My mother died recently and I’m joint executor for her estate.  Before probate can be declared executors have to swear an oath in front of a solicitor in England, or a consular official abroad, that they’ve read the will and all the councils, sign the will and codicils and have those signatures witnessed.  Our solicitor sent everything to me with a note saying that the statutory charge in the UK is £5 for the swearing of the oath, and £2 per witnessed signature making it £13 in all for my mother’s will and codicils, but it might be a little higher at the consulate.

A little higher, my eye!  When I rang the consulate in Bordeaux to check when I could come in, I was informed that they charged 65€ for the swearing of the oath and 24€ per witnessed signature.  That’s 157€.  I doubt that there’s a single Briton living in France who hasn’t gnashed their teeth in fury over the vast price of renewing their passport through the Embassy in Paris, but, while I have no doubt that a handsome profit is being made, there is some justification for saying that there are extra costs involved in getting a passport issued through the embassy in Paris.

When I went to the consulate I read a short passage off a printed card in front of a charming consular official who then watched me sign four pieces of paper and stamped them with the consular stamp.  We could have done it at the front desk but as she said there was no one else there so we went into a back room where we could sit down. So please where are the extra costs here?  The official is already employed at the consulate, she was on duty at the front desk so I wasn’t taking her away from other duties, the only costs in terms of materials was a little ink on the stamp and she actually spent longer telling me where the nearest cash machine was than she did listening to me swearing the oath or witnessing my signature.

Yes, you read that right.  Directions to the cash machine.  The British Consulate in Bordeaux doesn’t accept cheques or credit cards.   It’s cash only.  No cheques is understandable these days but insisting in cash only?  Just about every two-bit bar in France has a credit card machine, so surely a consulate of what is supposed still  be one of the World’s more powerful players ought to be able to embrace modern technology and accept modern methods of payment.  According to the consular official, who was so nice that it was impossible to remain grumpy, insisting on cash can be very embarrassing for the staff as some customers openly wonder if part of the consular fees go straight into the staff Christmas party fund – they are always meticulous about giving you a receipt for the money.

I can’t see the justification for being charged ten times as much for a legal obligation at a British consulate as my brother was for exactly the same thing at an extremely smart solicitors in London.  Even getting a passport through the Paris Embassy is only twice what it costs in the UK.  Actually I was exceptionally lucky as the consular official declared that as far as she was concerned witnessing my signature was part of the oath swearing so she let me off that part(I said she was nice!)  but not everyone would have done that.

I always had this vague idea that one of the functions of Embassies and consulates was to help and look after the interests of their citizens abroad, I never realised that it included making as large a profit out of them as possible.

Naive or what?