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How To Get French Citizenship

Applying to become French is a complicated and lengthy process and the first step is gathering together a huge dossier of documents in order to make your application.

But once you have made your request to become French, what next? And how long can you expect to wait?

Make the application 

Exactly how you make the application depends on whether you are applying for citizenship through residency, marriage or ancestry.

A recent change to the citizenship process means that those who are applying through residency (par décret) now make their application online.

Meanwhile those applying through marriage to a French person or through ancestry (par déclaration) continue to use the paper system. It seems likely that eventually those applications will also be brought online, but at present the process is different. 

If you have a child who was born in France you can make an application on their behalf once they reach 13, and that is a different process again.

However you make the application, you will need to put together a big dossier of documents and it’s well worth taking some time over this to make sure that you supply exactly what is being asked for as any requests for extra documents will slow down the whole process.

What next? 

If you are applying online, you can follow your application through the various stages via your account on the ANEF website.

If you are applying on paper then you cannot track it as closely, but the steps described are broadly the same.

Document check – the first stage is checking your documents, but they are only being checked to ensure that they are ‘legible, usable and conform to what was requested’ – this is not a check on your application itself. You might be asked to resubmit documents if the scan is out of focus, for example, or if the document is not what was requested – for example you sent a short-form copy of your birth certificate rather than the long-form one.

You may also be asked for extra documents if you were not able to supply exactly the document requested. At this stage you may also be requested to provide extra translations of documents that are not in French – take careful note of whether a certified translation by an approved translator is required.

Request accepted – once the documents have been checked, your request for citizenship will then be officially ‘déposé’ or accepted. This is the official start date of your application. It also means that any new laws that subsequently come into force – for example changing the qualifications for citizenship – cannot be applied to your application.

Application check – once the request is accepted, staff at the préfecture then begin checking the application itself. It is at this stage that you may again be asked for extra documents, this time relating to the application itself – common examples are people being asked to supply extra documents relating to their financial status such as tax declarations or proof of income in another country.

Récépissé – once your dossier has been fully examined it will then be accepted or rejected. Rejection is much more common for people applying by residency and common reasons include not having spent the full qualifying period in France, not being able to show that your ‘main financial and family centre’ is in France (eg having a spouse or minor children who live abroad or having all your work in another country) or inability to show that you have ‘sufficient and stable income’ to support yourself in France.

Citizenship via marriage or ancestry is a right, so it should be granted as long as you can supply all the documentation required, but citizenship by residency is at the discretion of officials and can be refused. Roughly one third of all citizenship applications are refused and the most common reasons are having a criminal record or insufficient finances.

If your dossier is approved, you will be sent a récépissé de complétude – this only means that your dossier is acceptable, it doesn’t mean that you will definitely get citizenship.

Interview – once your dossier is accepted you will be sent a date for your interview. This is an in-person interview that takes place at the préfecture that is handling your application. Exactly how much notice you get for the interview varies, most people are sent the notice some weeks or even months in advance, but it can happen that people get only a few days’ notice so it’s a good idea to start revising in advance.

At the interview you will be asked questions about how well you know France – from its history and culture to political and democratic structures via popular culture. Exactly what people are asked varies widely, some people report being grilled on every aspect of France and French life while others report just a quick and friendly chat.

It’s a good idea to revise the Livret du Citoyen, which can be downloaded for free here.

If you’re applying through marriage expect a few questions on how you met, in-laws and how you structure your family life.

One question you will certainly be asked is why you want to become French – and here you will need to show that you truly value France and French values. Mumbling that you want a shorter passport queue is unlikely to cut it.

Phone calls and emails – some people report getting phone calls from their préfecture during the process to request extra documents, which is more common for people who have applied on paper. These usually come from a withheld or private number so if you regularly screen your calls it might be a good idea to start picking up once your application is live. Likewise it’s a good idea to regularly check your spam or junk folder for any emails that accidentally got filtered while people who applied online should regularly check the portal for messages.  

Police visit – this usually only applies to people requesting citizenship through marriage, but sometimes local police visit you at home. In most cases this is basically to check that you’re really married, not just officially married for citizenship purposes. They are checking out that your home looks like two (or more) people live there and that you appear to know each other. The police visit doesn’t happen to everyone and is generally more common in smaller towns and villages but it can be part of the process. 

Decision – you won’t be told at the interview whether you have passed or not – although some of the friendlier interviewers do sometimes tip applicants the wink that it will probably be OK – but the next stage is the final decision and (if you are approved) being added to the electoral roll and the decree being published in the Journal Officiel (for those applying via residency).

Exactly what order these happen in varies – some people get the letter or email from the préfecture first, others find out when they see their name in the JO or check the electoral register.

Ceremony – at some point, you will be invited to an official ceremony at the préfecture. This often happens many months after your application is approved. The ceremony is optional and you don’t need to wait for the ceremony begin doing official things like applying for a French passport or ID card, or voting in an election.

Whether you go to the ceremony is up to you, it’s not necessary from a practical point of view but many people report that the ceremonies are quite moving as groups of people from all over the world are officially welcomed to the French republic. 

How long?

And now the €1 million question – how long does all this take? And the answer, as so often in France, is ça dépend – in this case it depends on both how you applied and where you live.

The shortest process of all is usually applying on behalf of a child born in France to non-French parents – that is a completely different process that just requires examination of a few documents and a quick chat with both child and parents. The whole thing can be wrapped up in less than six months. 

Applying via marriage is generally quicker than applying by residency, this is because citizenship through marriage is a right so you only need to provide documents to prove that you fulfil the conditions, then do the interview. The general rule is that applying through marriage takes roughly half the time of applying through residency.

But the big difference is where you live – applications are dealt with on a local level and some préfectures are just faster than others.

The very broad average is that it takes between 18 months and two years between submitting your dossier and being accepted, but expect wide variations between different préfectures. If you get the process completed in less than a year you are doing well while in some places you could be waiting up to three years.

Read More »How To Get French Citizenship

Changes to Voting Rights for British Citizens Overseas

The 15 year limit on voting rights for British citizens living overseas has been removed as of the 16th January of this year allowing to register to vote in the UK, as overseas voters, no matter how long ago they left or were last registered to vote in the UK.

Any British citizen living abroad who has previously lived in, or been registered to vote in the UK, will have the right to vote at UK Parliamentary elections. These voters will be registered at the constituency where they were last registered to vote, or where they lived if they were not registered to vote before. 

The registration period to vote will be extended from one year to three, meaning that overseas voters will only need to register to vote every three years, lasting until the 1st November in the third year after it takes effect (for example, if the declaration takes effect on the 1st March 2024, it will expire on the 1st November 2026). 

If you had previously lost the right to be registered due to the rule that cut off people after 15 years overseas you can re-register in an apparently quick online process. Applications must be verified, and electoral registration officers can ask for additional documentary evidence to confirm a connection with a previous address.

For full information about the online process, we recommend that you go to the UK Government’s dedicated site by clicking on this link : Voting if you move or live overseas 

This is a key Government policy which changes the franchise for British citizens overseas and is an important part of upholding democracy. This change has been long in coming as campaigns and legal challenges to this voting cut-off have been ongoing since 2009.

It is also a historic first : the UK has never allowed its citizens overseas ‘votes for life’. An estimated 5.5 million British citizens live permanently abroad, with estimates of the number living in France varying from 270,000 to 400,000.

The Association Committee

Read More »Changes to Voting Rights for British Citizens Overseas