How to become a French citizen 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.

How to become a French citizen via marriage
Photo: AFP

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. 

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.

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

This is a form showing you have had a medical examination including blood test carried out by a French or Embassy approved doctor.

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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French foie gras shortage forces farmers to take radical step: Using lady geese

Foie gras pate, the consummate delicacy of French holiday tables, might be harder to find this year and certainly pricier due to a bird flu outbreak that ravaged farms across the west and south last winter.

French foie gras shortage forces farmers to take radical step: Using lady geese

After millions of ducks and geese were culled to halt the epidemic, some farmers say they are having to take an unprecedented step — using females to produce the luxury treat.

The taste is the same, but female livers are much smaller and harder to work with, and the impact on a producer’s bottom line is inescapable.

“It was double or nothing, but either we just sat and waited — which is not in our nature — or we try to offer a product that respects our consumers,” said Benjamin Constant in Samatan, southwest France.

President of the foie gras marketing board for the Gers department, Constant warned that it was only a stop-gap measure, especially for higher-quality fresh foie gras.

Most livers have veins that must be removed, but those of female livers are much bigger and require more effort to extract, which puts off clients seeking the smooth texture of fresh foie gras that is either seared in a pan, or used to make pate.

“A significant amount cannot be sold fresh, which penalises the producers who sell at public markets,” Constant said.

Jacques Candelon, who has been raising ducks in the rolling plains of nearby Sarrant since 1998, said this is the first year the majority of his 26,000 birds are females, which are usually reserved to produce meat for export.

“80 percent are females — it was either that or nothing,” the 52-year-old told AFP at his farm, dressed head to toe in protective gear to prevent any contamination of his animals.

Bigger stretch

Animal rights activists have long denounced the force-feeding of ducks and geese to make foie gras, calling it an unnecessary cruelty despite producers’ claims of introducing measures to make the process more humane.

France remains the world’s largest producer and consumer, usually raising some 30 million ducks alone each year, even though some French cities have banned it from official functions.

But two brutal bird flu outbreaks in recent years decimated flocks as authorities imposed culls, with just 21 million ducks raised in 2021, a number expected to plunge to 15 million for 2022, according to the CIFOG producers’ association.

More problematic was the impact on breeding farms, which found themselves with only scant numbers of male chicks to offer producers this year.

Labeyrie, the brand that dominates sales among mass retailers, expects a shortage of 30 to 40 percent this holiday season, by far the most important time of the year for the sector.

Spiralling energy and feed prices, fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will also make foie gras more of a stretch for family budgets.

“There will be enough for the holidays but in limited quantities,” CIFOG director Marie-Pierre Pe told AFP in September. “We’re hoping that people are going to be reasonable and will share what little there is.” 

‘Big effort’

Old habits die hard, however, and at the bustling weekly duck market at Samatan, a foie gras bastion near Toulouse in the heart of Gers, much of the crowd wanted only the pale, plump male livers.

“Females are much, much smaller and after force-feeding, the livers are smaller and less attractive visually,” said Didier Villate, a veterinarian who has overseen the Samatan market for over 40 years.

Next to a tray of glistening male livers, many of the female livers had red blotches with thick dark veins, “which is unfortunately something we find quite often” even though it doesn’t change the taste or texture, Villate said.

“Clients are surprised, so we have to make a big effort to explain to consumers that there is no danger — It’s purely visual, you can buy and eat them just the same,” he said.

But male or female, prices have spiked to between €55 and €60 a kilogramme, or “€15 to €20 more than normal,” said Constant, calling 2022 “catastrophic for the sector.”

For Gilberte Bru, who like dozens of others rushed in at the market’s opening whistle to stock up for the holidays, the decision was easy — she picked the male livers.

“Yes, because they are bigger,” she said.