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BREXIT

No, a quickie marriage in France won’t save you from Brexit

If you are worried about Brexit repercussions and considering marriage to a local as your golden ticket to stay in France, you should perhaps think again.

No, a quickie marriage in France won't save you from Brexit
Marriage is not an automatic ticket to citizenship. Photo: AFP

“You better hurry up and find a Frenchy to marry, you are going to be clandestine on April 12th.”

If you're a Briton in France the chances are one of your French friends or family members back home has said this to you in recent weeks.

There is a common view that just by marrying a French person you'll be able to stay in France and avoid the upheaval and bureaucratic stress that will come with Britain crashing out of Europe without a deal.

As if the exchange of rings will wipe the words Withdrawal Agreement, Meaningful Vote, Nigel Farage and Take Back Control from your memory.

But in reality it's not as simple as that.

A snap wedding with your long-term partner, new Gallic love or even your local boulanger is no guarantee of a French passport and peace after Brexit. 

Even if you're already in a steady relationship with a French person you will still have to wait four years after exchanging your vows at the local mairie 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 people who’ve lived in France for five years can apply for nationality via naturalization (or anyone who’s spent two years in French higher education may also be allowed to apply) or apply for a permanent residency card, going for French citizenship through marriage may not be worth it.

What if I marry a citizen from another EU country in France?

Another option that some fantasize might be quicker to ease Brexit nightmares is to marry someone from another EU country.

This obviously won't help you get French citizenship, but will you be able to stay in the country longer than the one-year cut off point for Brits who have not sorted residency?

Well maybe, as there is an EU Directive on the right to family reunification that can apply in some cases.

The first thing to note is that it only applies to 25 of the EU states, so if your partner is from Ireland or Denmark there's no point getting married (in terms of paperwork that is, there might be other reasons to wed).

This directive is aimed at making it possible for families to stay together. And it applies equally to relationships formed before you arrived in France and to those you have made since you have been here.

The good news is that this method could possibly extend your one year residency pass to five years. The bad news is that this is not automatically given.

Here’s the theory: sponsors can bring their spouse, minor children and the children of their spouse to the country in which they are now residing.  Member States may choose to authorise reunification with an unmarried partner, adult dependent children, or dependent parents and grandparents.

After a maximum of five years of residence, family members may apply for an autonomous permit.

However, countries can impose some conditions before allowing family reunification.

In France you need to apply for a family reunification visa and that can be refused for a number of reasons – including if the official believes that this is a marriage purely for paperwork reasons.

Family reunification can also be refused for spouses under the age of 21.

And don’t even think of applying if you have more than one partner. Polygamy is not recognised, which means that only one spouse at a time can benefit from the right to family reunification.

Already married to a French person?

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 slips, 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 to assimilate 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 are 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 criminal 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, your mother can start picking out a hat and you can start the process of submitting an application to your nearest prefecture.

But note: If you divorce within 12 months of gaining French nationality through marriage then your citizenship might be considered null and void.

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For members

VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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