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How to obtain French citizenship through ancestry

Some countries such as Italy and Ireland are keen to welcome citizenship applications from descendants of their nationals, but in France this route is less common.

How to obtain French citizenship through ancestry
(Photo: Jean-Pierre Muller / AFP)

There are several routes to obtaining French nationality. The best-known methods, other than being born in France to French parents, are by marriage to a French citizen, or to have lived in the country long enough to fulfil residency requirements. 

France has a relatively generous approach to getting citizenship through residency – you can apply after just five years of living here (or two years if you undertook higher education in France) and the fee is just €55. Set against that, however, is the requirement for a language test, the lengthy application process and the extra costs in getting certified translation of documents.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

Ancestry is a less common route to naturalisation.

Unlike Ireland, which allows citizenship through grandparents, or Italy, which accepts any ancestor going back to 1861, in France you need a French parent to qualify.

So, bad news for any Brits who were hoping that the Norman-French ancestors might entitle them to a coveted EU passport. 

Under article 20 of the French Civil Code, if, at the time of a child’s birth, one of their parents held French citizenship, that child is considered French.

The parents do not have to be married, but the parent with French citizenship must be named on the child’s birth certificate.

If the child is born outside France, parents can apply to officialise French citizenship at the time of their birth. But if your parents didn’t do this, then you can apply in your own right as an adult. 

To prove your right to French nationality, you need to present your birth certificate with your named French parent on it.

You will need to apply for a Certificat de nationalité française (CNF) first before you can apply for a passport or identity card. It’s free and you can find out more about the process here

You will need to provide, at minimum:

  • A passport photograph;
  • Proof of identity (national identity card, passport, driving licence, etc);
  • Proof of address (recent electricity bill, rental contract, tax notice, etc);
  • A complete recent copy of your birth certificate indicating your legal relationship to your French parent;
  • A complete copy of the birth certificate of your French parent;
  • A complete copy of the marriage certificate of your parents or, if they are not married, a complete copy of the Reconnaissance d’un enfant document proving your parentage.

Officials may demand additional documentation as part of the application process, and you may need to provide a certified translation of any documents that are not in French. 

The same rules holds for adoptive children if, at the time of full adoption, one of the parents is French.

If your parents have been out of France for a significant period of time you may need to provide proof of their continued ties to France such as ownership of French property or regular voting in French elections.

Applications are not usually granted if the family has been abroad for more than 50 years without making use of their rights.

But their applications can still be considered if they can prove “concrete ties of a cultural, professional, economic or family nature” with France — a clause that Stanley Johnson, the Brexit-supporting dad of British PM Boris Johnson, invoked when he became a French citizen in May 2022

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