.  Why can’t anything ever just be easy here!?

So there you have it, things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows here at Michele’s Life en Franglais and even though I wasn’t happy living in the US, this kind of administrative crap here in France just reminds me why I was willing to leave in the first place!

There has, however, been some sunshine in Bordeaux recently, leading to this beautiful sunset:

And we've even had some rainbows too (unfortunately it was too big to get the whole thing in one shot): 


  1. I registered at the beginning of January 2011 and it took almost a month before I received my SIRET number. When I received the letter from URSSAF at the end of January, I was informed that my business came into existence on the 1st of January 2011 so I was able to bill my client at the end of January for work I had done that month.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks! Though I have a feeling it's going to be a lot more than a month for me at this point...at least for some people the system works properly!

  2. I remember a few years ago in my blissful naivety that I wanted to move to France. Luckily I actually looked into the hassle. And more importantly began to read expat blogs. Some of them were quite open about the difficulties of living in France and I think them for that. No I am content to visit once in awhile.

    Keep up the good fight and good luck.

    1. Thanks! I can definitely understand your position. It can be quite a hassle to move here/live here. Though some things about living in France are great, the bureaucracy is definitely a nightmare and you really really have to want it to put up with a lot of the shit they put you through. As unhappy as I was in the US, sometimes I can't help but wonder what made me come back to France knowing very well how difficult it can be.

  3. Oh goodness...I feel for you! I can only imagine how stressful and infuriating this process must be. I can't offer any advice because I've never gone down the auto-entrepreneur route (and your post has certainly made me never want to!), but I *can* offer moral support and long distance hugs.

    Keep us posted on how this all progresses.

    1. Thanks Crystal! I appreciate the support, more than you know! Sometimes I feel like the only support I get when it comes to administrative matters in France is from bloggers and a few expat friends. Lionel just shrugs his shoulders and says "you can't change the system so you might as well accept it and do what you have to do" (all in beautifully phrased French of course). I just don't understand how he can do that because I just get so angry!

      I must admit, I really didn't think the auto-entrepreneur thing was going to be quite this much of a stressful mess, but I really guess I shouldn't be surprised. Though I suppose for people with a clear activity from the beginning, it probably isn't much of a problem.