Now that we’ve lived in France in a “habitual and continuous manner for five years” it’s possible to apply for citizenship. That time requirement can vary, for example, if you got your university degree here, or have a French sibling, spouse, or parent/grandparent/great grandparent but in my case it will be a Demande de naturalisation par décret (Request for naturalization by decree). That just means that I have to be integrated into the community, have a sufficient knowledge of the language, history, culture and society, as well as the rights and duties conferred by French nationality and adhere to the principles and values of the Republic. Whew, sounds like a tall order so I’d better get started!
Actually, if you’ve been reading the blog recently you’ll know that the preparations have been underway for some time. The language requirement (B1 to be one) was taken care of in March and two weeks ago we received our 10-year residency cards (Five to ten) which means we can legally stay here while my naturalization request is being processed. Bill wants to get better prepared to tackle the language test so this decade-long card should give him plenty of time as well. Although there are national guidelines regarding what documents to submit depending upon your situation (https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/N111), each office that does the processing can have their own list. In my case it’s the Préfecture in Montpellier and below is what they have requested, in this specific order, along with some of my observations:
- Application form Cerfa n°12753*03 https://www.formulaires.service-public.fr/gf/cerfa_12753.do 2 originals. This is a fillable pdf but some of the fields did not fill in correctly. We downloaded a free pdf editor and used text boxes to make it work. The list of required documents said to include 2 originals of this completed form. On the form itself, including at the top of page 1, it says to submit 2 copies of each page. We printed 4 originals of each page and I signed 4 times on the appropriate line.
- A tax stamp for 55 euros downloaded from within my account with the French tax authority. This is valid for 12 months and can be refunded up to 18 months after purchase. If my final interview is in 2 years, for example, I may need to pay for a new, valid stamp and forfeit the initial 55 euros.
- 2 ID photos conforming to these government standards https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F10619 We took and printed these at home since they are the same as we needed to renew our residence cards for each of the last 5 years. Although the application form has a spot to adhere a photo, we put my 2 photos in an envelope and placed them in the order indicated with the other documents.
- 1 large stamped trackable envelope valid for a weight equal to or greater than that of all your documents. This is used to return all of your application documents to you should you forget to include an item that has been requested on the processing office’s list. The post office, locally and online, is indefinitely out of stock of these envelopes but they have a stiff cardboard sleeve version that I bought. It was hard to fold and I included a printout from the post office website showing the out of stock status.
- 3 regular size self-addressed stamped envelopes. These can be used to contact you regarding the status of your application.
- An original of your birth certificate with an apostille attached from your birth state’s Secretary of State, both translated by a French court-appointed translator from this list: https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F10619 I followed a recommendation from the Facebook group “Applying for French Nationality” and paid an average price of 33€ per page.
- A photocopy of my parent’s wedding certificate (no apostille required) translated.
- Passport photocopies of the identity pages plus all pages with entrance/exit stamps.
- Photocopy of my 10-year residence card
- An original of our wedding certificate with an apostille from the Secretary of State attached, both translated as above for my birth certificate.
- An original, with translation, of my FBI Identity History Summary that can be arranged at this site https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/identity-history-summary-checks The cost was $18 by credit card and you had to mail a full set of your fingerprints (I sent 2 sets, just in case they couldn’t read the first set). The fingerprint form plus directions for legible prints can be found at the website above. We ordered fingerprint ink pads from Amazon and watched videos on how to take fingerprints on YouTube. Within 2 weeks I received an email from the FBI with the 1-page summary and a week later the same report came in the mail. Since the mailed original is identical to what I printed from the email, I kept the envelope it came in to prove that it had been mailed to me. (See the update at the bottom of this page.)
- Proof of a French language level of at least B1. Although the school where I took the DELF language exam says that the Préfecture will accept the signed Attestation de Réussite (Certificate of Achievement) I picked up from the testing center about 8 weeks after the exam, I will ask for the diploma to take with me to the interview.
- Photocopies of both Bill’s and my 10-year residence cards
- Pension benefit verification letters, translated, plus the most recent pay stub. These can be printed from your Social Security account, for example, but I also included the most recent bank statement showing the direct deposit.
- A Tax Status Statement (bordereau de situation fiscale, modèle P. 237) to be requested online from the French tax authority showing that you owe no taxes. This was emailed to me in less than 24 hours by following these directions: https://www.impots.gouv.fr/portail/particulier/questions/jai-besoin-dun-bordereau-de-situation-fiscale-comment-lobtenir
- Tax notices (Les avis d’imposition) for the last 3 years printed from my French tax account.
- Photocopy of the “Certificate of Home Ownership” (l’attestation de propriété délivrée) issued by the attorney (le notaire) who handled the closing.
A few general tips:
- On the application form you must show the dates and addresses for every job that you have ever held and every place where you have ever lived. Luckily, or worryingly, I simply Googled my name and most of those addresses were quickly revealed. With that to jog my memory I assembled the list of jobs to match.
- Yearly tax and bank records are a common request for immigration purposes. These are typically available online from the appropriate authorities; however, having your own pdf copies stored on your computer will ensure that these are always accessible to you.
- US vital records (certificates of birth, marriage, etc.) can often be ordered through third-party vendors at an extra cost but we chose to deal directly with the issuing agencies. That required sending self-addressed US stamped envelopes from France to the various state health departments in America. Via the US Postal Service website we ordered airmail stamps to be delivered to my brother’s US address and he and his wife kindly forwarded those to us.
- We assembled all of my documents in the exact order requested and divided the sections outlined on the “Documents to be Provided” list ( Basic, Civil Status, Income, etc.) with colored paper wrapped around each section. Bill printed a colored stripe down the center of white sheets of paper that we then folded as seen in the photo above. Many people have said to avoid paperclips, sheet protectors, notebooks or anything else that would impede the quick handling of your file.
- You do not give up your US citizenship to become French. I will eventually have passports for both countries.
So what’s next? The day after mailing my application the post office website showed that it had been delivered and a week later I received the return-receipt-requested postcard saying that my packet of papers had been received by the Préfecture in Montpellier. Perhaps 2 months or so later a letter, an email, or a phone call acknowledging that my application is complete, that it has been accepted and that two interviews (one with the police and one with immigration) will be set up for me to show that I meet all of those criteria (integration, knowledge, respect, etc.) mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog post. That could be 2 years from now, but I’ll remain optimistic. With 100,000 people each year becoming French, I can understand the wait. It will be worth it.
Update: My entire application package was returned to me 3 months after it was received by the immigration office in Montpellier asking for the original of my FBI Identity History Summary. The following day I returned the package to them with an “on my honor” hand-written letter (Attestation sur l’honneur) saying that the summary that I had originally sent was indeed the original and had been printed on American-size letter paper, not the European-size A4 and this time I sent them the original brown envelope in which the summary had been sent to me. Here is a link to the French government site that will generate this type of letter automatically: https://www.service-public.fr/simulateur/calcul/AttestationHonneur. Although the Montpellier office does not require it, I might have saved this turn-around time if I had initially had the Summary apostilled by the US Department of State.