How to Become a U.S. Citizen through Naturalization
Overview of the entire naturalization process, the eligibility and naturalization requirements to get US citizenship
A foreign national can become a U.S. citizen through naturalization. Naturalization is the process by which immigrants apply to become U.S. citizens. In this series, Lawfully provides you the overview of the entire process, from the naturalization requirements to how to apply U.S. citizenship online, how much the fees are, what the citizenship test is, etc. With Lawfully’s guide, you can apply for citizenship online easily at home! Check the articles and feel free to ask Lawfully for detailed guidance.
I. How do I become a U.S. citizen through naturalization? What is naturalization?
Naturalization is the process where a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) is granted U.S. citizenship after meeting naturalization requirements set by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In order to apply for U.S. citizenship, only certain lawful permanent residents are eligible: those who either have been green card holders (permanent residents) for 3 ~ 5 years or meet various military service requirements, to apply for U.S. citizenship. Then, the applicant must complete an application (Form N-400, Application for Naturalization), attend an interview, and pass an English and civics test(a.k.a. citizenship test). Upon successful completion of these steps, the applicant takes an oath of allegiance, and becomes a citizen.
This guide will help you understand how to become a U.S. citizen, including the naturalization requirements for getting U.S. citizenship, the whole application process, and the rights and obligations of a naturalized citizen.
Let's find out the detailed immigration rules and regulations. You will be able to apply for your citizenship online on your own!
II. What is the eligibility for naturalization?
Who is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship? What are the naturalization requirements to apply? Can I apply for citizenship online?
To apply for citizenship through naturalization, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old or older at the time you file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization (Exception: You do not need to be at least 18 years old for military naturalization);
- Be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder);
- Have been a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) for the past five (5) years (if you are married to a U.S. citizen, this may be three (3) years);
- Have been actually been in the United States for a certain number of months (Physical Presence);
- Show your continuous residence for a required period of time. If you have left the United States for a long period of time (over 6 months), you may interrupt your continuous residence; and
- Show that you have lived for at least 3 months in the state where you apply for naturalization before you apply.
Who is Eligible for Naturalization? 1
|Eligibility||Time as Permanent Residence||Continuous Residence|
|Green Card Holder with no special circumstances||5 years||5 years as a green card holder without leaving the United States for trips of 6 months or longer.|
|Green Card Holder who is married to a U.S. Citizen||3 years||3 years as a green card holder without leaving the United States for trips of 6 months or longer.|
|Married to a U.S. Citizen who died during a period of honorable active duty service in the U.S. Armed Forces||Must be a green card holder on the day of your interview||Not Required|
|Green card holder with at least 1 year of peacetime2 military service||Not required||While in active duty or within 6 months of Honorably Separating from the military service|
|Green card holder with: |
less than 1 year of peacetime military service
More than 1 year of peacetime military service but Honorably Discharged more than 6 months ago
|5 years||5 years as a green card holder without leaving the United States for trips of 6 months or longer. |
Note: If you were out of country as part of your service, this time does not break your continuous residence.
|If you performed active duty military service during wartime (regardless whether you were green card holder or not)||Not required||Not required|
These are general eligibility naturalization requirements that do not apply to everyone. If you cannot find your specific situation or are not sure whether you meet the eligibility of naturalization requirements, ask Lawfully to consult whether you are eligible for filing the Form N-400 application. We can guide you through every step of the naturalization process that is suited to your specific situation. Let’s start applying for citizenship online together with Lawfully!
III. Am I already a U.S. citizen?
Before you apply for naturalization, you will need to determine if you are already a U.S. citizen. If you have a parent that was a U.S. citizen, either by birth or naturalization, before you turned 18 years old, you may already be a U.S. citizen.
IV. What are naturalization requirements?
If you are eligible for naturalization, you must satisfy the following naturalization requirements:
You must be able to speak, read, and write basic English and understand U.S. history and government (also known as “civics”).
You must pass the following naturalization exams (a.k.a. citizenship test) during your interview:
- English Language Test (Basic Reading, Writing, and Speaking).
- Civics Test (Basic Knowledge of U.S. History and Government).
You must be willing to support and defend the United States and its Constitution.
You must be willing to serve in the U.S. military or perform civilian service for the United States if called upon for such service.
You must be willing to abide and pledge to the U.S. Constitution.
You must be a person of good moral character.
Examples of things that might demonstrate a Lack of Good Moral Character
- Any crime against a person with intent to harm.
- Any crime against property or the Government that involves “fraud” or evil intent
- Two or more crimes for which the aggregate sentence was 5 years or more.
- Violating any controlled substance law of the United States, any State, or any foreign country.
- Illegal Gambling.
- Polygamy (Marriage to more than one person at the same time).
- Lying to gain immigration benefits.
- Failure to pay court-ordered child support or alimony payments.
- Confinement in jail, prison, or similar institution for which the total confinement was 180 days or more during the past 5 years (or 3 years if you are applying based on your marriage to a United States Citizen).
- Failing to complete any probation, parole, or suspended sentence before you apply for naturalization.
- Terrorist acts.
- Persecution of anyone because of race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or social group.
Exemption from the citizenship tests
|Exception||Exempt from English Test||Exempt from Civics Test|
|50 years old or over and have lived in the U.S. as a green card holder for at least 20 years||Yes||No|
|55 years old or over and have lived in the U.S. as a green card holder for at least 15 years||Yes||No|
|65 years old or over and have lived in the U.S. as a green card holder for at least 20 years||Yes||Civics test have to be taken in the language of your choice. Designated test questions have been selected for you to study and are identified within the list of 100 civics test questions. The questions can be found at www.uscis.gov under Education and Resources|
|If you are medically disabled and disabilities have lasted, or expected to last, at least 12 months 3||Yes 3||Yes 3|
Find out more information about naturalization requirements here.
V. What is the naturalization process? Steps to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization
Once you have confirmed you meet the eligibility of naturalization requirements, then you will start preparing an application along with gathering necessary documents. Here, we overview the process for submitting your citizenship application. With our guide, you can apply for citizenship online easily!
Prepare Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
- Download, complete and sign Form N-400
- Get 2 passport-style photos if you reside outside the United States
- 90-day early-filing: You may prepare and file as early as 90-days before meeting your wait period. However, you must still wait the full wait period to meet the continuous residence requirement to become a U.S. citizen. Early filing only allows you to get ahead in the application process.
- Fee: The N-400 application fee is $725. This includes $85 for biometrics service. For more information about the application fees, waiver and how to pay the fees here.
Find out detailed instructions about the naturalization application filing here.
Submit Form N-400, other necessary documents, including N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, if applicable, and naturalization application fees to USCIS. If you reside outside of the United States, submit passport-style photographs with your application. You may complete and submit your application online. If you decide to apply online, you will have to create an online account with United States Citizenship and Naturalization Services (USCIS).
Biometric appointment (aka, USCIS fingerprint appointment)
USCIS requires you to be fingerprinted and photographed for the purpose of conducting Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal background checks. This must be conducted prior to the interview being scheduled.
- You will receive an appointment notice that includes date, time, and location.
- Be on time
- Have Biometrics taken
- Once completed, you will receive an appointment notice for your naturalization interview.
Find out estimated processing time until the USCIS fingerprinting appointment here.
Naturalization interview and citizenship test
Once all the preliminary processes on your case are complete, USCIS will schedule and interview to complete the naturalization process. This citizenship interview, in general, is usually scheduled approximately 14 months after filing of your initial N-400 application. (The time stated herein may change or fluctuate based on various factors, including and without limitation, USCIS field office current pending application).
During the citizenship interview, the USCIS officer will verify the information you provided in your naturalization application and the officer will ask questions for the citizenship test purpose. The interview generally takes place at the nearest USCIS office based on your zip code, however, if you are applying abroad, then you will be interviewed at a United States Embassy.
Once the interview completes, you will be given a two-part exam (a.k.a. citizenship test) unless you are exempted. The first part of the citizenship test is English language test where you will be tested on your writing, reading and speaking English skills. Once successfully completed, you will be given a second part of the citizenship test, a Civics test. This test is to assess your knowledge of U.S. history and government. You may find study materials at USCIS website to help you prepare. If you fail any part of the exam, either one or both, you will be given a second chance at another date to retake any part of the citizenship test where you did not pass at the first time.
If you successfully complete the interview and pass the citizenship test, the USCIS officer will approve your naturalization application. However, the USCIS officer may request for additional documents if the officer finds any answer that was provided during the interview deems inadequate, insufficient, or unsatisfactory.
If you fail then the USCIS will send you a denial letter explaining the reason why you did not pass. You may appeal the decision within 30 days from receipt of the denial letter.
Do you want to learn more about the citizenship interview questions? Click here.
Check the instructions and study materials for citizenship tests here.
Oath of Allegiance Ceremony
If you successfully pass your interview and the citizenship test, you are now at a final stage, taking the Oath of Allegiance. Once you pass the interview you will receive a notice informing you the date, time, and location where the oath ceremony will take place. You will attend the ceremony, take the Oath of Allegiance. When finished, you will return your Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) and will receive a Certificate of Naturalization.
YOU ARE NOW OFFICIALLY A UNITED STATES CITIZEN. Congratulations!
What is the Oath of Allegiance ceremony? Click here to know more.
VI. Why should I consider U.S. citizenship? - Top 10 reasons to consider becoming a U.S. citizen
When you become a naturalized citizen, you will have the exact same rights and responsibilities that all other U.S. citizens have. Many lawful permanent residents (green card holders) are hesitant to become U.S. citizens for various reasons. Although the reasons are different amongst each individual, the following factors should be considered when making the final decision:
- Protection from Deportation. Even if you committed a crime that could have deported you if you were a green card holder, you will no longer be charged deportation. However, please be aware that U.S. citizenship may be taken away if USCIS finds that you lied to obtain either green card or U.S. citizenship by willful concealment or material misrepresentation (Denaturalization).
- Federal Benefits. You may receive full benefit that otherwise was not available to certain immigrants, such as, Social Security and Medicare benefits. In addition, many financial aid grants, including college scholarships and funds are available only to U.S. citizens.
- Bringing Family Members to the U.S. U.S. citizens generally get priority when petitioning to bring family members permanently to the U.S. Although lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can file petitions for their spouses, minor children and unmarried adult children, U.S. citizens can file petitions for additional family members including parents, siblings, and married adult children.
- Citizenship for Children. When you become a U.S. citizen, your minor children (under 18) will automatically become U.S. citizens (please be aware that they must have green cards). In addition, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen is automatically a U.S. citizen in most cases.
- No Need to Renew a Green Card. You do not need to renew the card proving your status as a lawful permanent resident every 10 years. You do not need to worry about your immigration status anymore.
- Freedom to Travel. You can spend months or years outside of the U.S. without any risk losing your right to return. A green card holder who spends more than 180 days outside of the U.S. can lose the right to the green card and may need a reentry permit before leaving the U.S. In addition, you have the opportunity to seek the help and protection of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad when outside the U.S.
- Ability to Vote. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections.
- Becoming Eligible for Federal Jobs. Most jobs with government agencies require U.S. citizenship.
- Becoming an Elected Official. Only U.S. citizens can run for federal office (U.S. Senate or House of Representatives) and for most state and local offices.
- Tax Benefit. US tax laws allow tax and estate planning benefits to U.S. citizens including free exchanges of real estate between married U.S. citizens.
VII. What are the responsibilities of U.S. citizenship?
- You must support and defend the Constitution.
- You must participate in the democratic process.
- You must respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.
- You must pay income and other taxes honestly, and on time, to federal, state, and local authorities. You are required to file a tax return every year regardless of your residency. Even if you live abroad, you are still required to file your tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
- You may be required to renounce your citizenship of your original country. Depending on your home country’s rule and regulation about dual citizenship, you may have to renounce your home country citizenship to hold U.S. Citizenship. It is best to check with your home country’s rule and regulation on dual citizenship prior to deciding to naturalize.
- You must be willing to fight in the U.S. Armed Forces and perform noncombatant service in the U.S. Armed Forces, when required by law. Any male who lived in the U.S. in any status other than as a lawful nonimmigrant during ages 18 through 25, must register with the Selective Service System and can be drafted to serve the U.S. Armed Forces.
- You must serve on a jury when called upon.
VIII. Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. How can I become a U.S. citizen?
A. You may become a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization.
Q2. Do I need a lawyer to apply for U.S. citizenship? Can I apply for citizenship online?
A. No, you don’t need a lawyer. You can apply for citizenship online and/or offline for yourself. Lawfully will provide free guidance for the self-application that will best suit your interest. Try Lawfully to apply for your citizenship!
Q3. What can I do if USCIS denies my application for naturalization?
A. Your denial letter will explain the reasons for denial and how to request an appeal. If you think that USCIS was wrong to deny your naturalization application, you may request a hearing with the Form N-336, Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings under Section 336 of the INA. You must file the Form N-336, including the correct fee, to USCIS within 30 days after you receive a denial letter.
Q4. How many times can I apply for naturalization?
A. There is no limit to the number of times you can apply for naturalization. If you fail or do not pass any part of the process, you may reapply but you will have to pay the fees for each application you newly submit.
Q5. When does my time as a Permanent Resident (green card holder) begin?
A. This date is on your green card. Your time as a permanent resident begins on the date you were granted permanent resident status.
Q6. What should I do if my green card is to expire when I already have applied for naturalization?
A. A green card holder is required to have valid, unexpired proof of your lawful permanent residence at all times. This requirement will not waive or exempt you from this requirement because you have applied for naturalization. Therefore, if your green card is to expire, you should apply to renew your green card.
Q7. Can I change my name while my naturalization application is pending?
A. Yes, you can change your legal name while your naturalization is in process. If your name changed, you must promptly notify the USCIS with the documents that legally changed your name, such as, Marriage Certificate, Divorce Decree, Court Order, or other official documents. You can also change your name when you naturalize. The instruction on how to change your name is more specifically outlined in the Form N-400.
Q8. Who is born a U.S. citizen?
If you were born in the United States, you were a U.S. citizen at birth (including, in most cases, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the territories of Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and after November 4, 1986, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands)
If you were born abroad to two U.S. citizens, and at least one of your parents lived in the U.S. at some point in his or her life, then in most cases, you are a U.S. citizen.
If you were born abroad to one U.S. citizen, you are a U.S. citizen in most cases, if all of the following are true:
- One of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born;
- Your citizen parent lived at least 5 years in the U.S. before you were born; and
- At least 2 of those 5 years in the U.S. were after your citizen parent’s 14th birthday.
- The information provided above is in general eligibility requirement and therefore, may have additional requirements under each category. This is only information purposes only.
- “Peacetime” means those time periods not designated by Congress as wartime are considered to be Peacetime.↩
- If you have a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment so severe that it prevents you from acquiring or demonstrating the required knowledge of English and civics, you may be eligible for an exception to these requirements. To request an exception, you must file a “Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions”, Form N-648 which is completed by a medical doctor.↩