A guide to French citizenship and permanent residence
After living in France for five years – or less in some cases – you can apply for French citizenship or a French permanent residence.
If you want to live in France long term or even permanently, you may be eligible to apply for French permanent residence or French citizenship after five years of living in France, although this time is reduced in certain cases such as being married or parent to a French national.
Whether you choose French citizenship or French permanent residence, both options allow you to continue living in France long-term, although some important differences exist between the two that can help you decide which is the best option. Find out the conditions and what you need to know to apply for French citizenship or French permanent residency.
Brexit: is now the time to apply for French citizenship?
As France allows dual citizenship, British citizens who qualify can consider applying for French citizenship to maintain access to living in the Eureopean Union (EU). However, no changes will be made to the freedom of movement of British citizens to France until the UK's exit is negiotiated, estimated to take a minimum of two years.
Should you choose permanent residence or French citizenship?
A French permanent residence permit allows you to stay in France for 10 years and, as it’s renewable, theoretically you could live in France indefinitely with this status. However, while you may share many of the same rights as French citizens (eg. in education, at work, in healthcare), you don’t share them all, for example, you can’t vote in elections or hold public office.
If you opt to become a French citizen you also become a citizen of the European Union (EU), and would enjoy freedom of movement throughout EU member states. You don’t have to give up your own nationality if you become a French citizen: you can have dual citizenship.
In either case, a 'continuous' stay in France for a set number of years is typically a requirement. Your 'continuous' stay can be void if you leave France for more than six consecutive months out of a total of 10 months, although exceptions exist in certain cases so you should ask your local authority.
Permanent residence in France
Once you have lived in France for five continuous years you may apply for a carte de resident, which is a renewable permanent residence permit that allows you to live in France for up to 10 years. Whether or not you are granted this will depend on your personal circumstances, such as the reason for your continued stay, employment and financial stability, how well integrated you are into French society and your language ability.
You lose the right to permanent residence if you leave France for more than two consecutive years.
EU/EEA/Swiss citizens who have been resident in France for five or more continuous years have the option to apply for permanent residence without the need to prove income or employment.
EU/EEA/Swiss nationals are no longer obliged to hold this permit but without it they cannot qualify for state services, such as housing financial aid.
Non-EU/EEA/Swiss family members can also apply for permanent residence after five years, and if it’s granted will retain the permit even after divorce or the death of the EU spouse.
Exemptions for family members or partners
The five-year residency requirement is reduced to three years if you are joining a family member who already has permanent residence, or if you are the parent of child with French nationality with temporary residence. Anyone who meets the conditions of French citizenship via birth also has right to permanent residence.
If you are married to a French national for more than three years you can apply for permanent residence immediately, even if you have not lived in France during your marriage. If you have been married for less than three years, then you can apply after three years of holding a carte de séjour (residence permit).
Read more about the conditions and where to apply for foreigners acquiring French permanent residence.
How to apply for French permanent residence
You can apply for either French citizenship or permanent residence at your local French préfecture (town hall), which will provide you information on what documents you need according to your personal situation. These may include documents proving your residence, an employment contract, bank statements, birth or marriage certificates and medical certificate.
Depending on which conditions you meet, you can consider either French permanent residency or EU long-term residence, the latter providing additional benefits to moving around and living in other EU members states. Read the rights and differences (in French).
The application process costs EUR 260.
Becoming a French citizen
You can become a French citizen with all the accompanying rights (like voting in French elections) through either naturalisation, marriage or birth (whether born in France or born to a French parent while abroad). You must be over 18 and be living in France. You don’t have to give up your original nationality when you become a French citizen but can have dual nationality.
You can apply to become a naturalised French citizen if you have:
- have been living in France for five continuous years (less under certain circumstances, such as having studied in a French university, in which case it's two years);
- can prove that you have integrated into the French community by speaking French and having a knowledge of French culture and society and the rights and duties of French citizens.
If you are obtaining French citizenship through naturalisation or marriage, you must sign the Reception and Integration Contract (CAI). This form is valid for 12 months, after which you will be evaluated to see whether you have met the requirements of the CAI, for example, have become sufficiently proficient in French or taken a civics class.
The application costs EUR 55; see the procedure, where to apply and application form here (in French).
You can become a French citizen after four years of marriage to a French citizen, as long as:
- you are still married to each other;
- your spouse retains his/her French citizenship; and
- you can prove that you have a good knowledge of the French language.
The time requirement is increased to five years in certain cases, for example, if you cannot prove you have lived together continuously in France for at least three years since your wedding.
If you were married abroad, before acquiring citizenship your marriage must be registered in the French civl registry.
If you were born in France or to a French parent
Children born to foreign citizens on French soil can claim French citizenship on their 16th birthday and be granted full citizenship at 18 years old provided France has been their main residence for five consecutive years since the age of 11. Read the conditions.
An amendment to French law in 2015 also makes it possible for children to acquire French citizenship at 18 years old if they have lived in France since the age of six, attended a French school and have a sibling who obtained French citizenship.
If you are the foreign parent of a child aged at least 13 years old and resident in France since eight years old, you can claim French citizenship on their behalf in front of a magistrate. If one parent has French citizenship and has lived in France for more than five years, a minor can also be naturalised.
If you were not born in France but you were born to a French parent, you can apply for a demande de attribution at your town hall. A full list of required forms is found here.
Exceptions for French citizenship
You can apply immediately for French citizenship, without the five year waiting period, if:
- you have served in the French military;
- you qualify as a refugee;
- you have contributed 'exceptional services' to France;
- you come from a country where French is the official language and have attended a Francophone school for a minimum of five years.
If a foreign-born person is the child of a French parent, citizenship may be obtained as of right by making a petition for a French nationality certificate. You are not required to live in France to make this application.
How to apply for French citizenship
If you fulfill the above conditions, you can apply for citizenship at your local préfecture. To apply, you will need to submit a declaration request (demande d’acquisition par declaration) with copies of the following, if applicable to your situation:
- Two copies of the application form form, signed and dated;
- Copies of ID of both the applicant and spouse;
- Proof of address with your full name;
- Birth certificate (with certified translation if not in French);
- Marriage certificate obtained within the last three months;
- Attestation sur l'honneur des 2 époux, a document, which both spouses need to sign in person at the préfecture or consulate;
- Evidence of the relationship or married life such as birth certificates of the spouses’ children, a mortgage contract, joint tax notice, property deeds or shared bank account;
- Proof of the spouse being a French citizen at the time of marriage;
- Proof that the applicant has acquired a sufficient knowledge of the French language, such as a French language diploma or certificate.;
- Evidence that you don’t have a criminal record, for example, a criminal record certificate from your country of residence for the last 10 years;
- You may be asked to show proof of employment or financial support.
Your application will be assessed by the police, mayor’s office and various other governmental departments, and you may also be interviewed by the police, in a process which can take up to two years.
If successful, you will become a French citizen in a naturalisation ceremony, and given a French national ID card and a French passport. Any unmarried dependents automatically become French if they live with you and are included in the naturalisation decree.
For more information
- Service-Public – this website is for the French government's public services (in French), with information on how to acquire French nationality. To find the contact details of your local mairie (town hall) see here, and for other local departments and public services, see here.
- France Diplomatie – this webpage is the English version of the website for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for more information on visas and migration to France.
- OFII -– this is the English language version of the website for the L'office Francais de l'immigration et de l'intégration, the French agency in charge of migration. There are offices all over France; look on the website for contact details of your nearest one.
This article is for general information only and you should always seek advice from the French consulate if you have any queries about your particular circumstances.
Have a question? Post your question on Expatica's Ask the Expert service to see if we can help.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.