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How to Become a French Citizen

By Sonia, published on 20/03/2019 Blog > Languages > French > Really, How Hard is it to Become a French Citizen?

So you’ve taken French courses, learned to speak French, know everything there is to know about French culture and French etiquette and have been living in France for some time. And so, in view of the impending Brexit and a hope to continue to move freely in the Schengen area, you would like to become a French citizen.

It’s not an incredibly straightforward process – and it is clearly not an option available for everyone. It is only applicable to those who were born on French soil, who were born to French parents, who have lived in France for five years, or who are married to a French spouse.

Here, we walk you through some of the conditions set by the French government to determine who can be French citizens – and we talk you through the process of acquiring the papers you need.

Becoming A French Citizen at Birth

The easiest way to obtain French citizenship is to be born to it – which, of course, is not an option for everyone. But, in the interests of completeness, let’s talk through the two ways a newborn can become a citizen of France through birthright citizenship. This can happen either by being born on French soil, or being born to citizens of France.

A new French citizen is born. This baby is happy to have been born a French citizen. He was either born on French soil or of at least one French parent. Photo credit: koalie on VisualHunt

Be born in France: jus soli

Firstly, then, you are entitled to French citizenship if you were both born on French territory and you meet one of the following requirements:

  • You have been a permanent resident of France since at least the age of 8. In this case, your parents can apply to have you granted dual citizenship when you reach the age of 13. That means that you’ve lived in France for at least five years.
  • You are 16 years of age and have resided in France for a total of five consecutive or non-consecutive years since the age of 11. In this case, you are entitled to apply for citizenship status before you reach the age of consent at 18. Again, five years is the magic number.
  • You have lived in France for 5 years since you turned 11. Here, you automatically become a French citizen at the age of 18.

This principle of jus soli was something held by most countries at a certain point in time. However, the growth of ‘birth tourism’ – in which people would give birth in a foreign country merely to have their kid be entitled to citizenship – encouraged states to change their laws.

These days, any youth born in France automatically becomes a French citizen if he or she serves in the military.

Be born to French parents: jus sanguinis

Anyone born to at least one French parent is automatically a French citizen. As you can see, this one is pretty straightforward.

By submitting the child’s birth certificate (naming both its parents) and a copy of the French parent’s proof of citizenship to your consulate or local town hall and you will receive the French “livret de famille”. If the child was born in a foreign country, you’ll be given a French birth certificate where any marriages or divorces will be entered.

Underage children of a naturalized immigrant also automatically can become a legal permanent resident of France.

Becoming Naturalized a French Citizen

If you are not lucky enough to be born French, you still have a few options for becoming a citizen of France.

If You are Married to a French Citizen

Citizenship through marriage is something you should only consider if you are already married to a Frenchman or Frenchwoman. Entering into a hymenal relationship simply to acquire citizenship does not often lead to a happy wedded life.

Especially since you need to have been married at least four years before you can apply for citizenship by marriage, and your spouse needs to have been a citizen at the time of your marriage.

To prevent fraud, further requirements for naturalization include:

  • If you were married outside of France, the marriage certificate needs to be transcribed in the civil register in France. This means that France will have a written record of your marriage status.
  • You should have a residence card or similar document proving that you reside entirely or frequently in France.
  • If you are residing outside of France, your spouse needs to be registered as an expatriate. (Famous French expatriates include the French philosopher Albert Camus, who was born in Algeria.)
  • You should still be living with your French spouse – otherwise, the marriage may look a little suspicious.
  • Your spouse should not have relinquished his or her citizenship during that time.
  • You cannot have been deported from France or be barred from traveling into France.
  • You cannot have a criminal record.
  • You need to show sufficient command of the French language.

If by some chance you cannot prove that you have been a permanent resident of France for at least 3 years since your marriage or your spouse did not register his or her expatriation, the delay before you can apply for naturalization is five years.

French citizenship gives you an ID card Modern French ID cards and French passports are less fragile than they once were. Photo credit: mcclave on Visual Hunt

If you Have French Descendants

Another way to become a naturalized citizen through family is to have children who, by birth or other requirement, are French citizens.

In this case, you are eligible for citizenship if:

  • You are over 65 years of age
  • Have been a permanent resident of France for at least 25 years
  • Are the direct ancestor of a French citizen (parent or grandparent)
  • Do not have a criminal record.

It’s never too late to start the naturalization process! Why not astound your case worker with your knowledge of the history of the French language when you apply? Look for ‘French courses London‘ for a wide selection.

Residency in France

The naturalisation process for a foreigner living in France varies slightly depending on which of the following citizenship requirements you fulfill:

  • Be 18 or over
  • Have your permanent residence in France, generally for at least five years. Different situations (work as a civil servant, in the army) can shorten the wait to two years or no time at all.
  • You have an eligible visa or residence permit at the time of applying or are a citizen of the European Union.
  • You have been working since coming to France.
  • Show a certain level of integration, ascertained in a personal interview at the end of which you will be asked to read and sign the charter of rights and duties of every French citizen.
  • You have a basic knowledge of the French language. (Improve it by reading books written by French authors!)
  • Show that you adhere to the values of the French Republic: equality, democracy, and civil liberties.
  • Don’t have a criminal record.

How to Become a French Citizen: a Summary

Be born in FranceIf you are born in France and meet the residence requirements, you can apply to French citizenship.
Be born to French parentsIf at least one parent is a French citizen, you are eligible.
Marry a French personIf you have been married to a French citizen for over four years, you are welcome to apply.
Reside in France for five yearsIf you have a permanent address in France, and have lived their for five years, you can apply.
Have descendants who are French citizens.If you child or grandchild is a French citizen, you can apply too.

Multiple Citizenship

France generally doesn’t mind if a foreign national wishes to retain their birth nationality (or nationalities). The only exception is if they join the armed forces or the diplomatic corps. If you are in the army or working in a consulate or embassy, you must prove your allegiance to France by renouncing any other citizenships.

Career soldiers have to give up other nationalities. Dual citizenship is allowed in France, unless you want to serve as a regular in the army or diplomatic corps. Photo credit: ResoluteSupportMedia on Visualhunt.com

A child born on French soil wishing to give up French citizenship needs to prove they have another citizenship to be certain they are not without papers. Under international law, people cannot be stateless – and so there might be an obligation for you to take up citizenship if this is the case.

How to Apply for Citizenship

The paperwork involved in applying to become a French citizen varies depending on how you are eligible for it. Administrative costs are 55€.

Here is what you need for your citizenship application based on permanent residency of five years or more:

  • First, you need to find out which ‘préfecture’ processes naturalisation papers in your departement; if you are living abroad, you should contact your consulate or embassy.
  • You will need to fill out form cerfa n°12753*02 in duplicate
  • You will have to furnish proof of the information given on form cerfa n°12753*02, such as a certificate of birth, marriage certificate and the relevant residence and work permit.
  • You will need to decide if you want your name and that of your children to be Gallicised or not. For example, famous French actor Jean Reno was born Juan Moreno y Herrera-Jiménez of Andalusian immigrants in Morocco.

If something changes (residence or work situation) after having deposited your application, there is an additional form to fill out to inform the authorities.

Legally, the préfecture is charged with sending on your dossier to the ministry in charge of naturalisation within six months; the delay for processing your petition is of eighteen months, twelve if you have been resident in France for at least ten years.

If the decision is favourable, you will be notified by post and the naturalisation decree will be published in the official Journal. Unlike acquiring American citizenship after you had been issued a Green card, there is no naturalization ceremony.

If your application has been rejected, you have a two-month delay to appeal.

Is There a French Citizenship Test?

You will be required to sit an interview – as we mentioned earlier – and a test is part of this process. This will test your knowledge and respect for the values and culture of France and its civil code. The French government states that this test is designed “to verify, pursuant to Article 21-24 of the Civil Code, that the applicant has in particular sufficient knowledge of French history, culture and society.”

Some people say that this interview can go on for hours and include difficult questions about all things French, whilst others report that it is a piece of cake. Either way, it is incredibly important to be prepared as, depending on your interviewer, this could make or break your citizenship application.

Similar to the practice test that the UK government hosts on its website, the French government has published a handbook for those seeking to gain French citizenship to work in France or to receive education in France. This is known as the Livret du Citoyen.

This book covers the main principles and ideas behind the structure of the country’s government, and the rights and responsibilities you have as a citizen.

At the end of the interview, you will be required to make a declaration that you have understood your duties as a citizen.

Tips for Applying for French Citizenship

Keep All the Right Documents

As soon as you are moving to France, ensure that you keep all records proving that you are living in that country. These could be certificates of enrollment in a university or school, doctors appointment letters, payslips and proof of employment, or housing contracts.

You need only contact the chief clerk at your local courthouse (préfecture) to present the proof and you will automatically be awarded a certificate of naturalisation, enabling you to apply for an identity card or passport. You can refuse citizenship if you can prove you are citizen of another country.

If you do not have proof, the whole process of applying for citizenship becomes much more difficult.

Ask the Right People for Advice

We said that you will need to go to your local préfecture to present your documents.

What you should bear in mind is that these are the people who know best. So, if you are in any doubt about what documents you might need to prove your eligibility, these are the people to ask.

Make Sure Your French is up to Scratch

The French government requires that, if you are hoping to naturalise, you need to have at least an ‘intermediate’ grasp of French to be able to gain citizenship. This means that you need to be at a B1 level or above.

If you have studied at a university in France, then you are okay. If you have a diploma in French, then you are all set. But if you don’t have proof of either of these – or proof of any French language proficiency – then part of your citizenship test will be a language test. 

You can look up practice tests online. These will reassure you about the level of French you actually need.

Save Up

People report that applying for French citizenship can be a little pricey. This might be a little surprising, as the official cost of the ‘timbre fiscal’ for French citizenship is 55 euros.

However, if you have documents in English, they will need to be translated by an official translator. These can charge up to 60 euros per page. You probably have more of these than you think you do.

Be Patient

These things always take a little longer than anyone would like. If you apply in the UK, this could take two to six months. If you’re applying in France, expect it to take closer to two years.

So, be aware that this isn’t going to happen in a hurry.

People that Can Help Your Application.

There are loads of organisations – charities, publications, and legal bodies, to name just a few – that can help you in your application to become French. They all recognise that it is a tough process, but, usually, they have plenty of experience in helping people get there.

As such, it’s not going to harm your chances to just drop them a line, review their websites, or meet up with any advisors. And it’s definitely a good thing to know that, even if you are struggling with the process, other people are too. There is always good in knowing you’re in company.

So, let’s take a brief look at some helpful resources.

The Local France

The Local are a website that give advice and news, in English, for people living in – or interested in living in – different countries in Europe. There are different sites for France, Italy, Germany, and many others, keeping people informed about what is happening in different countries, and helping them with day to day concerns such as applying for citizenship. 

The Local France includes interviews with people who have been successful in applying, as well as step-by-step guides on how to get there yourself. They are a great resource – pointing out things about the process that you may not have known, or that weren’t clear from the official resources.

Remain in France

Remain in France is a new organisation set up to help British citizens living in the country during the period following the EU referendum. Its primary aims are to advocate for the rights of such people and to promote information about citizens’ rights in France. 

However, it also has a lot of great information on how to apply for French citizenship. This includes surveys on attitudes towards the process of applying to French citizenship and on the knowledge of the possible loss of rights suffered by British people living in Europe.

A very helpful – and politically active – organisation.

Dual Citizenship

Dual Citizenship is a website that offers services to those seeking citizenship of a different country. These guys hope to streamline the process – and make sure that you don’t forget anything that you might need.

The website works through a central dashboard in which you can see all aspects of your application, with all instructions, necessary forms, and required tasks made as clear as possible.

These guys, however, charge for the service. So for those who are not interested in such benefits, this may not be worth your time.

Maisons de justice et du droit

These are like Citizens Advice Bureaus in the UK. They provide free and confidential legal advice. Whilst you might wonder whether these are for people are not citizens, be reassured that they are.

However, something that you might find is that none of the advisers are able to speak English. If this is a problem for you, take someone along who can translate – either a professional or a friend.

This is the option for those in France already.

Advantages of Being a French Citizen

Become a French citizen to vote in France. In addition to a French passport, becoming a French citizen grants you a carte électorale allowing you to vote. (Rubik’s cube not included.) Photo credit: Éole on VisualHunt.com

You might wonder if it’s all worth it – after all, your studies or your job guarantee you a new residence permit.

But there are certainly advantages to applying for a French nationality.

One of them is that you will be a citizen of the EU – something your British passport will not be good for for long.

You will be able to vote – if you are already an EU citizen, you will only be allowed to vote in local elections; once a French citizen, you shall be allowed to vote in local and national elections and in the presidential election.

Voting and taxes are two sides of one medaillon; it’s up to you whether it’s worth all the red tape.

If you should then move abroad, your children will be eligible – if they, too, have the French nationality through you – to obtain a permit allowing them to study at a foreign French school – these Lycées Français are found in every major global city, stick to the French curriculum and are ideal for those who move around a lot for work.

What a Tutor Can Do for You.

You might find that your French needs a bit of a polish – or your knowledge of French culture. When the stakes are high – i.e. when the risk of failure is having to wait a further two years – it’s worth making sure that your chances are as high as they can possibly be.

So, if you are worried about your level of French, get a French tutor to settle your nerves. And if you can’t tell Louis XII from Louis XIV, it might be worth taking some classes a tutor of French history.

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