My husband and I are thinking of moving permanently to France, but it’s more than 40 years since we were at school and I’m worried we would fail the test to become French nationals. What sort of level of French do you need? Name supplied
André Slatkin, an English-speaking solicitor based in Perpignan ( slatkin.fr) replies: Depending on how old you are, you might not actually need to prove you can speak French to become French. Applying for citizenship in France is very different to the UK system. It’s not about being a good citizen as such; and it’s not about paying your taxes. And, if you are aged 60 or older, you don’t have to sit a language exam. The keyword is integration. What the authorities want to know is whether or not you can integrate into French society. You need to demonstrate that you are socialising with French people, not just with Brits. Joining societies is usually the way to prove this, and the Rotary Club, for example, is held in particularly high regard by the French government. Obviously, being able to speak French will make this easier but, if you’re 60 or older or if you are disabled, you won’t have to pass a language test. As you may already know, you need to have lived in France for five continuous years before you can even apply for citizenship – though this is reduced if you are married to (and living with) a French person, come from a French-speaking country or have a French university degree or skills the country needs.
In other words, if you are 55 or older, then a lack of language skills isn’t technically an obstacle as you won’t be able to apply for citizenship anyway until you are over the age threshold for sitting the test.
If you are younger than 60 when you apply then you will need to achieve the required standard in the Test de connaissance du français pour l’accès à la nationalité française (TCF ANF). This is a listening comprehension test of about 25 minutes followed by multiple choice questions, and a 15-minute oral interview and you need to attain a level known as ‘pre-intermediate’ or B1. What they want to know is that you can hold your own in a French conversation and handle the basic challenges of day-to-day life such as going to school, work, the doctor or social events. If you fail, you can always try again a month later. There is no limit to the number of times you can take the test.