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I was born in the United States, but also have French citizenship by birth as my parents are both French. I would like to spend more than 90 days visiting France and maybe other countries in the Schengen area.

Can I do this, even though I only have a US passport and I don't have any sort of French ID at the moment, or would I have to first obtain a French passport?

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    If your parents didn't register your birth to the French civil register, you must petition for a French nationality certificate from the French Nationality Office in Paris if you reside outside of France (which I assume from the wording of your question). Only then are you eligable to recieve a French ID/Passport and to be treated as an EU citizen. Sep 11 at 12:39
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    Note that you do not need a French passport for this. An ID card would be cheaper and more convenient to carry. It will cover entry and stay anywhere in the EU, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland and for anything else, your US passport should do.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 12 at 7:33
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    Being entitled to French citizenship, and actually having French citizenship, are not the same thing. Sep 13 at 3:12
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    Yes, are you actually a French citizen or do you just have the right to ask to become one? I was born in Greece to a Greek mother and American father. I was a US citizen all of my childhood which was spent in Greece, and I had to have a residence permit to reside there. In my 20ies I asked for and received my Greek citizenship, but I had to actively do this, despite having both a jus sanguinis and a jus soli right to that citizenship. You don't magically become a citizen just because you have reason to think you would be granted citizenship if you ask for it.
    – terdon
    Sep 13 at 14:41
  • At least in the US, there is also a distinction between being a citizen and having valid proof of that citizenship. As I understand, a birth certificate is not sufficient proof for the children of a US citizen born outside the US. You need to request a citizenship certificate.
    – chepner
    Sep 14 at 13:25

4 Answers 4

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Regardless of the legality it will be infinitely easier for you to travel if you have a French passport. I suggest contacting your local consulate with whatever documentation you have (birth certificate of your and preferably proof of citizenship of your parents).

You can certainly enter France with a US passport and try to sort it out locally while you are in France. Just make sure you carry all documentation that you may need.

Provided you meet all the criteria to be a French citizen, it's probably not illegal for you to stay for more than 90 days, but if you get checked after 90 days with only your US passport, you will have a LOT of explaining to do. Passport checks at Schengen borders are rare but they do happen occasionally and you will have to show it when you leave Schengen. Hotels may also want to see your passport when you check in.

Recommendation: sort it your before you travel.

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  • I'd bold the recommendation. The OP is likely to need to receive papers from a certain number of administrations, which will require a stable address to receive them. Much easier for that address to be the OP's home address than a random hotel address; the OP doesn't want to end up in a position where they have to ask the administration to switch the address to send to because they are traveling. Sep 12 at 9:19
  • @jcaron There's no central, EU-wide records, sure, I'm pretty sure some EU countries at least have digital records of your entry and exit internally.
    – ave
    Sep 12 at 17:08
  • @ave too lazy to check but I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually weren’t allowed to. And of course without internal border controls it would be quite useless.
    – jcaron
    Sep 12 at 19:53
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    @MatthieuM. - A potential option for a stable address for correspondence would be family, particularly if family is one of the primary goals of the visit Sep 13 at 7:21
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    I'd soften the recommendation to "sort it your before you travel or have a backup plan to leave within the 90 days"; either way may be more convenient depending on details not in the question, like distance from nearest consulate or the plans for the trip Sep 13 at 7:33
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If your parents didn't register your birth to the French civil register, you must petition for a French nationality certificate from the French Nationality Office in Paris if you reside outside of France (which I assume from the wording of your question).

Only then are you eligable to recieve a French ID/Passport and to be treated as an EU citizen.

A birth certificate issued in the US is not, in itsself, proof of French citizenship.

It can only assist in verifying French citizenship if at least one of the parents stated in the certificate are also French citizens.

Collecting the information about your parents (their french passport, ID, last address in France etc.) would be the first step.

Check if they actually registered you in the French civil register the second step (see point 2 of the french link below).

If not, start the application process with the Paris Court (service of French nationality), which I believe can be time consuming (see point 5 of the french link below)

You email or file your application (completed, dated, signed and supporting documents) Paris Court (service of French nationality).


Sources:

...
2. Check your birth certificate
If you were born in Foreigner [outside of France]
If you do not have a recent identity document, proof of French nationality can be provided by presenting a birth certificate (full copy or extract with filiation) of less than 3 months.

This act of civil status can establish your French nationality if you are in one of the following cases:

  • The birth certificate (on secure paper) was issued by the Nantes Central Registry Office.
  • The birth certificate (on plain paper) was issued by an embassy consular vital statistics officer.

...
5. Request a certificate of French nationality
If you do not have any of the above documents, you will need to request a French nationality certificate (CNF).

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    Oooooh it looks like things were simplified a lot. Last time I had to go request a CNF (which in my case involved getting birth certificates up to my grandfather!) to get an ID card even though I was registered at Nantes.
    – jcaron
    Sep 11 at 20:30
  • @jcaron I believe the main question is how the parents exercised their french citizenship (having a passport, ID etc.) Sep 11 at 20:34
  • The service public page on passports has slightly different information. If you are born abroad from parents born in France, you should be fine with just a birth certificate. You can also apply for the transcription of your birth certificate later on.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 12 at 7:25
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    @Relaxed I have replaced that with the link found at the Certificate of French nationality (CNF) page. Sep 12 at 7:49
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    That's the correct one, thanks.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 12 at 7:56
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Legally speaking, as a French citizen you can stay in France indefinitely. This right does not depend on the possession of a document showing that you are French.

Similarly, you can stay in other Schengen countries under the rules set forth in the EU's free movement directive. For stays of up to three months in duration (in each country), you only need to be able to show a valid identity card or passport. Now the free movement directive does not say that this passport must be issued by an EU country, but you can imagine that asserting your free movement rights as a French citizen in (for example) Germany by showing a US passport is not going to get you very far. They'll want some evidence that the French government recognizes you as a French citizen.

Once you're in the Schengen area, you're very unlikely to be asked to prove that you're there legally, and even if you are asked after you've been there longer than 90 days, there's a good chance you'll be able to get away with showing your US passport and talking your way out of any negative consequences by claiming French nationality. But maybe you won't be able to, and you are almost certain to be delayed and possibly fined if you try to leave the Schengen area showing only a US passport after more than 90 days.

Contrary to the assertion in another answer, it's not necessary to "switch your arrival record" if you enter on a US passport and then acquire French documents in France. Your right of residence in France and in the Schengen area does not depend on having entered with a French document. As long as you can prove you're French, you can benefit from these rights.

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    What is a valid travel document is defined in the European Agreement on Regulations governing the Movement of Persons between Member States of the Council of Europe (of 1957-12-13, last update of Appendix: 2016-11-30) Article 1(1): Nationals of the Contracting Parties, whatever their country of residence, may enter or leave the territory of another Party by all frontiers on presentation of one of the documents listed in the Appendix to this Agreement, which is an integral part thereof. Sep 12 at 5:37
  • For France this is a National passport of the French Republic, valid or expired within the last five years; Valid French identity card. Annex to the European Agreement on Regulations governing the Movement of Persons between Member States of the Council (PDF) Sep 12 at 5:38
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    @MarkJohnson the 1957 agreement is as distinct from the 2004 directive as the Council of Europe is from the European Union. The fact that there is a list of documents that satisfy the 1957 agreement does not prevent other documents from satisfying the 2004 directive.
    – phoog
    Sep 12 at 6:13
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    @MarkJohnson Look at it this way: what would a German police officer do with someone who claimed French citizenship but who only had a US passport for identification? The person isn't violating any laws unless the claim is incorrect.
    – phoog
    Sep 12 at 6:20
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    @MarkJohnson do you imagine that the emphasized "without prejudice" clause preserves the provisions of the 1957 agreement? If so then Germany would be able to require visas of French citizens coming for a long stay or to work: "Valid passports and visas may be required for all visits of more than three months' duration or whenever the territory of another Party is entered for the purpose of pursuing a gainful activity."
    – phoog
    Sep 12 at 6:32
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There are a number of ways to prove French citizenship, including:

  • an ID card or passport
  • a birth certificate (subject to certain conditions)
  • a certificate of French nationality

Source: https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F18713?lang=en

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    A birth certificate issued in the US is not, in itsself, proof of French citizenship. It can only assist in verifying French citizenship if at least one of the parents stated in the certificate are also French citizens. See French citizenship by birth abroad to at least one French citizen. Sep 11 at 12:26
  • @MarkJohnson Indeed. The conditions whereby a birth certificate is acceptable are explained in the link I gave, I have updated my answer briefly to make that clear
    – Traveller
    Sep 11 at 13:03
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    @Traveller, you need to explain more in the text of your answer, for instance how OP can use those papers to stay longer in the Schengen area without having a French passport or ID card on entry. Links should not replace text, quotes from those sites are acceptable.
    – Willeke
    Sep 11 at 13:32
  • Maybe "a birth certificate issued by the French consulate" would be more effective.
    – FluidCode
    Sep 12 at 11:51

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