Steps to Obtaining French Citizenship
France is a beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage. Every year tourists flock to the lovely countrysides and cities full of light. France is a place of romance and miracles. Many go there, fall in love with it, and decide to stay. Becoming a French citizen is recommended for those who are going to make a permanent move to the country. With a proper citizenship, an individual would be able to live, work, and vote in France. They would also be able to use government offered public benefits. A French citizenship opens doors in other European Union countries as well, such as allowing one to work in them without having to apply for a special work permit.
Obtaining French citizenship can take quite a bit of time and can often be a confusing process. Unfortunately, there are not a large number of resources available in English on the Internet for those looking into obtaining French citizenship. Because of this, I've researched various laws and created this article so that those looking for this information can find it more easily. Despite the long process, there are a number of different ways to obtain citizenship in France.
There are several formalities and rules involved in the citizenship process in France which are outlined below. Some of the rules vary based on individual situations. If you're marrying a French citizen and wish to seek French citizenship, you'll go through a slightly different process than an American couple that wishes to retire in France.
French Citizenship Requirements
There are several requirements that have to be met in order to obtain citizenship in France. Luckily, some of these requirements are fairly easy to meet. On the downside, there are some requirements that may prove difficult. If you don't meet all the requirements, I still encourage you to seek additional information from the French government regarding your status.
This is just a general list of the guidelines and is definitely not the final rule and law regarding the process.
At least ONE of the following must pertain to you:
- One of your parents has French citizenship – You can apply for French citizenship through your parent, even if you were not born in France. In order to do this, your parent must file evidence of your birth with the French Royal Register. If your parent no longer resides in France, you may still be able to obtain citizenship, but it will require your parent also proving they are a French citizen.
- Your spouse has French citizenship and you’ve been married for at least four years – You will be allowed to file for permission to attain French citizenship if you have lived in France for a year while married to your spouse. You must still fulfill the requirement of having been married for four years. In order to do this, you will file a petition with the local prefecture where you live.
- You have lived in France for at least five consecutive years – This is called naturalization. You can submit the proper paperwork to your local consulate. You may also be able to apply for your five years to be shortened to two if you have successfully completed two years of higher education in France.
- Military Service – If you meet all the requirements, you will be able to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, a military group that accepts recruits from all over the world. You will be required to meet all the physical requirements, have your application approved, sign up for a five-year service contract, complete all your training, and serve for at least three years.
You must also meet ALL of the following requirements:
- You must be at least 18 years of age – The only exception to this rule is if you are born to a French parent. They may petition for your citizenship before you turn 18.
- You must be able to show that you are of good moral fiber – this will require specific paperwork and interviews with a number of officials.
- You must show proof of having no criminal history. (Parking & speeding tickets don't constitute a criminal history – Obviously, no country is going to want to fill itself with criminals.
- You must be able to show that you have integrated yourself into French life, including being able to speak French well enough to function in daily life – It seems fairly straightforward. You must show that you have a working knowledge of the French language and customs in order to continue living in France.
Each applicant's case is different. Any questions regarding individual cases should be forwarded to the French government.
How to Apply for French Citizenship
You will need to fill out a ‘dossier’ which will include:
- Your birth certificate
- Proof of marital status (and whether you have children)
- Evidence of employment
- Evidence of residence in France
- An ‘attestation de moralité’ which attests you have good character
If you are obtaining your citizenship through naturalization or marriage, you will be required to sign the Reception and Integration Contract (CAI). This form is valid for a year, after which the French government will evaluate whether or not you have reached all the requirements for CAI. These include taking a written and oral test to determine if you have reached an acceptable level of language proficiency, taking a civics class, and sitting in on an information session.
From the moment you furnish the above information and sign all the forms, it can take anywhere from one to two years before you are approved for French citizenship. There are many different things that the government will do during this time to prove that the information you’ve given is valid. It will also take some time for processing since different pieces of information will have to pass through various governmental departments.
Those who apply for citizenship will be required to, at some point, attend a Tribunal d'Instance. This is just a small hearing where the applicant signs a request for citizenship in front of a judge. The applicant may also be required to go to their local police department for a short interview to prove that the applicant qualifies for citizenship. At this time, the applicant must prove that they can sufficiently speak French.
There are some cases where the citizenship qualification period may be shortened. These instances include refugees, foreigners from countries where French is an official language and they have attended a Francophone language school for at least five years, those people who have demonstrated ‘exceptional service’ to the country, and any foreigners who have served in the French army.
It is important to note that if you are applying for French citizenship you should look into whether or not you will be able to keep your current country citizenship and be a dual citizen or if your French citizenship will negate the other. France does allow dual citizenship with the United States and a few other countries.
Do know that once you have become a French citizen, any unmarried dependents also become French citizens if they are living with you and are mentioned on your naturalization papers.
Obtaining French citizenship can be a long and stressful process. If for whatever reason, you find yourself not able to obtain full French citizenship, you should try to apply for permanent residence status. The requirements for permanent residence are more lenient than citizenship and the permanent residence card is valid for ten years but is also renewable. The only major difference between that and citizenship is that you will not be able to vote or hold public office as a permanent resident.
It may seem like a lot, but if your passion lies in the French countryside or under the twinkling lights of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, it may be well worth it.
© 2009 Melanie Palen