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Battling for carte vitale


I did not take advantage of February’s free museum Sunday. Month numero deux of the year and already I’ve recommenced the going-away-at-weekend trend. I had a good excuse for this trip though – it was to visit my belle-famille and a birthday celebration was in the work. Frédéric and I also had a little excursion to Le Croisic (more on that another time), I cooked the Sunday lunch which was well-received (I was simply relieved nobody gets food poisoning) and all in all, a wonderful if tiring weekend, as our train arrived back in Paris near 1am.

On entering our apartment, two letters greeted me, one from the Caisse d’Assurance Maladie and another from the Carte Vitale. For those not living in France, the former deals with national healthcare system and the latter issues the card that allows me to receive healthcare nationally without emptying my bank account.

Hurrah – finally, I shall have my card!

Errr… no.

There was nothing that felt card-like in the envelopes.

There was no little green card in sight.

I was jolted wide-awake at this stage. Reading through the incredulous correspondence, I was simply furious and I spluttered a series of phrases not to be repeated here. I also felt defeated. I’ve battled this for 19 months. 19 months! By now I should have my card, and I and was actually planning a guide blog post on how to get the card with minimal pain. Given all that I’ve been through, I thought I knew where all the pitfalls may be.

Errr, again, no.

[Warning: long rant ahead]

What could have gone so wrong?

I have obediently started on the process of getting my social security number and carte vitale after receiving payslips for the first three months of my employment. I have, by this stage, submitted at least 4-5 full sets of documents at various stages over the application period. I have, luckily, at least a social security number now – for about a month – even if I still don’t have my carte vitale.

When I first submitted my application and paperworks in summer 2011, the case worker I saw at CPAM was impressed at how prepared I was with my dossiers. Everything he asked for, I managed to provide. Not a single glitch. I went away and thought, that wasn’t too painful at all. Happy Lilian, until 3 weeks later when I received a letter asking me to provide a couple more documentation.

So, that guy I saw didn’t know what he was doing? It seemed off but not thinking much of it, I went back to the CPAM and submitted the documents that I was asked for. La-di-da, no fuss, easy peasy, I was sent my way after a short meeting with a case worker (a different one from the first time).

Another month later, another new letter. The processing office was not happy with the copy of birth certificate I’ve provided but I wasn’t informed why either. It was the same copy which I’ve provided to the Préfecture for my carte de séjour. For many more months to come, this to-and-fro meant trips to the CPAM each time a letter was received in attempts to resolve the problem. “Oh you didn’t give a copy of the original birth certificate” (I was told before it wasn’t needed since it was not in French but never mind, here you go); “Oh you didn’t give an original translation and only photocopy” (I did offer it and the guy said photocopy was ok but never mind, here you go); “Oh it was translated first to English, then English-French” (I was living in Ireland when I started putting together my documents before moving and getting a Malay-French translator there was impossible!); and so forth.

As the months rolled by, when they were not looking for yet another version of my birth certificate, they were looking for current payslips. “You must always provide the most current three months, mademoiselle.”

Never mind that my work usually provide us with the payslip some 2-3 weeks later, so adjust the time delay accordingly.

Thou shall not move

In the mean time, I moved. For administrative purposes, I probably shouldn’t have, but I did. For the want of a more Parisian life, living in a small apartment with a box kitchen instead of a studio in a campus environment which kitchen is hidden behind what looks like a cupboard. And of course, for the thrill of having to deal with a dishonest agent and being scrutinised if I should be allowed to rent a private property, and then being swindled our agency fee by distracting us into giving him essentially a name-less cheque and it was made out to some woman we don’t know and it was certainly not the name of the estate agent. Absolute thrill, I tell you.

After notifying the Préfecture about the change of address, I figured I should go to CPAM and let them know too. I filled in a change of address form, pulled out proofs of new address in the form of the new lease, the new EDF bill, and the receipt of notification of change of address by the Préfecture. Radio silence for 4-5 months. I fretted. It couldn’t be because they were still sending things to my old address as I had postal redirection service in place. Finally, I could wait no more. Even without letter this time round, I went to CPAM anyway.

Somewhere, somehow, apparently they have been sending me a whopping 5 letters (at an address elsewhere) but each time they were returned to sender (since I don’t live in that other address). Of course, checking the proofs of address I’ve provided would be too difficult. Instead, they believed I gave them bogus address. I would love it too if they could tell me why I would want to do that.

Till this day, I have no idea what were the contents of those letters either. The case worker at CPAM couldn’t open any of the letters listed in the system when she checked. But to be on the safe side, just to be sure, she took an entire set of my dossier again, together with proofs of address and all, so this can be dealt with swiftly. “I’m not sure why the issuance office took so long, it is really unacceptable!” said the case worker.

I wish that was the end of it but there’s something else unacceptable.


The epic saga about my name

“Your name doesn’t match”.

Give me any form and I’d filled “Lilian” for my first name, and “Lau” for my surname. If asked for middle name, I’ll start filling in my Chinese names. However, on Malaysian birth certificate, identity card and passport, there has never been any distinction of surname, first name and middle name. It’s one line for all the names. The forms usually asked for “Name” and that’s it. Following typical rules, my English name comes before my surname, and my Chinese names come after my surname. My surname is therefore, in a way of seeing it, straddled between my English and Chinese names. It is not in the Caucasian-conventional format of “first/middle name(s), surname” nor “surname, first/middle name(s)” – how outrageous!

The French administration does not like this one bit. The Préfecture issued my carte de séjour with all my names as surname, and even more hillariously, my first name is given as “XXX”. I kid you not. I was told to ask my embassy to change my name to the “correct order” in passport/birth certificate, then they’d be able to correct the card accordingly. It didn’t matter that my surname clearly matched my father’s, whose name came only in the form of “surname, first names” since he didn’t have an English name. Even notorised letter attesting the order of my names was not admissable.

Good thing (although I’m not so sure now) the CPAM accepted the notorised letter. They should have everything possible, no? We’re talking about over one year since my initial application. There should be duplicates of my dossiers at this stage, and every single copy of my payslip submitted too.

Alas, that would make my life too simple.

Apparently the test to assess my determination to live in France is to be continued.

Just a few more hurdles

“Oh the birth certificate is not dated within 6 months.”

No, you don’t say! The process started over a year ago (after living in France for 3 months), with translation etc done even before I moved to France so that’s another few additional months to the mix. Resigned, I got a new copy of birth certificate from Malaysia – I needed it for my PACS anyway, so two birds, one stone – and have it translated accordingly. This, together with all other documents (you got it, another full set), was duly re-submitted. Yes, the birth certificate is dated within 6 months. Yes, the copy of the birth certificate is certified to be a copy of the real deal. Yes, even the translation now clearly states the order of my names. Yes, the embassy translation is the official one as there isn’t a court-certified Malay-French translator anywhere in France. Yes, please find also my proof of address, payslips, URSSAF attestation and RIB.

Yet my application was once again deemed incomplete a month later. The letter received, as uninformative as usual, did not specified why but asked once again for my birth certificate. I know. It must have been an endless source of fascination that someone wants it over, and over, and over again. For me, yay, another trip to see my “friends” at CPAM who explained “the birth certificate has not been apostilled.”

In a new directive since (more or less) late summer 2012, the birth certificates from certain countries need to be apostilled for the application of social security. Why has nobody seen fit to inform me about this despite my alarmingly regular visits? Is it because I didn’t bring them muffins or cakes or chocolate chip cookies? I thought we were friends… Maybe they want an excuse to set me up with another of our monthly-ish rendez-vous?

The irony of this latest debacle? The apostille was at the back of my (fairly newly requested) birth certificate during previous submission. If they had even mentioned it, I would have give it to them for photocopying. No point crying over spilled milk now. I reiterated, as I always did, “anything else I need to submit”? Doubly amusing at this point, the case worker who was sympathetic and tried to help me couldn’t get anyone from the processing office on the phone to confirm details. She told me that was the third day she had tried ringing the office without luck. Fed up, she decided to check the in-house directory for specific number of someone she knew, and lo and behold, she was told the processing office had a new phone number, hence why the one she had hadn’t been working.

No, nobody in the entire team of my “friends” had heard about the change of phone number.

New application, new hope

Even after obtaining new phone number of the relevant issuance office, there was nobody there who could say what was happening to my file. They can’t even tell if it was lost. All the gazillion copies of dossiers could be anywhere. The case worker then suggested I applied as if I’m putting through a new request altogether. I re-filled the application form, pull out all kind of documents one after another from my ever-growing folder that I use to store everything remotely paperwork-related documents. Essentially, after 17 months, I finally “get round to applying for a social security number”.

Genius idea for once! And it worked too! (Sort of).

Came early January, I was finally in the system. I have an attestation specifying a fixed social security number. I received a letter asking me to post away a photo and a copy of proof of identity i.e. copy of carte de séjour so that my carte vitale can be issued. Funnily enough, I had only 15 days from the date of issuance of the letter to get back to them or my application could be deemed null and void. I sent the requested items using overnight post, while entertaining the question “why can’t they just take a photo from me to submit together with my application in the first place?”.

Ah, I now know why.

To put me through the wringer just that one last time (I hope!)

Which brings us to the letters I received last night. Or very early this morning, I should say. Caisse d’Assurance Maladie simply told me that the proof of identity I sent was not acceptable (no specifics), and recommended a number of recourse I could take to rectify the situation. The letter from Carte Vitale told me that the proof of identity I sent did not match in either “name, surname or date of birth” to the card they are in the process of preparing.

Bien sûr. I’m now going to try to do some magic trick so that the “XXX” on my carte de séjour turns into “Lilian” somehow… and telepathically setting up a new rendez-vous with my friends at the CPAM tomorrow morning.

Should I bring chocolates?

Ps: sorry for the long (and semi-caustic) rant but I’ve officially reached my limit of patience today. Back to normal transmission tomorrow.

Category: Ma vie en France

Tagged: , , , , , ,

18 scribbles & notes

  1. Gioia says:

    Do not give up for something you believe in attaining.
    I admire your patience and guts in overcoming this whole administrative stuff which is perplexing for people from Asian or Anglo-saxon backgrounds.

    Something I thought might encourage you.

    “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
    ? Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

    God bless.

    • Lil says:

      Thanks Gioia – and of course I am not going to give up, no matter how exasperating it could get. I just needed a good rant to get it out of my chest, calm down a little, and face the music again.

      Have a good day!

  2. Sarah says:

    I have to say, I love living in France, but the “paperasse” is something I could live without. It seems that some fonctionaires are not able to deal with foreign surnames (I have had people changing the “Mc” in my name to “Mac” “because that’s how it should be, no?”. Oh and if they insert a space between the Mc and the rest of it, OF COURSE they can’t find my account when they search for it on the computer system!

    Now I just take the whole thing philosophically as the PITA you have to accept to live in an otherwise lovely country! :)

    Best of luck, and I hope you get your Carte Vitale soon.

    • Lil says:

      i know what you mean! i normally take it as the PITA i have to live with too, but as you can see, this was one push too many that i needed to rant out loud. went back to secu this morning and all the guy did was looked at my passport and carte de sejour, asked if i’m happy with just “lilian lau” on the carte vitale (err, yes), and stamped the form. that was it.

      fingers crossed!

  3. Chloé says:

    Tiny detail which may or may not encourage you: the office taking care of issuing carte vitale and the CPAM are 2 different entities which can have trouble communicating :$ (hence why they ask for your photo seperatly)

    But now you’ve got secu number, and that is already a big victory!
    As far carte vitale, now that you are in their own system, I’m sure you’ll manage to get them around at some point given that you can and will show them all the info they can dream of :$
    Not sure I understood what was wrong with the last letter from CPAM?

    Anyway, your various “péripéties” with our administration are quite impressive and your resilience to face them too. Go Lil! :) ((( Lil )))

    • Lil says:

      i figured as much, since even the processing office didn’t tell the CPAM their change of phone number, least to say a photo centre somewhere in Rennes!

      last letter from CPAM merely said that the proof of identity i provided with my photo and form to carte vitale was not admissible. they wanted copy of my carte de sejour, i gave them the copy of carte de sejour. yet it was not admissible. no explanation why. then it went on to say i will receive another “imprimé” from carte vitale, which i should (1) stick my photo in, (2) sign the imprimé after checking that details are correct, (3) enclose a copy of proof of identity as specified in the imprimé, and (4) post it back asap. that was what i have already done previously! :$

      it has been quite an adventure alright. i’ll get there, i will ;)

  4. med says:

    OMG…..that’s so super mafan!!! All the best of luck to get it sorted out soon yah ;) phew

  5. Ingrid says:

    Oh my dear. I DO feel for you. I know the feeling (http://expatwithkidsinparis.blogspot.fr/2012/12/rock-bottom-expat-day.html). I stumbled across your blog via TAHTLou and this post caught my attention. I really enjoyed reading your blog.

    • Lil says:

      i think paperasse is one big glue that bonds expats together in france ;)

      thanks for stopping by, and i’ll be checking your blog out :D

  6. Jo says:

    You beat me to this post!! You know I never got my CAF payments? I was really willing to crash the Singapore Society of Law to obtain the “legalized” birth certs for the kids (on the advice of the Singapore Embassy in Paris, who were as exasperated as I was with the request from CAF) but with time running out for us in Paris, I decided to give up and save my stress levels and avoid the blood-boiling response that will surely follow.

    Gambatte! Do it for us! Show them we CAN prevail!!

    • Lil says:

      Argggh, they are really trying to make things as difficult as possible! I certainly understand why you would choose to stop pursuing them after a while. If it’s not because I’m trying to stay here long term, I would have given up too.

      Will persevere for all of us! ;)

  7. Kathleen says:

    Hi, there!

    I’m here in Paris, a student studying the circus. I bought health insurance with Allianz before coming and I can’t seem to find how to get the dossier to start the process for a carte vitale. How did you end up with your dossier?

    Thank you for any light you can shed!

  8. Denise says:

    Hey Lilian,

    I am going through the same saga (including a very similar name issue like you) except that it has been 40 months since I started. (I am even a British citizen and has a CDI here!) Thank you so much for pointing out the different “variations” of birth certificate that I didn’t know existed. No one, even the CPAM people, was able to give me any useful information!


    • Lil says:

      Good luck Denise! I had trouble getting info from CPAM too, so it was quite a lot of trial and error before I finally got it all the way it should be. Tricky process really.

  9. Austin says:

    Thanks for sharing

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