Brexit strategies: How to become French via marriage

Like many administrative tasks in France, getting citizenship through marriage isn't a walk in the park. But if you're looking to do it, here's our guide.

Brexit strategies: How to become French via marriage
Photo: AFP
The UK's shock Brexit vote left many Brits scrambling for ways to keep their precious European citizenship – and with France just a train ride away from the UK, it's no surprise that many turned their attention to the possibility of getting a French passport. 
Indeed, the Google Trend data below shows a huge spike in searches for “French passport” on the very day after the vote. 
And one surefire way for Brits to keep their European citizenship is to marry a French person. But be warned, a snap wedding is not a magic answer to acquiring the elusive French passport.
After saying your “I dos” (or “Oui je le veux”) you’ll still have to wait four years to be eligible for French citizenship, and even then, it’s no guarantee. There are more hurdles waiting down the line.
Bearing in mind British expats who’ve lived in France for five years can apply for nationality via naturalization (for anyone who’s spent two years in French higher education may be allowed to apply after two) or apply for a permanent residency card, going for French citizenship through marriage may not indeed be worth it. 
Still interested? Marriage and citizenship applications in France can be tricky, so here’s our guide to the essentials.
If you're already married to a French citizen…
That's one hurdle out of the way, but it doesn't automatically make you a French citizen. So how do you know if you're eligible to apply for French citizenship?

Here are the five conditions you have to meet to become French by marriage. More information is available in French here.

1. At least four years of marriage to a French citizen

You can only apply for French citizenship after four years of marriage (and cohabitation) with a French person. 

Furthermore, at least three of those years of wedded bliss must have been spent living in France.

If you can’t prove that, the waiting time to apply for nationality is extended to five years.

2. Three years continuous residence in France

So how to prove it and avoiding having to wait around for another year?

You’ll either need to have a titre de séjour (a French residence card) or a temporary document showing you’re on your way to getting one.

Or France accepts a variety of documents for proving residence, including work contracts, pay stubs, rental agreements, and electricity bills. 

If you’ve lived abroad with your French spouse, that can count toward the three years but only if your spouse was registered with the “French registry of French abroad” at your nearest consulate during your time abroad.

If you were married outside of France, you must have your marriage certificate transcribed by the French consulate or embassy.

And if you’ve previously been deported from France, you’re not allowed to get French citizenship. 

3. Cohabitation

In order to apply for French nationality, you must be able to prove that you've lived with your French spouse for the entirety of your marriage.

Again, proof of residence and cohabitation in France can mean a rental agreement with both of your names on it and/or utilities bills. 

4. Adequate French skills assimilated into French society

If you want French citizenship, of course you have to speak a bit of French.

The required level is B1 of the CERL, a European reference system for measuring language ability. This means you have good listening skills, can take part in an everyday conversation and express yourself in daily situations. (The prefecture de police says you will need an appropriate diploma or certificate to prove you language skills, but there are some suggestions this might not be necessary.)

And according to the  prefecture de police website you will also have to: “Provide proof of adequate knowledge of the French language, history, culture and French society and the rights and duties of French citizens.”

You will also have to show that you are “assimilated to French society and have sufficient knowledge of the rights and duties of French citizens.

You will also need to show you basically a good person with “loyal behaviour towards French institutions”.

If all of that sounds scary, then this is what one person named Richelle, who has been through the process, told The Local:

“The interviews are conducted in French so that's enough for them to judge your fluency. I had to go through an “entretien d'assimiliation” with my husband there. It was a waste of time. Spent weeks studying French history and important dates and I wasn't tested on that.

“The questions were: 'Do you speak French at home? Do you have French friends? How do you contribute to local life?' The woman was young and quite frankly embarrassed to ask those questions.”

“It's just complicated gathering all the paperwork together and then waiting for interviews and finally you get a letter in the post a year later saying attend a champagne-free ceremony.” 

Once you have your interview then the prefecture de police will consider your application. If it is favourable it will be published in the Journal Official. Then you'll be invited to the ceremony. See video below.

5. Absence of crime convictions

The final condition of becoming French by marriage is that you can’t have been convicted of a crime constituting a “violation of the fundamental interests of the nation” (such as spying or sharing state secrets). This includes acts of terrorism.

You're also barred from French citizenship if you’ve been sentenced to more than six months in prison, whatever the crime.

These restrictions do not apply if you’ve undergone rehabilitation or if the conviction has been excluded from your criminal record.

Meet all five criteria?

If you can check off all the above criteria, you can go ahead and start the process of submitting an application to your nearest prefecture. 

Fancy a name change? French law allows you to “Frenchify” your name when you take nationality so for example Adriana Dos Santos can become “Adrienne Toussaints”.

Not yet married to a Frenchie?
If you and your French partner haven't yet tied the knot, here's how to get started. 
The first steps
If you’re an expat marrying in France, the first thing you need to do is get in touch with you local town hall. They should find out how to apply and what documents you’ll need.
Any legally binding marriage in France has to take place at the local Mairie (the town hall). Either you, your partner or one of your parents must have lived in the district for forty continuous days before the ceremony. 
A religious ceremony is only legally valid if the Mairie step has already been completed (the couple need to show their civil marriage certificate to the religious official).

(US actress Scarlett Johansson is married to Frenchman Romain Dauriac. Photo: AFP)
Patience is a virtue
It wouldn’t be a wedding in France without an impressive pile of paperwork.
Here’s a list of five things you might need – but there are local variations so make sure you check with your individual town hall for a complete list.
1. Your original birth certificate and a French translation
You’ll have to show these to a registered solicitor who’ll check their authenticity. Once that’s done you can submit them to the Legalisation Office of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
2. Proof of 40 days residency in your town of marriage
3. A “certificate of custom” from the British embassy in Paris
You’ll need to fill in an application form and send it to the Embassy along with an unabridged Birth Certificate and proof of the end of any previous marriages or civil partnerships. Once they’ve received it you should receive the certificate within two weeks.
4. A recent medical certificate
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Bellet/Flickr
5. A certificate of celibacy to prove that you’re not attempting bigamy
This document doesn’t exist in the UK but you can bypass the requirement by filling in an explanatory note from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.
For those who have decided on a pre-nup, you'll need a Solicitor’s Certificate (Certificat du Marriage) specifying the terms of the marriage.
The elusive French passport
When the wedding is done and the honeymoon period is over, you’ll be eligible for that French passport IN FOUR YEARS TIME….

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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”