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FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

TIMELINE: The 6 steps to French citizenship

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 French citizenship
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.

Your name will also appear in the Journal Officiel with the list of all new French citizens – you are officially French from the moment that your name is in the JO, even if you have not yet had your ceremony, and from this point you can apply for your passport.

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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FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

French citizenship: What exactly is France’s ‘droit du sol’?

The phrase 'droit du sol' has been in the French news recently, but the right to citizenship to people born in France comes with quite a few strings attached and is different to how some might understand 'birthright citizenship'.

French citizenship: What exactly is France's 'droit du sol'?

The principle of droit du sol is making headlines in France at the moment due to a controversial idea from France’s interior minister (more on that below).

The phrase itself is often translated as ‘birthright citizenship’ and there’s an assumption that this is automatically applied to any child born on French soil.

In reality, it functions very differently in France than in other nations, such as the United States, which confer nationality at birth.

Those born in France to at least one French parent can be French citizens from birth, as can children born outside France to at least one French parent – this is droit du sang (blood right).

Droit du sol (literally translated as ‘soil right’) enables children born in France to foreign parents to acquire French nationality – albeit later in life and with a number of strings attached.

Children covered by droit du sol can obtain French nationality either between the ages of 13-15 or when they turn 18, but they are not born with it.

READ MORE: When are children born in France eligible for French citizenship?

Those born in France to foreign parents can apply to become French between the ages of 13-15 if they meet the following three conditions;

  • if they have lived in France on a regular basis (meaning they have spent most of their time in France since the age of 8-years-old),
  • if they are living in France at the time of the application,
  • if they consent to becoming French.

The process is not automatic – one or both of the child’s parents must apply (via déclaration) on the child’s behalf.

This involves sending in documents including the child’s birth certificate, the parent’s titre de séjour (residency card) if applicable and proof that the child lives in France (eg school records).

READ MORE: French vocabulary you need to know when applying for citizenship

For citizenship at the age of 18, the child must have been born in France, be resident in France on the date of his/her 18th birthday, and they must have been resident in France for at least five years (in total) since the age of 11.

So who is French at birth?

A child whose parents are French at the time of their birth is considered French, even if the child was born overseas. 

Otherwise, there are only a few circumstances for children to gain French nationality at birth:

  • If one of the parents was born in France, even if they are not a citizen (this is sometimes called double droit du sol)
  • If one of the parents was born in Algeria before July 3rd 1962;
  • If the child is born stateless – their parents have no legal nationality; the parents are unknown; the parents come from a country where nationality is only given if you were born there. 

Could the ‘droit du sol’ change?

Droit du sol has people a political issue for those on the right in recent months.

Right-wing politicians attempted to add limits on citizenship acquired through birth to the new immigration bill, although this was struck down by the Constitutional Council.

The Council refused it due to administrative reasons, but added: “On the merits, the appellant Members criticised these provisions for infringing the principles of equality before the law and of the indivisibility of the Republic.”

More recently, France’s hard-line interior minister, Gérald Darmanin announced plans to limit the right, although only in one part of France.

He announced a radical proposal during a visit to the French island of Mayotte, which is part of a volcanic archipelago called the Comoros between Madagascar and Africa.

Darmanin said he hopes to pass a “constitutional revision” that would abolish the droit du sol in Mayotte only – in an attempt to curtail high immigration rates into Mayotte from neighbouring islands.

This would make the rules in Mayotte different to the rest of France and its other overseas territories.

This is, at this stage, only a proposal and could even require a change in the French constitution if it is not to suffer the same fate as the droit du sol amendment to the recent immigration bill.

It is already proving controversial.

READ MORE: Can France’s Constitution be changed?

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in migration from neighbouring parts of Comoros, which are not French. This has been in part due to Mayotte being wealthier and regarded as more stable than the rest of Comoros, even though it is one of the poorest parts of France, with living standards and wages far below the average in mainland France.

There are already some differences with regard to citizenship in Mayotte – in the rest of France (including other overseas territories) if a child is born to foreign parents, they can obtain French nationality as described above.

In Mayotte there is an extra condition – as well as having been born in Mayotte, at least one of the parents must also have been legally on French territory for at least three months at the time of birth.

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