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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Am I eligible for French citizenship?

Getting French citizenship gives plenty of advantages but it is not a quick or easy process - here's how you can apply.

Am I eligible for French citizenship?
Please note - you don't get the president at all citizenship ceremonies. Photo: AFP

The positive side of this would be that you would gain full and unlimited rights to remain in France as well as – as a citizen of the EU – the right to live and work in any of the 27 other EU countries.

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

But the process itself is not a simple one.

Who is eligible?

There are two main routes to applying for citizenship – through residency or through marriage – and if you have a French parent it is also possible to obtain citizenship that way.

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.

Family

If you have a parent who was a French citizen at the time of your birth, you can obtain citizenship through ancestry. If you apply this way you will need full documentation for yourself and your French parent, and they will also need to prove that that have maintained some ‘connection’ with France in the past 50 years – this could be evidence of their residency in France, registration with a French consulate or a voter registration to show they have voted in French elections.

Others

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

What do I need to do

You need to apply through your local préfecture and, as with most French bureaucratic tasks, the process is long and involves a lot of paperwork.

For residency applications you will need;

  • Two copies of the completed application for citizenship called the “demande d’acquisition de la nationalité francaise”
  • Copy of your passport
  • An original birth certificate (a certified translation is required and depending on the place of birth an Apostille/legalisation could also be necessary)
  • Copies of your parents’ birth or death certificates as well or marriage certificates or divorce decree IF these are showing the full details of the date and place of birth.
  • Rental agreement or proof of home ownership in France
  • Last three tax returns
  • December and January payslips from the last three years
  • Certificate to show you have B1 level of French (unless you have studied in a French school or University, or have a diploma from a French speaking country)

People applying via marriage or family will need marriage/birth certificates.

You may also need need supplementary paperwork as requested by the préfecture depending on your situation and any documents that need translating must be done by a certified translator. Find out more about the rules of certified translation here.

How long does it take?

It’s not a quick process – the average length of time from application to citizenship is between 18 months and two years, but it varies depending on where you are in the country.

Once you have submitted all the paperwork and any outstanding details have been checked, you will then be summoned to an interview. Here you will be required to demonstrate a reasonable knowledge of France and its culture and also show that you have a genuine commitment to France.

It’s not enough to say that you’re applying just because you want to go in the shorter passport queue, you need to demonstrate that you genuinely value France and want to become French.

The interviews themselves vary from place to place and interviewer to interviewer – some people report a fairly simple process and a short chat, others are grilled on every aspect of France’s history and culture so it’s best to be prepared and read up on the Livret de Citoyen (citizens booklet) – which you can download here.

Naturally, the interview will be in French.

READ ALSO 10 reasons why you should consider becoming French

How good does my French need to be?

You will need to provide a certificate showing that you have a formal language qualification to B1 level, which is described as intermediate – a person who is able to handle day-to-day matters in work, school and leisure.

The language rules have recently been toughed up with a requirement for a written test in addition to the previous speaking, listening and reading tests.

The exemption for over 60s has also been removed. 

How much does it cost?

The official application costs just a €55 timbre fiscal, but the real cost is likely to be much higher taking into account the cost of getting certified translations of all your documents. 

Can I be turned down for citizenship?

Yes, it’s not just a question of ticking the right boxes, authorities can and will turn you down if they feel you are not truly committed to the French way of life or are just applying for administrative convenience.

In total in 2018 around 30 percent of citizenship applications were refused, many of them on language grounds but in 2019 a nurse was turned down because she had worked too many hours – and therefore broken the Labour Code – and in 2018 an Algerian woman was denied citizenship because she refused to shake the male official’s hand.

If you are rejected you will be informed either in person or by registered letter, and the préfecture must give a reason for refusal.

If you feel that is unfair you can challenge the decision at the Tribunal de Nantes.

If you are accepted for citizenship you are invited to a ceremony where you will be given a brief presentation on the French way of life, awarded your certificate and invited to sing La Marseillaise (in a group, no solo performances are required, thankfully).

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For members

EDUCATION

Fees to class sizes – what you need to know about private schools in France

In many countries, private schools are the preserve of the wealthy elite, but France has a wide network of private schools that are well within the financial reach of ordinary families - James Harrington explains more.

Fees to class sizes - what you need to know about private schools in France

The education system in France has its problems – at the start of the new school year some 4,000 teaching posts were unfilled and the government has launched an ‘emergency plan’ for English language lessons – but there’s no doubting there are wonderful schools and wonderful teachers making every effort to ensure children from aged three to 18 get the education they deserve.

However the country also has a sizeable network of private schools and around 15 percent of French children go to a private school. While some are undoubtedly expensive and elite, others are surprisingly affordable and provide an extra option for parents when deciding on  a school for their children.

Here’s what you need to know; 

Different types

There are two types of private school – sous contrat and hors contrat.

Sous contrat schools, of which there are about 7,500 in France, are part-funded by the state – teachers are paid by the Department of Education, for example – but also charge fees. France’s numerous Catholic schools, or regional language schools are usually sous contrat.

Hors contrat schools – which number about 2,500 – must still meet general education requirements but can choose their teaching methods and have no state funding. Private international schools found in most big cities, such as the American School of Paris, are hors contrat, but still follow mainstream teaching methods.

For comparison, there are around 60,000 state schools in France.

Prices

Yes, there are expensive private schools in France. Sending your child to the exclusive Ecole des Roches Private Boarding School, for example, will set you back more than €12,000 a term – not quite Eton or Winchester-level fees, but still well out of the reach of a large portion of the population. But, like Eton and Winchester, they’re not the norm. 

On average, fees for a day pupil – one who goes home at the end of the school day, rather than one who boards at the school – are in the region of around €2,250 a year. Meals are not included, and are generally charged at a slightly higher daily price than at state schools.

Financial aid, including scholarships, may be available for less well-off families.

READ ALSO French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Boarding and hours

A large number of state and private schools offer Monday-Thursday boarding. It is not uncommon for pupils who excel at certain subjects or sports to attend collèges or lycées some distance from home, and board during the week.

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Daily school hours, meanwhile, are broadly similar, with children generally starting their school day at around 8am and finishing soon after 4pm on school days. Collège and lycée pupils also go into school on Wednesday mornings, and some may have classes on a Saturday, too.

Popularity

Smaller class sizes and a reputation for “better” results means that private schools are increasingly popular. The number of French private schools has increased steadily over the last decade, and now 15-20 percent of pupils go to a private establishment of some form. 

On the whole, private schools tend to do better in results league tables – perhaps in part because of the additional investment from parents, but also because class sizes tend to be smaller, which allows for more one-to-one education. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention mean they may also be a better option for children who struggle in big schools.

READ ALSO What kind of school in France is best for my kids?

Qualifications

State schools and sous contrat schools teach to the national curriculum, which leads, in turn, to brevet and baccalaureate qualifications.

In contrast, some hors contrat private schools offer different qualifications, including American High School Diplomas and SATs, British GCSEs and A-Levels, or the international baccalaureate.

Religion

Although many sous contrat schools are Catholic, most readily accept non-Catholic children and are not allowed to indoctrinate the Catholic faith. Hors contrat schools, on the other hand, may include a religious element to their teaching.

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