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French language tests For Members

Reader question: Are pensioners exempt from France's new language test rules?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Reader question: Are pensioners exempt from France's new language test rules?
A man holds a placard reading "Angry Pensioners". Photo by ZAKARIA ABDELKAFI / AFP

When we asked readers for their questions about France's new language rules, by far the most common question was whether retirees are exempt from the requirement for French tests. The short answer? It depends.

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France's newly-passed immigration law contains several provisions that are intended to improve integration of foreigners, including tougher language requirements.

You can find a full explanation of the new rules HERE, but in brief the new law brings in tougher language requirements for long-term residency cards, while raising the language level required for French citizenship.

  • Those making their first applications for the multi-year carte de séjour plurianuelle must now demonstrate a language level of at least A2 on the international CERL scale.
  • Meanwhile those making their first application for the 10-year carte de résident must demonstrate at least B1 language levels.
  • Those applying for French citizenship previously had to demonstrate French of at least B1 level - that has now been raised to B2 level.

QUIZ Could you pass the new French language tests?

We asked our readers to send us their questions on the new law, and the subject that came up again and again was whether there is any kind of exemption for over 65s, or for retirees in general. 

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While there isn't a blanket exemption for older people, there are several exceptions that potentially apply to retirees. Meanwhile British retirees who have been in France since before 2021 should note that the changes do not apply to people who have the special Brexit carte de séjour known as the WARP or Article 50 TUE.

READ ALSO Top tips for learning French as an older person

Repeated renewals

Although personal circumstances (eg whether you are working, retired or the spouse of an EU national) can affect your card, the most common route for retirees in France is to arrive on a visitor visa and then move to the one-year 'visiteur' carte de séjour, which can be renewed annually.

After five years of renewals, people have the option to switch to longer-term cards - and most people take up that option to avoid the annual hassle and expense of renewing the card.

It should be noted the language requirements are only for multi-year cards, so the first way to avoid the language requirement is to simply stay on annual renewals.

READ ALSO Your questions answered on France's new language requirements

The new law does include a limit on renewals for some groups - however this does not apply to people who hold a 'visiteur' carte de séjour.

So retirees on the 'visiteur' card can simply continue with annual renewals. 

It should be noted that this exemption is not age-based, so if you are over 65 and are in France on an employee or self-employed card, you will be forced onto the multi-year card (with language requirements) eventually - this usually happens after five years of residency. 

Long-term residency cards 

There are two types of long-term residency cards which are affected by the change - the carte de séjour pluriannuelle and the carte de résident. Most people switch onto these after several years of one-year cards.

The carte de séjour pluriannuelle is not available to people with the 'visiteur' status, which would include most retirees. However over 65s on a different type of card (eg employee, self-employed or vie privée card) can apply for the pluriannuelle.

This card now requires French of at least A2 level, and there are currently no age-based exemptions.

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After five years of residency it is also possible to apply for the 10-year carte de résident de longue durée-UE (étranger en France depuis 5 ans) and this card is open to everyone, including people who were previously on the 'visiteur' card.

This does have a language level - French of at least B1 is required, up from the previous requirement of A2.

The previous rules, however, include a language test exemption for anyone aged 65 and older - the new law does not mention changing this exemption, so it appears that it still stands. However, The Local has requested clarification on this from the Interior Ministry. 

Brits 

UK nationals who lived in France prior to 2021 and have the special Brexit carte de séjour known as WARP or Article 50 TUE are not affected by the changes.

There are two types of Brexit card - the five-year card and the permanent card. 

Brits who had lived in France for more than five years were issued with the carte de séjour permanent - the card itself needs renewing every 10 years but the right to remain is permanent. It is therefore not necessary to provide any justification documents when it comes to renewal time, other than proof of continued residency in France.

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Brits who had lived here for less than five years were issued with a five-year card. When these come up for renewal, in 2026 for most people, it can be swapped directly for the permanent card without having to provide justification other than proof of continued residency in France. 

Citizenship 

Some foreigners in France may also want to apply for French citizenship, which can be obtained through marriage, through ancestry or through five years of residency (cut to two years for anyone who has completed higher education in France).

Citizenship has always had a language requirement, but the new law raises that from B1 level to B2 - full details HERE.

There is no age exemption to this - a previous exemption to language requirements for over 65s was scrapped in 2020.

Under the new rules over 70s are exempt only if they hold refugee status and have lived in France for at least 15 years.

There is a medical exemption for anyone who has a medical or cognitive condition that prevents them from taking an exam - a doctor's certificate is required for this. 

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