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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

FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

How you could qualify for French citizenship in under five years

For most people looking to apply for citizenship in France, they have to live in the country for five consecutive years - but, under certain circumstances, you could apply sooner.

How you could qualify for French citizenship in under five years

Here, we explain how you could shave some time off your residency qualifying period before you can apply for citizenship. The application process can last up to two years on top of the qualifying period. And as ever there are many criteria applicants are required to meet so it’s not just a question about time qualifying periods. 

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

Marriage

Marry a French citizen, and you can qualify for French citizenship after four years rather than five.

However, you still have to pass language and cultural knowledge tests.

This also applies to a foreign national living with their French spouse outside France – as long as they too have been married for five years.

READ ALSO How to become a French citizen via marriage

Postgraduates

Postgraduates who have studied at a French university for at least two years can qualify for citizenship after two years of residency. However it’s not as easy at that in reality given applicants must meet other criteria such as prove they have a stable job and income which obviously may take longer.

Postgraduate applicants still have to pass language and cultural knowledge tests, prove you have integrated into the French way of life, and demonstrate you have the means to live in France, which usually comes via work.

READ ALSO TEST: Is your French good enough for citizenship and residency?

The ancestor rule

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

READ ALSO How to obtain French citizenship through ancestry

Military ties

You do not need to complete any qualifying period if you have served in the French military, or enlisted for the French or an allied military in a time of war – but, you need to serve your time in the army, navy or air force, first… 

Anyone who joins the French Foreign Legion can apply for French nationality after three years of service. Depending on each applicant’s service record and willingness to integrate, this application will generally be granted.

Exceptional service

If you can render (or have rendered) important services to France given your abilities and talents, or have completed an exceptional integration process (such as activities or actions in civic, scientific, economic, cultural or sporting fields), you can apply for citizenship after two years. 

‘Exceptional service’ can include an act of heroism. In 2018, then 22-year-old undocumented immigrant Mamoudou Gassama rescued a four-year-old who was dangling from a balcony in Paris. His bravery was recognised with French citizenship.

READ ALSO Who is ‘le spiderman’ – the Malian migrant who saved a toddler’s life?

And numerous foreigners who worked on the frontline during the Covid pandemic have been offered fast-track citizenship.

It is important to note that no minimum residency is required for the following applicants:

  • Anyone with refugee status;
  • Anyone who comes from a French-speaking country and speaks French as the mother tongue;
  • Anyone who comes from a French-speaking country and has been educated for 5 years or more in a French-language teaching establishment.
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