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How to apply for French citizenship

French flag at the Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Coming to France for me was one of life’s accidents. I needed a job and the job I got was as an accounting lecturer in an Ecole de Commerce in Normandy. I couldn’t speak a word of French when I arrived so I completely misunderstood the contract I was offered. It was a contrat de durée indéterminée, which I thought meant temporary. I was there for fifteen years. In hindsight, I think it was the best period of my working life. Another one of life’s accidents was Brexit. It made me and my wife decide to formally become French citizens. We started the process in the spring of 2018.

The paperwork for applying for French citizenship

People complain about bureaucracy in France but my advice is to forget that this country is the birthplace of René Descartes and shut down that part of your brain that deals with logic. Just do exactly what it is you’re asked to do. Provide every single document that’s asked for. Tick every box (with a cross, because this is France) and answer every question. You are dealing with a bureaucratic machine. Become a machine. A machine whose sole raison d’être is putting together a file of information.

You need to start with a form. It’s called the Demande d’acquisition de la nationalité française par naturalisation ou réintégration (Formulaire 12753) and it is available from a number of websites. I suggest https://www.demarches.interieur.gouv.fr/formulaires.

Form Filling

Now the fun can begin. Formulaire 12753 is a formal request to become French by naturalisation or if you want to reintegrate into France because you were formerly French and want to get your nationality back. Every person wanting to become French has to complete the form. The first bit is pretty easy. It just asks: where do you live and how can we get in touch with you? Then it asks: who are you and are you single, married, divorced, widowed, in a civil partnership or separated? Then you need to give information about your current and previous four marriages. (The form only has space for four marriages but if you were married more than four times you need to give information about these marriages as well.)

By this time the machine you have become is running like a dream. You hurtle through the names, dates and place of birth, nationality and current address of your parents and the first six of your siblings. You can see the finishing line by now, the place where you sign. First, though you have to give the names, gender, dates and place of birth (country and city this time) of the first nine of your living children. Oh, and don’t forget to add their current addresses. Before you sign, you have to tick a box (with a cross) to say you’re telling the truth. That’s it. It’s over.

And more form filling

Well no it isn’t because the signature box was NOT the end of the form. You have to fill in a section about your working life. In our case we went back to 1975 and listed every place we ever worked. After that we had to go back even further and list every place we’d ever lived.

This is the end of the form. Hurrah! Except that if any of the information you have given in the previous sections changes before you are accorded French nationality, there is a further section where you can list these changes.

Documents you need to become French

Is that it? You just fill out a form? Don’t be silly. You have to provide a number of documents. I have listed these in Appendix One. Sit down before you read this list. Make yourself comfortable and sip on something warm or alcoholic. Then ignore the list and look at it again after a few days.

The interview

The forms went off on 24th of April 2018. We received a letter dated 11th October 2018 saying that they’d got our file. After that a letter of 13th February 2019 asked for some additional information; a copy of the last property tax assessment, a copy of the 2017 income tax assessment and, because I’d retired, they wanted a letter giving the amount in Euros of the retirement pension I now received (from each pension provider). These details were sent off on 18th February 2019.  A letter dated14th March 2019 was a receipt for this information.

Then nothing happened until 26th September 2019. We were invited to an interview at the Prefecture of Calvados on Monday, 25th November 2019 at 11 o’clock precisely.  We had to bring proof of our address for the previous three months and the last property tax assessment. (If you don’t own property then you give a copy of the last receipt for your rent). They also wanted to see the original of my wife’s French degree certificate and our language certificates. The interview itself was in French and we were not allowed to bring a translator with us.

Integration, history and culture

We were each interviewed separately for one hour. It was on an individual basis, face-to-face with a civil servant. Our interviewer was in her late 20s. She went through a quite a rigorous process of trying to determine whether or not we had integrated into French society. This notion of integration is very important. You have got to prove that you understand what France is all about and that you know about French society, French history and that you respect French culture. We had to do quite a lot of research on French history starting around about the time that the Romans left. It was a bit like doing a kind of high school exam, not quite high a school graduation exam but one level down.

What happens during this interview?

This is my experience of the interview plus what my wife told me about her interview. In Appendix Two, I’ve given some information about the resources you can use to help you prepare.

So, what happens? You start off by talking about yourself, your life and employment history. You talk about the people around you, your friends and the places you have lived in France. Then there were some general questions about French history. In this case it was from the revolution onwards. What are the colours of the French flag and what do they mean? What is the notion of secularity in France? And, what are the symbols of France. I spoke about Marianne and the Eiffel Tower. Then there were some questions about French culture. The notion of culture in this interview is quite widely interpreted and encompasses popular culture. I spoke about the contemporary and classic French novels I’d read and the films I’d seen. Hint: don’t talk about James Bond or The Avengers.

A good plus point in an interview like this is to show that you have joined in a leisure activity in France. I had spent 10 years of Saturday mornings in an art class and I showed some examples of my work on my phone.

Official Response

Nothing happened until 1st February 2021 when a letter from the Mayor of our little commune said that because we’ve now acquired French nationality we will be listed on the electoral register. After that we got a letter dated 21st January from the Ministry of the Interior which confirmed that we’d been accorded French nationality and it happened, officially, on 19 January 2021. Evidence of this is listed in the Official Journal of the French Republic and we tracked this down on the relevant web page and saw that our names were listed there. We could then get (French) copies of our birth certificates and marriage certificate as the official proof that we needed to be able to apply for a French passport and identity card. The application for these went through very quickly. It was time to (formally) get out the Champagne.

Appendix One: Things to be added to Formulaire 12753.

It’s not easy working out what documents you need to attach to your application for French citizenship. The site Service-Public.fr has a very useful interactive questionnaire to help you work out what documents you need. The list below gives the most commonly requested documents. It is not, therefore, exhaustive.

Identifying you and your family

  • A copy of your current passport.
  • Two photographs, similar to the ones used for a passport.
  • The original of your birth certificate and a translation into French produced by an official translator.
  • The original of your marriage certificate plus a translation by an official translator.
  • Copies of the birth certificates of your children plus translations done by an official translator.
  • Copies of the birth certificates of your mother and father and their marriage certificate plus translations done by an official translator.

Where do you live?

  • If you own property in France, a photocopy of the document of title.
  • If you are renting property in France, a copy of the rental contract.

Financial status

  • A copy of your employment contract.
  • Copies of your last three payslips.
  • If you are retired copies, of the documents showing your pension entitlements.
  • Copies of your tax assessments for the last three tax years.
  • Proof that you have paid all your taxes for each of the last three years. For each year you will need a document known as a Bordereau de Situation Fiscal P237. You can order these on the French Tax Authorities website; https://impots.gouv.fr/, by sending them an email using their secure system. You have to provide a P237 for each of the last three years and for every tax that you have paid. For most people this will be for income tax, property tax and rates.
  • If you have any property rented out in a non-French country, the copy of the rental contract also with a translation by an official translator. I couldn’t see any mention of information required if you rent out property in France. This may be because you are required to supply your tax assessments. It would do no harm to have this information to hand.
  • A declaration of your wealth, this is a simple balance sheet giving current values in Euros of items such as property, shares, cash and borrowings.

French language competence

  • You need to provide a certificate of your competence in French. This may be a test du connaissance du français (TCF), delivered by France Éducation International or a certificate called a test d’évaluation du français (TEF), delivered by the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris (CCIP).
  • The minimum requirement is level B1 in oral and written French. This level means that you are able to communicate in day to day situations.
  • It used to be that people over 60 years old were exempt from the language competence requirement. From August 2020 the exemption for the over 60s has been removed.

 Other items

  • A €55 official stamp. This is called a timbre fiscal you can buy this online from https://timbres.impots.gouv.fr/ or https://www.service-public.fr/ or from a bureau de tabac.
  • A stamped, self-addressed envelope.
  • A lettre suivi of 500 grams (a stamped envelope which can be tracked in real time as it goes through the postal system). This must not show an address. You can get one from the post office.
  • If you’ve got a degree from a French university, a copy of the degree certificate. This is a plus point for immigration as it is further evidence of your assimilation into French society.

Appendix Two: Resources to help you study for the naturalisation interview

Livret du Citoyen: Probably the best resource is a book downloadable from the website of the Ministry of the Interior https://www.immigration.interieur.gouv.fr/ . The book is called the Livret du Citoyen. It illustrates the sort of things you need to know in order to be accorded French nationality. It is only 28 pages long. The interview questions are based on this document, so it’s worth studying it carefully. A summary of the contents is as follows:

  • The French Republic, its values and principles.
  • The rights and obligations of French citizens.
  • The way in which the government of France is organised.
  • Major events and important people in French history.
  • Well known people who have become French citizens in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • France’s place in the world.
  • The geography of France.
  • The declaration of human rights.

Other resources

L’Histoire de France pour les Nuls by Jean-Joseph Juland.

By Philip Cahill, a retired accounting academic living in Caen, Normandy. In 2020 he published his first novel ‘Noystria’. This is the definitive account of the relationship between humans and telepathic androids in 26th century France.

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