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TIMELINE: The 6 steps to becoming French

France is one of the more generous nations in Europe when it comes to granting citizenship to foreigners, but that doesn't mean that the process is easy - here's how to go about becoming a French citizen.

TIMELINE: The 6 steps to becoming French
Want to become French? Berets are not essential Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP

Step 1 – Eligibility

Firstly you need to work out whether you are eligible for French citizenship and for foreigners there are two main routes; residency or marriage.

France has one of the shortest residency requirements in Europe – you need five years of continuous residency in order to apply, but this is dropped to two years if you completed higher education in France.

You can also apply through marriage – contrary to popular belief that isn’t an automatic process if you get hitched to a Frenchie; you need to have been married for four years before you apply and you still need to go through the admin process and the interview. You don’t need to be living in France, though.

You can also become a French citizen if you have a French parent, if you were born in France and if you have served for five years in the French Foreign Legion – although these routes all have conditions too.

Find the full explanation of eligibility HERE.

Step 2 – French exam

If you’re applying through residency, you will need to prove that you speak French – you need a certificate that is no more than two years old showing that you have passed reading, writing, speaking and listening French exams to B1 level or above. This is not required for people who completed higher education in France.

You can take our quiz HERE to see what type of language skills you need to pass a B1 exam.

Step 3 – Dossier

Once you’ve established that you meet the criteria for citizenship and you have passed your French exam, it’s time to put together your dossier.

This used to be sent on paper to your local préfecture, but there is now a central web portal where you submit your application online (your préfecture still decides on your application though).

The exact documents that you need vary depending on your personal circumstances but you will usually need a recently re-issued copy of your birth certificate and a certification from your home country that you don’t have a criminal record (if you have lived in France for less than 10 years).

You will also need your French tax returns and documents to prove your address, work status/financial means in France and ID.

Documents not in French will likely need to be translated and you must use a certified translator to do this.

The French government citizenship page has a handy simulator HERE – you enter your personal circumstances and it provides you with a downloadable list of the documents you need. It will probably take you at least a couple of months to get all your documents together, so it’s worth starting in advance.

Once everything is collected, you submit them via the online portal HERE, along with the application form and the €55 citizenship application fee. 

Step 4 – Interview

Once your dossier is submitted, you wait. The online portal allows you to track your application, and this is where any requests for extra documents will be made.

Once your dossier is approved (and this usually takes months) you will be invited to an in-person interview at your local préfecture, where you will be tested on your knowledge of France, its history, culture, politics and values.

QUIZ Could you pass the French citizenship interview?

There is a booklet called the Livret du Citoyen – available to download for free here – that gives you a good outline about what you need to know, but people who have been through the interview report that it varies a lot.

Some people really were grilled for ages on things like France’s five longest rivers (the Seine, the Rhine, the Rhone, the Loire and the Garonne, incidentally) while others report just a couple of questions or a quick chat.

Philosophy, household chores and cheese – what you might be asked in the French citizenship interview

One thing you will almost certainly be asked is why you want to become French, and saying that it’s for administrative convenience/shorter airport lines is likely to go down badly – you need to demonstrate that the value France, you are committed to the country and you are prepared to uphold French values like laïcité and equality between men and women.

People do get turned down for citizenship after the interview, so it’s not just a formality.

Step 5 – Citizenship ceremony

Some time after the interview you will be notified on whether you passed and – if you did – invited to a naturalisation ceremony where you will be presented with your certificate of naturalisation that makes you officially French.

The ceremony us usually held at the préfecture or mairie, you will likely get a little speech from the local official, perhaps a video illustrating the greatness of the country you are now a citizen of and of course you will all sing the Marseillaise (they hand out lyrics sheets, so you don’t need to learn it off by heart).

Step 6 – Passport and ID 

You are now French, but if you want to use your new identity for administrative or travel purposes, you will next need to apply for a French ID card and/or a passport, sending off a copy of your precious naturalisation certificate.

How long does all this take?

Because the process is on a préfecture level it varies quite widely depending on where you are in the country, but the average time is between 18 months and two years.

It usually takes several months to get your dossier validated, longer if you need to supply extra documents. The invitation to the interview is usually (although not always) sent at least a couple of months in advance, and then it’s normal to wait several months to hear if you passed.

Sending off for a new passport or ID card also takes several months, so you need patience at every step of the way.

How much does it cost?

The official cost of citizenship is just €55, but in reality most people will spend much more than this.

If you need any documents translating into French you must use the services of a certified translator, and they usually charge €30-€40 per page so it’s not unusual to spend a couple of hundred euro on translation fees.

If you need to take the language exam you will also have to pay for that, and that can also be over €100, more if you want to take a few classes in preparation.

The exam must be administered by a DELF-approved language school, this would cover anything run by the French government or the larger language schools.

One tip for people who are employees in France is to use your annual government-funded training budget Mon Compte Formation for a French course with an exam at the end of it.

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For members


EXPLAINED: How to use France’s new online portal for citizenship

The French government has opened a new online system for foreigners applying for citizenship. Loire-based journalist and wannabe Frenchman John Walton takes a look at how to use the new NATALI citizenship portal.

EXPLAINED: How to use France's new online portal for citizenship

Since I’ve lived in France, I’ve by and large been impressed by the country’s digital public services, especially compared with the US and UK, and that was also the case with applying for nationality using the NATALI online portal

Submitting my dossier was an entirely digital process using the new nationality portal. Since there are many pathways to apply for nationality (marriage to a French citizen, descent from a French person, and so on), the website has a special simulateur widget that helps you narrow down the pathway suitable to you.

There’s also a specific simulation that then provides you a list of documents based on your situation.

As a célibataire, full-time employed salarié US-UK dual national homeowner without children, born outside France, applying based solely on five years of residence with the special Brexit-flavoured titre de séjour residence permit, mine narrowed down a total 15 documents I needed to provide:

  • Passport;
  • ID photos;
  • €55 in timbre fiscale;
  • Titre de séjour;
  • Birth certificate (plus approved translations);
  • Parents’ birth and marriage certificates (plus approved translations);
  • Casier judiciaire and overseas equivalents (plus approved translations);
  • House title (acte de propriété);
  • Tax returns (avis) for 3 years;
  • P237 bordereau de situation fiscale covering 3 years (available via the tax office);
  • Certificat de travail (this is an attestation from your employer, in the standard format “I the undersigned, Mme X of company Y at address Z, certify that Mr A of address B with Sécu number C, is employed as with a CDI as a job title D since date E, and he’s not on any probation nor has he resigned) 
  • Employment contract;
  • Last 3 pay slips;
  • Pay slips for November and December of the last 3 years;
  • Language qualification to at least B1 level

READ ALSO The ultimate guide for how to get French citizenship

As it turns out I wasn’t asked for an ID photo — perhaps because I have an existing titre de séjour. Note that you will also have to input your every one of your home addresses over the last 10 years down to the specific day that you moved in and out, although no documentary evidence was required online.

Best to ensure that you have that information to hand, and I absolutely plan to bring a couple of bank statements, utility bills and similar to my assimilation interview.

The site also asked for a recent proof of address — the usual phone bill seemed to suffice. I found that the key to making this simple is collating all the information you’ll need and figuring out what accompanying documentation (or, indeed, in the case of the language tests, what exams) you can upload to provide it.

Tips for the process

You can either create a new login or use a FranceConnect login from another government service (such as the health service’s or the tax office’s — I used the latter).

Pleasingly, this prefills all the information that the service already holds on you. I’m a millennial digital native with a reputation as a spreadsheet fancier, so I organised the process with a one-page spreadsheet to track the documentation. I also numbered each of the types of information, with a corresponding folder number on my computer, both for tracking and for the upload process.

That meant it took really only a few minutes to work through the submission site and upload my documents one by one. I plan to file the paper originals and printouts of these documents in a tabbed file when, fingers crossed, I’m called to the assimilation interview.

READ ALSO QUIZ: Could you pass the French citizenship interview?

I was very impressed by the uploading process: the site allows for multiple uploads at the same time (so you can select all of the payslips you’ve carefully put into a folder at once, for example) and file size limits are a very reasonable 10MB so there’s no need to resize your smartphone picture scans.

If you’re an iPhone user and have used your phone to scan pictures, they may be saved as HEIC files rather than JPGs. You’ll need to convert them (I used the Preview app on my computer) to upload.

I’d highly recommend having very clear filenames for your documentation, including translations — “certificat de naissance – mère – original”, “certificat de naissance – mère – traduction”, and so on — rather than leaving it as “IMG1234” or whatever.

I did this in French to make it as easy as possible for whoever reviews my file. Note also that where translations are needed that there is a separate upload button for translations.

I was glad that I’d had the foresight to add the word “traduction” to the names of these files!

Lessons learned

The time and effort in this process was mainly around squaring away my overseas documentation, which took a couple of months. Given that language exams are only held a few times a year, these is probably the first thing to arrange.

As someone with grade A French at A-level, who uses French on a daily basis in my local village, I popped over to my nearest centre for a morning of exams, and took the B1 level test. 

READ ALSO TEST: Is your level of French good enough for citizenship and residency?

Once you’ve booked in the language exam, start on your overseas documentation. This, especially from the UK, can be expensive, complicated and can take months.

(The UK’s police certificate website here is a particular shocker: it looks like it is a scam website, the processing time is outrageously slow and it only sends out physical forms. The French casier judiciaire version is free, online and immediate.)

By contrast, I found that securing every piece of French documentation, from the P237 form I’d never heard of, to the casier judiciaire police check that I’d never needed, all the way down to getting an electronic timbre fiscale, was easy, digitised, free and usually instantaneous.

READ ALSO Reader question: Will a criminal record stop you getting French citizenship?

Do take a good look at example documents to understand exactly what you’re being asked for before you apply for them from your country of origin, or where you may have lived over the past 10 years. For example: my parents’ marriage certificate from the UK didn’t include their dates and places of birth, just their ages at the time of marriage.

I found an excellent and very responsive local translator “agréé” (aka a translator “assermenté-e” or approved translator) from the official list of certified translators (provided). It is best to approach a translator at an early stage to ensure availability and check pricing.

They may also be helpful with some of the finer details of what documents are needed. Mine was happy to review, make minor edits to, and then stamp some earlier, non-agrée translations of several of my documents, which cut the cost somewhat.

READ ALSO How much does it cost to get French citizenship?

Overall, and certainly in contrast with the horror stories I’ve heard from friends applying for US and UK nationality, the process of submitting my dossier for French citizenship was simple, inexpensive and straightforward. If you’re not a confident online operator, you might find the website slightly overwhelming, but there is a national network of digital help points if you’re concerned. 

Now, I wait… Wish me luck at the interview.

Next steps

Submitting your dossier online is step one of applying for French citizenship, a process that takes on average between 18 months and two years. Find the full process outlined HERE

Photo: John Walton

John Walton is a joint US-UK national who lives in the département of Loire in central France. He works as a journalist specialising in travel and aviation and tweets as @thatjohn – find more of his work here