If you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident (green card holder) who meets residency and background check requirements, you can apply for citizenship by naturalization. There are many benefits to becoming a U.S. citizen. For example, once you become a U.S. citizen, you will be able to vote in U.S. elections, travel to and from the U.S. as you please, and apply for your eligible family members to receive U.S. green cards. The application process is pretty straightforward. For most people, it costs $725 and takes 7-15 months. This article explains how to apply for U.S. citizenship in seven easy steps.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Written September 17, 2020
Before You Prepare Your Citizenship Application
Before you even consider applying for citizenship by naturalization, you should confirm that you are not already a U.S. citizen and that you are eligible to become a U.S. citizen.
Are You Already a U.S. Citizen?
Ask yourself these three questions:
Were you born in the U.S.?
Do you have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen by birth or by naturalization?
If your parent is a U.S. citizen, are you under 18 years?
If you answer yes to any of these, you are likely already a U.S. citizen and do not need to apply for naturalization. This tool can help you determine if you are a U.S. citizen. You can also read more about the naturalization process on the USCIS website.
Are You Eligible To Become a U.S. Citizen?
Now that you are sure that you aren't already a U.S. citizen, it is time to determine whether you can become a U.S. citizen. With a few exceptions, applicants for U.S. citizenship need to meet the following requirements:
Must be at least 18 years old
Must be a green card holder for at least five years before applying for naturalization
During these five years, must not have spent more than 30 total months outside the U.S.
Must have lived in the same U.S. state for at least three months before applying for naturalization
Must know the fundamentals of U.S. history and the U.S. government
Must be able to speak, read, and write English
Must be in good moral standing
You can determine whether you are eligible for U.S. citizenship by completing USCIS’ Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet. The worksheet contains extensive information that explains the application requirements and any exceptions.
Step 1. Prepare Your Citizenship Application (Form N-400)
After determining that you are eligible for U.S. citizenship, it is time to prepare your citizenship application. Form N-400: Application for Naturalization is the form to submit for citizenship. You can download Form N-400 from the USCIS website. Form N-400 is a lengthy form, but that is because it assesses your entire immigration history in the U.S. Don't be overwhelmed by the length of the form, though. The tips below will help you fill it out correctly.
To complete Form N-400 you will need to have the following documents and information on hand:
Social Security Number
If you have a Social Security card, you will need to enter your Social Security number on the application. If you don't have a Social Security card, this does not apply to you. However, if you have a Social Security card that is lost or stolen, you should report it to the Social Security Administration and get a new one.
Permanent Resident Card or Green Card
You will need to enter the date that you became a permanent resident or green card holder and your Alien Registration Number. You can find this information on your green card. If your green card is missing or has been stolen, you must apply for a new one before filing your citizenship application. To request a new green card, you have to submit Form I-90.
If your green card is expired at the time of filing for citizenship, you can renew it. Renewing a green card takes 10-12 months, but you do not have to wait until you have the renewed green card in hand to apply for citizenship. Once you receive the form I-797C receipt notice from USCIS after filing Form I-90, you can mail that in with the rest of your immigration packet at the time of submission.
You should note, however, that if you choose to file for citizenship while renewing your green card, you will be without evidence of permanent residence for things like accepting a new job, taking trips outside of the U.S., and renewing I.D. such as your driver's license. This is something to keep in mind when deciding to apply for citizenship while renewing your green card at the same time.
Information About Current or Former Spouse(s) (if applicable)
If you have ever been married or if you are currently married, you will need to enter information about your current or former spouse(s) on Form N-400.
Information About Your Children (if applicable)
If you have ever had any children (even if they are deceased), you will need to enter information about them on Form N-400. This also applies to any children who no longer live with you.
USCIS requires you to submit a list of all the addresses you have lived at in the past five years while being a green card holder. If you have been married to a U.S. citizen prior to your citizenship application, you must submit a list of three years’ worth of all the addresses you have lived at while married to the U.S. citizen.
Education and Employment Information
If you have ever been enrolled in school or employed at a job before applying for citizenship, you must provide the organization name, address, and the length of time you spent there for each school or job. USCIS will use this information to conduct a background check. If you have been married to a U.S. citizen before filing for citizenship, USCIS requires the past 3 years' worth of this information. If you have not been married to a U.S. citizen, USCIS requires the past 5 years' worth of this information.
If you made any 24-hour or longer trip outside of the U.S. in the five years prior to applying for citizenship, you will need to provide information about your trips on Form N-400. A good way to be sure that you have included all the relevant information is to review your email and bank statements for any travel records. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) admission stamps in your passport may also be good reminders of trips you have taken abroad.
Selective Service Registration Information (if applicable)
U.S. law requires all male U.S. citizens and green card holders between the ages of 18 and 25 to register with the Selective Service System (SSS) within 30 days of their 18th birthday. The Selective Service System is an independent agency that keeps a record of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, undocumented aliens, refugees, and asylum seekers eligible to get drafted into the U.S. military. Registering with the SSS doesn't automatically mean you have signed up to join the military.
Although registering with the SSS is mandatory, a registered person will only be drafted into the military in a crisis. You can read all about the SSS and registration on its website. If you have already registered with the SSS, you can retrieve an Official Letter of Registration from their website to submit to USCIS. If you are eligible but have not registered, you should register on the website before submitting your citizenship application.
SSS registration counts toward USCIS' good moral standing requirement. So if you did not register between ages 18 and 25, and are now no longer eligible to register, it is wise to hold on to apply for citizenship until you have turned 31.
Step 2. Submit Your Citizenship Application and Pay the Filing Fees
When you have completed Form N-400, it’s time to submit the completed form with its filing fees and its supporting documents to USCIS.
Form N-400 Filing Fees
The filing fee for Form N-400 is $640. You will also need to pay a Biometrics fee of $85 for each applicant who is not under 14 years old or over 79 years old. You can pay this $725 total fee by check, money order, or credit/debit card. Checks and money orders should be made payable to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” If you would like to pay by credit card, you will need to submit Form G-1450: Authorization for Credit Card Transactions with your application.
Form N-400 Supporting Documents
In addition to the filing fees, most applicants need to include a photocopy of both sides of their green card and a photocopy of a document showing their current legal marriage status. This could be a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or death certificate of a spouse. If you or any of the other applicants do not have their green card, they can submit a photocopy of the Form I-797C receipt notice that USCIS sent them during renewal as evidence instead.
Depending on the results of your Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet, USCIS may require additional documents from some applicants. If they need more information, USCIS will let you know by sending you a request for evidence.
You should include a cover letter that lists all of the forms, supporting documents, and fee payments in your packet. This will help USCIS keep track of your documents as they work on your application. You can send your application packet to USCIS by mail or online.
Submitting Your Application Packet By Mail
Most applicants file their N-400 packet by mail. You can mail your full application packet and fees to the relevant addresses listed here under “Where to File.” The address you use will depend on what state you live in and what service you use to mail your packet. You should send your packet with tracking so that you can keep an eye on it.
Submitting Your Application Packet Online
You can also file your N-400 and supporting documents online. You need to make digital copies of your supporting documents so that you can upload them to the online portal.
If you are applying based on your military service, are applying from outside of the U.S., or are applying for a fee waiver or reduced fee, you cannot file your Form N-400 online.
Checking the Status of Form N-400: Application for Naturalization
You can check the status of your application online. Once you submit Form N-400, USCIS will send you a receipt notice. This receipt notice will have a receipt number. If you enter the receipt number into USCIS' case status tool, you will be able to see the status of your application.
You can also check case processing times on the USCIS website to make sure that the amount of time that you are waiting to hear back from USCIS is normal.
If USCIS Denies Your Application for Citizenship by Naturalization
If USCIS denies your application for citizenship by naturalization, you should speak with an immigration attorney.
Step 3. Attend Your Biometrics Appointment (if applicable)
If you are between ages 14 and 79, USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment for you after you submit your citizenship application. The biometrics appointment takes place at one of USCIS' local application service centers. You will find the location, date, and time of the appointment on the appointment notice (Form I-797C, Notice of Action) that USCIS sends you. At the biometrics appointment, the USCIS staff will take your photo and fingerprints.
Step 4. Complete Your Naturalization Interview
The naturalization interview is one of the most important parts of the citizenship application process. About 14 months after you have submitted Form N-400, USCIS will send you an appointment notice (Form I-797C, Notice of Action) with the date, time, and location for your naturalization interview. This notice will also list any other documents you will need to bring. The interview will be at a USCIS field office that is close to the zip code you provided with your physical address on Form N-400.
If you cannot make it to your interview on the date that USCIS provided, you can write to the USCIS field office you were directed to, asking to reschedule. Your new interview date may be months in the future.
The naturalization interview will focus on the information you provided on your Form N-400 and your immigration history in the U.S. It usually does not last more than 20 minutes. You should answer all the questions that the USCIS officer asks you at the interview truthfully.
English Language and Civic Knowledge Test
You will almost always take your citizenship exam on the same day as your naturalization interview. The citizenship exam is an English and civics test. It is a good idea to prepare for this test well before the naturalization interview.
The English portion of the test examines three things: speaking, reading, and writing. You will be expected to speak English with a USCIS officer, read one out of three English sentences, and write one out of three English sentences. The civics portion of the test is also in English. It will ask you 10 questions about U.S. history and government. To pass the test, you need to get at least six of the 10 questions right. The 10 questions on your civics test come from a larger pool of 100 questions. You can prepare for the test by reviewing all 100 possible questions and their answers on the USCIS website.
If you do not pass both portions of the citizenship exam, you will be required to retake the exam portion that you failed at a future date. USCIS will schedule your exam retake after your initial interview and notify you of the date, time, and location.
Exceptions for Taking the English Portion
If you are 50 years or older at the time of filing and have lived in the U.S. as a green card holder for at least 20 years, you are exempt from the English test. You also don’t have to take the test if you are 55 years or older at the time of filing and have lived in the U.S. as a green card holder for at least 15 years.
If you are exempt from the English test, you may bring an interpreter to your interview. You may also request one from USCIS. If you choose to bring your own interpreter, they must bring a government-issued I.D. and complete an interpreter’s oath and privacy statement at the USCIS field office.
If you are exempt from the English exam and the USCIS officer is fluent in your language, they may choose to interview in your language.
If You Need To Bring Someone With You
If you have a disability, you can ask permission from the USCIS field office that you'll be visiting to bring a family member or legal guardian along with you. The USCIS officer will decide whether your legal guardian or family member can be with you during the interview when you arrive at the field office for your interview.
If you want to make sure USCIS respects your legal rights during the interview, you can bring an immigration attorney with you. To bring an attorney, you must submit Form G-28: Notice of Entry as Appearance as Attorney or Representative to USCIS before your interview. The attorney cannot answer any interview questions for you. If you choose not to be represented by an attorney, you must sign a waiver of representation at the interview.
USCIS regularly holds Naturalization Information Sessions that are free and open to the general public. You can attend one of these to learn more about the Naturalization process.
Step 5. Wait for a Decision From USCIS
Sometimes USCIS will decide on your citizenship application at the end of your naturalization interview. If the USCIS officer does not give you a decision at your interview, USCIS has up to 120 days following your interview to give you a decision in writing. You will receive USCIS' decision on Form N-652: Notice of Examination Results. USCIS will either grant, deny, or continue your application.
If the information on your N-400 is sufficient evidence that you are eligible for citizenship, USCIS will grant you citizenship. If the information on Form N-400 proves that you do not qualify for citizenship, USCIS will denyyour application.
If USCIS decides to continue your application, it means that your application is on hold. Your application may be put on hold because you failed some portion of your citizenship exam and will need to retake it or because your application is missing some required documentation. If your application is missing required information or documents, USCIS will send you Form N-14, explaining what required information is missing, and where and how to send that information. You must send USCIS the information requested no later than 30 days after you receive Form N-14.
Step 6. Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States
You are not a U.S. citizen until you take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony. If USCIS approves your citizenship application at your naturalization interview and there is a naturalization ceremony occurring on the same day, you may participate in the ceremony and become a U.S. citizen on the same day as your interview!
If a same-day naturalization ceremony isn’t an option or if USCIS approves your citizenship application in the 120 days following your interview, USCIS will mail you Form N-445: Notice of Naturalization Ceremony. Form N-445 lists the date, time, and location of your scheduled ceremony and contains a questionnaire that you should fill out before arriving at your scheduled ceremony. It asks about any changes to your personal information in the time between the interview and the ceremony, like whether you have traveled outside of the U.S., whether you were recently arrested, and whether you have recently married, separated, or divorced.
When you report to your scheduled naturalization ceremony, you must submit your green card and your completed Form N-445 to the USCIS officer. The officer will review your responses to the questionnaire on Form N-445. You will then take the Oath of Allegiance to become a U.S. citizen. After taking the Oath of Allegiance, you will receive your Certificate of Naturalization. You should review the certificate and alert the USCIS officer of any errors you see on it before leaving the naturalization ceremony.
The Oath of Allegiance
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
Step 7. Enjoy the Benefits of Being a U.S. Citizen!
Congratulations! You are now a U.S. citizen and have a host of new responsibilities, privileges, and benefits. As a U.S. citizen, you:
Never have to worry about renewing your green card again
Are eligible to apply for a U.S. passport
U.S. passport holders can travel to many countries around the world without a visa.
Can live outside of the U.S. for as long as you would like without worrying about Advance Parole or losing your green card
Are eligible for more tax exemptions than a green card holder
This means that you will probably be able to keep more of your hard-earned money when you file taxes each year.
Can petition for your parents, siblings, and spouses to become permanent residents
These are only some of the benefits of being a U.S. citizen. We recommend checking out the USCIS' list of reasons to consider becoming a U.S. citizen. For example, if you have children under 18 who have a green card, they will automatically become citizens when you do. As a citizen, don’t forget to update your Social Security record.