There is a funny saying; the French may not have invented bureaucracy but they’ve certainly perfected it. It’s that time of year again. We need to renew our visas or carte de séjours (residency cards) for another year in French Polynesia. Before I talk about some of the bureaucratic idiosyncrasies, I must first say, the French have a great system if you wish to retire or live (without working) in French Polynesia. They are one of the few countries in the world recognizing people should be able to live in their country if they can support themselves. Think about this for a minute.
Many countries wish to have self-sufficient immigrants whether they are temporary or permanent. They add to the economy without taking much away. Panama is another country where it is easy to obtain a residency card. They too recognize the value of expats who support themselves. However, most countries don’t offer any programs or long-stay visas to attract retirees or expats. A good portion of the places we’ve visited, we’re limited to 90-days with an exit requirement due at the end of the term. Re-entry afterward is possible but some countries go an extra step and require a period out before re-entry is permitted. I have often scratched my head wondering why this is the case. What’s the harm in having people stay?
Personally, I really don’t understand why more countries don’t offer long-term residency to retirees. Retirees tend to have higher disposable income than most other age groups. People who know me have often heard me say; in the USA, a warm-weather state would do very well to allow a single residence to people over sixty 100 % property tax-free (city, county, and state). Imagine the boom in housing and job-related growth due to the massive migration the state would experience. The infrastructure needed would create massive growth in the economy and sales tax revenues would skyrocket. Besides warm-weather states, perhaps states with declining populations and economies should consider this strategy. Expats and retirees should be a hot commodity.
Thankfully, France recognizes people like us don’t drain the system. We add to it. We pay marina fees (the one in which we are moored is government-owned), we eat out and we’ve spent thousands of francs at the boatyard and marine supply stores. We rent cars, buy clothes, groceries, AirBnB’s, and pay for medical care. All of these items include VAT and import tax. Each year we pay the equivalent of just US$90 to renew our carte de séjour. We have to submit documents showing we can support ourselves here without working and we must maintain health insurance. The process is tedious but fairly straightforward. Cindy does all the work. I don’t have the patience to fill out forms. Laboring over the forms, Cindy looked puzzled and this is where the bureaucracy comes into play.
She said, we needed to get more passport pictures for the application and wondered why. This was a big mistake. You should never wonder why when it comes to French bureaucracy. It is a deep abyss from which you may never return. We started to count the number of passport pictures we have turned over to the French government. They like to receive them two at a time.
The first pair of pictures we each submitted was to the French Embassy in Panama. This is where we applied for our long-stay visa (LSV). The LSV is the first step in obtaining the carte de séjour and must be completed prior to arriving in French Polynesia. One of the pictures was used for the visa they glued into our passports. Who knows what they did with the other one.
Once we landed in French Polynesia, we needed to submit paperwork to the Haut-Commissariat (High Commissioner). Included in this paperwork were two more passport photos each. One of these was used for the carte de séjour. Who knows what they did with the other one.
After one year in French Polynesia, we renewed our carte de séjour. The renewal doesn’t require a new card. They date stamp the existing card. The process requires us to provide two more passport photos each. Who knows what they did with them.
Now here we are at the end of year two. Cindy is filling out the forms and realizes we are out of passport photos. I can’t imagine why. Cindy knows of a little photography shop nearby and is pretty sure we can get some passport pictures done there. She’s right. Cindy has been to this store before since one of my Christmas presents came from it. I walk in with her and I’m immediately amazed by the amount of inventory they have.
They stock Nikon and Canon SLRs and have a large variety of lenses and accessories. I make a mental note they stock a replacement lithium battery for my Nikon D700. It’s US$150. So hence, the mental note and not a purchase. Everything is expensive here. I think I have stated this before; there are no income or property taxes here. They have import and VAT taxes. Typically, items like this battery are 3x what I would pay in the USA. So now you see how we help the economy as we spend money here. We are in fact paying taxes. By the way, the same Nikon battery in the USA is $55 at B&H Photo. And, they even have generic brands for $30. Oh, how I miss online shopping in the USA.
We have our passport pictures taken. They come in a group of eight each. We’re good for another four years! So, here we are now armed with all of our official paperwork and more passport pictures than we’ll ever need for the rest of our lives – unless we continue to live here. We’re ready to go to the Haut-Commissariat. But first, we have one more stop to make. I need to go to the Apple store. The owner of the photography shop speaks excellent English and gives us directions. It’s in the same shopping area and not too far.
Why do we need to go to the Apple store? It is a very solemn occasion. My iPod lithium battery died and it needs a new one. Yes, I am one of those people who still use an iPod. I love my iPod. For those who know me, you already know of my great love of music, all types of music. My iTunes library now consists of 96,416 songs of all genres and if played nonstop would play continuously for 293 days. I have spent years making playlists in iTunes. I have a playlist for just about every mood and occasion. I use the iPod to sync the playlists made in iTunes on my PC and plug the iPod into Cream Puff’s stereo system. Yes I know, I could plug my PC into the stereo but this would tie up my PC and tether it to the stereo. Yes I know, I can use Bluetooth but this then limits the range of the PC. Yes I know, I can use a thumb drive but I’d lose the shuffle play option. The iPod is the best choice.
My iPod has already had open heart surgery once. The hard drive crashed and I purchased a replacement on China’s eBay, AliExpress. I installed it myself in 2016, some 6 years ago. I think we were in the Bahamas. It wasn’t an easy job. Apple made the device so people like me would not be able to open it. If you look at my iPod, it bears the scars of a hard but long life. But I am hoping to resurrect it again. It just needs a battery. How hard can this be?
From Ifixit.com regarding the iPod Classic:
Apple designed their new iPods to be very difficult to take apart without destroying major components. Because of the metal faceplate, the metal backing, and the 13 (yes, 13) metal clips holding the case together, this is one of the toughest iPods to disassemble.
I have already shopped on the internet and found the type of battery I need. The problem is getting it to French Polynesia. It is lithium and lithium batteries can only be air freighted if installed inside a device. If they ship uninstalled, they must meet all sorts of regulations and the process becomes a nightmare very quickly. The battery I need is only US$20. Based on this and using the 3x rule of prices in French Polynesia, I’m willing to pay $60 if I can source one locally.
A local friend was joking with us about the difficulties of having merchandise shipped to French Polynesia. He said, “Stuff can be shipped from China but it’s all crap. The Chinese send us the crap that even the Chinese people don’t want.” Although he said this tongue in cheek, it made me understand even the local people get frustrated with the lack of shipping options to French Polynesia.
I’m not sure if my iPod can survive another open heart surgery by my clumsy hands and lack of proper tools. So beyond my willingness to overpay for the battery, I’ll consider having one installed. I convince myself I am willing to spend $160 to have my one and only Apple product arise from the dead.
We find the Apple store. Amazingly, this is the first Apple store I’ve ever set foot in. I’m not a big fan of Apple’s products. Yes, they are cool but in my opinion way overpriced. I like to pay for functionality and not coolness. I have actually never purchased anything Apple. My iPod was a gift from Cindy about 15 years ago. She’s a great gift giver. She knew I’d never buy one myself due to the price but also knew I’d love having one. In the Apple store, I take a number at the service counter and wait. It’s my turn and in my broken French I ask if they can install a new battery while holding up my badly beaten iPod Classic 160. The lady behind the counter held back her giggles.
I could tell she really wanted to burst into hysterical laughter. Judging by her looks, I think she might have been age 5 when my iPod was manufactured. I wonder if this is the first iPod Classic 160 in grey she has ever seen in real life. Perhaps they have pictures of my iPod in the archived dusty training manuals somewhere in the back of the Apple store. She tells me they can’t get parts. I think she’s still trying hard not to yell out to her co-workers, “Hey! Come and look at this antique artifact from the USA” (my iPod, not me).
Well, I’m not spending $160 today to repair my iPod. I need another option. As a last resort, I know of a computer repair store and wonder if perhaps the battery I need is used in other devices. I know this is a long shot but the computer repair shop is near the ice cream shop. I need ice cream to repair the traumatic experience of my first visit to an Apple store.
The owner of the computer shop speaks good English. Have you ever noticed how many times I write this? The amount of bilingual people in Tahiti is amazing. I once met a lady in a hardware store who spoke 4 languages and a waitress here who speaks 5 languages. But, I digress. The guy in the computer shop is empathetic. He is closer to my age and perhaps understands the difficulty, guilt, and regret a person feels when needing to let go after a long relationship with a beloved electronic device.
He goes on to explain how getting lithium batteries to the island is just about impossible. I already know this because the computer upon which I am writing this has a new battery. It was hand-carried for us from Europe by some friends who returned home for a few months. We shipped it to them in Holland using Amazon Netherlands so they could bring it here upon their return. I shopped for months here and online trying to find a replacement to no avail. I see the same happening with my need for an iPod battery. But, this time we have no friends coming here anytime soon to use as mules.
I need a plan B. Neither eBay nor Amazon ships to French Polynesia. AliExpress does ship here but I often have difficulty getting my credit card authorized with them since the items ship to a location other than the billing address. I guess our American bank has an issue with someone in China making charges when they know we’re in Tahiti. I’ve been down this rabbit hole before trying to overcome this issue and eventually gave up. And as I mentioned, getting someone to ship a lithium battery by air is just about impossible. Sending it sea-freight could take months.
Perhaps I should start looking for a complete iPod instead of a replacement battery since if the battery is installed in a device it can ship airfreight. I found the exact iPod like I have now for sale on Chinese eBay. It is “new” and no doubt a knockoff made by the factory that perhaps made the original iPods for Apple and simply chose to ignore the interoffice memo telling them it’d been discontinued. So, now they sell them directly. Hmm, this got me thinking.
Cindy mentions her mom is sending us something for Easter. Ha! An avenue to explore. I jump on eBay and hunt for exactly the same iPod that I have now. My thought being, if I have two of the same I can always use the other one for parts should it need open heart surgery again. Eureka! I find a highly rated seller who has posted a lot of pictures. The iPod looks to be in great condition, with just a few scratches. It looks ten times better than mine. And the best news, I buy it for $99 with free shipping to my in-law’s house.
Cindy’s mom agrees to toss the iPod into the box of whatever it is she’s sending us for Easter. I’m doing a happy dance. I was willing to spend up to $160 locally to have mine repaired. I can only hope the iPod is as good as it looks online and the seller’s reputation holds. If it doesn’t work, then I’m out $99 because returning it from here would be cost-prohibitive. We’ll have to wait and hope.
Meanwhile, back to the passport photos and the bureaucracy revolving about the carte de séjour at the Haut-Commissariat. The day after my Apple store trauma, we walk over to the street where all the government buildings are. It is one of the prettiest streets in Tahiti and is lined with massive trees. Across the street from the Presidential Palace is the Haut-Commissariat. It is a short walk from Cream Puff and reminds me why we like being downtown. Everything is within walking distance.
I am there for moral support. Cindy has done all the work. The Haut-Commissariat requires us both to be there either for the drop off of the paperwork or the pickup of the updated carte de séjour. They need to see our faces at least once during the process. Perhaps they want to do this so they can compare how well we are aging in French Polynesia as they review all of the passport pictures we’ve submitted.
Cindy approaches the window when our number appears on the monitor. It’s a very short wait. I hang back and let her do her thing. I have to laugh when she hands over 4 passport pictures, two of each of us. From my seat in the waiting area not so far away I hear Cindy asks the lady behind the glass if she needs these passport pictures each and every year. The government employee answers with an enthusiastic, “yes please”. Since they just once again date stamp our carte de séjour that still has the original picture attached, who knows what they do with four more of them.
We felt pretty good about dropping off the paperwork for the carte de séjour. We made a quick stop at the Champion grocery store and decided to walk back to Cream Puff via the waterfront park. As we rounded the corner to the marina we could see a cruise ship has pulled into port. We’re seeing more cruise ships now since Covid restrictions are lifted. But this one is different. It’s very different. It is a ship called The World.
I am familiar with this vessel since reading about it long ago. I used to follow a blog SV BeBe before setting sail ourselves. Bill and Judy became friends. We used the budget published on their blog to help set our own finances straight before setting off. I’m not sure why but, I remember Bill sending me a picture of The World and reading about it. Now, here it is. It’s really cool to see it just about a hundred meters off Cream Puff’s bow.
So what is The World? Quite simply, it is a floating city of millionaires. The ship is completely privately owned by the residents. This is not a cruise ship. It’s a floating condominium complex for the extremely wealthy. There are 165 luxury apartments complete with kitchens. They range from studios to large 3-bedroom suites. An owner of an apartment is a part-owner of the ship and receives voting rights on everything from the ship’s itinerary to the Christmas decorations is agreed upon by the residents.
It is said, the apartments sell for between $3 million for a studio and up to $15 million for a three-bedroom. And, just because you have the money doesn’t guarantee you a place to live. You must pass an extensive approval process by the owners in order to become a resident of The World. The apartments are full-time residences and can’t be subleased or loaned out. The annual fees, sort of like an HOA, ranged between US$ 60,000 and go up to USD 300,000 a year and cover things like onboard service staff/crew salaries, fuel, maintenance, port charges, etc. For many of the owners, this is not their primary residence but just a place they can jet to when they feel like a change of scenery. Their apartment aboard The World is always ready for them. They just need to find out where the ship is as it’s constantly moving about the world.
If you like to read more, there was a brief write-up about the ship in a CNN travel piece. Click here.
I think the thing surprising me most was how short of a time The World was docked here. It was only in Tahiti for 2 days – one night. I would’ve thought the residents aboard would want to spend more time here exploring. But who knows, maybe they just stopped to pick up some owners who might have landed at Tahiti’s airport. Anyway, it’s gone now. Off to who knows where. I wonder how many passport pictures they had to submit to the Haut-Commissariat upon arrival.