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It is easy to vote absentee in your home-country's elections, if you register your right to do so early. To vote absentee in a US general election, you should send a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to your local election official in the US, who will provide you with a registration form. You can also apply in writing to your country or town clerk in the US. In either case, documents can be posted free from US Embassies and Consulates.

Applications for a ballot must be received by election officials at least 45 days before election day, while more time must be allowed if applying for a ballot and a registration form. Some states require a separate FPCA for the two procedures. In exceptional cases, documents may be transmitted by fax. However, conditions vary. Full information on absentee voting and the Voting Assistance Guide are available from the US Embassy in Paris.

To qualify as an overseas elector for British general elections, you must be a registered British citizen aged 18 or over and resident in Britain on the qualifying date for any British general election in the last 20 years. In England, Wales and Scotland, the electoral register comes into force on February 16 and the qualifying date is October 15 of the previous year. For citizens of Northern Ireland, the qualifying date is September 15. You have to re-register at the British consulate on or before October 10 (September 15 for Northern Ireland) every year. This will allow you to vote in elections up to 20 years after your departure.

If you were too young to vote when you left Britain, you need a copy of your birth certificate and information about the parent or guardian who was registered. Full details on how to vote, rules for local elections and a copy of the overseas elector's form are available from the British consulate or embassy.

The carte de séjour, or residency permit, is mandatory for anyone staying in France for over three months. EU citizens are automatically entitled to a carte de séjour. Non-EU nationals are not allowed to take up employment in France, temporary, paid or unpaid, unless you have obtained a work permit (autorisation de travail) before arriving.

Americans staying longer than three months, or for purposes other than tourism, must have a visa de long séjour, from your nearest French Consulate in the US. Once you have secured a this, you will need a work contract, which entitles you to apply for a carte de séjour. The prospective employer can secure your work permit from the French Ministry of Labour, and have it sent to a French Consulate in the US.

Special conditions apply to students and au pairs. Students are required to obtain from their French university or study-abroad program a letter of admission (attestation de pre-inscription) if registering for the first time, or evidence of registration, depending on the type of study. Au pairs are required to present a copy of their work contract signed by their French family and approved by the Ministry of Labour.

If you are eligible and have a long-stay visa, you must apply for a carte de séjour at the local mairie or préfecture de police within three months. A residency permit should be granted to EU citizens on the presentation of a valid passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, three black-and-white passport photographs, proof of address and a work contract. Be prepared to visit the préfecture several times and bring photocopies of everything.

The procedure for obtaining a carte de séjour is different for Americans and non-EU nationals. Americans arriving in France with the visa de long séjour must go to the appropriate police station (centre d'accueil des étrangers) within eight days of arrival. There they have to fill out a questionnaire and provide a local address. They will be given an appointment at the préfecture de police for two to 12 weeks later. Americans holding a student visa deal with the Centre de Réception des Etrangers (13, rue Miollis (15e). M° Cambronne/Ségur). Americans need the following to apply for a carte de séjour:

* Valid passport with a long-stay visa.
* Three black-and-white passport photos
* Proof of financial resources (a bank statement or a parental guarantee for a student)
* Medical insurance and a medical certificate from a doctor approved by the French Consulate
* Proof of a place of residence in France (Electricity or telephone bill)
* Work contract (if you will be working)

All foreigners must inform the commissariat of a change of address in France by presenting an electricity bill or rental receipt. This is important if you are renewing a carte de séjour, as the préfecture will not approve the application unless the change of address has been written by the local police in the appropriate space on the carte.

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