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Settlement, Residence and Citizenship for Expats in France

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: December 2013

Citizens of most countries of the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland and their family members are free to live and work in France. If you are a citizen of any other country, you will also need a residence permit (carte de séjour) to stay in France long-term, that is, for more than 90 days. You will need to have obtained a long-stay visa from your home country’s local embassy. See the ‘Visas and Passports’ page for more details on obtaining a long-stay visa. If you are an EEA or Swiss citizen and want to set up a business, you will also need a residence permit.

You need to apply for a residence permit at the capital of the département in which you are resident. In rural areas, you may be able to apply through your town hall (mairie) instead. The residence permit will be issued to you within six months of applying. It remains valid for up to five years and is free.

A new system of registration is currently being set up throughout France. This means that, within three months of entering the country, you may need to register yourself as a resident in the town where you are living. Hence, it is wise to check whether registration is needed at your local mairie. To register, you need to take proof of identification and address to the town hall of the commune (district) where you are resident. You will then be granted a registration certificate. If you fail to register, you may be fined.

If you are an EEA (not Romanian or Bulgarian) or Swiss citizen, it is easy to obtain permanent residence in France: you just need prove that you have been living in France for at least five years. After this period, whether you are working or not, you are entitled to permanent residence. You must, however, be resident in France for more than six months each year.

In France, the language of business and everyday life is normally French. Around 30-40% of the French can speak English competently; fewer are able to speak German, Spanish, Arabic and Italian. Some French people (the Parisians are well-known for this) may suddenly fail to notice you if you speak to them in English or another foreign language. This is because they consider not speaking French to be rude – which is a little unaccommodating but understandable. Greeting people in French and at least making some effort to speak the language is much better etiquette, and should lead to locals reacting more warmly to you. For more information, see the ‘Languages for Expats in France’ page in the ‘Social and Cultural’ section of this website.

To help you settle into life in France, you may want to consider using the services of the local Accueil des Villes Françaises (AVF, ‘French Town Welcome’.) To check whether there is an AVF service in your town, visit this webpage:

https://avf.asso.fr/fr/welcome

Scroll to the bottom left of the page, where there is a drop-down menu to the right of ‘Sites régionaux et locaux’. The menu gives a list of AVF towns, listed in order of their département.

Tightened up under the right-wing Sarkozy government, French naturalisation laws are now being relaxed by the Socialist Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls. It is important to note that the rules given below may be subject to further change.

Other than by having a French parent or in some cases by being born in France, the main way by which an expat can become a French citizen is by naturalisation. This is a fairly simple process; the main requirement is that you have been resident in France for five years. Note that if you have what the French authorities regard to be a special talent, the naturalisation process may be significantly shorter.

It is to your advantage if you are working, in either in a permanent or temporary position. However, students can also become French citizens. You will have to pass a written French language test, unless you are a student or are over 60. If you fail, however, you will have another chance of proving your fluency in French by taking a viva.

 

 

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