As lovely as they are, I’m still not entirely sure our client understands exactly what happened or exactly how miraculous this particular exchange was. Which is why I want to share the story of how a préfecture in France admitted they were wrong on not one, but two, points.

Our clients arrived in France in late June to begin searching for a property to buy for their new business, and stayed in some short-term rentals while looking for a lease. As the (American) spouse of an EU citizen, one of them had to apply for a carte de séjour as soon as possible, and that meant making the request within days of them establishing residence in France by signing a long term lease.

They’re in a smaller department, potentially unaccustomed to foreigners, so the red flags were there from the beginning. First, they told us that the EU partner had to request a carte de séjour first (not true), and then, when we pushed back, they gave our client his appointment – for mid October, 4 months after he arrived.

Now, it’s not unusual to get an appointment outside of the “legal” window. In fact, most visa or carte de séjour renewal appointments are after the previous card expired. What was unusual was that they wanted a timbre fiscal of €50 for him to submit the application, and then another €150 at the appointment, which they explained was because he entered France without a visa.

They told him he’d get his carte de séjour in a (laughably optimistic) 4 weeks. Of course, it was closer to 8, and he finally picked his carte de séjour up in December – only to find it had been issued for just 1 year.

And here’s the thing. Even when you KNOW the préfecture is doing something wrong, you can’t just argue with them. You can’t just say, “well, you said it would be 4 weeks and it’s been twice that” or “but it’s supposed to be free” and expect to get an agreement and an apology. You’re likelier to get the notorious Gallic shrug.

So while we empathized, I simply told them that I would assist with the renewal paperwork, and write a letter requesting multiple years the following year.

But we wrote to the préfecture for clarification anyway, explaining that we thought EU regulation meant that cartes de séjour were free for spouses of EU citizens, and asking why he was charged for entering France “without a visa” when he was not required to have one.

We were careful not to challenge them, but to enquire.

I waited to open the préfecture’s email response – already, getting a reply was unexpected – because I just didn’t want to deal with it. And I was shocked to discover that they ADMITTED WE WERE RIGHT on both counts.

In fact, they’re refunding my client the €200 and reissuing his carte de séjour for multiple years at no charge – but they have to “figure out the reimbursement modalities” because it’s probably NEVER happened in the history of the préfecture that they’ve reimbursed someone.

In another préfecture, we might have hit a wall, and frankly, I expected us to hit one here too. But it’s the first préfecture miracle of the year, and hey, I’ll take what we can get.