Am I French or not?

This will give some of you here something to think about:

We decided to apply for french citizenship for my wife who is English, “just in case”. Our step by step process:

Phase 1: Being french myself would be something easy to do, except that we were married in South Africa and had to produce the original of our mariage certificate, have it apostilled and then have our mariage transcribed on to the registers at the French embassy in Johannesburg. Most of this could have been done more or less easily if we still lived in South Africa but left many years ago, so we had to depend on friends of friends who are still alive in the little village we were married, then with the help of the secretary at the french embassy who kindly sent her driver with our certificate to Pretoria to be apostilled (as you can only do that in person and wait in the enormous queue). That was solved. I took us about 6 months.

Phase 2: We filled in the application and gathered the enormous quantity of documents required to apply for Kate’s citizenship and sent the file away. Couple of months later we received the file back with a note saying that I had to prove that I am french ( helloooo!!) by supplying a “Certificat de Nationalité Française”, which I never had because I have always lived overseas till 9 years ago. So I had to apply for one, and for that:

Phase 3: I needed to go the “Tribunal de Grande Instance” in Alès to apply and had to produce (among many,many other documents) the birth and mariage certificates from both my parents and grand parents and at least one of those certificates must have the mention that they are french. So after months of research and being sent from one organisation to another I succeeded to gather all these document, but guess what… none of them had the mention of them being french. Here is where it gets complicated:

  • I was born in Vietnam
  • My mother was born in Vietnam
  • My grand-father (father side) was born in Algeria, where the french embassy’s documents were burned at the independence.

Oh là là…

So, I went to the tribunal with all my papers and explained that I have done my military service in Bordeaux, I suppose that they knew that I was french when they sent me my “convocation” where I lived in West Africa. I always had a french passport which was renewed in the various french embassies where I lived. My grand father (father side), served in the french army all his life and was “Général de Corps d’Armée”, fought at the Spanish border, then Dunkirk before being captured by the Germans and jailed for the rest of the war. Shouldn’t this be enough to make them and me french??? NON! the greffier at the tribunal said, but we would like to look into it because, as she said, it is a very unusual and interesting case, and she loves “digging” in special cases. Ouf!

I went back a couple of times to the tribunal to find out if there was any news about my application, the usual reply was, “it usually takes 2 months”, then, “it usually takes 3 month, and you know, with the summer holidays, it could take longer”.

Well, yesterday, I received a “convocation” from the tribunal to collect the results of my application, and… I AM FRENCH!!! Which means that for the past 72 years (yes that’s how old I am) I have been living and working all over the world, including France, without any nationality, a bit like a refugee in all those countries. Scary isn’t it?

So, Kate’s application is sent back to Montpellier with a photocopy of the only missing document, my certificate, and we will be waiting, perhaps another month or two to find out if all is complete, then maybe 2 to 5 years for Kate to have her french citizenship.

John (Jean, 'cause I’m french)


Phew! What a story! Please let us know when you guys are through the last hurdle!

1 Like

I certainly will, that will Phase 4 (hopefully the last!)

1 Like

Your perseverance is truly admirable. Good luck with the remainder of the process.
Seems to me that the bureaucracy here is getting worse rather than better. The recent renewal of my wife’s Carte de Sejour involved three 120km round trips to the Prefecture as opposed to doing it all through our village Mairie as was the case five years before.


That’s right Robert, just a few years back I could have had my “Certificat de Nationalité Française” just by going to my local Mairie, show my passport and boom, I would have come out with it, not anymore.



I have just submitted my app. Supplied extra documents requested, so am now sitting with everything crossed it will go through. I’m a Brit with thankfully no brothers or sisters, married only once and only one very grown up son. I thought mine was complicated but compared with yours it was simple.

Thank you for making me laugh this morning. I loved the bit about the tribunal to prove your “Frenchicity”


Jean and Kate, yours is indeed a captivating “case” and, like others who’ve commented, one can only admire your dogged determination to prove your through-and-through frenchness.

I sometimes think that some fonctionnaires enjoy the sense of importance and significance this kind of inquisition allows, a welcome variation on the soul-destroying paper-shuffling routine that perhaps characterises their daily grind, and for which their years of professional ‘formation’ has equipped them.

You’re making them very, very happy and fulfilled. Feel the glow of their appreciation for your colourful history :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

1 Like

To see the light at the end of the tunnel must be a glorious thing !!
I am about to embark on the process, (I’m English, he’s French, and hopefully won’t have to prove it !!). My parents are bringing their documents with them in a few weeks, and I need to compile all the other various docs. Thought it better to wait until the Rentrée !!

1 Like

@Claireinfrance Make sure that your husband has a valid french ID card or a “Certificat de Nationalité Française”, and you can start gathering all the documents required. I would suggest that you don’t wait for the “rentrée” because, funny enough, there seem to be someone there to check on the incoming applications. Good luck!


He does have a valid ID card, born and bred in the Béarn as were his parents - no oddities in his background !
Starting to get all the documents together, will send as soon as ready. One question, any tips on getting the certificate for speaking French ? The blurb says from "une autorité française " so could I just go to my Mairie and ask them to do one ? All suggestions gratefully received :blush:

Hi Claire,

As for the certificate for speaking French, I can’t give you a correct answer for that because Kate being over 60, she doesn’t need it, but I don’t think it is a Mairie thing here. I am sure someone here will pickup your question, otherwise contact Catharine Higginson, I think she has done some great home work on that a few months ago.



As a sworn translator in France, I am constantly amazed at the ridiculous documents people are asked for. When I applied for French nationality ten years ago, I only needed my Australian birth certificate + translation (I used THE SAME DOCUMENT - not a “less-than-3-month-old” version which is not necessary unless you are French despite what you may be told - for my first marriage, divorce and second marriage in France), my French divorce papers and second marriage certificate and my Australian and French diplomas. I also had to provide my children’s French birth certificates. I was later asked for my parents’ birth and marriage certificates but I simply wrote and said I was not able to obtain them. There was no French test. A police officer came to see me at my office after a few months and I then had to go to the police station a couple of months later to show the originals of my diplomas. The police officer had no idea what he was supposed to do so I explained that he just had to check that I could speak French and was integrated into the community. One year after I had applied, I received my French birth certificate.
A Nigerian lady recently needed 9 documents translated. Not only did she need birth and death certificates for her parents but also affidavits by her brother and uncle stating their birth dates!
So good luck!.


Thank you Rosemary for pointing out that they insist on having copies of all birth and marriage certificates which carry a date less than three months old! (This may sound sound ridiculous but it’s in case there has been a divorce in the meantime). And they insist on certified translations, also bearing a date less than three months old!.

Else where on this site, I have already posted this memorandum to all Prefectures and Consulates from the Ministry responsible for immigration. It is an internal document but is in the public domain, and having been though the process, I found that it does ease considerably what can be a difficult task by explaining how the procedure is intended to work (assuming of course that you already have a reasonable understanding of the language!).

Hi Bob, they may insist on it but if you can quote the legal texts, as I did, you don’t need copies of less than three months. This only applies to French birth certificates because they are annotated as you mentioned with divorces, deaths, etc. However, it does not apply to birth certificates in countries in which that is not the practice, like the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US. You can use a birth certificate that is more than 3 months old. That is what I did in all four cases (first marriage, divorce, second marriage and naturalisation). I have just checked the pdf (which I had already read - as I mentioned I am a sworn translator in France) and it says “de préférence de moins de trois mois” which means you just have to explain that you come from a country in which there are no annotations on your birth certificate, and do not need to submit a document dated less than 3 months for any of the birth certificates requested. It can reduce the expense considerably!