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How Americans can become French citizens

The road US citizens must take towards French citizenship is a long and arduous one but still far from impossible. Here’s what you need to do.

How Americans can become French citizens
Photos: AFP

If you’re an American who woke up wanting to become a French citizen as quickly as you can, chances are that won’t be possible. 

For starters, you would’ve had to have lived in France for five years already, be married to a French national or have close French heritage.

If you haven’t spent that much time in l’Héxagone or aren’t even in the country yet, start by reading this other article to find out what the stages that come before applying for French citizenship are.

If you’re an American retiree planning to gain French citizenship, you can also find information more specific to your case here.

If you have lived for five consecutive years in France, you’re married to a French national or have French lineage, read on!

Fortunately for US citizens, the possibility of holding dual American-French nationality is also an option. 

For Americans residing in France for five years who want French citizenship:

The good news is that you’ll be familiar with a lot of the paperwork and processes we’re going to list as you've probably already had to handle them during previous residency applications. 

First of all it’s important to define what ‘living in France’ is understood as being by French authorities. 

At this stage (or earlier in your residency) you may be asked to prove that you've lived in France uninterruptedly or for no less than six months per year. 

In order to get French citizenship through naturalization, you’ll need to prove this with the documents they require at your local prefecture. 

Although these may vary between town halls, they tend to include a valid residency permit, rental and work contracts, bank statements and other official documents sent to your French address. 

(Unfortunately there’s a load of other paperwork you’ll also have to provide with your application, listed below)

They want you to prove that France is “the centre of your material interests and family ties”, to quote the country’s public service website.

If you have had to leave France for a longer period of time than six months in a year, there are some exemptions relating to serious illness, maternity, military service, research or study.

READ ALSO: How Americans can find work in France

For US citizens who are married to French nationals:

If you’re an American who’s married to a French person, residency requirements to apply for French citizenship are slightly more lenient.

However, the first thing authorities will take into account is how long you two have been married, as you can’t apply for naturalization until you’ve been married for four years.

If that’s the case and you’ve lived in France for three years, you can go ahead and apply (there are documents specific to your case listed below). 

And if your nuptials are four years old but you’ve lived in France for fewer than three years, the timeframe will depend on whether your spouse was included on the consular registry or not, four or five years respectively. 

Other conditions include being a legal resident in France, actually living as a couple under the same roof and a number of other requirements listed further down. 

SEE ALSO: These are 'the best cities in France for growing old in'

For US citizens with French family ties: 

If you’re the parent or grandparent of a French national, you’re over the age of 65 and you’ve lived in France for over 25 years, you can apply for French nationality. 

Likewise if you are the American brother or sister of a person who has acquired French nationality or has it through birth, you may also apply. 

There are few citizenship requests of this sort from American applicants, and the conditions are rather complex, so visit France’s official site for more detailed information specific to your case. 

What if I don’t fit into any of those categories? Are there any exceptions?

US citizens who have successfully completed a diploma from a French higher education institution can apply for French citizenship after two years of residency. 

Other exceptions to the five-year rule include exceptional contributions to France, be it through sport, finance, military, science or civic services. 


American children born in France with parents from the US can also become French but not automatically – unless one of the parents is of French nationality.

But the children are also required to have lived in France for five years depending on how old they are and they also need to be living in France at the time they apply.

Parents can apply on behalf of their child aged between 13 and 16 of that child has lived in France since the age of 8 and is born here. For teenagers aged 16 they need to have lived in France from the age of 11.

Find out more on the rules here

There are also some very specific loopholes relating to not having French residency.

That’s if you’re engaged in a public or private professional activity on behalf of the French State or an organization that’s of particular interest to France’s economy or culture. 

Otherwise, there’s living in Monaco. 

It may seem bizarre but France actually allows residents of the principality to apply for French citizenship without time constraints, presumably under the guise that if you can afford to make the glitzy city-state on the French Riviera your home, you’re unlikely to be a burden to the French State.

So what other paperwork do I have to submit?

Brace yourself because there are a lot of documents to submit and applicants can wait up to two years for an answer. 

Bear in mind that the greater the attachment to France you seek the more scrutiny you're likely to face from French authorities.

French police, your town hall and numerous other governmental departments will assess your citizenship application, and there’s also the chance you’ll be called for an interview. 

Firstly, you will need to submit a declaration request (demande d’acquisition par declaration) with copies of the following documents if they apply to your situation:

– Two signed and dated copies of the French nationality application form

– Copies of ID of both the applicant and spouse

– Your birth certificate (with certified translation if not in French);

– Proof of your address with your full name on it

– A marriage certificate no older than three months

– A document of “declaration of honour”, called an attestation sur l’honneur des 2 époux, which you and your spouse need to sign in person at your local préfecture or consulate

– Extra proof of your life as married couple including birth certificates of your children, a mortgage contract, title deeds, a joint tax document, or a shared bank account.

– Proof of your spouse being a French citizen at the time of marriage

– Marriage certificates from any previous marriages and official divorce papers

– A criminal record certificate from your country of residence for the last ten years.

– Proof that you’ve resided in France for at least 3 years since your marriage (if you’ve lived abroad, a document proving you’ve resided in France for at least 3 years after your marriage or a document proving your spouse was registered in the French registry during your time abroad)

– Proof of employment or financial resources that show you won’t be a burden to the state.

Wow! Anything else?

One more important thing: you will need to prove your level of French through an official language certificate or in an interview, to be held in French of course.

Authorities will also assess how well integrated you are into French society and your knowledge of French culture. They make some exceptions for those over the age of 60 or who have a disability. 

For those applying for citizenship through marriage, French language requirements have been relaxed to a B1 level of the European Reference Framework for Languages. of the Council of Europe (CEFR).

And if all of the above goes according to plan?

If your citizenship application is approved you will become a French citizen in an official ceremony in which you’ll be handed a French national ID card and a French passport. 

That will mark the end of a tough and drawn out process but one which will allow you to live indefinitely in France, vote in French elections, move freely within the EU and even hold public office. 

And you don’t have to give up your American nationality either. 


by Alex Dunham

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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. 


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.