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Reader question: What’s the difference between French residency and citizenship?

As a foreigner in France you enter a complicated world of bureaucracy, but one question we are asked a lot is the difference in status between residency and citizenship. Here's an overview.

Visitor, resident or citizen of France?
Visitor, resident or citizen of France? Photo: AFP

Broadly the difference is this – citizenship gives you a lot more rights but is consequently harder to get hold of.

Here’s a look at how the different categories work:

Non-resident visitor

This category covers everything from people having a long weekend in Paris to those doing short-term work in France or second home owners.

Depending on where you come from you are allowed to stay in France for a certain period (for most non-Europeans this limit is 90 days, for EU citizens its longer) without becoming a full-time resident of the country.

READ ALSO How long can you stay in France without becoming a resident

The upside of this is that for most people there’s no paperwork, but you don’t have any legal status or right to stay in the country – or enter it if the borders close.

You also won’t have access to healthcare if you need it while you are here so will need to make sure you are covered via health insurance or – for EU citizens – the European Health Insurance Card (UK nationals have their own version known as a GHIC). 


This means that you are officially allowed to live in France and the requirements for being a resident of the country vary according to the country that you come from.

Citizens of EU countries and those within the Schengen zone benefit from European freedom of movement, which means they are entitled to move to France to live and work. This freedom is not completely unlimited – there are conditions around criminality and minimum income level – but is fairly generous.

France is unusual among European countries in that it doesn’t require EU citizens to register – most other European countries require Europeans to register their residency after a certain period in the country.

However if you intend to make France your permanent home you do need to register in the health system to get a carte vitale health card and make an annual tax declaration.

People who are not citizens of an EU or Schengen zone country – known as Third Country Nationals – have more hoops to jump through before they can become residents.

For most non-Europeans, moving to France involves first getting a visa and then registering for a residency card, known as a carte de séjour. The visa process can be both complicated and expensive and varies depending on your reason for coming to France – you can find out more about the process HERE.

READ ALSO How much money do I need to get a visa for France?

British nationals, who are no longer EU citizens, also have to get residency cards. Those who were resident in France before December 31st 2020 were given a simplified route to residency – find out how HERE.

All others will need a visa – find out the visa requirements for Brits HERE.

Once you have your residency in place this gives you the right to stay here – with limitations.

You can stay in accordance with your paperwork, so if you have a one-year visa you can stay for a year of if you have a five-year carte de séjour you can stay for five years. You can usually extend your visa/carte de séjour but you have to make fresh applications each time and it’s not automatic that you will be granted a new card or visa.

If you commit certain types of crime you can be removed from the country, while other crimes will mean getting a new visa or carte de séjour becomes more difficult.

EU citizens have the right to vote in local and European elections (but not presidential ones) while non-Europeans have no voting rights.

Certain types of jobs are reserved for French citizens only, while others – especially within public administration – are reserved for EU citizens only. Non citizens cannot stand for president, but EU citizens can stand as candidates in local elections.

Fancy leading France one day? Being born abroad doesn’t rule you out, but you will need to get French citizenship before you begin your bid for the presidency. Photo: AFP 


This is the gold standard and once you have become a French citizen you are, officially at least, exactly the same as French people who were born and bred here.

READ ALSO 10 reasons why you should consider becoming French

You are entitled to stay here for the rest of your life, even if you commit a serious crime, and you can pass your citizenship on to your children. You can also leave the country for as long as you want and return to live without having to fill in extra paperwork.

You are entitled to vote and – in good news for those with political ambitions – you can stand for any type of office including the presidency, France has no requirement that presidential candidates be citizens from birth.

But the flip side of this is that citizenship is not easy to obtain.

If you don’t have French parents then the most common ways to obtain citizenship are through marriage to a French person or through residency. You are also entitled to citizenship if you serve in the French Foreign Legion but it’s fair to say that’s not an easy option.

You can find out more about how to gain citizenship HERE but you need to fulfil a number of criteria including having lived in the country for five years (or being married for four years if you are applying through marriage), a minimum level of French language and a thorough knowledge and appreciation of French values and culture.

QUIZ Do you know France well enough to become French?

The application is not a quick process – the average time is 18 months to two years – and involves a lot of paperwork. If original documents are in English you may have to have them translated into French and you will need to pay a certified translator to do this.

If you satisfy all the requirements and once your paperwork is all processed you are presented with your citizenship in a special ceremony and sing La Marseillaise.

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Cutting back and applying for benefits: How the weak pound has impacted Brits living in France

In recent weeks, the pound has become weaker when compared to other currencies, namely the euro. This has made life more complicated for Brits living in France. The Local asked readers to share their experiences - and advice - for others who find themselves in the same situation.

Cutting back and applying for benefits: How the weak pound has impacted Brits living in France

While the pound is still low when compared to other currencies, it has recovered somewhat since its drop after the British Chancellor’s mini-budget.

As of October 5th, the exchange rate was £1 to €1.14. For British people living in France who receive income in pounds sterling – whether they be pensioners or others with financial interests still in the UK – the drop in the pound’s value has had negative impacts.

The Local reached out to readers to hear how they have been affected by the exchange rate. Many offered their tips for navigating the current economic landscape.

Many readers found life still affordable, but expected to be more severely impacted in the future. Retiree A. Wood, who lives in Haute Vienne, said that “The recent drop in the value of the pound will not immediately affect me. If it remains low for more than a year then maybe I will have to do some calculating.”

Pensioners especially said that life in France had become “more expensive” and “costlier” for them, but being aware of price rises and managing the changes “with care” were plausible solutions for the time-being.

In general residents of France are better protected from inflation than many other European nations, thanks to government initiatives such as energy price caps and fuel rebates, but prices for many everyday items such as food have been rising steadily.

One respondent, Nigel Harrison, a retired former business consultant, said that weak pound has “not made life unaffordable, but worrying.” 

Meanwhile, some readers, all of whom are also retired, said that they were starting to feel more serious impacts of the exchange rate.

Retired librarian and micro entrepreneur, Pat Hallam, who has been living in Paris for the last two years, said that she receives her career pension in pounds, which she later transfers into euros by way of her French bank account.

She explained that she already works to supplement the cost of life in Paris, but now she expects to have to take on extra work.

She expects to also “cut back on things like socialising, eating out and culture.”

“Explaining this to friends will be hard, and it is what makes living in Paris a pleasure. I know the cost of living would be cheaper in other parts of France, but I’ve spent the last 2 years building a life in Paris, my dream destination. I would be very disappointed if events across the Channel forced me to move away, or even back to the UK,” she said.

READ MORE: The best banks for non-EU citizens living in France

Pat is not alone – Tom Baker, who is retired and lives in south-west France – said, “All my pensions are from the UK and the drop in exchange is definitely felt, coupled with the loss on transferring the money to France as I have five pensions.”

Baker explained that having his income drop has been particularly difficult “as a 74 year old with two young sons aged seven and 10” and amid “the present financial climate the cost of everything is spiralling.” 

Many readers said they would try to live on savings while waiting for the value of the pound to rise again, which has also posed its own problems, as many British bank accounts have begun closing the accounts of non-UK residents. 

John Stanley Mumford found himself in this situation, he said: “I have a pension in pounds. I will live on savings until the value of pound goes up! But, Barclays bank is to close my account as I am a French resident, so basically I’m stuffed!”

READ MORE: Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in France

Non-pensioners have also felt the impacts of a weak pound. One respondent discussed the dilemma of attempting to sell their UK home, and worrying about whether they should leave the money in pounds or transfer it to Euros afterwards. Others worried about their UK savings accounts.

Respondents did offer helpful advice for others in similar positions – ranging from tips to try to hold out for a better exchange rate to recommendations for how to become thriftier – like getting rid of unused streaming services and cutting back generally. 

Tom Baker said he recommends transferring funds “perhaps every three months to reduce the cost of transfer fees, which since Brexit have really increased.”

He also said that he checks the daily rate “for a week or 10 days before the transfer is needed to try and get a better each rate.” Others said if possible – wait until the pound recovers.

However, for those unable to hold out until the pound is stronger, several readers recommended apps and international banking services, such as Wise and Revolut as handy ways to find better exchange rates and avoid high fees when transferring between a UK bank and a French one. 

Finally, Pat Hallam counselled Brits living in France to consider applying for welfare benefits if necessary. She said even if you’ve never considered it, “either out of pride or because you didn’t think you were eligible, maybe now’s the time to look again.”

She also recommended tracking energy use more carefully via a smart metre: it “takes three months’ use before you can start comparing consumption but it helps keep track of your energy use.”

READ MORE: Living in France: How to cut your household energy use by 10% this winter

Many thanks to everyone who took part in our survey and shared their experiences and tips.