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Last Updated: February 2021
Depending on your visa category, you’ll have different requirements with l’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration (OFII). This largely coincides with whether your visa is for permanent residence or a temporary visit. For example, a temporary worker or visitor may only need to complete a medical exam while the spouse of a French citizen will additionally need to prove that they have a basic understanding of French, pledge to integrate themselves into French society by signing an integration contract, and undergo a series of civics classes to learn about life in France.
One Year to Complete All Requirements
I arrived on a long-stay visitor visa (VLS-TS) in 2019. On the visitor visa, there is only one requirement with OFII, the medical appointment. I completed this during my first year in France. When I switched to the carte de séjour vie privée et familiale (CdS VPF) after marrying my French husband, I had to fulfill more requirements with OFII. Namely, I had to pass a French language test, sign an integration contract (CIR), and attend four civics classes.
➡️ Check here to see if your residence permit requires you to sign the contrat d’intégration républicaine (CIR) and attend language and civics trainings. You might also be excused if you studied at a French university for one school year.
My interactions with OFII have spanned over the course of two years due to my change of status, but most people will only deal with OFII in their first year. For example, if you arrived on the spouse (vie privée et familiale) visa, you would fulfill all obligations in your first year (medical exam, integration contract, language test and French classes if needed, and civics classes).
Completing these requirements is a condition of your visa and will allow you to renew your residence permit. Furthermore, in most cases, you’ll be granted a multi-year carte de séjour when you renew. If you are unable to fulfill all of your obligations before your titre de séjour expires, you can often still apply for a renewal but you may only be granted a one-year card (carte de séjour temporaire) instead of a multi-year card (carte de séjour pluriannuelle).
OFII Will Contact You… Maybe
Within the first three months of arriving in France on a long-stay visa, you must register with the government in order to make your stay legal. The validation process is now initiated online (as of August 1, 2019). After paying the fee online, you’ll receive a confirmation in your email. Paying the tax will trigger your information to be sent to OFII, who is responsible for contacting you about any appointments that you will have.
⚠️ Note: It is not uncommon to wait a couple of months before hearing from them.
In the case of switching to a different type of residence permit which leads to additional requirements with OFII, the préfecture is normally responsible for forwarding your information to OFII. OFII is then supposed to contact you with appointment times. Due to Covid and considering I’m based in Paris, I knew that it would be a while before I was contacted. However, after 3 months, I decided to check in.
At first, the person on the phone told me that I was still registered as a visitor, but I insisted that I had changed my status with the préfecture. After looking again at my file, she conceded that yes, the new information was there but no appointment had been set up for me yet. I explained that I had already been waiting a few months and didn’t want to have any problems when renewing my card. She gave me a different phone number and advised that I call the following day, which I did. I was immediately given an appointment for just a few weeks later. While I was on the phone, a confirmation email arrived with my appointment details.
French Test, Interview, & Integration Contract
What to Bring:
- Identity card, visa (or whatever type of residence permit you are currently holding)
- Charger if you’ll be using your phone for entertainment while waiting
Schedule for the Half Day
- Check in—these are group sessions; everyone has the same time slot (either morning or afternoon)
- French Language Test
- Personalized Interview & Integration Contract
- Meeting to discuss French language classes (if applicable)
- Last person leaves around noon in the morning session and around 5:30PM in the afternoon session
My appointment at the OFII in the 13th arrondissement of Paris was at 1:15PM, and I arrived exactly on time. My convocation indicated that lateness would not be tolerated. Of course, that condition is only for those who have been summoned. Don’t expect your appointment to start on time. Since my appointment was scheduled for after lunch, I reasoned that they wouldn’t likely be ending their lunch break early. Upon arrival, I saw a long line outside and signs pointing to a sketchy door for the “contrat d’intégration.” I immediately knew I was in the right place! There ended up being only one person in line after me. Remember this detail for later in my story. You’ll see why I mention it.
At the door, they checked my convocation and my carte de séjour. Show whatever identity card you have. I recommend bringing your passport and your current residence permit whether that be a visa in your passport, a physical card, and/or a récépissé (paper receipt) that’s tiding you over in between permits. Only people with a convocation could enter the building.
After passing through a security metal detector, I was directed down the hall to a large room with awkward full length mirrors along one wall. (Who is in charge of the decorating, honestly?!) When I entered the room, my convocation and ID were checked again, and everyone who was in line before me was sitting and waiting. It took 15 minutes for everyone to enter the building and go through security. At 1:30PM, I took my seat.
We waited a bit longer and then they started sending people up to the second floor in groups of four and five. They worked from the front of the room to the back corner, where I was sitting since I arrived last. I was in the final group to be moved upstairs.
Third Time’s a Charm
We entered another room where the convocation and ID were checked AGAIN. (Could this process be any more inefficient?) At this stage, my name was highlighted on a sheet which verified if we were actually supposed to be there. The woman checking us in asked if I had ever been to OFII before to sign the contract, if I had attended a French university, and a few other basic questions before directing me to sit in the next room. There were 25 of us in a classroom. It was not the most Covid-respectful situation.
It took half an hour for all of us to finally make it upstairs and get checked in for a third time, which brings us to 2PM.
⚠️ Note: This process of checking our ID three times and moving us around in little groups was incredibly inefficient. I’m not sure if they were doing it this way because of Covid in order to space us out or if this is how it’s always done, which wouldn’t surprise me either. In the end, we were all in one room anyways.
French Language Test
A man explained in French what we were going to do and gave instruction for each part of the test. He spoke slowly and very clearly. At no point in time did I hear anyone from OFII speak in English, although it was obvious that not everyone in the classroom knew what was going on and some people probably would have benefited from instructions in English or another language.
When they distributed the test, we were instructed to fill in our personal information on the front cover and then wait to be told to start because the test is timed. The front cover just had spaces for last name, first name, and the date. They told married women to write both our nom de jeune fille (maiden name) and our nom d’usage (married name, if you use it). This sounds like a simple process but it took a long time. Many people accidentally started before they were supposed to because they didn’t understand the directions given due to either low French comprehension and/or understandable anxiety about taking a language test.
You have 20 minutes to finish the test which consists of about five or six progressively difficult exercises. There are a variety of exercises: fill in the blank, multiple choice, short readings, and written responses. The tasks are fairly realistic and authentic. For example, one of the exercises was to look at a job announcement from the Unemployment Office website and answer multiple choice questions about the job offer.
➡️ TIP: You can’t have your phone out during the test, so wear a watch. Taking a timed test is definitely anxiety-inducing and knowing how much time you have might allow you to feel more in control.
This exam corresponds to level A1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), known in French as Cadre européen commun de référence pour les langues (CECR). Level A1 is a basic level of French, allowing you to communicate using everyday expressions and simple phrases. If you have had minimal exposure to French, then this test will not be easy, but if you already have a command of the language, you will have no difficulties. I finished and checked it over in less than 10 minutes. I’m also a former French teacher.
If you’re just starting your language learning journey, check out my 9 Tips for Learning a New Language.
After the 20 minutes passed, they collected the test. Then it’s a waiting game until they call you out for the interview. It was at this point that they informed us that the last person would be leaving around 5PM/5:30PM. Toilets are available. We could use our phones, but not to make phone calls. We could also eat in the room if we brought a snack, but we weren’t allowed to leave the building to get something to eat or even for a smoke! La vie est dure.
Interview & Integration Contract (CIR)
My name was called and a woman walked me down to her office. She verified different pieces of information like my name, phone number, and address. She asked a variety of questions about whether I had health insurance and a carte vitale, whether I was employed, and if I’d exchanged my driver’s license yet. Easy for her, I’ve done it all!
If, however, you have any questions, this is the time to ask them. They are there to help and provide you with resources and information that are relevant to your situation. This interview is meant to last 15-20 minutes.
French Test Results
This is when you will find out if you will be required to take French classes. The need for French classes is determined based on your written score combined with your interview, which is essentially an oral exam. You may have passed the written test, but are unable to prove a sufficient level during the interview.
If you are in need of French classes (une formation linguistique), you will meet with someone after your interview to discuss the requirements and how they are set up. Classes are obligatory but free if you have not attained level A1. On the other hand, if you passed the test, a certificate indicating that you met level A1 will be mailed to you.
Mandatory Civics Classes
Next, we chose dates for the first two civics classes, which run all day from 9AM-5PM. I said I would just take whatever is first available but you can find dates that work best for you based on your schedule. The first two classes are a couple of weeks apart and the next two are a month or so later. You receive the date for the third class after completion of the second class and you receive the date for the fourth class after completion of the third class.
Finally, I signed the Contrat d’Intégration Républicaine (CIR). This is a statement promising to integrate into French society. This includes fulfilling language requirements and completing the civics training.
I was out of the building at 3PM.
P.S. Remember how I told you I was the last to arrive at the appointment? I was the second person called up for my interview. The first person was someone who said they had a flight to catch. In my experience, they don’t usually go in the order of when you arrive nor do they go in alphabetical order. At previous OFII appointments, they seemed to just call random names from anywhere in the stack. Who knows?
There are four separate days of civics training (la formation civique). In general, you will learn about the values of the Republic and get an overview of helpful resources and associations, as well as, learn about certain administrative procedures.
The classes are conducted in French. If you are in need of an interpreter, one is supposed to be provided although I’ve heard that this is not always the case. There was an interpreter in our class who spoke English. I’m not sure what other languages they provide help in.
Each civics class starts at 9AM and ends in the afternoon. Plan to be there until 5PM, but hope that your instructor dismisses you at 3:30/4PM. You’ll likely have a couple of short breaks throughout the day. A simple (halal, but not vegetarian) lunch is provided.
At the end of each class, you will receive a certificate of completion (Attestation nominative de presence). You’ll need to show these certificates to the préfecture upon renewal of your residence permit.
What to Bring
- Identity card, visa (or whatever type of residence permit you are currently holding)
- Phone charger
- Pen & paper to take notes
- Snack/water and possibly lunch if you have a special diet
« Jour 1 »
17 adult students, 1 interpreter, 1 teacher, and a sign on the door indicating the maximum Covid capacity at 15 people. Oof.
I arrived about 15 minutes before the class. French administrative buildings can be kind of hard to find and navigate so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time. At the check in, I had to show my convocation form and ID. In class, the teacher did a roll call, collected our convocations, and we had to sign a sheet indicating our presence, once in the morning and a second time in the afternoon.
We started class by downloading an application on the phone: Anim-Tablette for Android and Formation Civique CIR for iPhone. These apps are in French and consist of a number of true or false questions organized by themes. You find out if you got the answer correct right away and it even keeps track of your points. Considering it’s France, I was actually quite impressed with this incorporation of technology into an administrative obligation. I’m not going to lie, it was perhaps the highlight of my educational experience that day. Unfortunately, it only provided me with less than 10 minutes of entertainment.
We did introduce ourselves to the class. I usually loathe this type of activity but considering we will have the same classmates on the second day in a couple weeks, I didn’t mind it. This brings us to the second highlight of the day. I really enjoyed chatting with my classmates. Immigrants are some of the most interesting people to talk to. Everyone has a story or five. I even met a few people who live in the same neighborhood as me.
The rest of the time consisted of zipping through a powerpoint presentation. We covered several broad themes: geography, French history, healthcare, employment, parenting, and housing. It was more of an overview of resources and procedures without many details. If you have any specific questions about certain administrative procedures, be sure to ask them.
This informational day would likely be helpful for someone who has just moved to France, but this is largely not the case for the majority of people there. By the time you get called in for this class, you’ve likely already been living in France for at least a few months and have already struggled your way through tons of paperwork out of necessity. It’s also a case of “too little, too late.” Saying that there is an easy and fast procedure (lol) for exchanging your driver’s license for a French license is all well and good, but it would be more beneficial to show the process in detail with all the documents you have to supply and the forms you have to fill out. (Well, maybe then, we’d actually have to confront the idea that it’s neither fast nor easy…)
« Jour 2 »
Another thrilling day in the books! We started off the second class on the same app as the first day. We covered many of the same topics, but with more of a focus on specific historical dates and the development of the Republic. Everyone seemed to perk up when we touched on how to apply for French nationality. There was markedly less enthusiasm for the 4-page (front & back) multiple choice test. Fortunately, it wasn’t graded and seemed to only be something thrown at us to pass the time.
As I mentioned before, an interpreter is supposed to be provided if you are in need of one. The interpreter on the first day was awesome. She went above and beyond to fully explain all of the concepts the teacher presented and readily accepted questions. The interpreter in this session had a questionable level of English, used French when he didn’t know a word, and translated word for word only what was shown on the powerpoint presentation. Not a very enriching experience.
At the end of the session, we received the date for the third class. It’s scheduled for about a month after this class. They told us we can change the date if we really need to, in the case of a force majeure (exceptional reason). However, they were kind of vague on the details of how to change the date and made it seem like a real pain. For those who have little control over their work schedule, this is not very accommodating.
Our assignment is to choose three activities to complete before the third civics class. The worksheet lists several ideas which are targeted towards our integration into French life. Examples include: opening a bank account, choosing a primary care physician (médecin traitant), and applying to exchange your driver’s license. There are also fun, cultural suggestions such as visiting a museum, joining the library, and looking up sports activities at the town hall.
On the back of the paper, we are supposed to explain how we accomplished these tasks. If needed, they said that we would receive help during the third class. Honestly, I think this is a great assignment, but as you can imagine, it doesn’t leave much for someone like me to do…
Do you think they will accept my blog website as proof of my integration?
« Jour 3 »
Update coming on March 17, 2021.
« Jour 4 »
Stay tuned for an update!
Did this guide help you? Say thanks with a cup of coffee!