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How to Obtain French Citizenship

Melanie has been interested in cultures, languages, and travel since her youth. She also runs the YouTube channel, The Curious Coder.


Why Consider French Citizenship?

Becoming a French citizen is something you may be considering if you're wanting to permanently move to the country. With proper citizenship, you would be permitted to live, work, and vote in France. You would be able to use government offered public benefits.

French citizenship opens doors to benefits in other countries in the European Union. This would, for example, allowing you to work anywhere in the EU without having to apply for a work permit.

The Bolozon viaduct over the Ain river.

The Bolozon viaduct over the Ain river.

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.

This guide was created to fill the gap in information available online and despite the sometimes long process, there are several different ways to obtain citizenship in France.

There are several regulations involved in the citizenship process in France which are outlined below. Some 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 wishing to retire in France.

Several requirements must be met to obtain citizenship in France. Luckily, some of these requirements are fairly easy to meet. On the downside, some requirements 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 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 a parent, even if you were not born in France. In order to do this, the parent must file evidence of your birth with the French Royal Register.

If your parent no longer resides in France, you will be required to submit proof that your parent is/was a French citizen.

Your spouse has French citizenship

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.

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You've lived in France at least five years

This method of citizenship is called naturalization. You can submit the proper paperwork for this to your local consulate.

You may also apply for your five years to be shortened to two if you have completed at least 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.

After completing three years of service, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship.

The people of France are very proud of their heritage. Those who become citizens of France share in this pride.

The people of France are very proud of their heritage. Those who become citizens of France share in this pride.

French Citizenship Requirements

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.

How to Apply for French Citizenship

You will need to fill out a ‘dossier’ which will include:

  • Your birth certificate
  • Identification
  • Proof of marital status (and whether you have children)
  • Evidence of employment
  • Evidence of residency 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2009 Melanie Palen

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