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French citizenship: how to get

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French Citizenship
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In this article we will tell you how foreigners may obtain citizenship in France, who can apply for the country's passport and how to avoid being refused the desired document.

Obtaining French citizenship for foreigners is not an easy though achievable task. It is vital to comply with all the immigration rules, and prove that the migrant has become a part of French society. Still there is a long immigration process ahead, in which obtaining the precious French passport will be only the final step.

A typical scheme for immigration to France:

  • to come to France for study, work, business or family reunification on a long-term visa type D entitling you to stay in the country for a period from 3 months to 1 year;
  • to obtain a residence permit in France valid for 1 year;
  • to renew the residence permit every year, provided that the reason for granting it is still valid;
  • to obtain a residence permit after 5 years of permanent residence in France;
  • to apply for French citizenship immediately after you receive the permanent residence permit, i.e. after 5 years of residence in France;
  • to obtain a French passport after a waiting period of 1.5 years.

It is therefore possible to apply for French citizenship on a general basis after five years of permanent residence in the country, the whole process taking around 6.5 years. In comparison, you can apply for citizenship by naturalisation in Greece after 7 years of residence, and in Italy and Spain after 10 years.

There are also some other schemes, such as studying at a French university, doing military service in the French foreign legion, or marrying a French national, which enable to obtain French citizenship in a simpler or quicker way.

Foreigners who are financially independent may also naturalise in France. To do so, they must have more than 20,000 euros per person in an international bank account or have a stable income of 1,500 euros per month per family member. People who are financially independent are issued a visitor's card valid for one year. The card is renewed every year on proof of sufficient capital. After 5 years of residence, you can apply for citizenship.

What does French citizenship entail:

  • The French passport is one of the most powerful passports in the world. It entitles you to visit 188 countries without a visa or with a visa on arrival, including all EU countries. It is also possible to travel to the USA with an online visa valid for up to 90 days.
  • The immigrant is granted the same rights as the French, including the right to vote and to participate in the political life of the country.
  • France recognises dual citizenship. A foreigner does not have to renounce the citizenship of his country in order to obtain a French passport. But there is a nuance – there is no agreement between France and several countries regarding the recognition of dual citizenship. However, it is possible to have a second passport. This means that for example a Russian immigrant who receives a French passport will be considered only a Russian citizen in Russia and only a French citizen in France.
  • Close family members of an immigrant who has obtained citizenship in France are entitled to apply for a residence permit under the family reunification procedure and subsequently for citizenship.
Idyllic market square grasse in France
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Ways of obtaining French citizenship

  • by birth or adoption;
  • through naturalisation;
  • by marrying a French national;
  • by descent;
  • through studies;
  • for investments.

Citizenship by birth

A child automatically acquires French citizenship if he or she was born in France and at least one of his or her parents is a French national. A foreign child adopted by a French national also acquires French nationality.

If a child is born in France but his or her parents are foreigners with a residence permit of more than 1 year, he or she will obtain French nationality at the age of majority, provided that he or she has lived in France for at least 5 years, starting at the age of 11.

Citizenship by descent

If a foreigner was born outside France, but has close relatives living in this country, they also have the right to obtain French citizenship. In order to do so, they must prove their kinship by presenting a birth certificate. However, a foreigner is required to have been resident in France for at least 5 years.

The easiest way to obtain French citizenship by descent for minor children born abroad is when at least one parent is a French national.

Citizenship by naturalisation

A foreigner who has been legally resident in France for five years may apply for a French passport. In this case, permanent residency in the country is required. During this time, a foreigner must find a stable job, earn enough income to live in France and pay all the bills.

Naturalisation means becoming French. The immigrant will receive the same rights and social benefits as locals (voting, health insurance, pension).

What is important when naturalising:

  • to live in France legally for 5 years;
  • to have a valid residence permit or permanent residence permit;
  • to buy or rent a place to live in France;
  • to work within the country and pay taxes;
  • to have an income above the subsistence minimum;
  • to pass tests on French language (B1), history and culture:
  • to prove integration into French society.

Citizenship by marriage

French citizenship by marriage is granted to the spouses of French nationals if the family has been resident in France for at least four years. If the marriage is dissolved before that time, the migrant must leave the country or have another reason to stay.

If the spouses do not live in France, this period is extended to 5 years. They are also required to pass a test on the French language and culture.

French citizenship by education

French citizenship upon completion of the studies is awarded to foreign students who have studied at a French university for 5 years and have resided in the country for another 2 years continuously after graduation. In this case, employment will be considered an important plus when considering the application.

Citizenship for investment

Under the Passeport Talent programme, foreign investors must invest at least €300,000 in a French company, create jobs and maintain them for 4 years in order to become resident. Foreigners receive a residence permit for the investment for 4 years, which can be further extended, and after another year they can apply for French citizenship.

The same simplified scheme applies to businessmen who launch an innovative start-up in France and receive a French Tech Visa. Highly skilled professionals who sign a contract with a French employer with a salary of at least 37,300 euros per year also receive a 4-year residence permit.

N.B.: Unlike other categories of immigrants, investors and businessmen are not required to be constantly present in France during the five-year period in order to obtain French citizenship.

Paris street
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What is needed to obtain French citizenship

Conditions for obtaining French citizenship are standard for foreign citizens. You must prepare a full package of documents, pass French language and culture exams, prove financial solvency, own or rent real estate property, prove permanent residence in the country for 5 years and pay the state fee.

Required documents

Documents to apply for French citizenship:

  1. Written application for French citizenship with proper justification;
  2. A document confirming the grounds for granting citizenship: certificate of marriage to a French citizen, birth certificate, contract with a French company, diploma of graduation in the country, proof of investment in the economy, etc.;
  3. National passport;
  4. All foreign passports, including expired ones;
  5. 4 photos 35 by 45 mm in size;
  6. Permanent residence card proving legal residence in France;
  7. A bank statement proving the financial solvency of the applicant;
  8. Statements of no criminal record both in the home country and in France;
  9. A tax clearance certificate;
  10. A document of real estate ownership in the country or lease agreement;
  11. Certificates of passing exams on French language and culture;
  12. A medical certificate proving that the applicant does not suffer from a dangerous disease or illness.

The documents not issued in France must be translated and apostilled.

Exams to pass for obtaining citizenship

An important requirement for obtaining French nationality is passing the French language and culture exams.

  • French language test. You must pass level B1, which includes an oral interview and a written test.
  • Exam on the knowledge of French culture, history, geography and laws. A foreigner may be asked to name famous French people of today or sing the national anthem.

If an applicant for French citizenship fails the examinations, they may retake them an unlimited number of times.

At the same time, foreigners who have studied at a French university do not have to prove their knowledge of the language. Applicants over 70 years of age and refugees are also exempt from both examinations.

Where and how to apply

A foreigner must apply for French nationality at the prefecture at the place of residence in France. The application process starts after paying the state fee. The final decision concerning each immigrant is made by the Minister of Citizenship.

The applicant for a French passport may be invited to an interview at the police or prefecture. Officers from the police and prefecture may also visit him/her at their place of residence to check and ask questions.

If the decision is positive, the immigrant signs a certificate of naturalisation, swears allegiance to the French Republic and receives a French passport.

Cost and terms for acquiring French citizenship

It takes 18 months to process an application for French citizenship. If there are serious grounds for a more thorough examination of the application, the processing period may be extended to 2 years.

The fee for applying for a French passport is 155 euros. Minors, refugees and persons with disabilities are exempt from this fee.

Paris buildings
Zbynek Plinta / Shutterstock

Denial of citizenship

It is not uncommon for France to refuse citizenship applications. The important thing for a foreigner is to prepare a proper dossier, be fluent in French and prove that they are law-abiding.

Who will be refused French citizenship:

  • those who provided false information or forged documents;
  • applicants who failed the French language, history and culture tests;
  • people who cannot prove their financial independence (insufficient funds in a bank account);
  • members of the armed forces of foreign countries;
  • foreigners with an non-expunged criminal record in their home country;
  • illegal migrants who violated French law, immigration rules included;
  • persons suspected of committing a crime, terrorist activities or who are internationally wanted.

If the grounds for refusal are incomplete or incorrectly filled in documents, the applicant has the right to correct the mistakes and reapply. Failed examinations may be retaken an unlimited number of times.

What to do if the application is refused

If the applicant has been denied citizenship, they will receive an official letter stating the reasons for refusal. The applicant has the right to appeal against the decision of the French government to the Tribunal of First Instance at the place of their residence in France within a six-months period after receiving the letter.

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