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Becoming French, Part 5: The Waiting Game

Liberty Leading the People

Many of you have been asking whatever happened to my application for French-American dual citizenship after my last installment in December 2009. Well, it’s a long story…but with a happy ending!

If you’ve been following my dual French-American nationality adventures since March 2009, you’ll recall that last December I had my naturalization interview at the Préfecture de Police, and was assured that, barring any problems with the French criminal authorities, I should have my French citizenship by April 2010. My friends were already talking about the party, but I’ve been in this country long enough to know better.

In the spring I received a letter which had been written by the Minister of Immigration on the 21st of January, processed at the Préfecture de Police on the 8th of February, and finally delivered to me by registered mail five weeks later on the 18th of March.

Here is how it started:

« Madame, Vous avez formulé une demande en vue d’acquérir la nationalité française. Après examen de votre dossier de naturalisation, j’ai décidé, en application de l’article 49 du décret n°93.1362 du 30 décembre 1993, d’ajourner votre demande jusqu’à régularisation de votre situation fiscale. »

Basically, it says « Madame, You’ve asked for French nationality, and after looking at your application, I have decided, in applying some French law passed in 1993, to postpone your request until you get your taxes in order. »

Uh oh.

The rest of the letter went on to state that I had declared one amount in my 2008 French taxes under the box “total income”, but had written another (slightly larger) amount in my naturalization application, and therefore I needed to fix it. This was all a bit bewildering to me, as I thought I had filled out all of the paperwork correctly. It was the first year I did my own taxes because it seemed silly to pay my business accountant an extra fee to fill in three lines on the forms. Yep, three lines. Income, taxable  interest, and deductions for charitable contributions. How hard could it be?

I continued reading the letter.

They gave me six months to send them proof that the situation was in order (ie: new tax statements from the FISC) in order to continue with my naturalization process, or I would have to start my application over from the beginning. About two seconds after I finished reading that last part, I was out the door with the letter and my 2008 avis d’imposition.

Luckily, that particular March morning there was no one in line at my local tax offices. One of the agents asked me to have a seat. Not sure where to start, I gave him the letter I had just received, and then showed him my 2008 statements along with the necessary documents showing how I made my calculations.

He immediately pointed to the “total income” listed on the tax forms and asked, “Why is this €800 less than what you have declared on the other forms?” I pulled out the statements showing the €800 in taxes I already paid through AGESSA (the office that handles writers’ social charges in France), and showed it to him.

“Ah. Actually, we take that out, not you.” I can’t recall why I had removed the charges I had paid. I either read it somewhere, or someone who used to handle my taxes did it before and I just copied, or it was simply confusion because I had declared under a different format in the previous years. In any case, it had to be amended.

“So how do I fix it?” He pulled out a new 2008 tax form and said to simply rewrite the three lines with the correct amount, fill in my name and tax ID number, and he’d send it in. Fortunately, it didn’t make any difference at all in the amount of taxes I owed, so I didn’t have to pay anything. Unfortunately, the agent told me I probably wouldn’t get the new, corrected, avis d’imposition for at least two months. Which in France means three months.

In the meantime, he wrote me a little attestation attesting to the correction and that the official forms were en cours. He signed and stamped it with the official little tax seal, and made two copies for me. These would come in handy if my tax forms weren’t ready before the six month deadline (after all, French tax season was coming, things could get busy). He then handed back my letter from immigration and, giving it a meaningful glance, said “et bon courage pour la naturalisation.” I thanked him and returned home, the whole thing done in about ten minutes.

April passed. May passed. June passed. As soon as the busy French tax season was over, I stopped back into the tax office and picked up my new avis d’imposition, officially €800 wealthier. I immediately typed up my letter of apology to the French Minister of Immigration, explaining why there had been a discrepancy, and enclosing copies of the documents so they could see what I was referring to.

In any case, I doubt they thought I was actually trying to scam anyone, as all of the information had been provided to them from the start. They probably just thought I needed to buy a calculator. Or perhaps they figured they didn’t need another French tax dodger. Who knows?

I had a French friend look over my letter. He made a few corrections (but had me leave in a few errors that he found “cute” so that it wouldn’t look too perfect), and I sent it off on July 21, 2010. I should mention that on the back of the letter I had received in March was a note that basically said if I didn’t hear anything from their offices within two months after sending in the proper corrections to my application, that the answer to my application was “non”.

July passed. August passed. September passed. Technically, I should have heard something by September 21st. I decided to give them an extra month in case they were all gone for vacation in August. October 21st came and went. Friends said I should go down to the immigration offices again and try to get an appointment to see someone. I couldn’t bear the idea of a silent “non”, I wanted to be able to make my case to an actual human. So I planned on going down to the offices as soon as I had time.

Then on October 26 my wallet was stolen from my bag when I was at the Cojean Café in Printemps department store with tour clients (two families with little girls can be a bit distracting, to say the least). Inside that wallet was my ten-year carte de séjour, set to expire in September 2011. I sighed and thought about how long it would probably take me to go through the whole renewal process for my carte de séjour if I didn’t get my dual citizenship before then, and resigned myself to starting that process from scratch rather than fight for a French passport. Strikes over pension and retirement reforms were causing disruptions all month, as many of you recall, and I started questioning whether I really wanted to be a French citizen, anyway.

On October 30, I got another letter in the mail from immigration. It had been a difficult month for many reasons I won’t go into here, so perhaps I was in a bit of a bad mood because the first thing I thought when I saw it was, “Great, now I’m being deported.”

I opened the letter. This has got to be the best opening line I’ve ever read:

« Madame, J’ai le plaisir de vous faire savoir que vous êtes Française depuis le 14 octobre 2010. »

It didn’t say “I’m pleased to inform you that you now have French citizenship.” Nope. It said “I’m pleased to inform you that you’re French.” And since October 14! Let’s just say that I am so happy and relieved that I’m not going to make any snide remarks on how long it took for La Poste to send me that news (I think they, too, were on strike all month).

So there you have it, Mesdames et Messieurs. They said I will be receiving another letter within the next six months informing me of the date of my naturalization ceremony. This time, I don’t mind the wait so much. 🙂

* UPDATE: Bonjour, Je suis Française *

Heather at Naturalization

On January 13 I finally got to sing La Marseillaise and pose with Marianne in my beret for my French naturalization ceremony with about 40 other foreign nationals. It was actually a lot of fun and good-humored. The people who work at the Bureau of Immigration must be the friendliest bureaucrats in France! There were no oaths or solemn swearing of allegiance, only a few reminders about the fourth French Republican Value (after Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité): Laïcité. I also got a nice little form letter from President Sarkozy in my welcome package reminding me that, now that I’m French, I’d better follow the French laws. 😉

naturalization documents

Becoming French Part 1: Dual Citizenship?

Becoming French Part 2: Paperwork

Becoming French Part 3: More Paperwork

Becoming French Part 4: The Interview

27 Comments

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  • Such an inspiring and awesome story. What a mountain to climb. I'm thrilled to find out you're a hasher, too. On-on!

  • Thanks for your kind message, Daisy! Happy to meet up with you in person for a coffee if you want to talk shop about the naturalization process, it's worth the effort just for the ceremony where you get to sing, lol! Bises, Heather

  • Heather, What a wealth of (very boring and very very helpful) knowledge you are on French bureaucracy. I've just read all four installments (am obviously considering applying for citizenship after 12 yrs here) & your posts have been a gift summarising everything. Your wallet getting stolen just before becoming French doubled the pleasure of the letter announcing your 14 October change of nationality. ANYWAY, thank you so much for having written the whole horrible process up. I feel like I've had a pleasant visit with you. French paperwork is both horrible (from my point of view as I've not started it) and great as it make you prove how much we want to be here. I always celebrate my titre de sejours with a coffee in Place Dauphine.Do hope this finds you well, Daisy

  • Thank you so much for taking the time to post this. As a Canadian living in France, I can sincerely relate to the administrative "challenges" faced with respect to staying in this country. I just returned from a five hour "visit" with the prefecture, for the first renewal of my carte de sejour. The five year waiting period is reduced for bilingual Canadians and I look forward to applying for citizenship. I know the process may be stressful and complicated however posts like yours, make it clear that the dream is a real possibility. Thank you for sharing your trials, tribulations, as well as your triumphs. Felicitations!!

  • enjoyed your post. I too am looking for dual citizenship. Unfortuneately, I have not lived in France but plan to in the future. My mother is French citizen married to American. They were married in France. I hope I can still apply even though I have not lived in France. I will investigate. Thanks for your insite. Donna

  • Hi Heather, thanks for your reply, I hadn't seen it earlier… I am actually South African (and now have dual citizenship), but I'm unable to travel in Europe with a South African passport only and no carte de séjour. So, I'll just have to wait for the paperwork to come through before making any travel plans outside of France, but as you say, there's more than enough to keep us busy and entertained here, and it's a small price to pay given the effort (and privilege) of getting naturalised!!! I might have to wait a bit longer than you for the ceremony though, since I still haven't received a 'convocation', but here's hoping I'll be able to visit my family in SA by March next year 🙂

  • Hi Martine,You don't need a carte de séjour to travel abroad, just your original passport. Unless you gave it up to become French. Then you're stuck in France, bwah hah hah! Just kidding. I only had to wait a month until my citizenship ceremony from the time I got the letter. In the meantime, there are plenty of nice places around France to vacation while waiting for your new passport. 🙂

  • Hello Heather,I enjoyed reading about your citizenship application very much, and was able to identify with everything you had to go through.I am also fortunate enough to have received French citizenship – I was declared French less than a month ago! I also received the letter two weeks after it was written, so I suppose in this particular case the 'décalage' isn't due to La Poste being on strike!The problem is that my carte de séjour expires this week, and I won't be able to travel abroad until I receive my French ID / passport. No-one at the Préfecture can give me any idea on when exactly that will be (my 'instructeur' said I would receive a 'convocation' within 3 to 4 weeks of receiving the letter, whereas someone else at the Préfecture said it would be within the next few months…). May I ask how long after receiving the citizenship letter you received any form of formal proof of your citizenship?Thanks in advance for any help/advice!

  • Hi Cécile, I actually *have* a beret…and a baguette! (no Camembert today….maybe at the next Beaujo Soirée). 😉

  • Ha ha! Of course, you're right! I've been stuck in American 1930s and 60s modes with all these documents; clearly, bureaucracy has muddled up my modern-day mindset.Thank you so much for detailling your process in your blog. It's what inspired me to get moving on the same thing after 11 years here of "taxation without representation"! I imagine this will give new meaning to your visits to the Picpus cemetery! Bonne continuation and keep practicing La Marseillaise! "Marchons, marchons…"

  • Hi Julie, I only needed their birth certificates, not their marriage license (after all, people don't need to be married to have kids, do they?)Good luck!Heather

  • Congratulations! I am at my parents for Christmas and am working on getting the right kind of birth certificate so I can get that apostille.A question about the paperwork regarding parents: did you need their birth certificates AND marriage license or just one or the other? The Préfecture list says "soit….soit" but I've heard people say they needed both. Any idea?Merci!Julie

  • OMG this story is amazing and with a happy ending for once!!!! Congrats on your citizenship!! YAY! Please remember to pick up your all-black wardrobe, frowny-metro-face and burgundy passport on your way out of their offices 😉

  • Hello, Heather,Congratulations! What great news! Very happy that all your hard work and patience paid off! How are you going to celebrate.Hope that you are able to get back some of your things that were stolen. Hope that you are okay…

  • Felicitations! I'm jealous and inspired all at once! Hopefully you'll be hearing about my naturalization soon enough – although I haven't even gotten to the carte de sejour yet. At least I'm in France.You must be so relieved it's finished! Enjoy your celebrating!

  • Felicitations!You're an inspiration for those of us on the other side of the line…we're just counting toward getting our 10-year cards, but you give us hope that it CAN happen!

  • Félicitations! And thank you very much for detailing the process – you have inspired me to try it myself after living here for 20 years.

  • Congratulations! I was wondering what happened with your citizenship application and was going to ask you today when I saw you in the K & K chat during the podcast, but got pulled away by a phone call before I had the chance.I am so happy for you. What great news!