There are a few ways you can qualify for naturalization in France:
- Marrying a French citizen is the fastest way (you have to live together for at least four years, and be in good standing with French tax and immigration authorities).
- Another way is to receive a degree from a French university after spending at least two years in the country as a student.
- I know at least one American who joined the French Foreign Legion, which, if you survive the five year deployment to the front lines, gives you automatic French nationality.
- Finally, you can request naturalization if you can prove that you have lived in France legally for at least five years, which is the route I’m going. You have to prove you’ve been paying your taxes, that you have no criminal record, and that you have integrated into French society. I’m hoping that the fact that my ancestors immigrated to Philadelphia from Strasbourg in 1871 will push things in my favor. I’m just “coming back”. :)
So I stood in line at the Préfecture de Police and got the paperwork to fill out, accompanied with a long list of documents I need to provide.
I fill out an online form for Philadelphia and get a fresh copy of my birth certificate for $15. I then need to get it legalized with an “apostille”, through the State of Pennsylvania (they can’t do this at the Embassy in France), where I send the birth certificate and another $15 check (good thing I have a US bank account with checks still) and a form from the Department of State website that I’ve filled out. They need a SASE…I don’t have any US stamps. Sigh. Does France issue International Reply Coupons? Guess I’m going to La Poste to find out. Yep, they do, and it costs €1.30. Luckily I’m still in touch with my mom and dad. I need photocopies of both parents' birth certificates, which they scan and email, and I print out.
I also needed my “acte de divorce” proving my marital status, which I had to pick up at the Mairie where I was married in the 4th arrondissement of Paris (to an Englishman, BTW, so it doesn't help me with citizenship). Sometimes you can get this stuff online, but I had to stop by during certain hours. Since it’s in the center of Paris, that’s not a big deal. I went in, no line. Filled out a simple form with the dates and details. They went and found the document in their files, gave me two photocopies for free, and voila, two minutes in and out.
For the Impôts, I need my tax documents for the last three years. Luckily I’m still on good terms with my ex so he forwards me the scans he has for two of the three years I need. My accountant has the most recent one. I will have to provide the previous year’s complete tax declaration as well, and if I do this before May I can use 2007 instead of 2008 (which isn’t done yet, of course). The easiest part is getting the required “Bordereau de Situation Fiscale” for the past three years. I Google this and find that I need to ask my local Trésorie. I Google “Trésorie du 13eme” and get three numbers. I try the first. As it rings, I see by my watch that it’s 1:15pm and assume everyone is still at lunch, but by third ring a woman answers and I tell her I live in the 13th and need the “Bordereau de Situation Fiscale”. She asks my last name, and after I’m done spelling it she replies, “Heather?” and I confirm. She asks what I need it for and I say for Naturalization. She then asks if I’ve been at the same address for the past three years. Yes, for once! She replies that “good, it makes it a lot easier”. I can’t recall the last time I heard that in France. She confirms my mailing address and says she will send them to me. Et voila, two minutes on the phone. Oh, and before I hang up she asks, “For next time, could you tell me how to correctly pronounce your first name?” I tall her, she repeats (with a good accent) and I congratulate her, wish her a happy Monday. I’m so high when stuff like this happens I feel like I should go buy a lottery ticket (BTW, the documents come by mail within three days).
Other documents have been pretty straightforward: copies of my current carte de séjour (residency card); rent payment receipts and the latest electric bill to prove my address; and proof that I own my company (the k-bis document) and have been paying all the required business taxes. Piece of cake.
Oddly, the French paperwork has been free and easy to get, while the American papers require sending letters and checks in the mail (and I’m still waiting three weeks later for that apostille). Hmph. The one -- and probably the only -- victory of French bureaucracy over American.
Once I get that apostille from the US, I’ll send in my dossier and wait to get my interview date. I’ve read this can take up to two years. That gives me time to perfect my French accent.