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Becoming French, Part 2: Naturalization Paperwork

Liberty Leading the People

After 13 years of living in France, paying French taxes, and opening a French company, I’m ready for my French passport. Not surprisingly, there’s quite a bit of paperwork involved…

There are a few ways you can qualify for naturalization in France:

  • Marrying a French citizen is the fastest way (you have to live together for at least four years, and be in good standing with French tax and immigration authorities).
  • Another way is to receive a degree from a French university after spending at least two years in the country as a student.
  • I know at least one American who joined the French Foreign Legion, which, if you survive the five year deployment to the front lines, gives you automatic French nationality.
  • Finally, you can request naturalization if you can prove that you have lived in France legally for at least five years, which is the route I’m going. You have to prove you’ve been paying your taxes, that you have no criminal record, and that you have integrated into French society. I’m hoping that the fact that my ancestors immigrated to Philadelphia from Strasbourg in 1871 will push things in my favor. I’m just “coming back”. 🙂

So I stood in line at the Préfecture de Police and got the paperwork to fill out, accompanied with a long list of documents I need to provide.

I fill out an online form for Philadelphia and get a fresh copy of my birth certificate for $15. I then need to get it legalized with an “apostille”, through the State of Pennsylvania (they can’t do this at the Embassy in France), where I send the birth certificate and another $15 check (good thing I have a US bank account with checks still) and a form from the Department of State website that I’ve filled out. They need a SASE (that’s “self-adressed-stamped-envelope” for the younguns)…I don’t have any US stamps. Sigh. Does France issue International Reply Coupons? Guess I’m going to La Poste to find out. Yep, they do, and it costs €1.30. Luckily I’m still in touch with my mom and dad. I need photocopies of both parents’ birth certificates, which they scan and email, and I print out.

I also needed my “acte de divorce” proving my marital status, which I had to pick up at the Mairie where I was married in the 4th arrondissement of Paris (to an Englishman, BTW, so it doesn’t help me with citizenship). Sometimes you can get this stuff online, but I had to stop by during certain hours. Since it’s in the center of Paris, that’s not a big deal. I went in, no line. Filled out a simple form with the dates and details. They went and found the document in their files, gave me two photocopies for free, and voila, two minutes in and out.

For the Impôts, I need my tax documents for the last three years. Luckily I’m still on good terms with my ex so he forwards me the scans he has for two of the three years I need. My accountant has the most recent one. I will have to provide the previous year’s complete tax declaration as well, and if I do this before May I can use 2007 instead of 2008 (which isn’t done yet, of course). The easiest part is getting the required “Bordereau de Situation Fiscale” for the past three years. I Google this and find that I need to ask my local Trésorie.

I Google “Trésorie du 13eme” and get three numbers. I try the first. As it rings, I see by my watch that it’s 1:15pm and assume everyone is still at lunch, but by the third ring a woman answers and I tell her I live in the 13th and need the “Bordereau de Situation Fiscale”. She asks my last name, and after I’m done spelling it she replies, “Heather?” and I confirm. She asks what I need it for and I say for Naturalization. She then asks if I’ve been at the same address for the past three years. Yes, for once! She replies “good, it makes it a lot easier”. I can’t recall the last time I heard that in France. She confirms my mailing address and says she will send them to me. Et voila, two minutes on the phone. Oh, and before I hang up she asks, “For next time, could you tell me how to correctly pronounce your first name?” I tell her, she repeats (with a good accent) and I congratulate her, wish her a happy Monday. I’m so high when stuff like this happens I feel like I should go buy a lottery ticket (FYI, the documents arrive in my mail box three days later).

Other documents have been pretty straightforward: copies of my current carte de séjour (residency card); rent payment receipts and the latest electric bill to prove my address; and proof that I own my company (the k-bis document) and have been paying all the required business taxes. Piece of cake.

Oddly, the French paperwork has been free and easy to get, while the American papers require sending letters and checks in the mail (and I’m still waiting three weeks later for that apostille). Hmph. The one — and probably the only — victory of French bureaucracy over American.

Once I get that apostille from the US, I’ll send in my dossier and wait to get my interview date. I’ve read this can take up to two years. That gives me time to perfect my French accent.

Go here for Becoming French, Part 3: More Paperwork, S’il Vous Plaît!

Back to Becoming French, Part 1: The Question of Dual Citizenship


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  • Hello Heather! I have a question for you regarding birth certificate. As I understand (and I have also checked out the prefecture website and used their tool to find out what items I would be needing for my case), that birth certificates have to be recent (not stated on the site but it's a given fact rite lol). But my question is whether is it the same case for that of our parents, namely that theirs should also be recent copies? Because in their "NOTICE EXPLICATIVE DE LA LISTE DES PIÈCES À FOURNIR" it is explained that parents' documents are only used to prove affiliation and thus need not be original/legalized/etc. So yeah… Thank you in advance!

  • Hello Saravanan, I'm sorry but I don't have the answer to this question, you'll need to contact the French consulate or Embassy closest to your current residence and ask them. As far as I know you can't do anything without birth certificates, but they may have another option for you if she has passed away. Best of luck!

  • My mother had french nationality at the time of my birth(1987) and she died after 3 years(1990). I don't have any documents regarding my mother birth or nationality. My grand parents(mother side)have nationality living in Pondicherry but we are not close. How to claim my french nationality without my grand parents help and where do I get the documents of mother nationality. I am now 28 years, married and have a daughter. Any reply would be great.Thanks in advance.

  • Hi Cindy,- Apostille just for your own BC (and once you have the apostille, it will need to be translated WITH the BC, costs about €80 from the official translators in Paris)- The BC/apostille must be translated…I didn’t have any other documents in English but my parents’ BCs, so wouldn’t know (but I assume YES, all docs need translation)- No idea, as I didn’t have to do this.If you’re not in a rush, try without the translations and they’ll just send it back and ask you to redo it. Good luck!Heather

  • Thanks for answering a lot of questions I had as I am pulling together my "dossier". I do have a couple of questions:- is the only document requiring an apostille the birth certificate (the woman who gave me the list of documents wrote "Apostille" above the entire section of documents like parents’ birth certificates but I’m not sure if she referred only to the birth certificate or everything else)- I have seen conflicting information on the internet about what needs to be translated – could you clarify that point (on French embassy websites it appears that documents in English might not need official translation…)- As I have only been here 9 years, I need the casier judiciaire and while the FBI has a form you can download and do your own fingerprints (although they strongly recommend using a fingerprint technician), they rejected what I sent them as illegible (I guess the inkpad I bought at the local papeterie wasn’t the solution). I was planning to just go to the police station next to my work – perhaps they will do it if no official stamp is required…Thanks

  • Starman: Marrying an EU citizen doesn’t grant me automatic citizenship, it only grants me the Carte de Séjour (like a Green Card), which allows me to live here legally (as I do), but not to vote.

  • If you were married to an Englishman, doesn’t that make you an EU citizen, and therefore you can live in France legally?

  • This is a fascinating topic, Heather! Thanks for taking us along for the ride.I wonder what the French will think when I supply my mother’s birth certificate from Roswell, New Mexico, and they find I’m descended from aliens . . .

  • Did anyone mention that if you were born in what was the Louisiana Purchase (French territory) it is easier to become a French citizen. I faintly remember something about this from a college class years ago.

  • YIKES YIKES YIKES is all I can think of to say..but if you’ve managed to live/survive here for 10 years the rest should be a piece of cake relatively.All the best,Carolg

  • Good luck! I hope it goes smoothly for you. So far I’ve had my interview and the Gendarmes have come to the house to make sure I’m not a criminal. I have another long year of waiting.I’ll look forward to reading about your progress.

  • Hi Julie,Yes, the parents’ birth certificates are required. You can usually request these yourself from their state of birth registrar office. Heather

  • Thanks so much for this information! I have been in Paris for ten years and, like you, am tired of "taxation without representation." My list of things to do is something like this: "laundry, shopping, citizenship papers, epilation…" and somehow it gets lost in the shuffle. I can put together everything it takes for the dossier (thanks for the tip on U.S. stamps which I buy on my next trip) but…parents’ birth certificates? Were they actually required? Thanks for your reply.

  • Lucky you!! I forgot that you’ve been here for so long. That will definitely work in your favor though – at least in my department, they told me that people who’d been here for more than 10yrs were fast-tracked and their applications got processed first, ie. within 12 months, whereas the rest of us had to wait around 2 years.

  • Thanks for the input Samantha!For #3 I forgot to mention that you only need your "casier justiciaire" (or FBI report) from countries you’ve been living in for the last ten years, so since I’ve been in France for longer than that, I don’t need it.

  • I’ve got a couple comments on this:1) The two years of higher education has to be a masters (undergrad years don’t count).2) One important thing to note is that if you’re married, you apply for citizenship at the Tribunal. If you’re not married, you apply at the préfecture.3) Don’t forget to include the criminal report from the FBI in your list – that was the hardest thing for me to get because I couldn’t find anyone in France to fingerprint me – they all said that no matter what ID I showed them, I still couldn’t prove I was really who I said I was!!4) And last but not least, you might want to put a disclaimer on all of this saying that this is for your particular préfecture in Paris. As silly as it sounds, the citizenship application process differs from region to region, as does the list of necessary documents. I applied for citizenship last year and so did a few friends of mine, and none of us needed the same things. For example, I also needed certified copies of my parents’ marriage certificates, copies of all of my diplomas, copies of every single work contract I’ve ever held in France, copies of pay stubs from the last 3 Decembers, etc. I also had to write a lettre de motivation as to why I wanted to be a French citizen and I had to provide proof of my efforts to learn French. Like you mentioned though, none of it was particularly hard to get, it was just a time consuming process!I’ll be crossing my fingers for you – all of us got our convocation for the police interview about 2 months after turning the completed dossier in. But then again, that was in "province" – things may take a bit longer in Paris!