How Americans can become French citizens

How Americans can become French citizens
Photos: AFP
The road US citizens must take towards French citizenship is a long and arduous one but still far from impossible. Here’s what you need to do.

If you’re an American who woke up wanting to become a French citizen as quickly as you can, chances are that won’t be possible. 

For starters, you would’ve had to have lived in France for five years already, be married to a French national or have close French heritage.

If you haven’t spent that much time in l’Héxagone or aren’t even in the country yet, start by reading this other article to find out what the stages that come before applying for French citizenship are.

If you’re an American retiree planning to gain French citizenship, you can also find information more specific to your case here.

If you have lived for five consecutive years in France, you’re married to a French national or have French lineage, read on!

Fortunately for US citizens, the possibility of holding dual American-French nationality is also an option. 

For Americans residing in France for five years who want French citizenship:

The good news is that you’ll be familiar with a lot of the paperwork and processes we’re going to list as you've probably already had to handle them during previous residency applications. 

First of all it’s important to define what ‘living in France’ is understood as being by French authorities. 

At this stage (or earlier in your residency) you may be asked to prove that you've lived in France uninterruptedly or for no less than six months per year. 

In order to get French citizenship through naturalization, you’ll need to prove this with the documents they require at your local prefecture. 

Although these may vary between town halls, they tend to include a valid residency permit, rental and work contracts, bank statements and other official documents sent to your French address. 

(Unfortunately there’s a load of other paperwork you’ll also have to provide with your application, listed below)

They want you to prove that France is “the centre of your material interests and family ties”, to quote the country’s public service website.

If you have had to leave France for a longer period of time than six months in a year, there are some exemptions relating to serious illness, maternity, military service, research or study.

READ ALSO: How Americans can find work in France

For US citizens who are married to French nationals:

If you’re an American who’s married to a French person, residency requirements to apply for French citizenship are slightly more lenient.

However, the first thing authorities will take into account is how long you two have been married, as you can’t apply for naturalization until you’ve been married for four years.

If that’s the case and you’ve lived in France for three years, you can go ahead and apply (there are documents specific to your case listed below). 

And if your nuptials are four years old but you’ve lived in France for fewer than three years, the timeframe will depend on whether your spouse was included on the consular registry or not, four or five years respectively. 

Other conditions include being a legal resident in France, actually living as a couple under the same roof and a number of other requirements listed further down. 

SEE ALSO: These are 'the best cities in France for growing old in'

For US citizens with French family ties: 

If you’re the parent or grandparent of a French national, you’re over the age of 65 and you’ve lived in France for over 25 years, you can apply for French nationality. 

Likewise if you are the American brother or sister of a person who has acquired French nationality or has it through birth, you may also apply. 

There are few citizenship requests of this sort from American applicants, and the conditions are rather complex, so visit France’s official site for more detailed information specific to your case. 

What if I don’t fit into any of those categories? Are there any exceptions?

US citizens who have successfully completed a diploma from a French higher education institution can apply for French citizenship after two years of residency. 

Other exceptions to the five-year rule include exceptional contributions to France, be it through sport, finance, military, science or civic services. 


American children born in France with parents from the US can also become French but not automatically – unless one of the parents is of French nationality.

But the children are also required to have lived in France for five years depending on how old they are and they also need to be living in France at the time they apply.

Parents can apply on behalf of their child aged between 13 and 16 of that child has lived in France since the age of 8 and is born here. For teenagers aged 16 they need to have lived in France from the age of 11.

Find out more on the rules here

There are also some very specific loopholes relating to not having French residency.

That’s if you’re engaged in a public or private professional activity on behalf of the French State or an organization that’s of particular interest to France’s economy or culture. 

Otherwise, there’s living in Monaco. 

It may seem bizarre but France actually allows residents of the principality to apply for French citizenship without time constraints, presumably under the guise that if you can afford to make the glitzy city-state on the French Riviera your home, you’re unlikely to be a burden to the French State.

So what other paperwork do I have to submit?

Brace yourself because there are a lot of documents to submit and applicants can wait up to two years for an answer. 

Bear in mind that the greater the attachment to France you seek the more scrutiny you're likely to face from French authorities.

French police, your town hall and numerous other governmental departments will assess your citizenship application, and there’s also the chance you’ll be called for an interview. 

Firstly, you will need to submit a declaration request (demande d’acquisition par declaration) with copies of the following documents if they apply to your situation:

– Two signed and dated copies of the French nationality application form

– Copies of ID of both the applicant and spouse

– Your birth certificate (with certified translation if not in French);

– Proof of your address with your full name on it

– A marriage certificate no older than three months

– A document of “declaration of honour”, called an attestation sur l’honneur des 2 époux, which you and your spouse need to sign in person at your local préfecture or consulate

– Extra proof of your life as married couple including birth certificates of your children, a mortgage contract, title deeds, a joint tax document, or a shared bank account.

– Proof of your spouse being a French citizen at the time of marriage

– Marriage certificates from any previous marriages and official divorce papers

– A criminal record certificate from your country of residence for the last ten years.

– Proof that you’ve resided in France for at least 3 years since your marriage (if you’ve lived abroad, a document proving you’ve resided in France for at least 3 years after your marriage or a document proving your spouse was registered in the French registry during your time abroad)

– Proof of employment or financial resources that show you won’t be a burden to the state.

Wow! Anything else?

One more important thing: you will need to prove your level of French through an official language certificate or in an interview, to be held in French of course.

Authorities will also assess how well integrated you are into French society and your knowledge of French culture. They make some exceptions for those over the age of 60 or who have a disability. 

For those applying for citizenship through marriage, French language requirements have been relaxed to a B1 level of the European Reference Framework for Languages. of the Council of Europe (CEFR).

And if all of the above goes according to plan?

If your citizenship application is approved you will become a French citizen in an official ceremony in which you’ll be handed a French national ID card and a French passport. 

That will mark the end of a tough and drawn out process but one which will allow you to live indefinitely in France, vote in French elections, move freely within the EU and even hold public office. 

And you don’t have to give up your American nationality either. 


by Alex Dunham

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