In order to live and work abroad, legally at least, most countries require a visa. I have gone thru this process twice at the French Consulate in New York City. Even though they were for 2 different kinds of visa, both were SUPER stressful. These are 6 things I’ve learned:
- Schedule your appointment early, and for early in the day
The French Consulate in NYC is one of the few that requires an appointment. This means you have to sign up beforehand in order to be let in the building. Also, depending on what State you live in, this means you will most likely have to travel to the Consulate designated to your home residence.
When I first looked at appointments for the summer in May, there was tons of dates available. Once I got all my paperwork from my family at the end of June, the only one left was Aug 9th… or the day I was leaving. Clearly, that was not going to work.
This meant I was frantically looking at the appointment site every 5 minutes as often as I could. Once a sooner one opened, I tried to book it. The problem: other people are doing the same thing. I was able to change to an earlier appointment, twice, but keep in mind it can take 7-14 business days from your appointment date to get your visa. AND you will have to go back to get your passport.
My story below explains how having the earliest appointment of the day can save you. However, if you are checking for closer slots like I was, you cannot not be choosy since you just want to get the process done ASAP. BUT if you do have a choice, pick the earliest one available in case you have to leave to make a copy of something, or get another version of something (I’ve had to do both).
Lesson: Book your appointment before you have everything and with ample time before you will leave.
2. Bring EVERYTHING on the required list… and more
I have been to this Consulate for two types of Visa’s: Long Term Student and Au Pair. Each require their own list of original documents.
For example, my Long Term Student Visa required proof of income (basically proving my parents would be sending me money), a doctors note concluding I was healthy enough to study abroad, and proof of departure flight (proving I was going to come back to America). My Au Pair visa required my college diploma, proof I was enrolled in French classes for a minimum of 10 hours a week and paperwork from my host families city hall.
Each time I brought everything listed on the required documents checklist, however, they still wanted something else that was not on the list. The second time it was a copy of my drivers license. Since my appointment was later in the morning (11:30 am to be exact), I had to run from 5th Ave & 74th to Lexington Ave & 88th, make a copy and run back in 15 minutes before they closed (that’s about 20 blocks round trip). This reminded me of the time I went 5 years ago for my student visa, when I was living in State College, and they made me come back with a piece of paper from my College that was not on the list of requested documents.
I ended up making it those 20 blocks, out of breath and sweaty in the July city heat, but I made it. Even with that, they still required I come back because the requirements from my school needed to show I will be studying the entire year. My copy only stated I would take 10 hours a week, as stated on the checklist.
Lesson: Bring a copy of your license, just in case. Or any other document you think they might ask you for.
3. When they say “Original”, they mean the “Original”
This was the most frustrating part for me. For my Au Pair visa, I needed to being my diploma. Now, a college diploma is a very expensive piece of paper. It was stressful when I took it out of the frame, stressful having to travel carefully with it from Philadelphia to NYC, and of course, it was the only thing they did not even ask for!
On top of that, I had to show the Original copy of all my other paperwork, only for them to take the copy and give me back the original.
Lesson: Be over prepared.
4. They do NOT make copies
Refer back to bullet 2 and 3. Even though they may not take the original, they want a copy. It proves you can read and come prepared. If you do not have it, they will make you get one and come back.
Lesson: Bring multiple copies just in case.
5. Be prepared to wait, and come back
Both times I needed to get a Visa from France, it took me 3 visits. If you are going to be coming from out of town, I suggest spending the night and giving yourself at least 2 full days each time. This limits the amount of stress of having to run around because you don’t have a lot of time in town. It also makes the trip worthwhile, so you can enjoy the Big Apple.
The first time I applied for a Visa in 2010, I had to come from State College, PA every time. This past time, I came from Philadelphia. Either way, it is not convenient and can be expensive. But think of how worth it it is going to be!
Lesson: Make the most of your time; plan ahead.
6. Make friends with people waiting, and the doorman
Everyone is in the same boat as you! They are just as stressed and will be moving to the country you are moving to! I talked with girls who would be studying aboard and just visiting on holiday. They were all really nice and certainly helped lighten the mood for everyone in the waiting room.
As for the doorman, his name is Steven. He is a friendly older man who is super sweet and will put a smile on your face no matter what the situation. I gave him my business card and he gave me his phone number and email before I left for a final time!
Lesson: Small talk can help with nerves, and help make new acquaintances before you leave.
Did you have similar experiences with the NYC Consulate? Did you have to go to a Consulate in another city?