What to Expect When Joining the French Foreign Legion

I get many requests for what to expect when someone joins the Legion. As I collect more responses I will add them below, so please be sure to read and RE-read.

I would encourage you to at least complete Rosetta Stone Level 1, and as many levels as you possibly can before you come. The Legion understands not everyone in the world speaks French, the language is part of basic training, so as long as he studies he will be fine :). They have French classes so they assume people have no French.
It is still VERY old school, the first 3-4 months of training, that is, and you will be given some grace with the language barrier. However, after a short period of time, if you're not advancing in French you will start to get reprimanded for it.

When you arrive in France, I suggest just a carry on with clothes and personal items you do not care about losing. You will turn in everything you bring with you (including your passport), so its questionable if you will receive back anything of value (things tend to be "lost").
They hold their passports until 5 years service (I believe). Otherwise, just like in US military, they have their military ID for travel, etc. 

Quote from my fiancée regarding age for joining. "Max age is 40. No exceptions but you better be a badass 40 year old to get through selection and training."  Do not expect the Legion to treat you as wanting to recruit you. They have so many applicants that they are becoming more particular about who they select, as they are investing a lot of money in you. He is processed in the first week or two.  If he doesn't want to stay, it's on him to desert. I don't think that is very easy during this time however, as there time is very controlled and they are monitored very closely. Many Americans desert actually, because its not anywhere near as "nice" as the American military. 
Apparently now they are giving young Legionnaires the choice to keep their name if they wish (or they can take a 'nom faux', but then all of the training and deployment you do will not be credited to you unless you are rectified).

Basic training is the first 3-4 months before the Legionnaire is shipped to his regiment. The first 2-3 months are the worst, and you will be shocked when you hear stories about "The Farm". But that is Legion life, it is a chance to start over and they want to be sure before they give you training, etc that you are committed to it and arent just there for the money.
Many Legionnaires have problems getting their paychecks in the beginning. For us, his pay didn't come into his account (from July 2009 to October 2009) until December 2009. So he went all that time with zero money. As a new recruit/2eme Class, if they ask a Caporal or Sergeant for help, they'll probably end up getting extra PT or worse.


If you need to communicate once you arrive in France, buy phone cards (Orange France has a great USA international card for 7,50€ & 15 €). There are many internet cafés too in France, so you can get online there. I would not suggest you bring cell phones, laptops, IPods/IPads, anything of that nature. You can only ship home what you ship before you enter the Legion, otherwise it is confiscated.
Contact will be non-existent for at least the first 2-3 months during selection and basic training.  NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS! 
Cell phones are strictly interdite at the Farm, they will be taken up until they get to their regiment. However, there is no way to buy them on base, and they will barely have the ability to buy phone cards to use the pay phones on base. Once they get to their regiment, it depends the corporal/sergeant/ adjudant. If they are very strict about it, there care always pay phones on base.
He should be able to buy phone cards when he is allowed in town. I recommend the Orange International Calling Card, its 15 € for about 700 minutes of calling from France to USA, so that should be similar for you. Eventually, phone companies here will allow Legionnaires to sign phone contracts with Internet and International Calling, although cell phones are technically interdite, even though many soldiers have them. Basically, he needs to keep it discreet and well protected, as theft happens often as well. There is no WIFI on base, so many guys now have Samsung Tablets with a wifi USB Key through a contract.
As far as contact goes, that will be on him to communicate with you when he is given permission to make phone calls and write letters. He will have an address at the Farm but often they never receive letters until they arrive at the base they are sent to.

Culturally, France is a 1st world country so the only differences are mealtimes. Breakfast is normal but only bread and coffee, lunch is normal time and usually the biggest meal of the day, and dinner is between 7-9pm but sometimes earlier in the military. In the Legion you will have to eat what you are given but watch out for cheese and pasta intake, our American systems are not accustomed to the quantity they eat here!

Regarding fighting for another country, we see this as a career move for my fiancée. Yes, he fights to protect France, but it has never been an existential challenge, seeing as France and US will always be allies. I know it seems so foreign to us Americans, the idea of working for a foreign military and it seems very far away, but there are so many people who have walked in your shoes, so take heart! If your home country has fought against France in the past, that is something worth considering. It is against the law in some countries to work for the Legion, or to work for a foreign government.

The first year of service he had a 4 week vacation, and that was it. There are many "quartier libre" days where its like state holidays but young legionnaires usually have service. You will not have your passport, so traveling back to America is impossible, unless you go to a US embassy in France and state that you lost your passport and request a temporary passport. Technically you are not allowed to leave the country when on permission, so if you are caught you will be sent to Legion jail. And be aware that they do check your Facebook & Twitter for pictures and geo-localization to see where you've been! ;)

Work days the first year are basically 6am to 9-10pm. Many times if his section or company knows he has a girlfriend in town (visiting or living), they could make his life difficult by not letting him leave. This is really an attempt to enforce "Legio Patria Nostra" (The Legion is our Fatherland). Cancelling weekends in town is a normal event until he reaches Corporal (and even then they do this to us because they all know I live here). Often, he will have service on the weekends and will work nonstop 15-16 hours a day with little time off. My fiancée joined the Legion in June 2009, and his first one month permission was June 2010.
FFL life is nothing like any other military, especially when it comes to families. Your family, even if you are married in your home country, does not exist for the first five years of service. It is forbidden to get married, have an apartment, or buy a car. Of course there are soldiers who have these things, but typically they have worked hard and have gained the respect of their immediate officers. So, there is zero family support until 5 years service. The first two years, he was barely here and when he was here, often he was not allowed to leave base. It’s important your family understands that, for the first five years, the FFL is your family and your real family comes second.
Another question I get a lot is "When can I come live in France as his girlfriend?" If you have already read my blog, then you know it's 12-16 weeks from the day he joins until the first contact, then another 4-6 weeks until he receives his regiment assignment. Once he's on base, it's up to you to decide when to come. The longer you wait, the more you can probably see of each other. You already know it's technically forbidden to have family here before sergeant or 5 years service, but lots of families come and push through the hardship anyways. You know my story and how often I was able to see S.

I would advise you to NOT PLAN VACATIONS IN ADVANCE. Many Legionnaires do this and they always change the dates of vacation. I'm sure a lot of money has been lost by wives/girlfriends who have tried to plan vacations in advance. Your best bet is to buy your ticket on a Friday for a trip for the weekend, but always know that he should not make a big deal about you coming.  Whenever you plan your trip here, plan to spend it alone, its better to be pleasantly surprised that disappointed, as a military wife ;).

Coming to work in the summer is a GREAT idea, as you can be here whenever he has time off.....plan your housing and work in advance, though, as it's near impossible to find either in summer. Work on your French and you shouldn't have difficulty finding something. :)

For specific military information, here is an awesome thread on cervens.net.


  1. I'm a member of the Canadian Legion and I'll take any of those French Legionaires eyes out with a dart after four beer. You know the French war cry? Mama, Papa, mama, papa.


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