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French citizenship: What exactly is France's 'droit du sol'?

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French citizenship: What exactly is France's 'droit du sol'?
A pair of French passports are waved in the air in Lebanon in 2006 (Photo by RAMZI HAIDAR / AFP)

It's been in the news again because the far-right wants to ban it, but exactly is France's 'birthright citizenship' or doit du sol?


The principle of droit du sol is making headlines in France because Marine Le Pen's far-right Rassemblement National party wants to ban it.

In the pre-election debates on Tuesday night, party leader Jordan Bardella said that ending droit du sol was one of the party's main priorities and among the first things it would do if it wins a majority in the elections.

The phrase itself is often translated as 'birthright citizenship' and there's an assumption that this is automatically applied to any child born on French soil.

In reality, however, it functions very differently in France than in other nations, such as the United States, which confer nationality at birth.


Those born in France to at least one French parent can be French citizens from birth, as can children born outside France to at least one French parent - this is droit du sang (blood right).

Droit du sol (literally translated as 'soil right') enables children born in France to foreign parents to acquire French nationality - albeit later in life and with a number of strings attached.

Children covered by droit du sol can obtain French nationality either between the ages of 13-15 or when they turn 18, but they are not born with it.

Those born in France to foreign parents can apply to become French between the ages of 13-15 if they meet the following three conditions;

  • if they have lived in France on a regular basis (meaning they have spent most of their time in France since the age of 8-years-old),
  • if they are living in France at the time of the application,
  • if they consent to becoming French.

The process is not automatic - one or both of the child's parents must apply (via déclaration) on the child's behalf.

This involves sending in documents including the child's birth certificate, the parent's titre de séjour (residency card) if applicable and proof that the child lives in France (eg school records).

The process is considerably simpler and quicker than applying for citizenship as an adult - but it still involves collecting together documents, submitting the application and attending an interview at the préfecture.

You can find full details of the process HERE

For citizenship at the age of 18, the child must have been born in France, be resident in France on the date of his/her 18th birthday, and they must have been resident in France for at least five years (in total) since the age of 11.

So who is French at birth?

A child whose parents are French at the time of their birth is considered French, even if the child was born overseas. 

Otherwise, there are only a few circumstances for children to gain French nationality at birth:

  • If one of the parents was born in France, even if they are not a citizen (this is sometimes called double droit du sol)
  • If one of the parents was born in Algeria before July 3rd 1962;
  • If the child is born stateless - their parents have no legal nationality; the parents are unknown; the parents come from a country where nationality is only given if you were born there. 



The far-right wants to end droit du sol completely on all French territory, but there is one part of France where the right already has limitations.

In the French island of Mayotte - in the Indian Ocean, close to Madagascar - there is an extra condition; as well as the child having been born in Mayotte, at least one of the parents must also have been legally on French territory for at least three months at the time of birth.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in migration from the neighbouring islands of the Comoros, which are not French - almost half the population of the tiny island are now recent migrants.

This has been in part due to Mayotte being wealthier and regarded as more stable than the rest of Comoros, even though it is one of the poorest parts of France, with living standards and wages far below the average in mainland France.

This situation led the Macron government to propose to end the droit du sol entirely on Mayotte.



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