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AMERICANS IN FRANCE

Birth certificate: Why you need it in France and how to request one

In France, birth certificates are important documents that are necessary for several different administrative processes. For foreigners, this can come as a bit of a shock - particularly when they are asked for an 'acte de naissance' issued within the last six months. Here's how it all works.

Birth certificate: Why you need it in France and how to request one
Official naturalisation documents for France (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

The common (and understandable) reaction to this is “but I was born longer than three months ago” and, once they have realised that it is in fact a new copy being requested, “my birth date has not changed, so why do I need a new, official copy every time?”

And yes, it does seem kind of mad, but this is the system and we’re stuck with it, so here’s what you need to know;

Types of birth certificates in France

Before embarking on the various scenarios where you might need a birth certificate in France, you should be aware of exactly what you’re being asked for. 

Your birth certificate should include you full name, sex, date and place of birth, and you may also need your parents’ details. If you’re from a country that issues ‘short’ and ‘long’ versions of the certificate, you may need to request the full ‘long’ certificate (which includes parental details) before you can start. More on how to do that below.

An extrait avec indication de la filiation means you need a certificate that includes parental details, one sans filiation means this is not necessary.

The full document must also mention any marriages, divorces, legal separations or deaths. Finally, it should reference nationality.

Then you need to check whether you’re being asked to provide an extrait or a copie intégrale

A copie intégrale is a copy of the certificate, a simple photocopy is fine, but it should still include all relevant personal information (your full name, sex, date and place of birth) and those of your parents, as well as marginal mentions (eg marriage/ divorce). 

An extrait  must be an official version of the legal document by the authorities that issued it in the first place. Essentially the authorities who granted it in the first place need to reissue the certificate, and it should provide the date of re-issue. This is sometimes translated as ‘a birth certificate issued within the last six months’ which provokes much hilarity and incomprehension. But it really means an ‘official reissue’ of your certificate. 

Along with your birth certificate, you may need to provide a certified translation and an apostille – a certificate that authenticates the origin of a public document.

When you need your birth certificate

Any change to your civil status – getting married, pacsé (entering into a civil partnership), or divorced – will require you to provide an official copy of your birth certificate (specifically, the extrait avec indication de la filiation)

The general rule is that the official copy of the document must have been re-issued by the authority that originally issued it, within six months for foreigners (ie those born outside of France).

For non-French nationals, it must be accompanied by an official translation and a legalisation (or apostille). For French nationals, birth certificates for these procedures must be at most three months old.

To see the other documents you must provide to get married in France, click HERE. For PACS – click HERE.

Citizenship – You will also need your birth certificate when applying for French nationality. In this scenario, the French government website Service-Public states that the form must also indicate the full names of your parents, their birth dates, and places of birth.

If any of this information is missing, then you might be required to provide full copies of your parents’ birth certificates as well. Additionally, if you have changed your name at any point, you must provide documentation for this as well. 

At the interview for citizenship, you will need to present the original document in its original language with proof it was issued in the last three months by the proper authorities (an apostille), and a translation for each document (if it was not issued in French). Just as for marriage and PACs, this must be the ‘extrait avec indication de la filiation‘ version. 

READ MORE: What you need to know about PACS v marriage in France

The family residency permit – This residency permit – the “private and family life” one (vie privée et familiale) is for those who qualify for French residency due to “family ties.” However, not everyone applying for this permit will need to give a copy of their birth certificate, you will only need to do so if you do not have a pre-existing visa or carte de séjour

Family record book – any update to the livret de famille (or family record book) must be accompanied by several documents, including your birth certificate. The family record book should be issued at the birth of a first child and updated for any major family event, such as marriage, birth, adoption, divorce or death. 

Registering for carte vitale/healthcare – When registering for your carte vitale health card, you will need to provide a copy of your birth certificate. In this situation, you may or may not need to have the document translated, so you will want to verify with the relevant authorities. If you cannot provide this document, then French social security may accept an “equivalent” provided by your consulate or embassy. You are requested to provide a ‘copie intégrale‘ – though you can also provide an extrait as well. You can see the list of documents necessary to register for social security HERE.

Other – You may also need to provide a copy of your birth certificate when applying for government subsidies with CAF (Caisse d’Allocations Familiales). Additionally, to incorporate a company in France, you will need to provide identification for the physical person making the request, and as a result may be required to give a copy of your birth certificate. 

READ MORE: How to get a carte vitale in France and why you need one

How to request your birth certificate

Most people will have their birth certificate with them, but as outlined above you may need to request another – either the long-form version or the recent reissue.

In all cases, you request it from the authority who issued it in the first place – the issuing authority name should be on the certificate and you can then search online for their contact details (if you were born in the UK you may also need to check if that authority still exists after several local government reorganisations).

Your country’s embassy or consulate in France cannot issue birth certificates.

USA

You need to request your certificate from the state that issued it, and each state has a slightly different process.

Many states will only mail an official birth certificate within the United States, so consider whether you have a trusted friend or family member you could mail it to. You will have to pay a fee for this process, with the amount depending on the state.

If you are ordering a birth certificate from a state that does not allow you to request it online, you may still be able to request it on the internet by using the website VitalChek.

If you need your certificate apostilled, the procedure will, again, depend on your state. For some states, you (or a parent) can walk-in and have the birth certificate apostilled. For others you will have to either make an appointment or mail it in.

Additionally, when getting something apostilled you will also likely have to put down an American address.

Basically – the steps go: request long-form birth certificate with state authorities, request apostille from state authorities, and expect the corresponding delays between those steps, as well as mailing time back to France.

UK

If you were born in England or Wales, you can order by phone by calling the General Register Office (GRO). To order your birth certificates by the post, fill in the relevant GRO certificate application and send it to the address on the form.

You can also do so online simply by registering with the GRO and requesting a copy.

Keep in mind that Scotland (information HERE) and Northern Ireland (information HERE) have different procedures for requesting a birth certificate.

The procedure will incur “certificate fees” – these cost £11 and are sent 4 days after you apply for the birth certificate. According to the UK government official website, if you do not have a GRO index reference number, then you will have to pay £3 extra for each search.

Your birth certificates will be sent 15 working days after you apply, but if you need it sooner you can request a priority service for a higher fee.

If you need your certificate apostilled, you can only use the paper-based apostille service. To request it, you can apply online or you can submit your documents by the post or in person.

This process typically takes up to 20 days. You can learn more HERE.

Getting your birth certificate translated

You will not need this for every administrative procedure requiring a birth certificate, but for marriage, PACs and citizenship, you will need an official translation of both the birth certificate and the apostille. 

The documents must be translated by a certified translator (traducteur certifié) who has the relevant official stamp.

As you must respect the timeline for how old your birth certificate can be (usually a maximum of six months since issue), you will want to book an appointment to have the documents translated as soon as possible.

READ MORE: Certified translations: What are the rules for translating documents into French?

Member comments

  1. It is worth noting if your birth certificate is written in both English and French (or any other language and French), then an official translation is not required.

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Oldest allies: The best and worst moments of the French-American relationship

From military support to submarine disputes, statute-giving to French fry boycotts, the relationship between France and the USA has had its ups and downs over the last 250 years. As Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden meet in Washington, we take a look at some of the highs and lows.

Oldest allies: The best and worst moments of the French-American relationship

Franco-American relations go back a long way, with US diplomats and politicians often referring to the French as “our oldest allies” – a callback to when French king Louis XVI decided to support the American Revolution led by George Washington.

However, it’s not always been smooth sailing.

You can hear The Local team discuss the Franco-American relationship with special guest Jim Bittermann, the veteran CNN correspondent, of the latest edition of the Talking France podcast. Download it here or listen on the link below. 

As Emmanuel Macron enjoys a state visit in the US – the first state visit of the Biden presidency – here’s a look at the best of times and the worst of times. 

Best moments

The Revolutionary War – Without the help of the French, the Americans would have struggled to win their War of Independence. In February 1778, General Washington made an unusually optimistic announcement, saying that France’s decision to join the war effort had introduced “a most happy tone to all our affairs”.

In 1781, the French fleet played a significant role in the American victory in Yorktown, Virginia, which put an end to the Revolutionary War. 

When the time came for Great Britain to recognise the sovereignty of its former colonies and sign a peace treaty with them, the signing took place in Paris, on September 3rd, 1783.

France’s military assistance for the United States during the war did come at a significant economic cost – the country found itself over a billion livres (the French currency at the time) in debt. Not long after, France embarked upon its own revolution.

During and after the Revolutionary War, the US was home to several francophiles, such as Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. As for France, French architect and urban designer, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who left his home country in 1776, went on to design the new capital of Washington D.C. There was also Marquis de Lafayette who went on the be a national hero in both countries, having served as a General in the American Revolution and helping to draft the Declaration of the Rights of Man during the French one.

The Statue of Liberty – Otherwise known as La Liberté éclairant le monde (Liberty lighting up the world) the statue is a monument to Franco-American friendship. 

The 93-metre-tall Lady Liberty – who has welcomed scores of immigrants “yearning to breathe free” – is actually French. Dedicated in 1886, the statue was a gift from the French people, intended to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

The idea originally came from French historian Édouard de Laboulaye, an anti-slavery activist and avid supporter of the Union during the Civil War. He hoped that the statue would represent liberty and symbolise the freedom of thought repressed under Napoleon III’s regime. 

Eventually, it was sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi who brought the statue to life (and reputedly modelled her face on his mother) helped by a famous engineer known for another and tall structure – Gustave Eiffel.

READ MORE: French history myths: France only sent one Statue of Liberty to the US

First and Second World Wars – After almost three years of neutrality, the United States joined World War I, sending about 10,000 men a day during the summer of 1918 to the Western Front. The introduction of the American troops helped to strengthen the Allies and aided them in winning the war. In 1918, Woodrow Wilson sailed to France, becoming the first American President to visit a European country while in office. 

And about two decades later the US also joined the Allied side in World War II – thousands of American soldiers died on the beaches in Normandy during the D-Day landings of 1944 and are commemorated each year in June by French and American representatives.

However, in both cases, the post-war period proved more fractious.

After World War I, when President Wilson sought to negotiate his ‘Fourteen Point’ peace plan, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau is reported to have said: “Mr Wilson bores me with his Fourteen Points; why, God Almighty has only 10!” 

A home for America’s ‘Lost Generation’ – Many years after winning over the heart of Benjamin Franklin, other great American thinkers – artists and writers – found a home in Paris.

During the period following World War I, figures from Paul Bowles and Ernest Hemingway to Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, used their time in France to inform their art. Paris offered what many saw as a freer, more expressive and open environment (not to mention the fact that the exchange rate at the time meant that they could live well in Paris on just a few dollars a month). 

The worst moments

But of course, it’s not all sunshine and wine – here are some of the more strained moments in the long relationship.

The Quasi-War – American and French friendship lasted for the first few years after the US gained its independence, but relations turned sour soon after the start of the French Revolution, and the beheading of King Louis XVI.

France had lent vast sums to the US to aid in their struggle for independence, but the Americans suspended repayments of these loans, claiming that the new French Revolution made previous agreements null.

Things became even worse when the new French republic found itself at war with Great Britain, as the United States declared itself neutral in the conflict, claiming that their Treaty of Alliance with France had been with the now-deceased King Louis XVI, so was no longer valid. 

The US needed to continue trading with British colonies in the Caribbean and so negotiated the Jay Treaty. For the revolutionary government of France, this treaty was proof that America had decided to trade with France’s enemies, and therefore France ought to treat the Americans like enemies. French privateers went on to seize US merchant ships.

While war was never officially declared, American naval ships did have engagements with French naval ships.

Napoleon’s support for the Confederacy – Technically, during the American Civil War, France remained neutral. However, Napoleon III was known to have favoured the Confederacy, in part due to his desire to protect the cotton trade.

France also wanted to expand its influence in Mexico, and sent troops to help Mexican monarchists with their plan to restore the monarchy.

This led to the union building up American military presence on the border with Mexico, and eventually – between the troops and diplomatic measures taken – Napoleon was persuaded to withdraw his troops.

De Gaulle v America – After World War II the Allies instituted AMGOT – the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories – in the defeated countries of Italy and Germany.

However US President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed AMGOT should have been implemented in newly-liberated France too – primarily because he found it impossible to work with General Charles de Gaulle, who he believed had the potential to act as an authoritarian leader.

He was eventually persuaded by the American General Eisenhower to drop the plan, but unsurprisingly, the post-war period for Franco-American relations was at times tense.

For his part, De Gaulle strongly opposed what he saw as American hegemony, expelling American military units from French soil and partially withdrawing France from NATO.

The Iraq war – One of the most unhappy chapters in the book of Franco-American relations is that of the Iraq War.

While the French did express solidarity with the United States after 9/11, they did not support the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq with then-President Jacques Chirac refusing to join the US-led coalition in 2003.

In a tit-for-tat response, the Americans renamed French fries as “freedom fries” while US cartoon The Simpsons got on board, coining the phrase “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” to describe the French. 

READ MORE: Myth-busting: Are these 12 clichés about France actually true?

According to polling, French public opinion of the United States plummeted in an unprecedented drop as soon as the United States invaded Iraq. Those low opinions remained in place until the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Submarines – And finally, the relationship between France and the United States deteriorated greatly after what became known as a AUKUS affair in 2021.

Essentially Australia backed out of an agreement to buy submarines from the French and instead, the US ended up selling its own submarines, leaving the French out of the trilateral defence pact. In response, France threatened to recall its ambassador to the United States.

US president Joe Biden has since somewhat-apologised – calling the deal “clumsy” and saying that it “was not done with a lot of grace” – and when it came to the first state visit of his presidency, he chose Emmanuel Macron in what many see as a a way of smoothing ruffled French feathers. 

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