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Dual Citizenship Concerns
October 3, 2012 1:40 PM   Subscribe

What did you wish you knew before you became a dual citizen? What would you tell prospective US/French dual citizens?

I'm an American engaged to a French woman; we'll be married soon! She's moving here for the near future (and we've already started the visa/green card process for her) and are starting to make longer-term plans, which include us living in France, though we're not ready to commit to either the US or France forever at this point. With all of that, it seems that it would be ideal for her to become a dual citizen and then, when we live in France, for me to become a dual citizen as well. This would allow us to move between countries freely without worrying about maintaining green cards/cartes de sejour or re-filing for visas.

We're aware that our "home" governments would no longer offer us protection in our new countries, and I'm aware that the US expects me to report foreign income and accounts and pay tax on income earned worldwide (and that a lot of foreign banks are limiting service to US citizens because of reporting requirements).

What else should we know? We've read these related threads, but we're also interested in hearing anything French-specific.
posted by benbenson to Law & Government (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Make sure she and you use your exact same names in both countries. Otherwise you and your offspring can have problems. For example, if on the marriage certificate a name is not exactly the same as in the original country of citizenship, then getting citizenship for the spouse or children in the other country can become nearly impossible. Just to illustrate: let's say in France she is known officially as Marie and in the US she is known officially as Mary, the marriage certificate in the US says Mary, and the child's birth certificate lists the mother as Mary. It will be nearly impossible to get that child and you French/EU citizenship.
posted by Dansaman at 1:47 PM on October 3, 2012


Do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, change your names legally or socially once you've started this process. Yes, this means upon marriage. I know people who have changed names when they got married in the middle of residency/citizenship applications, and the best case scenario is that it adds a few months and some extra money and stress.
posted by jeather at 1:56 PM on October 3, 2012


You don't need to wait to move to France to begin the process of getting French citizenship for you. The most recent requirements are that your spouse is registered as a French citizen living abroad with the nearest French consulate in the US, that you are married and live together (anywhere) for a period of five years, and that you can hold a basic conversation in French. Then, poof, you get French citizenship. It's actually a lot easier to do if you can accomplish it while living in the US, than trying to do it while emigrating to France.
posted by Liesl at 1:58 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do note that the U.S. Oath of Naturalization requires you to state the following:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; ...
Now, the State Department will probably not come after your fiancée if she takes the oath and then continues to act as a French citizen. There's a brief discussion of this issue in the exhaustively-researched Dual Citizenship FAQ; see in particular questions #5 and #9. But the U.S. State Department's practice of not pursuing such cases is, I believe, only a matter of policy; it's not a matter of law, and so it could change without very much notice.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:27 PM on October 3, 2012


Just to address Johnny Assay's point--if you are a US citizen, it doesn't matter much whether the US thinks you're also a French citizen; really all that matters is whether France thinks you're a French citizen. My mom lost her Canadian citizenship during a period when Canada took the US Oath seriously, but then Canada changed their minds and she got her citizenship back. Nothing the US did had any impact on that.

OK, a few things:

Make sure to register your marriage and the birth of any children with the French consulate. I discovered that my boyfriend is probably eligible for French citizenship but his parents never registered their marriage or the birth, and the research involved to prove it would require a full-time Francophone genealogy expert and bureaucracy-wrangler. And French bureaucracy is really pretty bad as far as bureaucracies go, especially if you don't speak French and/or weren't born in France.

In addition to paying US taxes and filing form 1040, you may need to file FBARs, form 8938, form 3520, and/or form 3520-A. Most of these (except the 8938) are not included in standard US tax prep software and most tax preparers have never heard of them, and 3520-A and the FBAR are not due at the time as your regular tax return. Have fun!! (If you live outside the US, US citizenship is actually kind of a pain in the ass in some ways and you should consider the prospect of your wife's having to file this crap every year for the rest of her life if she gets US citizenship.)
posted by phoenixy at 2:48 PM on October 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


But the U.S. State Department's practice of not pursuing such cases is, I believe, only a matter of policy; it's not a matter of law, and so it could change without very much notice.

It's a "matter of law" to the extent that there is an increasingly large pile of case-law precedent on renunciation (#23 in that FAQ) that would need to be overturned in order for the policy to change dramatically; as phoenixy rightly notes, France decides if you're French, and it's one of those countries that doesn't give any weight to renunciation clauses in other countries' citizenship oaths.

I'll nth the point about establishing a bureaucratic paper trail with the French consulate while you're both in the US, and vice versa if you move to France. It's a bit tedious to maintain parallel documentation, and since some of it is voluntary, you need to be proactive about it, but it's a lot more tedious (and expensive) to get one country's records translated and authenticated after the fact to the satisfaction of the other country.

Finally, if your work in the US ever requires a government security clearance, then you're probably SOL.
posted by holgate at 5:54 PM on October 3, 2012


Depending on your age, you may trigger a quite minimal national service obligation upon acquiring French citizenship. This was recounted to me as an afternoon spent in the consulate watching videos meant to convince you that France's nuclear weapons were totally useful and annihilating the occasional atoll in a test was a good thing.

Finally, if your work in the US ever requires a government security clearance, then you're probably SOL.

In the interests of being precise, as I understand it, it's not necessarily dual citizenship itself that would be the problem, it'd be the having sought out French citizenship (or perhaps even marrying a foreigner, god forbid). Of course, every I know who has made even the most cursory inquiries to this has a non-US citizenship as an artifact of their birth, not having acquired it as an adult.
posted by hoyland at 7:47 PM on October 3, 2012


it'd be the having sought out French citizenship (or perhaps even marrying a foreigner, god forbid).

Yeah, the criteria are specifically "foreign preference" (personal) and "foreign influence" (family/friends/etc.) and while having a French spouse isn't as red a flag as, say, having extended family in [Dodgy Nation], it's still going to be flagged in clearance assessments.
posted by holgate at 8:03 PM on October 3, 2012


Depending on your age, you may trigger a quite minimal national service obligation upon acquiring French citizenship.

This stopped being the case several years ago. Young men only have to take a day-long course now; I've never heard of new French citizens being required to do that.

I'd like to nth that taking US citizenship may be more of a bear for your fiancée than it may be worth, for tax purposes. Green cards, once got, aren't that much of a bother to keep current. Filing US taxes, however, will be with her for the rest of her life as a US citizen, no matter where she lives.

On the other hand, you getting French citizenship has several advantages, namely since it's an EU country, it also gives you the right to work in any other EU member country without needing a work permit or visa. Do be aware that it's not automatic with a marriage; it used to take two years of marriage to qualify, then three, and it's up to four or five years now, depending on your case. From France Diplomatie:
...la déclaration peut être souscrite après un délai de 4 ans à compter de la date du mariage à condition que la communauté de vie tant affective que matérielle n’ait pas cessé entre les époux depuis le mariage. Ce délai de communauté de vie est de 5 ans si le postulant n’a pas résidé en France de manière ininterrompue et régulière pendant trois ans à compter du mariage ou si le conjoint français n’a pas été inscrit sur le Registre des Français établis hors de France pendant la communauté de vie à l’étranger. A la date de la déclaration, la communauté de vie tant affective que matérielle ne doit pas avoir été interrompue depuis la date du mariage. Elle ne doit pas être réduite à une simple cohabitation.
Briefly, if you haven't lived in France regularly (11 out of 12 months) for three years following your wedding date, then instead of waiting 4 years for citizenship, you have to wait 5 (in France). You also need to know how to speak French; this is a relatively new requirement. Unlike other EU countries, there are no required language courses for prospective citizens, France considers self-motivation a factor to prove in learning its language (the same page states much the same thing; i.e. that an applicant can be refused if they've proven uninterested in learning French).

Also nthing what holgate says about not needing to worry about losing one or the other citizenships. There are thousands and thousands of dual French-American citizens. His point about keeping an up-to-date, translated paper trail is also very important and will save you pain down the line.

I earned my French citizenship this April, ceremony on the 1st (heh, no joke :) ). It's been great not to need to carry around my US passport any more, and having the right to vote here is frankly awesome, but then I've always felt attached to and part of this country, so it was a natural step for me. I always had up-to-date, officially translated paperwork, so getting things together was easy. I'm still able to vote in US elections too – be sure to keep registered with your last permanent address in your US home state so that you keep the right to vote for your state reps and senators. We get our ballots by mail about a month ahead of election day; I just got mine for the presidential election last Thursday and sent it in the next day, for instance.

Which reminds me. The IRS will NOT send you forms automatically overseas. You need to remember to declare your US taxes, on your own. France's tax dates will be no help since there's no such thing as April 15th here; you really have to remember US tax details on your own. It's not always easy when you've been elsewhere for years and don't have reminders, although with the arrival of FB it helps that American friends post things like, "oh crud I have to do my taxes".
posted by fraula at 1:24 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


(woops, missed the edit window before I realized my mistake - 5 years of marriage total, not spent "in France". So this sentence should read: "Briefly, if you haven't lived in France regularly (11 out of 12 months) for three years following your wedding date, then instead of waiting 4 years for citizenship, you have to wait 5 following your wedding date." There's no residency requirement.)
posted by fraula at 1:40 AM on October 4, 2012


This stopped being the case several years ago. Young men only have to take a day-long course now; I've never heard of new French citizens being required to do that.

Yes, the 'quite minimal national service obligation' was referring to the day-long course. The page on the Miami consulates website (which is what Google turned up) says new citizens (men and women) 18-25 have to do it. The OP is likely outside this age range or would be by the time his paperwork goes through, though.
posted by hoyland at 5:20 AM on October 4, 2012


Do be aware that it's not automatic with a marriage...

fraula: just to clarify. The "it" refers to French citizenship not to EU rights. The EU rights (to live and work in any country) should be available immediately with a marriage certificate.

That is to be clear, the OP and his wife could move to the UK a month after getting married and they could both live and work there even though the OP doesn't have citizenship in any EU country.
posted by vacapinta at 7:03 AM on October 4, 2012


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