French Citizenship: Essential Guide For A Successful Application

Living in France holds a great deal of appeal for many people.

French cities are vibrant and multicultural, while the countryside towns and villages are more traditional and often idyllic, giving the ‘taste of France’ so often seen on TV.

There are many routes for you if you wish to live in France, making the country your new home – and eventually getting French citizenship.

Perhaps you want to settle down in the shadow of the beautiful Alps, explore or work in the cities of the Loire valley, or relax in the sun on the French Riviera.

No matter why you wish to live in France, we’re here to guide you through how to get French citizenship.

Benefits of French citizenship

French flags waving with the Eiffel Tower in the background

There are many great benefits to obtaining French citizenship. First and foremost, French citizens have the right to free movement around the EU and Schengen areas.

France also has one of the world’s strongest passports, allowing easy travel to 187 countries without a visa in advance.

French citizenship allows you to operate businesses in France or anywhere in the EU. You can also study at schools or universities in any country in the European Union.

In addition, access to Schengen countries provides you with access to the largest free movement agreement in the world.

By becoming a French citizen rather than a permanent resident, you gain voting rights, social benefits, and the right to transfer your status by inheritance.

French citizenship after Brexit 

For many British citizens, the loss of EU privileges after the UK left the European Union was a hard pill to swallow.

The worst blow was the lost right to free movement throughout the EU and Schengen agreement areas.

For this reason, many Brits now seek dual citizenship with EU countries to restore their access to the benefits of the European Union.

Does France allow dual citizenship?

The great news is that France does allow dual citizenship. Dual citizenship means that successful applicants can hold on to their existing passport and apply for a new French one.

Holding a French passport allows travel to 187 countries without an advance visa, including Japan, Australia, Canada, and the USA.

In combination with your existing passport, this can be a potent tool for those who need easy access to various countries.

For Americans wishing to secure a European base, this ability to wield dual passports is ideal, while British citizens can reclaim their rights to free movement following Brexit.

You don’t have to apply for dual nationality; you apply for French nationality and retain your previous passport.

When on French soil, you’ll be considered French, and you cannot invoke rights that your second nationality might otherwise provide.

Of course, it’s worth noting that not every country allows you to acquire dual citizenship.

Both American and British citizens can hold two passports. But other nations will force you to give up your native citizenship upon receiving another.

How to get French citizenship

To apply for French citizenship, you’ll need to stay in France for at least five years (more on that later in this article).

Leaving France for more than six consecutive months will potentially void your previous length of stay, so be aware of this restriction if you plan to go on any long overseas trips.

Ask the Prefecture (the local government authority) for guidance if you need to remain abroad for more than 6 months, as exceptions exist in some limited instances.

Applying for French citizenship can be a lengthy and paperwork-heavy process, but it’s worth the effort. Anyone who has been in the country for five years or more can apply, as long as they are 18 years old or more, with no criminal record.

French citizenship by descent 

Le droit du sang is the ability to claim French citizenship based on descent.

If one or both of your parents are French citizens, you have the right to apply for French citizenship. You will be required to submit paperwork that confirms the relationship and identity of yourself and the French parent. 

Please note that only relationships that existed when the applicant was a child are eligible for le droit du sang. That means children (even adults) who later discover their estranged parents were French can’t apply, as they didn’t know their parents as children.

Additionally, the parent must have retained their French citizenship at the child’s birth.  

French citizenship by birth

Children born on French soil become French citizens at the age of 18, even if their parents are non-French citizens.

This is provided that the family was living in France at the time of birth, and that since the age of 11, the child has lived in France continuously, with no gaps more than 6 months.

If they meet all these requirements, children can either ask for French citizenship from the age of 16, or wait to receive the status automatically at 18.

French citizenship by adoption

In French law, adoption grants a child the same rights as a legitimate child. Therefore, a French citizen choosing to adopt a child will pass the right to French citizenship by descent to that child.

French citizenship by marriage

If you marry a French citizen, you can apply for French citizenship after being married for 4 years or more.

If you live abroad, your French partner must be on the register of French citizens abroad, and the wedding must be on the French civil register.

If you live abroad with your spouse, the time frame for applications will extend to 5 years. This same time frame exists if you’re a couple living in France, if you can’t prove that you’ve lived continuously in the country.  

French citizenship by naturalization

If you’ve been resident in France for at least 5 years, without gaps of more than 6 months at a time, you can be a candidate for naturalization.

How to get citizenship of France faster

The five-year time frame can be considerably reduced for applicants who have either completed a two-year French higher education qualification or have contributed “significant services” to French society, such as military service.

Of course, this only reduces the time needed before you can apply; the consideration time can take as long again.

Does France have a citizenship by investment route?

There are many ways to get French citizenship, but sadly, France doesn’t have a direct Citizenship by Investment route.

Instead, it provides a pathway to citizenship thanks to the Talent Passport, which has a Business Investor category. This pathway allows residency for up to 4 years at a time, allowing you to renew once and qualify for naturalization after 5 years.

French residency permit for financially independent individuals 

France offers residence permits for financially independent people, granting them the right to live in France, travel around the EU, receive medical care, and access French universities.

This style of residence permit lasts for 12 months and can be renewed annually, up to 5 times. At this point, you’d be eligible to apply for French citizenship by naturalization.

To qualify for the financially independent residence permit, you must have a legal income (e.g. pension, dividends, royalties or rental income) above the minimum requirements, which was $18,655 in 2021. Evidence of this income must be submitted along with your application. 

You and each family member must be medically insured and can’t work in France. They must also reside there for a minimum of 183 days per annum. 

There is no requirement for speaking French to get residency via financially independent status. But if you plan to apply for permanent residency or citizenship, then you’d better begin learning soon!

Permanent residence or citizenship – which one to choose?

Paris’s famous Arc de Triomphe, viewed from underneath

A French permanent residence permit allows holders to remain in the country for 10 years, and it is renewable.

This ability to renew means, in theory, that you could stay in the country indefinitely with this permit type. You must be fluent in French to successfully apply for a permanent residency permit in France.

You can work and travel with a permanent residency permit. However, you can’t vote or hold public office, and you don’t have the same rights as French citizens (and other EU citizens) to freedom of movement across the EU and EEA.

That means you can travel freely around Europe, but you can’t stay longer than 90 days at any one time in any country other than France.

For this reason, many people opt to apply for French citizenship after meeting the 5 year residency requirement.

French citizenship requirements

So, by now, you’re probably wondering how to get French citizenship?

The truth is – the process does take time, and you’ll need to gather a large amount of paperwork.

While this can seem a monumental task, remember that you’re trying to provide evidence of who you are, what you bring to the country, and what you don’t (such as a criminal record).

You must create a dossier de naturalisation that is submitted with all the required supporting documentation. If you fail to include all the required paperwork, it will be rejected.

All the documents provided must be less than a year old, so there’s no point in submitting that birth certificate you’ve been holding onto for 20 years; instead, you need to apply (and usually pay) for a new copy.

All documents need to be translated into French, some of which must be done by a court-approved translator, while others do not.

Naturally, there’s a fee for this, and the documents are only valid for 3 months before needing to be renewed – We’re not sure why, but then we don’t make the rules!

List of required documents:

  • A recent copy of your birth certificate, with Apostille (Official certification). This certificate must be issued by the same authority that issued the original. The original won’t suffice – you need to request a new one and then have it officially translated into French.
  • Recent copies of both parents’ birth certificates, marriage certificates or death certificates. These must be translated into French as per all the other documents, but the translation no longer needs to be done by an official court translator. (Please note that you can’t request a copy of someone else’s birth certificate, so if your parents have passed away, you’ll be expected to provide a death certificate, which you can request).
  • A recent copy of your marriage certificate, if applicable.
  • A photocopy of both your and your partner’s passports or photo ID.
  • 2 x citizen request forms (Cerfa No. 12753*02 forms).
  • Evidence of your level of French fluency or proof you are taking lessons.
  • Proof of residency – Submit utility bills, such as gas, electric, broadband – the more, the better.
  • Proof of employment, salary, or independent income (If applicable).
  • Evidence of no criminal record, either in France (if resident there for 10 years+) or for your country of origin if resident in France for less than 10 years.
  • Two passport photographs with your full name and date of birth on the back.
  • A tax stamp to the value of €55. These can be purchased from most French tobacconists or purchased online. These must be submitted in a sealed envelope marked with your name.

If you have been married but since divorced, you must include ALL past marriage licences and divorce judgements in your dossier, and they must all be apostilled.

If you have any children who are still minors, whether they are coming with you or not, you must provide copies of all of their birth certificates.

You must obtain a form from your national police stating that you do not have a criminal record for your criminal record checks. This applies to any location where you spent 6 months or more, so this can be a lengthy process for the well-travelled.

British citizens can make this request online, while US citizens need to get their fingerprints taken by a certified authority and then have them sent to the FBI by mail.

If you’ve been living in France for 10 years or more, you only need to obtain this police confirmation from the French authorities. You can request a ‘Bulletin no. 3’ online.

Once you have all the documents in hand, you’re good to start the process.

The application process

The Schengen Visa, which some nationalities may require to enter France as a tourist.

The first step toward applying for French citizenship is identifying the route that best suits you.

For most, the path to becoming a French citizen lies in naturalization – which typically starts with getting temporary residency in France.

You will need to start by applying for an appropriate visa or entry permit. As a rule of thumb, apply to the French consulate where you live.

Depending on the agreements between your home nation and France, timescales may vary. For US citizens, these permits are generally issued in around two weeks, while most other countries must wait 2 months.

To apply for the visa, you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • The permit application form
  • Passport photographs
  • Evidence of financial guarantees that show you can support yourself during your residence.
  • Information on any ongoing or known medical issues that you may need treating while in France. 
  • Proof of address within France, such as a lease, property deed, or evidence from a citizen with whom you will be staying.

Next, go about your business for 5 years as a legal resident of France. This can be shortened to two years if you study in France.

You will be asked to sign a Reception and Integration Contract (CAI). This document is a requirement by the French Immigration agency to ensure that foreign nationals arriving in France will agree to assimilate into French society.

It’s valid for one year, after which you will be assessed to ensure you meet the terms of the CAI.

This includes being given a written and oral French test, which you’re expected to pass. If you cannot, you’ll need to take free classes to improve your language skills.

 You’ll also be expected to undergo civics training, ensuring you understand the French beliefs in equality of the sexes and fundamental liberties.

In addition, you’ll receive an information session to make sure you’ve got sufficient information about public services. Attendance for all these classes is mandatory but also free of charge.

When your 5 years of residency are over, you can go ahead and apply for citizenship. It’s a complicated process, and it is well worth seeking professional advice to help you navigate the path to becoming a French citizen. 

Language requirements 

The French language test must be taken at a government-approved center.

You’ll need to provide proof of your spoken and written language ability in the form of a recognized diploma from a recognized institute.

If you don’t already have a diploma from a French educational institute, you can instead take the faster and cheaper option of the test de connaiseance du francais, which is valid for 2 years and costs approximately €110.

You will be expected to be able to demonstrate French language skills at B1 level, which is an intermediate grade from the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Once completed, submit a photocopy of your test certificate in your dossier. Keep the original safe as you’ll be expected to present it at your interview with the prefecture. 

French citizenship vs other EU options 

So how does French citizenship measure up to other options in the EU? We’ve compared some of the most popular options according to our key criteria for an easier, faster citizenship journey.

CountryTimelineDual citizenship ok?Physical stayTax residency required?Language level
French citizenship5 yearsYes183 days per yearYesB1 French
Cyprus citizenship7 years (5 in some cases)Yes183 days, 365 in final yearYesEnglish only
Italian citizenship 10 years Yes183 days per yearYesB1 Italian
German citizenship6-8 yearsNo183 days per yearYesB1-B2 German
Portuguese citizenship5 yearsYes7 days per year with Golden VisaNoA2 Portuguese
Spanish citizenship10 yearsNo183 days per yearYesA2 Spanish
Irish citizenship5 years Yes183 days per yearYesEnglish only
Luxembourg citizenship5 yearsYes183 days per yearYesB1 French or Luxembourgish
Comparison of popular EU citizenship routes

FAQs: French citizenship

What level of French do you need for citizenship?

To apply for French citizenship, you need to attain B1 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Is getting French citizenship hard?

Compared to other countries in the EU, France has one of the more challenging citizenship routes. A lot of documentation is involved, and the language level required (B1) is relatively high, when compared to other options like Spain or Portugal (A2), or Ireland (English only). If you don’t have French ancestry or a French spouse, then you’ll have to acquire French citizenship through naturalization.

Can you buy French citizenship?

No. France doesn’t have a citizenship by investment program. However it’s possible to invest in the country for residency, via the Talent Passport. You can then apply for French citizenship after five years of residency, if you meet the language requirements.

Can I live in France after Brexit?

Yes, but you’ll need to apply for a residency permit (carte de séjour) if you want to stay for more than 90 days. You must have sufficient funds to support yourself, and meet various other requirements such as having private health insurance and an address in France.

What are the benefits of being a French citizen?

Being a French citizen allows you to live, work, study, and retire freely in France, as well as all the other countries in the EU and EEA. You can also vote and run for office in French elections.

Before you go…

Applying for French citizenship can be more complex than applying for Portuguese citizenship, for example. But it’s extremely rewarding for those who persevere.

The documentation process can seem especially daunting, but professional services will help you create your dossier de naturalisation and walk you through the entire process.

It’s worth noting that the authorities have a year to assess your dossier and make their decision. This process can get even longer if they need to ask questions or chase for additional documents.

Our list above is by no means exhaustive, but we hope it helps you see the possibility and the potential for becoming a French citizen.

Join the Digital Émigré newsletter for tips on making your big move.