How to apply for citizenship in the U.S.

Citizenship is a legal status that gives people rights and certain protections. U.S. citizens can vote, travel outside of the country freely, bring family members to the USA and offer citizenship to their children.  

Ways to become a U.S. citizen

You can become a U.S. citizen in one of the following ways: 

  • Naturalization. This is the process where a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) born outside of the USA becomes a naturalized citizen.
  • Your parent is a naturalized citizen. This is when a child under 18 becomes a derived citizen through a parent who has gone through the naturalization process. 
  • Your parent is a natural-born citizen. This is when a child born outside of the USA becomes a citizen through a parent who is a U.S. citizen. It is called the acquisition of citizenship. 
  • You are born in the USA. Anyone born in the U.S. is automatically a natural-born citizen. 

Each of these ways of becoming a U.S. citizen offers the same citizenship rights as any of the others.

If you are a naturalized citizen and your child is under the age of 18 they do not need to apply to become a U.S. citizen. Form N-600 just needs to be filed for proof of citizenship.

10 steps to apply for citizenship

To become a naturalized citizen you need to apply with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The entire application process can take over a year depending on your location. It is helpful to learn about the different steps along the way before applying. 

1. Check if you are eligible to apply for citizenship 

You must meet certain requirements if you want to apply to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. In general, you will need to:

  • be 18 years of age or older
  • be a lawful permanent resident with a valid green card  
  • live in the U.S. for a certain amount of time
  • have proof of living in your state
  • know how to speak, read, and write basic English
  • show you understand the U.S. government and history
  • have good moral character
  • have not committed certain crimes

The requirements can vary based on your naturalization category. These include naturalizing as a lawful permanent resident, through marriage or military service.

It is important you also check if you qualify for an exemption. Some older adults and people with disabilities can get an exemption from the English and civics test.  

2. Review your options for free and low-cost legal help.

We always suggest starting any U.S. immigration process by reviewing your options for legal help. The naturalization process is complicated and you do not get your money back if your application is denied. It is especially important if you have any criminal record or think you qualify for an exemption. Many organizations and lawyers offer free or low-cost legal services. 

Citizenshipworks is a non-profit that helps people apply for citizenship. You can get connected with free, live, online legal help to support your citizenship process.

3. Gather information for your N-400

Read through the instructions for Form N-400. Collect the required documents so you can refer to them as you complete your application. Create a list of questions you might have to ask a legal service provider.

4. File Form N-400 

You will need to complete Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. It is important to take time to understand the questions on Form N-400. You can file your application online or mail it to your local USCIS Lockbox. 

You must submit all the supporting documents when you file Form N-400. If you are filing online, you will need to upload photos of the documents. If you are mailing in your application,  you should only submit photocopies of documents requested, unless instructed to submit an original. All documents in another language must be translated into English by a certified translator.

5. Pay the citizenship application fee.

When you file Form-N400, you will also need to pay the citizenship application’s filing fee. If you are filing online, you will be guided through the payment process as part of your application. If you are filing by mail, you will need to submit the payment with your application.

6. Check the status of your application

USCIS will mail you a receipt notice once they receive your application. You can check the status of your application online or by logging in to your USCIS account.

7. Go to the biometrics appointment

You will receive a notice to go to a biometrics appointment at your local Application Support Center (ASC). You may need to give biometrics, such as your fingerprints, photograph, and signature. USCIS uses your biometrics to check your identity and background for security information. 

8. Go to the citizenship interview and test

Next, you will receive a notice for your naturalization interview and test. At the interview, an immigration officer will review your naturalization application and ask you different questions. This includes an English and civics test. The immigration officer will make a decision after your interview and test. The officer may choose to approve, deny, or continue your application. 

There are some exemptions to these requirements for older adults and people with disabilities.

9. Receive a decision on your case

The immigration officer will make a decision after your interview and test. You will receive a decision in person the same day or in writing by mail. The officer may decide to grant, deny, or continue your application. If your application is granted, you will be scheduled to attend a naturalization ceremony. If your application is continued, the officer will instruct you on how to provide more evidence. If your application is denied, the officer will explain how you can file an appeal or reapply for naturalization.

10. Go to the naturalization ceremony and take the Oath of Allegiance

If you pass your naturalization interview, you will receive an appointment notice to go to a naturalization ceremony. This is sometimes on the same day as your interview. You will go to a ceremony with other people who are also becoming U.S. citizens. You will have to swear your loyalty to the U.S. government when you take the Oath of Allegiance.

You will receive a Certificate of Naturalization at the end of the naturalization ceremony. The certificate is proof that you are a naturalized U.S. citizen. You may use your naturalization certificate to apply for a U.S. passport and federal jobs or grants.

Once you become a U.S. citizen, your children under the age of 18 are also considered citizens. You will need to file Form N-600 for proof of citizenship.

Next: Learn about Form N-400 

woman waving at citizenship ceremony
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