French Foreign Legion - Enlistment and training

The Foreign Legion is the only unit of the French Army open to people of any nationality. All members of the Foreign Legion are men; women are not permitted to join. Most legionnaires still come from European countries but a growing percentage comes from Latin America. Most of the Foreign Legion’s commissioned officers are French with approximately 10% being former Legionnaires who have risen through the ranks.

Legionnaires were, in the past, forced to enlist under a pseudonym (“declared identity”). This disposition exists in order to allow people who want to start their lives over to enlist, and the French Foreign Legion held the belief that it was more fair to make all new recruits use declared identities. French citizens can enlist under a declared, fictitious, foreign citizenship (generally, afrancophone one, often that of Belgium, Canada or Switzerland). As of 20 September 2010, new recruits may enlist under their real identities or under declared identities. Recruits who do enlist with declared identities may, after one year’s service, regularise their situations under their true identities. After serving in the Foreign Legion for three years, a legionnaire may apply for French citizenship. He must be serving under his real name, must no longer have problems with the authorities, and must have served with “honour and fidelity”. Furthermore, a soldier who becomes injured during a battle for France can immediately apply for French citizenship under a provision known as “Français par le sang versé” (“French by spilled blood”).

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While the Foreign Legion does not accept women in its ranks, there has been one official female member, Briton Susan Travers who joined Free French Forces during the Second World War and became a member of the Foreign Legion after the war, serving in Vietnam during the First Indochina War.

The Foreign Legion on occasion inducts honorary members into its ranks. During the siege of Dien Bien Phu this honour was granted to General Christian de Castries, Colonel Pierre Langlais,Geneviève de Galard (“The Angel of Dien Bien Phu”) and Marcel Bigeard, the Officer in Command of the 6th BPC. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. is also an honorary member.

According to Neil Tweedie of The Daily Telegraph, by 2008 many recruits increasingly came from middle-class backgrounds due to improved conditions and an increased professionalism within the French Foreign Legion. Tweedie said “If some NCOs in the Legion are to be believed, the whole corps is becoming a bit soft and girly.” A South African legionnaire, Corporal Buys Francois, said the legion was taking new recruits with university degrees and ex-husbands who were fleeing alimony and that “[w]e call the new entrants Generation PlayStation because they’re so soft.”

Conditions for joining French Foreign Legion

You can only enlist in mainland France
(Free board, lodging and clothing are immediately provided)

  • Preselection is carried out in our recruiting offices throughout France
  • Selection is carried out in Aubagne near Marseille :
    • psycho-technical tests
    • medical tests
    • sports tests (luc-leger “navette”)
  • If your candidature is upheld, the first contract is minimum for 5 year
  • Successive contracts are for six months, up to 5 years

You must be successive contracts are for six months (for minors under 18, parental consent is required on a form available in French Gendarmeries or Embassies outside France)

Whatever your marital status is (single, married, divorced..) you will be enlisted as a single man

You must have a valid ID

You must be physically fit to serve at all times and in all places

Basic training

Basic training is conducted in the 4th Foreign Regiment with a duration of 15 weeks:

  • Initial training of 4 weeks – initiation to military lifestyle; outdoor and field activities; learning Foreign Legion traditions, learning French language.
  • March Képi Blanc – a 60–75 mile (100–120 km) march in full kit (From Perpignan on a return to the Basic Training camp at Castelnaudary), and graduation ceremony – 3 days to complete.
  • Technical and practical training (alternating with barracks and field training) – 3 weeks.
  • Mountain training (Chalet at Formiguière in the French Pyrenees) – 1-week.
  • Technical and practical training (alternating barracks and field training) – 2 weeks.
  • Examinations and obtaining of the elementary technical certificate (CTE) – 1-week.
  • March ending basic training – 1-week.
  • Light vehicle / trucks school – 1-week.
  • Return to Aubagne before reporting to the assigned regiment – 1-week.