For non-Europeans, like Americans, Brits and Australians, one way to get French 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.
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.
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).
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
As explained above, a justicatif de domicile (ex. an electricity or phone bill with both names on it) should suffice.
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
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….