Part of next year’s cruising plan is to spend time in French Polynesia; most travelers will arrive by air, be in the islands for some weeks, then fly home. It’s a bit different for slow-moving Beetles that take 3 weeks just to get there. If I simply appear out of the blue I can obtain a 90 day visa, which is kinda short (but not a show-stopper) at Beetle-speeds. France has a long-stay visa, which essentially allows one to be in the country (in this case French Polynesia) for up to a year. You can’t apply for a long-stay visa upon arrival, instead the preparation must be done in advance. So I’ve been preparing.
The paperwork isn’t all that involved, though it is specific: select the French Consulate that serves the area in which you live that also handles long-stay visa (in my case, the French Consulate in San Francisco covers Washington state), and collect the paperwork:
a passport. I got a new one from the State Department as mine would have expired before the end of the year in French Polynesia, which is a no-no.
obtain a letter of good conduct from the local police department. Sheriff Ron Krebs wrote one for me, the letter arrived here in California a week later.
obtain a letter from my health insurance company stating I have health insurance while in French Polynesia. This letter arrived in five minutes – they must write a lot of those.
write a letter that I will not engage in any paid activity while in French Polynesia. Oddly enough it doesn’t say that one cannot work, but rather that you can’t be paid.
bank account statements demonstrating sufficient funds to not starve whilst in-country.
receipts demonstrating that I have made living arrangements; this was something of a stumper to me as I will be staying on my boat and don’t need reservations to do so. I read about this on another person’s log of their experiences and they presented the boat’s US Coast Guard documentation to demonstrate that they in fact had a boat – so I did the same for Beetle.
plus fill out several copies of the visa application form, get passport photos (the local FedEx shop prepared the photos for me), and make lots of copies of everything.
The kicker is that all this needs to be translated into French, of which I know essentially none. Luckily I discovered that not only does friend Brigette know French, she is French. Brigitte spent an evening translating my letters into the desired language and sent them back to me, and I now have an assembled packet a 1/4″ thick to deliver to the French Consulate in San Francisco. At which time the Consulate will send everything on to Tahiti for approval (I hope they will approve this).
Apparently the Consulate used to be first-come first-served for visas and therefore had something of a reputation for being a zoo in the visa section. However, turns out that today one makes an appointment for a specific date/time (Tuesday morning, in my case) to appear and present the application – so no long lines anywhere in sight.
Tuesday morning I headed out with my backpack full of papers. First stop – catch the bus to Oakland’s BART station, ride the BART train under the bay to San Francisco, and find the French Consulate. For $5 you can get an all-day bus pass, which is much more fun than constantly stuffing $1 bills into the ticket dispensing machine that’s on board next to the driver.
BART is the local metro light rail transport system for the Bay Area, and runs on tracks above ground, through tracks in tunnels below ground, and even in a tube/tunnel drilled under the bay between Oakland and San Francisco.
The train makes a ‘boop boop’ noise with its horn when entering the station, and the train pushes a lot of air ahead of it when running through a tunnel – hold on to your hat when a train comes zooming in.
And then the train goes Boop Boop and I was at the Montgomery Station, on one of the main drags in San Francisco, Market Street. The French Consulate is somewhere in a building up the block, so I went there to make sure I had the correct place and find out where in the building they are.
It was a short wait at the Consulate, there were only two people waiting for help (myself and one other person), and then it was 15 minutes with a most pleasant fellow on the other side of the bullet-proof glass as we went through my paperwork together. He also decided that my US passport was in error, as the passport said my name was ‘MACF ARLANE’ and he felt it should be ‘MAC FARLANE’. I suppose if you squint hard enough there is a bit of space between the ‘F’ and ‘A’ on the passport, but you also need a pretty good imagination to see this. So he corrected my name, printed out my visa payment receipt ($110), and that’s when I realized he was talking about the letter spacing and it dawned on me that this would screw everything up if the names didn’t match up… so I handed over my Washington driver’s license and that’s when he realized my last name in fact had NO spaces… At least I’m back to my original name, at least as far as the French are concerned.
And then I was back on the street, back to the boat, experiencing BART and buses again (only in reverse this time). The packet that was reviewed and assembled by the French Consulate in San Francisco is now sent on to Tahiti, for review there. The Consulate notes that the process will take 1 to 3 months. In the meantime I have back my passport (they would prefer to send the original passport to Tahiti, but I pointed out I needed it with me). Hopefully the Tahiti folks will think it is a fine idea to have Tiger Beetle in their country for a year!