FrenchEntrée digital editor Zoë Smith takes you through the long process of applying for French Nationality (Citizenship) – step by step.
Applying for French Nationality or citizenship is a possibility for expats who plan to reside permanently in France, and it brings with it a number of benefits. However, the application process is long and comprises multiple steps, so it’s not a decision to be taken lightly, nor is it a requirement for permanent residency in France.
As a long-time resident of France with strong family ties to the country, and as a British citizen living in the EU post-Brexit, I’ve decided to seek French citizenship as it will afford me greater security and citizen’s rights in the country that I call home. In this series of articles, I’m going to be taking you through the process with me, step by step, from putting together my dossier and taking my French language exam to (hopefully!) receiving French nationality at the end of it.
In the first of this article series, let’s take a look at the basics: What is the difference between French nationality and permanent residency, who is eligible to seek French nationality, and what are the base requirements? I will go into each step in more detail in the following articles.
Disclaimer: Please note that any screenshots or specific details of my own French nationality application apply to my situation only and are provided only to give you an insight into the process and what to expect. These are not intended as a blueprint for your own application, as your situation may be completely different to mine!
Also, please remember that I am taking you through the process with me in real time! This means there is the possibility that I have made errors on my application form or will be asked to submit extra documents as I continue in the process. There is also (unfortunately!) no guarantee that my application will be accepted and that I will be granted French nationality.
What is the difference between French nationality and permanent residency?
First things first, what does applying for French nationality mean, and how does it differ from being permanently resident in France?
Expats, including both EU and non-EU citizens, who have lived in France for more than five years will generally be able to apply for a permanent residency card or Carte de résident permanent. This card is typically valid for 10 years and is renewable, affording the holder the right to live, work, or run a business in France for that time period.
In order to apply for a Carte de résident permanent, you must have been living in France for a minimum of five years uninterrupted, pass a French language test, have sufficient income, and be “integrated into French society”. The residency card affords a certain amount of security over your right to stay in France, and it can generally only be revoked if you were convicted of committing certain crimes or going against the terms of your residency. However, it does not give you the right to vote (although EU citizens resident in France may vote in local and European elections), nor does it give non-EU citizens the right to unlimited travel or residency in other countries of the EU.
Taking French Nationality means becoming naturalised and, therefore, becoming a French citizen. The benefits of becoming a French national mean that you will then be afforded all the same rights as a French citizen. French citizenship offers full security of being able to live and work in France regardless of whether your circumstances change, and it can only be revoked in very extreme cases (such as committing a terrorist act). As a French citizen, you will also be able to pass this citizenship on to your children.
Just like French citizens, you will have the right to vote in local parliament and presidential elections, and stand for office – you could even run for president if you wanted to!
Finally, becoming a French citizen also means becoming an EU citizen, granting the right to freedom of movement within the EU. You may also travel or even live outside of France for long periods without losing the right to residency in France. After all, as a French citizen, France will always be your home!
Can I (and should I) apply for French nationality?
Applying for French nationality is a long and difficult process, so it’s certainly not for everyone. It’s important to note that it is not essential to become a French national in order to live permanently in France, and many long-term residents do not choose to become French citizens.
Before you decide to undergo the lengthy application process, it’s important to ask yourself why you wish to become French. Do you consider France to be your home? Is France the place you see yourself living for the rest of your life? Do you speak French and feel fully integrated into French society? In my opinion, answering yes to these questions should be the bare minimum before considering taking this step.
Do I have to give up my own nationality to become a French citizen?
It’s important to consider whether you are able to become a French citizen without giving up your own nationality and if this is something that works for you. Some countries, such as France, the UK and the US, allow citizens to hold dual nationality, meaning that you can be a citizen of two countries (or sometimes more) at one time. You could, therefore, have both a French and a UK/US passport, and enjoy citizen’s rights in both countries.
However, other countries do not allow dual nationality, meaning that in order to become a French citizen, you would be required to renounce your citizenship of your birth country. It’s important to consider carefully whether this is the right choice before continuing with your application for French nationality.
Who is eligible to apply for French nationality?
There are two ways to become a French citizen: by declaration (in instances where you are legally entitled to citizenship) or by decree (whereby you request to become a citizen).
Note that I will personally be applying for French nationality by decree, which means that I do not have any legal right to citizenship (such as French parents, etc.). While I am, of course, hoping that my application and integration into France will be sufficient for the French government to award me with citizenship, my application will be considered on an individual basis, and this request may not be granted.
Applying by declaration
Applying for French nationality by declaration is possible in the following circumstances:
- If you have been married to your French spouse for at least four years. Find out more here.
- If you are over 65, are the parent or grandparent of French children, and have lived in France for at least 25 years. Find out more here.
- If you were born in France to non-French parents or lived in France for at least five years since the age of 11, you can apply for nationality when you turn 18. There are also other possibilities for those under the age of 18 – see here.
Applying by decree
Applying for French nationality by decree (par décret) is possible in the following circumstances:
- You are currently resident in France.
- You have been living in France for a minimum of five years consecutively and within interruption.
- You hold a valid residence card (except for EU citizens).
- You are over 18 years old.
What are the requirements to apply for French Nationality by decree?
Naturally, France does not make it easy for expats to become French citizens, and being awarded citizenship is a privilege reserved for those who are fully settled and integrated into French life.
If, like me, you are requesting nationality by decree – une demande d’accès à la nationalité française par décret – you will need to file an official application via the online portal, NATALI, which you can find here. You will need to provide a sizable ‘dossier’, including various official documents. We’ll go over the full list of requirements in more detail in another article, but here is an overview of the basic pre-requisites:
- Proof of sufficient and stable resources.
- Certificate of B1 level French (speaking, writing, and comprehension).
- Demonstration of integration into the French way of life, including passing an oral exam on French history, politics, and culture.
- Proof of ‘good moral conduct’, i.e. a clean criminal record.
Moving to France?
From applying for your visa and opening a French bank account, to integrating in your new community – FrenchEntrée is here to help! Let our Essential Reading and Visa & Residency articles guide you through the whole process, then visit our Owning Property, French Tax, Healthcare, and Life in France zones for everything else you need to know.
Disclaimer: Our Essential Reading articles are designed to give an overview of the visa requirements and procedures for moving to France. We always check our information against the official government information made available to the public, however, please remember that all visa applications are considered on an individual basis and the exact requirements, fees, or application procedure may vary. Unless you are an EU citizen, obtaining a French visa is not a right, and we cannot guarantee that your visa will be approved.
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