What is naturalization?

Naturalization is a process through which non-U.S. citizens voluntarily become U.S. citizens. Individuals born inside the United States are automatically U.S. citizens. Individuals born outside the United States may become U.S. citizens through the naturalization process if they meet certain requirements and participate in the naturalization process.

Who qualifies to become a U.S. citizen?

There are several eligibility requirements in order for a non-U.S. citizen to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides this worksheet to help individuals determine if they are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

General Naturalization Requirements

In order to apply for U.S. citizenship, a non-U.S. citizen must:

  • Be at least 18 years old when the application is filed
  • Have been a lawful permanent resident for the previous three or five years, depending on the naturalization category
  • Be able to read, write, and speak basic english
  • Have continuous residency and physical presence in the United States
  • Demonstrate good moral character
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of United States history and government
  • Demonstrate loyalty to the principles of the United States Constitution
  • Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance

Naturalization Through Military Service

Non-U.S. citizens who have served in the United States armed forces during peacetime or a time of active hostilities may become U.S. citizens if they meet the general requirements and additional requirements listed here:

Service During Peacetime

Service During Periods of Hostility

Individuals who served in the United States armed forces during certain time periods are deemed to have served during periods of hostility. This includes time periods of 1939-1946; 1950-1955; 1961-1978; 1990-1991; and 2001-present.

Other requirements for armed forces members serving during periods of hostility include:

  • Honorable service for at least 180 consecutive days of active duty service or at least one year of satisfactory service in the Selected Reserve in order to receive N-426 Certificate of Honorable Service;

Unlike peacetime service members, individuals who served during periods of hostility do not need to meet certain other requirements:

  • Individual does not need to be a lawful permanent resident;
  • Individual does not need to be at least 18 years old;
  • Individual does not need to meet residency and physical presence requirement;
  • Individuals can apply even if they have an outstanding order of deportation or removal
  • Individuals can apply while still in service or at any time as a veteran.

Lawful Permanent Residence for at Least Five Years

Non-U.S. citizens who have been living in the United States on permanent residence status for at least five years may become U.S. citizens if they meet the general requirements and additional requirements listed here:

  • Proof of lawful permanent residency in the United States for at least five years;
  • Proof of continuous residence in the United States for at least five years immediately before applying to become a U.S. citizen;
  • Proof of physical presence in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years immediately before applying to become a U.S. citizen;
  • Proof of living in a state or USCIS district having jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence for at least three months;

Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

Non-U.S. citizens who are married to a U.S. citizen may become U.S. citizens if they meet the general requirements and additional requirements listed here:

  • Proof of lawful permanent residency in the United States for at least three years immediately before applying for U.S. citizenship;
  • Proof of living in a marital union with the applicant’s U.S. citizen spouse during the three years immediately before applying for U.S. citizenship;
  • Proof of living in a state or USCIS district having jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence for at least three months;
  • Proof of continuous residence in the United States for at least five years immediately before applying to become a U.S. citizen;
  • Reside in the United States continuously from the date the application for U.S. citizenship is filed until the date of naturalization;
  • Proof of physical presence in the United States for at least 18 months out of the three years immediately before applying to become a U.S. citizen;

Children of a U.S. Citizen

The children of a U.S. citizen are U.S. citizens if they are born outside the United States to a U.S. citizen parent(s) who lived in the United States for a period of time. There are different requirements for children who live outside the United States and for those who live inside the United States.

Children Living Inside the United States

A child born outside of the United States but living in the United States may become a U.S. citizen if the following requirements are met:

  • The child has at least one parent, including an adoptive parent, who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization;
  • The child is under 18 years of age;
  • The child is a lawful permanent resident; and
  • The child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.

Children Living Outside the United States

A child who resides regularly outside of the United States may become a U.S. citizen if the following requirements are met:

  • The child has at least one parent, including an adoptive parent, who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization;
  • The child is under 18 years of age;
  • The child’s U.S. citizen parent or U.S. citizen grandparent meets certain physical presence requirements in the United States or an outlying possession;
  • The child is residing outside the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent, or a person who does not object to the application if the U.S. citizen parent is deceased; and
  • The child is lawfully admitted, physically present, and maintaining a lawful status in the United States at the time the application is approved and the time of naturalization.

What rights and responsibilities come with citizenship?

There are several important and beneficial rights and responsibilities that apply to individuals who become U.S. citizens.

The various rights of U.S. citizenship are:

  • Freedom of expression;
  • Freedom to practice religion;
  • Right to an efficient and fair trial by jury;
  • Right to vote in elections for public officials;
  • Right to apply for federal employment that requires U.S. citizenship;
  • Right to run for elected office to be a public official;

The various responsibilities of U.S. citizenship are:

  • Support and defend the United States Constitution;
  • Stay informed of issues in the community;
  • Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws;
  • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others;
  • Participate in the local community;
  • Participate in the democratic process by voting;
  • Pay income and other federal, state, and local taxes honestly, and when required to do so;
  • Serve on a jury when summoned to do so;
  • Defend the country if necessary

Some other benefits of U.S. citizenship include:

  • Traveling with a U.S. passport and receiving support if needed from U.S. Embassies or Consulates in foreign countries;
  • Bringing family members to the United States through prioritized permanent residency petitions;
  • Obtaining citizenship for children under 18 years of age;
  • Eligibility for federal grants and scholarships;
  • Obtaining government benefits only available to U.S. citizens

What is the process for becoming a U.S. citizen?

The USCIS has a 10-step naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen. After an individual determines his or her eligibility, the next steps to become a U.S. citizen are described below.

Applying Online or by Paper

Individuals who wish to apply for U.S. citizenship may do so online or by paper. Individuals who apply online or by paper will fill out and submit Form N-400 to the USCIS. Certain fees are required to be paid when Form N-400 is submitted.

Applying Online

To file an application online, an individual can create a USCIS online account.

Creating an online account allows applicants to:

  • Submit evidence and pay fees electronically;
  • Receive case status and case history information;
  • Communicate with the USCIS directly and securely;
  • Respond to requests from the USCIS.

Applying by Paper

In order to apply by paper, an individual has to download and print Form N-400 and submit by physical copy all necessary documentation and evidence to the USCIS in the mail.

Filing Form N-400 and Other Required Forms

All applicants must file and submit Form N-400 to become a U.S. citizen. Form N-400 must be submitted with any applicable filing fee, supporting documentation, and required evidence.

Certain categories of applicants, including armed forces services members and children of U.S. citizens have additional forms they will need to file:

Naturalization Through Military Service

Children Living Inside the United States

Children Living Inside the United States

Biometrics Appointment and Interview

After Form N-400 is filed, the applicant will receive a receipt confirming the application was received. The applicant may then receive notice of his or her biometrics appointment, which they may or may not be required to attend.

After any biometrics appointment, the applicant may also be required to attend an interview with a USCIS official. The applicant must bring the interview appointment notice with them to the interview and any other requested documentation.

USCIS Decision on Form N-400

After any interview, the USCIS will mail a notice of decision to the applicant or it can be accessed on the applicant’s online USCIS account.

There are three possible types of decisions:

  • Granted

If the evidence on the applicant’s record establishes eligibility for naturalization, the USCIS will approve the application.

  • Continued

If the applicant failed to provide the USCIS with correct documentation, failed the English and/or civics test the first time, or needs to provide additional evidence or documentation, the USCIS may continue the application to provide the applicant opportunity to correct omissions or reattempt tests.

  • Denied

If the applicant’s record establishes he or she is not qualified for naturalization, the USCIS will deny the application.

Oath of Allegiance

After an application is approved, the applicant may participate in a naturalization ceremony on the same day as the interview, or at a later date that will be mailed to the applicant or provided through his or her online USCIS account.

An applicant only becomes a U.S. citizen once he or she has finally taken the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony.

In order to take the Oath of Allegiance, the applicant must:

  • Complete the questionnaire on Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony.
  • Report for the naturalization ceremony on the date and time, and at the location provided by the USCIS.
  • Check-in with the USCIS at the naturalization ceremony at arrival so a USCIS officer can review the Form N-445.
  • Turn in Permanent Resident Card to the USCIS.
  • Take the Oath of Allegiance to become a U.S. citizen.
  • Receive a Certificate of Naturalization, review it, and notify the USCIS of any errors on the certificate before leaving the ceremony site.

How much does it cost to become a naturalized U.S. citizen?

  • The application fee is $640
  • The biometrics services fee is $85

Is it possible to be a citizen of the U.S. and another country?

The United States allows its citizens to maintain dual citizenship. Individuals who become U.S. citizens do not have to give up their citizenship in other countries.