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FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

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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For members

TAX

Reader question: Do I need to declare my non-French bank accounts?

Tax declaration season is upon us and one issue that often catches foreigners in France unaware is bank accounts in their home countries - we explain.

Reader question: Do I need to declare my non-French bank accounts?

Question: I’m living in France and filling in my French tax declaration and have come to the section on foreign bank accounts, investments and holdings – I don’t have shares or investments outside France, are they really asking me about my old account back in the UK that has about 27p in it?

The annual French tax declaration is a comprehensive document, compulsory for almost everyone living in France, in which you’re asked about all your financial affairs. When looking at exactly what you have to declare, the short answer is – everything. For example;

  • If you’re working in France you need to declare your French income – even if you’re an employee and your salary has already been taxed at source.
  • If you’re not working you need to declare all your income, even if it comes from outside France eg a UK or US pension.
  • If you get any income from outside France – eg rental income on a property in another country – you need to declare that too.

For full details on what to declare – click HERE.

It’s important to note that declaring your income does not necessarily mean you will have to pay tax on it – France has dual taxation agreements with most countries so that if you have already paid tax on your income in another country, you won’t be taxed on it again – but you still have to tell the French taxman about it.

When it comes to bank accounts, you also need to declare any bank account that has your name on it – including joint accounts – that are held outside France.

This is in the section of the form for foreign earnings and investments, so it’s easy to miss but it’s an important one for foreign residents, who are likely to have at least one account in their home country.

Ask the expert: How to fill out each section of the French tax declaration

You need to declare each account that that you have – the bank/building society that it is with, the account number and the date you opened the account, so it’s worth getting this information together before you start filling out the form.

You don’t need to declare how much is in each account, but you do need to be careful to declare all accounts that you have – even if they are dormant or only have a tiny amount of cash in them.

If you have cryptocurrency accounts you need to declare them too, although they have their own section.

If you have a PayPal account you might also need to declare that – although only if you use it for business or you have spent more than €10,000 with it in the last year.

Finally if you have insurance policies such as life insurance in another country you need to declare that too.

The good news is that if you declare online, your declaration remembers last year’s information so you don’t need to fill out all this information from scratch every year, but if you have opened a new account in the past year, don’t forget to add it to your declaration.

What happens if you don’t declare them?

You might think that your 27p back in the UK is not very important, in the scheme of things, but not declaring a bank account or investment scheme carries with it hefty penalties – they range from €1,500 to a maximum of €10,000, with €3,000 being the most commonly applied amount. And that fine is per bank account, so if you have several accounts that you haven’t declared the fines can quickly add up.

International money-laundering legislation means that banks and governments share a lot more information these days, so it’s definitely not worth the risk. 

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