I didn’t know too much about the French Foreign Legion before I decided to travel to France. My only goal was to pass the selections and become a legionnaire. That’s all. Obtaining the French citizenship never made part of my plans, but the more time I spent in France, more it became obvious that I will apply when it’s going to be possible.
But when it actually becomes possible?
According to the official website of the French Foreign Legion:
A foreign legionnaire can apply for French nationality after three years of service. If he serves well, he will be entitled to a residence permit at first, the nationality will be given to him conditionally. This is generally granted, subject to having a good way of serving and having proven its willingness to integrate into the French Nation.
There are plenty of useful information in this short description, but I think it needs some explanation.
Step 1 : fulfill the requirements
You finished your 3rd year in the French Foreign Legion. Good. You have the right to apply for the French citizenship, but you also have to fulfill some other requirements like:
- Serving under your real name
- Paying taxes (3 years at least)
- Having minimum 18 months left of your contract the moment you apply
Step 2 : applying after your third year of service in the French Foreign Legion
As a soldier, you have the right to apply for French citizenship after 3 years of service. To start the process, the first thing you have to do is to make an official request to your unit commander. Generally, it takes between 1 to 4 weeks until he receives you. It depends on the unit’s program, so don’t ask for a report before leaving for a 2 months long field mission. He won’t have enough time. Try to formule your request in a period when you know that your unit will stay in the regiment for a couple of weeks.
In a normal case, if you have a clean punishment sheet, the captain will give you the green light to start the process. Right after your request, the company’s secretariat (bureau major) will give you a list of documents according to your family situation.
Step 3: The list
Less your family situation is complicated, less documents you’ll need, more the process is simple.
For example : a single person without kids will have to provide fewer papers than those who have 3 children from 2 different woman and divorced twice.
It’s also easier for guys coming from the European union, because generally the birth certificate is delivered in French also. It saves time until others have to find an official translator.
The process can become a lot faster if you anticipate your demand with the perfect timing. Personally, when I went on a holiday, I gathered everything they asked and launched the process right after I came back from home.
Step 4: the General’s decision
Once you got everything, a guy from the secretariat verifies your documents and accepts your files if everything’s good.
They summiraze in a sheet your years in the French Foreign Legion in a way that it helps you to obtain the French citizenship. This short text will describe how well you served the country during your years, so it’s a good point if you’ve already done at least one overseas mission.
At this moment, the last paper you’ll need will come from the general, commandant of the French Foreign Legion. If he accepts your demand, you’re on a good way to become a French citizen.
Unfortunately, the hardest part only comes when your dossier is complete, because you can’t do anything else but wait. If the NCO in charge is an asshole, he can hold your files back for weeks. The chance we had in 2REG is that the administration part functioned quite well and they sent my folder to Aubagne the week they got it.
Step 5: from Aubagne to Nantes
In a normal case, once your papers are in Aubagne you don’t have to worry. They only verify that you have everything in order and send a big package of folders to Nantes. From this moment you will have to wait a couple of months until your name appears in the Journal Officiel and become French citizen by the blood shed.
It seems to be simple, but you have to take several things into account
People who ask me about this subject want to know if they can become a French citizen within the first 5 years without reenlisting. Here is my answer: theorically yes, practically no.
Because applying exactly at three years of service is possible, but complicated. Your application can be delayed by months because of several factors:
- You won’t necessarily be in the regiment when you’ll complete your 3rd year in the Legion
- The unit commander doesn’t receive you in time
- You can’t provide your documents quickly enough
- The secretariat doesn’t send your files to Aubagne immediately
If all these things take too much time, you won’t have 18 months left from your first contract and you won’t fulfill the requirements anymore. Your demand will automatically be refused.
As it stands on the official page of the French government, all the applicants have to provide a document about the last 3 years of taxation. How this can make an impact on your project?
For example: you join the French Foreign Legion in March 2022, you’ll have to make your first declaration in May 2023. You’ll get the first attestation in September 2023 and so on in the next 2 years (2024 and 2025). It means that you’ll complete your 3rd year in March 2025, but won’t have all the papers you need until September 2025. At this moment you’ve already ran out of time, because your contract will end in less than 18 months.
The biggest part of legionnaires willing to launch the process can’t do so at their 3rd year for one of the reasons I listed above. But if someone can, here is one thing you’ll have to take into account.
Having proven its willingness to integrate into the French Nation
If somehow you managed to launch the process at your 3rd year, the General can still refuse your demand only by estimating that you didn’t integrate the French Nation. This arrives mostly if you didn’t reenlist.
Applying as a civilian
There are always some guys who try to outsmart the system by launching the application process via the civil way. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, even if theorically you have the right. I explain you why.
You decide to pass by the traditional way to obtain the French citizenship as everyone else does, but you still have to provide all of your personal information. Including the place you’re currently working at the moment of the application. If you don’t lie (you can’t, either way), they’ll see that you are a soldier in the French Foreign Legion. So, the bureaucrat will call your employer (an office in Aubagne, they have a good relationship) and will try to find out why you didn’t pass by the FFL.
Unfortunately, if this happens, the office in Nantes will send your files to Aubagne. In this case, you’ll have to explain why you didn’t pass by the Legion and will pass some days in the arresteds’ local. So, if you want to apply via the civilian way, you should wait until the end of your contract. Do note, that the process takes twice as long as passing by the French Foreign Legion way.
If you want to join the French Foreign Legion only to get a French passport, you’ll probably have to stay for more than 5 years. The FFL’s goal is to keep legionnaires at least for 7 years in its ranks, because this is how the system remains profitable. The chiefs aren’t stupid and they know that becoming French means a lot for some people.
If you didn’t get the French citizenship during your first 5 years and you don’t want to stay anymore, you still have the civilian way left to apply. It generally takes twice as much as if you would have started the process in the Legion, but it remains an option.
Life can become significantly easier with French papers for those who want to live in France (or even elsewhere in Europe). This is why the process is not evident, but still easier than applying as a civilian.