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FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

Becoming French: ‘We belong in France and we feel European’

After a long and sometimes arduous journey, Briton Lucinda Barron and her family who live in Toulouse have just received the letter confirming they are French citizens. Here she describes the process and what it means to be French just in time for Brexit.

Becoming French: 'We belong in France and we feel European'
Photo: AFP
My husband, Andrew, and I first moved to France at the end of 2000. It had always been a dream of mine to live in France, after studying French in the UK. We spent eight years in Paris and two years in Rennes, had a brief spell in Glasgow, then seven years ago we moved to Toulouse where we plan to stay. We have two children, Oscar (8) and Eloïse (6).
 
We thought about applying for nationality after we moved to Toulouse, but despite having lived in France for 10 years previously, we had to wait until we had been back in the country for five years. By this point Brexit had happened and we were all the more determined to apply, along with a lot more other Brits.
 
For us, the most important things were to have stability for ourselves and our children with the uncertainty of Brexit, and also to be able to vote. 
 
We didn't actually apply as a family as that's not possible, you have to make an individual application. Luckily my husband and I managed to get appointments at the Prefecture within 10 days of each other which meant that they put our files together. As our children were born here and are under 18 they were automatically included in our application.
 
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Lucinda Barron with her husband Andrew and two children Oscar and Eloïse. Photo: Lucinda Barron
 
Once we had our interview dates we had about a year to compile the paperwork. This was the most arduous part as it takes a long time to apply to the various authorities in France and the UK and get the relevant documents and then have them translated. 
 
We also had to do a French test and swot up on French history, politics and culture for the interview. As we have lived in France for over 15 years this part wasn't so daunting but we still spent time revising former kings and queens and past presidents!
 
The interview itself was straightforward, we went through my dossier document by document, then I was tested on French general knowledge and asked lots of questions about our life here.
 
I mentioned to the interviewer that the kids are members of local sports and dance clubs, but they wanted to know about my husband and myself specifically. So I told them that I am a member of a local dance association and that my husband is a “parents' representative” at the kids' school. That seemed to go down well. 
 
The interviewer was very interested in whether we socialise with French or British people, whether we are integrated in our village and what we do in our free time. It was all very friendly and informal.
 
I said we didn't choose our friends based on their nationality and while we do know many British people here we also have French friends (and friends of other nationalities) who we tend to meet through school and work. 

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QUIZ: Do you know France well enough to become French?

The next stage for me was an interview at the local gendarmerie a few days later. This involved further questions about our life as a family and why we were applying for nationality.

The interview at the gendarmerie was also informal, in fact the gendarme was very apologetic about some of the questions, i.e. where did my husband and I meet, how long were we going out before we got married, etc. Some of them didn't seem very relevant to our situation, but he just had a list of questions to ask and had to get through them. 
 
My advice to others embarking on the process would be to start as soon as possible with the paperwork to avoid extra stress later on. Double check everything on the list and talk to others who have been through the process.
 
Our interviews were at the end of May 2018 and we were thrilled to get our letters from the Ministère de l'Intérieur at the beginning of January this year.
 
Now we just need to wait for the paperwork and will be able to apply for our ID cards and passports. We feel so relieved that it happened relatively quickly, and more importantly before Brexit. 
 
We are all delighted to have French citizenship. My husband and I have spent practically all our working lives here and brought our family up here so we feel like we belong here.
 
Having nationality feels like validation of this.
 
The kids were born here and know no other life. While we don't necessarily feel French, we don't feel entirely British either. But we do feel European and so our new French nationality will mean that we retain our European status, something which will sadly no longer be the case for British citizens.
 
We feel relief because of the Brexit uncertainty and also relief that our dossier was complete and we don't have to do anything else on the administrative front.

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FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

Do children born in France automatically get French citizenship?

French citizenship carries plenty of advantages but it is not always a straightforward process - even if you were born here.

Do children born in France automatically get French citizenship?

Children born to foreign parents in France are automatically given French nationality in the following circumstances:

  • One of the parents was born in France, even if they are not a citizen;
  • One of the parents was born in Algeria before 3 July 1962;
  • The child is born stateless – their parents have no legal nationality; the parents are unknown; the parents come from a country where nationality is only given if you were born there. 

In any other situation, a child born to foreign parents in France can only become French at the age of 13, if they meet a number of conditions. 

Age 13-15

Those born in France to foreign parents can apply to become French between 13-15 if the following criteria are met:

  • The child has lived in France on a regular basis – this means they have spent most of their time in France since the age of 8-years-old
  • The child is living in France at the time of their application
  • The child consents to becoming French (unless they do not have the mental or physical capacity to do so).

One of or both of the child’s parents or legal carer must write a déclaration de nationalité française on behalf of the child – be sure to make two copies. On the declaration, you will need to provide the name, surname, date of birth and place of birth of the minor and their representative.

This declaration must be sent by post or handed directly to your local tribunal judiciaire (find your closest one here). 

You will also need to provide the following:

  • Birth certificate less than three months old (you can apply for a copy of your birth certificate at any age in France);
  • ID document;
  • Recent ID photos;
  • A titre de séjour of the foreign parent or representative with an official overseas ID document;
  • Proof that the minor lives in France;
  • Proof that the minor has been frequently living in France and has resided in the country for at least 5 whole years since the age of 8;
  • Proof that the legal representative of the child has parental authority (birth certificate or adoption certificate).

Original versions of these documents, rather than photocopies, are required. 

If the child has children of their own who live with them, birth certificates and added proof will be required. In some circumstances, the tribunal may ask you to have the child medically examined to check their physical and mental capacity to voluntarily ask for citizenship. 

Any documents written in another language must be translated into French by a registered translator

Once you have submitted evidence, the child is given a récépissé or receipt and an interview is organised to ensure that the child has given their consent. 

Judicial authorities have six months to register the declaration – or refuse to give nationality. They can change their mind after two years if they discover retrospectively that the legal conditions for nationality are not met or if you have lied on the form. 

If the request for nationality has been confused, you can contest it in the sixth months following the decision. You will need to hire a lawyer to do so. 

Age 16-18

Those born in France to foreign parents can apply to become French between 16-18 if the following criteria are met:

  • They live in France at the time of applying;
  • They have lived in France regularly since the age of 11, for a period of at least five years.
  • They consent to becoming French (unless they do not have the mental or physical capacity to do so).

Unlike for those aged 13-15, this age group can deliver the necessary documents without parental authority. 

The declaration of nationality can be sent by post or handed over in person by the applicant. 

All the same documents are necessary as for the 13-15 age group. 

Adults 

If you over the age of 18 and were born in France to foreign parents, you can apply for citizenship if you meet the following conditions: 

  • You lived in france at the age of 18;
  • You lived in France regularly for a period of at least five years since the age of 11;
  • Your parents are not diplomatic agents or consulate staff 

Officially, if you meet the above criteria, you become French automatically at the age of 18. 

However you should apply for a certificat de nationalité française at the age of 18. To do this, you will need to present proof that you have lived in France regularly for a period of five years since the age of 11 (school certificates, work contracts etc.)

What if one of the child’s parents obtains French nationality?

If a child’s parent has just obtained French nationality by applying for citizenship, the child become French if the following conditions are met:

  • The child lives in France with this parent (at least part-time in the case of divorce);
  • The name of the child is mentioned on the naturalisation decree of the parent.

It is possible to apply for naturalisation of a child living overseas if one of their parents has become French. However, the child must have lived in France with the newly-French parent for at least five years prior to the request being made. 

If the parent becomes French by the time their child has reached the age of 18, the child cannot then become French through their parent. 

What if one of the child’s parents was born French? 

A child whose parents are French at the time of their birth is considered French, even if the child was born overseas. 

If the parent loses their French nationality once the child has become an adult, this has no impact. 

If the lineage of the child is contested once they become an adult, French nationality will not be stripped from them. 

What if the child has been adopted by French parents?

An adoption plénière (full adoption, in which there is a total break with the original parents of the child) signed before the child is born can bestow French nationality on that child at birth. 

If the adoption happened overseas, it will only be possible to apply for French nationality this way if the adoption has the same legal standing as an adoption plénière in France. 

An adoption simple (in which a link with the original parents is somewhat maintained) does not automatically guarantee French nationality. 

The following conditions must be met:

  • The child must be less than 18-years-old at the time they apply for citizenship;
  • The child must live in France when the application is made, unless they have been adopted by a Frenchman living abroad;
  • The person who adopted the child must have been French at the moment of the adoption itself. 

The process of applying for citizenship is the same as for children born in France to non-French parents, except that you will also need to provide adoption documents. 

What other ways can I get French nationality? 

You don’t have to be born in France to obtain French nationality. 

There are two main alternative routes for applying for citizenship – through residency or through marriage. 

  • Residency 

If you are applying through residency you need to have been resident in France for at least five years.That can be reduced to two years if you have completed postgraduate studies at a French university.

Those applying via residency will also need to prove they can speak French to B1 level, they have an adequate knowledge of France, its culture, history and politics and also show they have integrated into and appreciate the French way of life.

They will need to show they have a clean criminal record (for those who have less than 10 years residence in France) and that their tax payments are up to date, including tax return notices for the three years prior to filing the application for French citizenship. They will also need to prove they are financially sustainable. In other words they have a job or some other form of income.

  • Marriage 

If you are applying through marriage you need to have been married for four years, but do not actually need to be living in France. 

If you have children born in France you can apply for citizenship on their behalf once they turn 13, and if you get citizenship your children are also given citizenship.

If you get into a PACS (which is like a civil partnership) with a French person, you do not automatically get nationality. 

  • Other

There are some other less common ways to get citizenship. One is to join the French Foreign Legion, as anyone who serves five years in the Legion or who is injured on active service qualifies for citizenship (although you might want to check out what their training involves first) and the other is to perform an outstanding service for France.

Some people who have achieved something superb are offered French nationality and foreigners who worked on the frontline during the Covid pandemic have been offered fast-track citizenship

You can read more about applying for French nationality HERE

This article serves as guidance on how to obtain French nationality but in certain circumstances, additional documents and procedures may be required. If you are in any doubt, contact your local tribunal.

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