In many occasions, American expats living abroad need to order a U.S. birth certificate. This article guides you through obtaining a U.S. birth certificate online that is accepted by French institutions.
- Birth certificate requirements
- US birth certificate vs French birth certificate
- Where can you get a birth certificate translated?
U.S. birth certificate requirements in France
To be valid in France, your US birth certificate has to meet some of the following requirements:
- issued within the last 6 months
- translated in French by a certified translator
- apostilled (in some cases)
U.S. birth certificate vs French birth certificate
A birth certificate is one of four types of vital records: birth, death, marriage and divorce. There are 3 different kinds of French birth certificates.
- extrait d’acte de naissance avec filiation: extract of a birth certificate with the parent’s detailed information.
- extrait d’acte de naissance sans filiation: extract of a birth certificate without the parent’s information.
- copie intégrale d’acte de naissance: exact copy of the original birth certificate.
There are only two kinds of birth certificates in the United States:
- long-form birth certificate: exact copy of the original birth certificate.
- short-form birth certificate: shorter version of the original without the parent’s information. The information recorded on the short-form certificate varies depending on the state though, so check beforehand.
Always order a certified copy because an informal copy has no legal value.
Why would you need a recent copy of a birth certificate?
Most French institutions require a birth certificate less than 3 months old. The reason is that French birth certificates are amended with major life events such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child, Pacs…
Order a birth certificate from your state of birth
For Americans born in the United States, state government vital records offices issue copies of vital records. To request a copy of your US birth certificate, contact the vital records office in the state where you were born. The process and the cost are different depending on your state. The cost is usually around $25. Some U.S. states (like California) let you order online, while other states require that you mail in your application.
The vital records office will not sent your US birth certificate to France but you can give them a friend or family member’s address in the United States. This trustworthy person can receive your birth certificate and Fedex it to you. This is the most cost-effective solution if you can ask the help of someone living in the United States.
For Americans born abroad, you can get a copy of your Consular Report of Birth Abroad from the U.S. Department of State.
Order a U.S. birth certificate online
You can also order a U.S. birth certificate online from Vital Check, a government-approved service. The processing fees are (much) higher but you should get your vital record faster. To give you an idea of the price, ordering a birth certificate from California and shipping it to France with UPS costs $78.
Notarize a U.S. document from France
Some states (such as California) require that you include a notarized sworn statement with your birth certificate application form. You can use notarize.com to notarize a U.S. document online for $25 per document. You’ll have to provide proof of your identity and go through a series of (tricky) questions to prove that you are the person you claim you are. Once your ID has been verified, you sign your sworn statement in front of a notary on a video call.
Another way to notarize a U.S. document from France is to schedule a notarial appointment at the U.S. embassy in Paris. If you’re not near Paris, try scheduling a notarial appointment at the U.S. consulate in Marseille or Strasbourg.
What’s an apostille?
An apostille authenticates the seals and signatures of officials on public documents for use outside of the United States. Apostilles are used with foreign countries that are members of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty (like France).
Any public document issued by a federal agency or certified by an American or foreign consul can be apostilled.
Do you need an apostille on a birth certificate?
Most of the time, French institutions do not require an apostille with your U.S. birth certificate. There are two occasions though when you do need to get an apostille:
- getting married or PACSed
- applying for French naturalization
How to get an apostille?
Getting an apostille is fairly easy and inexpensive when you live in the United States but ordering an apostille from abroad is more challenging.
Before moving abroad, order a couple of birth certificates and get them apostilled. You will be glad you have them on hand later on. Do not translate your birth certificates beforehand though. Have them translated in France when you need them, that way the translation’s date is recent.
To request an apostille for your birth certificate, select your state of birth on the National Association of Secretaries of State website. An apostille costs around $20 and there are also some additional handling fees. Some states like California give you the option to get an apostille at the same time you order your birth certificate.
Getting an apostille from France is a little challenging since there is no straight forward way to have your apostilled document mailed abroad. Using a friend’s address in the United States is the most cost effective solution. Another option is to call your Secretary of State Apostille’s services and ask them if they will use a pre-paid Fedex return enveloppe that you include with your application.
Where can you get a birth certificate translated?
French institutions sometimes require a certified French translation of your birth certificate. For example, when applying for a carte de séjour, some French préfectures request a certified translation of your birth certificate, while others accept a non translated certificate. To find out if you need a translation, call your local préfecture.
The translator you pick must be certified with a French jurisdiction (Cour de cassation, Cour d’Appel…). A list of sworn translators is available at every local town hall or on the Cour de Cassation website. The price for a certified translation is in the 30€-50€ range.
If you want to learn about the different kinds of documents you’ll need in France, read French paperwork 101: Justificatif.