Our roving retirement plan has always involved exploring the French, Spanish, and Portuguese Mediterranean coast along with the rest of Europe. Obviously, that didn’t work for us this year. In order to make it work for next year, we needed to get to France to deal with our visas.
Why Go To France Now?
There are things we need to get done in France in a timely manner. We can come to France at this time only because of the Long Stay Visa (VLS-TS) we got in January. Even so, we were unable to complete the visa validation process when we came in March due to the lockdown.
To continue our European exploration next year as planned, we need to get a Carte or Titre Sejour from the French government. For that, we need to validate our current visas. Then we need to apply for the Carte no earlier than November 1st, two months before the visas expire. So, off we go…
Finding A Rapid PCR Test
The French government said we needed to provide a negative COVID PCR test within 72 hours of boarding the plane. The 15-minute spit test from Abbott Labs is not yet approved by French immigration. PCR tests are easy to find/schedule in the Bay Area. However, only a few testing sites will guarantee results within 72 hours. (Geek alert) Scheduling tests and flights would thus be a race condition. That is, we may not have our results when it came time to check-in for the flight.
For a small fortune, we were able to get tested in The City by My Doctor SF. They guarantee next day results. Happily, we passed and were ready to proceed to Go! And Collect $200.
Upon arrival at SFO, we were told our papers were inadequate and that we would Go Directly To Jail! Not really, our COVID testing was in order. But our non-validated visas indicated that we had visiteur status, even though we had papers that said our visa was equivalent to a residence visa. The manager at Air France politely said we would need confirmation from the French consulate to be able to board the flight. He said, “France is not open to visitors from the US”. He provided us with an email for the Consulate to contact for our appeal.
We had diligently checked multiple sources which said we could enter France with our current visa and paperwork. Still, the manager was firm in his conviction. We figured, getting the consular approval would take days. Even after getting the approval, if possible, we would need to pony up another small fortune for new tests and book a new flight.
Sometimes, You Need To Make Your Own Luck
We were not entirely surprised by the situation, but we weren’t happy about it. Diana was sweating and looked like she was going to start hyperventilating, but together we waited quietly at the check-in counter. We really had no idea what to do and how long it would take.
Then, the Air France manager noticed some newly arrived French consular officials standing nearby. They happened to be at the airport introducing themselves to Air France personnel. He took the initiative to ask them about our visas and, after a few minutes and at least one phone call, Voila! they verbally approved us on the spot!
Having averted the crisis, we checked into our flight. Then we proceeded to the lounge for some much-needed champagne. We felt even better when the plane took off with us on it 🙂
Biz Class Experience, Mostly
We chose to book Business Class on our 11-hour Air France redeye flight. Our experience was night-and-day compared to Biz Class on British back in May. We got liquor and hot food this time around. While not as elegant as prior business class experiences, it sure felt much more welcoming than in May.
Unsurprisingly, everyone had to wear a mask when not eating or drinking. Also, to be safe, we booked seats that were well away from any other occupied seats. The flight was probably 25% full. This non-stop to Paris is only running three times a week for now. We were thankful to be on it. Pre-Covid-19, there used to be 3-4 flights a day from SFO to Paris.
Les Papiers, S’Il Vous Plait!
Upon arrival in Paris, we still had to make it through Immigration and Customs. Enroute to Immigration, various agents checked our PCR tests no less than four times. Some attempt at full (fuller?) employment, I guess.
At Immigration, the officer looked at our visas and asked “Why are you here?” We answered, “We live here”. “OK”, he said, and stamped us in. Even going through Customs was anticlimactic. No one was at that post at all. The only thing they cared about was whether or not we were bringing Covid-19. No one can blame them for that.
Drained from the anxious moments in our journey, we made our way to our hotel to recover.
Where Could You Go?
While most of Europe is closed to most Americans, there are 40+ countries you can visit. Entry requirements range from nothing to a negative test to a 14-day quarantine. It really is a question of where you feel comfortable being.
I should also note given how empty the planes are these days, prices for flights are a little weird. Cattle class deals are readily available to many places. But Business Class is unusually expensive. Still, award seats on Business Class are pretty easy to get, so that might be an option if you choose to take flight.
Where would you go now?