Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Visa Application, Step Two

Wednesday, July 10.

Visa appointment? Check.

Because we both agreed it would be a lot easier to take this big step in our journey together (and because Molly has no other real way of getting to the French Consulate), Molly and I decided to make our Visa appointments together! We settled on Tuesday, July 9, just over a month before our August 16 flights to France -- late enough that we had all of our required documents and information, but early enough that we would have time to go back if something went wrong!

Molly arrived by train Monday evening. (Side note: I use Amtrak to get to and from school all the time, but for some reason, telling people I have to leave to "meet someone at the train station" makes me feel straight out of Downton Abbey!) Although I had entertained visions of us watching Midnight in Paris (a recent obsession of mine) and eating Brie while casually sifting through our well-organized Visa documents, that was definitely NOT the case.

We spent the last few hours of Monday (and, in my case, a couple hours of Tuesday!) in a sort of Visa-induced panic: photocopying forms, printing (and changing ink cartridges and reprinting) passport photos, and double checking our applications. At one particularly awful moment, I realized that I was missing one of the most important parts of the application -- the required self-addressed envelope used to mail the Visa! It was mentioned on the French Consulate website, but wasn't one of the bulletted items in the "Necessary Documents" PDF that I had been using, so I had completely forgotten -- until Molly pulled hers out. But an express mail envelope and $20 of pre-paid postage later (thanks, Daddy!), I was back in business. (You can say  what you want about the US Post Office, but I'll be over here thanking God for their 24-hour self service kiosks.)

On Tuesday morning, we woke up bright and early and left for DC. Molly and I had both scheduled appointments around  9 AM and as fate would have it, we picked a relatively traffic-free morning: we pulled up to the embassy almost an hour early! Luckily for us, that allowed plenty of time to drive through Georgetown, checking out the quirky shops and absolutely beautiful (and unfathomably expensive) homes. By the time we pulled back around to the embassy gates, it was 8:30 AM. We waited on the sidewalk with a few other (equally confused/nervous) people until 8:45 AM, when the security guard began checking people in. In  exchange for a form of ID (careful -- don't let them have one of the IDs required for the application!), we each got little VISA badges.

Obviously, it is very important to take a selfie on the walk up to the French Consulate.

From that point on, the process was actually a piece of cake. I don't know what exactly I had been envisioning -- some sort of cross between a lengthy interview and a lie detector test -- but the whole experience felt more like a trip to the bank or the DMV. We sat in the waiting room for a little while, nervously flipping through our documents and trying to eavesdrop on the people in front of us. Then we were each called up individually, three times. The first time, we submitted all of our paperwork. The second time, we paid the application fee, signed a receipt, and took a (non-smiling!) photo. The third time, we were handed a copy of our receipt and sent on our merry way. Total time spent within the gates of the embassy? Maybe an hour.

(Including, naturally, a stop for pictures in front of the fountain. Thumbs up for Visas!)

Despite all the stress of the previous night, the Visa application turned out to be a pretty simple process. And since we finished so early, my mom and I were able to take Molly on a driving tour of DC -- a preview of our touristy adventures together in France! (And a chance to share my "native Washingtonian" knowledge of the city ... which isn't too shabby, if I do say so myself.)

Here's what to take away from this article if you're applying for a long-stay student Visa:
  • When making an appointment at the consulate: the earlier you go, the better. There won't be as much of a wait in the early morning and the employees will be a little more understanding than if your appointment is cutting into their well-loved lunch hour!
  • Check and double check your paperwork. That being said, expect that there will be other people in the waiting room who aren't half as prepared as you are! Feel free to pity them.
  • There is no parking at the Washington DC embassy (although there is metered parking on the street) and the metro doesn't have a stop in Georgetown. If you don't want to drive into the city, you'll need to hop on the bus -- or prepare to hike a few miles.
  • The Visa application process is extremely intimidating, but it's important to remember that dozens of people go through the same process every day ... and there's a pretty good chance that they're stupider than you are! You can do it!

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