John Middleditch, 80, worked as an engineer and senior manager in the drinks industry in the UK before retiring to Vienne (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) with his French wife Anne in 2006.
While living in France he has been an active member of his local community, belonging to several groups including the local twinning association.
“As I was about to lose my right to vote in the UK, due to the 15-year rule (although this will change with the votes for life law) and in France due to Brexit, I decided to apply for naturalisation linked to my wife’s French nationality,” he said.
He was told that he had been granted French citizenship on April 28 this year.
Here, he explains the process, which he said took him about 18 months in all: “six months of preparation, including taking the French language test, then a year from the date of my application to receive notification that I had succeeded.”
Most readers living in France will already have dealt with French administration through impôt sur le revenu, permis de conduire and carte de séjour applications and be aware that l’administration française could be viewed as a blood sport where the public is the quarry.
Applying for naturalisation can be seen as a process involving several steps: planning, the French language test, collating a pile of documents in French, learning about French customs, culture and republican values, two interviews and a lot of waiting.
You should allow between 18 months and three years and a budget of €1000 for translation fees and so on. Your plan for the process should include a list of all documents that may be required, along with their delivery times, which can then be ordered with the longest delivery times at the top.
To this may be added the other texts (forms and instructions) and events (language test). The first event is to Google the naturalisation process in French and in English, which results in conflicting versions and explanations by people who have been through it. It is important to take note of the dates of each publication and use the most recent. From the conflicting versions a single version can be distilled which forms the basis of what is needed.
French language test
The longest dated event is likely to be taking the test de connaissance du français (TCF) which costs €110 and is in four parts – listening, reading, writing and speaking – with the first two having multiple choice questions. This is a practical test, not an academic one, so it is pointless learning the past historic or the subjunctive form of irregular verbs.
Much better is to go to the RFI and TV5 Monde websites and do all the examples. Much information about the TCF is out of date but these sites are the closest to what the test will be like. You might allow six weeks of daily training before the test then four to six weeks after the test before getting the result.
It should be noted that if you already have certification proving that you have at least B1 level French (a Delf B1 certificate for example) you do not have to do the test.
It is also possible to do a test d’évaluation du français, which is similar to the TCF.
Birth and marriage certificates
Of the documents required, the longest dated will probably be British birth and marriage certificates, and their translations, which will probably take six weeks to gather together.
They are obtainable from the UK General Register Office and, if you have a list, you can apply for them all at the same time. One benefit of using the GRO rather than local authorities is that all the documents will be in A4 format making them easy to copy and scan.
It is worth finding a sworn translator (traducteur assermenté) beforehand. The translator can live anywhere and it is worth shopping around since you will have a batch of documents which might result in a reduced price. The documents may be scanned and emailed to the translator who will stamp the English copy, translate and stamp the French translation and send a scanned copy to you for verification against the original, which you have kept.
If all are correct, you send payment to the translator who will post the translations to you. At the time of submitting the naturalisation application all these certificates must be less than three months old.
During these six weeks, the French partner can apply to the various mairies for authorised copies of events that took place in France: acte de naissance and acte de mariage, his/her parents’ acte de mariage and actes de naissance as well as those of your children born in France.
It is worth phoning the mairies before writing to ask for the documents: some charge, some want to know why you want them, some insist on a copy of your partner’s carte d’identité and some communes’ documents have been relocated with a communauté de communes.
Now is a good time to find the Livret de famille if you have one. For those married in a UK civil ceremony or with children born in the UK, the marriage and birth certificates were probably registered at the French consulate in London and a Livret de famille obtained.
Thereafter, copies of the certificates, in French, are available from the Service central d’état civil in Nantes. These French certificates are only transcriptions and, as they have not been translated by a traducteur assermenté, they are not valid as legal documents and must be translated officially.
Copies of further documentary proof
The photocopies of other documents such as the last five years’ avis d’imposition, proof of address and so on can also be done during this busy six week period not to mention completing the application form, which is straightforward.
Having checked that the pile of documents assembled corresponds with your original list and that they all conform to the date limits, they can be sent to your (usually local) préfecture as a registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt (lettre recommandée avec accusé de réception).
Preparing for the interview
It is likely to be many weeks, even months, before hearing anything from the préfecture which gives an opportunity to download the free booklet Le livret du citoyen.
This booklet covers French values and principles, organisation of government, history, names of well-known people who have become naturalised, a commentary about France’s place in Europe and the world, demographic and geographic information and, finally, La déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen de 1789.
The contents of this booklet must be learned and understood so that, when questioned at an interview, you will have no difficulty in explaining, for example, la devise de la France: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.
Providing any further documents as required
Having submitted a pile of documents and waited, you will probably be disappointed to receive a request from the préfecture for alternative or additional documents.
Actually, this is normal and excellent news because it means that your application is being processed and has not been rejected.
Get on and supply these documents and send them by registered post. After further waiting, and assuming that your top-up documents were as required, you will be notified by the préfecture of the date of your interview with the immigration officer and that the police or gendarmerie will be in touch with you.
You may also be told to take yet more documents with you when you go to the préfecture, for example, another five years’ worth of avis d’imposition.
A visit to the police
The main purpose of the visit to the police seems to be to verify that the documents, such as passports, that you sent as copies, correspond with the originals.
It is recommended that you take a copy of your whole file plus originals of any copied documents.
You may be asked questions about your private lives in order to establish that you are truly married and live together, i.e. it is not simply a mariage blanc (a marriage of convenience carried out for citizenship).
It would be a good idea for each partner – you are interviewed together – to know the family history of the other partner. Even if you cannot remember all the dates, at least you should know the names and approximate ages of siblings, where they live and their occupations. The police will send their report to the préfecture before you are interviewed there.
The prefecture interview
The interview at the préfecture needs preparation, copies of the latest documents requested and a copy of the file used for the application.
In terms of style, this is not a time for cleverness or levity - at least, not on the part of the applicant. You are likely to be asked again some of the questions put by the police, especially those testing whether you are truly married.
Questions relating directly to the livret du citoyen may be supplemented by others testing your knowledge of French values and culture. An understanding of laïcité is important.
Although partners are interviewed together, the French partner will not be allowed to answer on behalf of the foreign applicant.
It is helpful if the applicant can demonstrate that they are or have been useful to French society, for example by being a member of a French association, especially one with charitable aims. In a similar vein, partners may be asked what social activities they share. It all comes down to demonstrating that the applicant is integrated into French society and shares its values.
Finding out if your application has been successful
It is unlikely that you will leave the interview with a clear view of whether your application will succeed. The next step is that the application will be sent to the interior ministry together with a recommendation from the préfet and you may wait for several months before knowing the outcome.
A favourable decision will probably be in the form of a simple email from Service central d’état civil du ministère des affaires étrangères et du développement international (Nantes) saying that you have acquired French nationality, advising you of a code and inviting you to use a specific website to apply for a French birth certificate.
This birth certificate will give details copied from the original British one, in French, and, crucially, a statement that you are French.
It takes two to four weeks for you to receive notification that the birth certificate is available for downloading. It is a document which will be used for obtaining a carte nationale d’identité (free) and a French passport (modest fee) if you so desire.
Applications for those documents are made to a mairie of your choice that offers this service. You will have to present yourself twice: once to make the application and again to collect the card/passport.
Mr Middleditch told The Connexion that he felt “a certain amount of relief” when he found that his application had been approved, and that he will definitely be voting in the upcoming legislative elections on June 12 and June 19.
“Upon hearing the news about my French nationality, I was proud to have completed the exercise and proud to become French,” he said.
“I have no intention of renouncing my British nationality; I simply consider that I have moved from phase one of my life to phase two.”