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Worried after Brexit? Here’s how to become French

After the UK voted for Brexit, many Brits in France will no doubt explore the possibility of becoming a French citizen. Here's some guidance.

Worried after Brexit? Here's how to become French
Could it be time to become a French citizen? Photo: AFP
British expats in France are signing up for French citizenship in their thousands.
 
It may be an arduous and red tape-strewn path but for those who’ve called France home for a while, and who want benefits like voting in the French elections then maybe becoming a fully fledged French national is the best solution anyway (and why wouldn’t you want to become French?).
 
Everyone would have their own personal reasons for doing so.
 
But how’s it done?
 
There are basically two main paths to French citizenship for those from the UK, and here’s the step-by-step guide to both.
 
 
1. Naturalisation.
 
If you’re not married to a French person, this is the pathway that’s most likely applicable to you. You need to have lived in France for five continuous years to be eligible, and you have to be able to prove that you have integrated into the French culture (and can speak French, bien sûr). 
 
If you’re a tertiary student, it’s a bit more relaxed, and you can be eligible for citizenship after two years if you’ve completed a master’s degree or you can prove that your talents are an asset to France.
 
Sounds easy enough, but it can be a time-consuming affair – especially getting documents translated.
 
2. Marriage.
 
Have you been married to a French person for at least four years? Well, as long as you live together, then you’re eligible for French citizenship too (if you don’t live together, however, then you need to have been married for five years).
 
Of course, you need to still be married to the spouse upon application, they need to still have a French citizenship, and you need to show that you have a good knowledge of French. 
 
So, if you’ve read this and you’re eligible, then this is where the fun really starts. 
 
 

(US actress Scarlett Johansson is married to Frenchman Romain Dauriac. Photo: AFP)
 
Applying for citizenship
 
Head down to your local préfecture and bring every piece of ID you can conceivably imagine. Don’t even leave the house without your passport, birth certificate, and proof of address, but it’s well worth bringing proof that you can speak French (a diploma or certificate), evidence of not having a criminal record, proof of employment…
 
If you’re married, then bring a marriage certificate of course, as well as any kind of proof that you have joint bank accounts or joint property deeds.
 
To be fair, if you’ve lived in France for five years or have been married to a French person for four years, you’re probably already well-versed in France’s love of paper, proof, and photocopying – so this shouldn’t pose any problems.
 
It’s free to lodge the application yourself, but Mougenot from Expat Partners estimates that up to 50 percent choose to pay an advocate or consultant for help, which can come with a price tag of anywhere from €2,000 to €8,000.
 
 
 
 
Now what?
 
Now the waiting game begins. Your application will be reviewed by a slew of governmental departments, including the police and the mayor’s office. Some applicants may even be interviewed by police. 
 
The process can take years, with Fiona Mougenot from Expat Partners suggesting the average of 12 to 18 months to process. 
 
Indeed, with such a long process involved, people have been known to land back at square one after the rules and ID requirements change throughout the course of the application. 
 
When the dust finally settles, you’ll (hopefully) find yourself the proud owner of a French passport and and ID card. You’ll even be invited to a naturalisation ceremony.
 
Congratulations. You’ve become French. 
 
For more information about how to qualify for French Citizenship, including all the documents you will need,  you can click here or visit the appropriate French government website by clicking here.

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FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

How you could qualify for French citizenship in under five years

For most people looking to apply for citizenship in France, they have to live in the country for five consecutive years - but, under certain circumstances, you could apply sooner.

How you could qualify for French citizenship in under five years

Here, we explain how you could shave some time off your residency qualifying period before you can apply for citizenship. The application process can last up to two years on top of the qualifying period. And as ever there are many criteria applicants are required to meet so it’s not just a question about time qualifying periods. 

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

Marriage

Marry a French citizen, and you can qualify for French citizenship after four years rather than five.

However, you still have to pass language and cultural knowledge tests.

This also applies to a foreign national living with their French spouse outside France – as long as they too have been married for five years.

READ ALSO How to become a French citizen via marriage

Postgraduates

Postgraduates who have studied at a French university for at least two years can qualify for citizenship after two years of residency. However it’s not as easy at that in reality given applicants must meet other criteria such as prove they have a stable job and income which obviously may take longer.

Postgraduate applicants still have to pass language and cultural knowledge tests, prove you have integrated into the French way of life, and demonstrate you have the means to live in France, which usually comes via work.

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

The ancestor rule

If you have a parent who was a French citizen at the time of your birth, you can obtain citizenship via ancestry at any time. You will need full documentation for yourself and your French parent, and also need to prove that they have maintained some ‘connection’ with France in the past 50 years – this could be evidence of residency in France, registration with a French consulate or a voter registration to show they have voted in French elections.

READ ALSO How to obtain French citizenship through ancestry

Military ties

You do not need to complete any qualifying period if you have served in the French military, or enlisted for the French or an allied military in a time of war – but, you need to serve your time in the army, navy or air force, first… 

Anyone who joins the French Foreign Legion can apply for French nationality after three years of service. Depending on each applicant’s service record and willingness to integrate, this application will generally be granted.

Exceptional service

If you can render (or have rendered) important services to France given your abilities and talents, or have completed an exceptional integration process (such as activities or actions in civic, scientific, economic, cultural or sporting fields), you can apply for citizenship after two years. 

‘Exceptional service’ can include an act of heroism. In 2018, then 22-year-old undocumented immigrant Mamoudou Gassama rescued a four-year-old who was dangling from a balcony in Paris. His bravery was recognised with French citizenship.

READ ALSO Who is ‘le spiderman’ – the Malian migrant who saved a toddler’s life?

And numerous foreigners who worked on the frontline during the Covid pandemic have been offered fast-track citizenship.

It is important to note that no minimum residency is required for the following applicants:

  • Anyone with refugee status;
  • Anyone who comes from a French-speaking country and speaks French as the mother tongue;
  • Anyone who comes from a French-speaking country and has been educated for 5 years or more in a French-language teaching establishment.
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