How to apply for citizenship in the U.S.

Learn about the steps to become a U.S. citizen and the naturalization process. 


A man with a US flag raising hand for pledge

What is citizenship? 

Citizenship is a legal status that gives people rights and responsibilities in a country. U.S. citizens have the right to stay in the United States as long as they want. U.S. citizens can vote, travel overseas, 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 2 ways: 

  • Naturalization. This is the process where a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) becomes a U.S. citizen.
  • Acquisition of citizenship. This is when a child becomes a U.S. citizen through a parent who is a U.S. citizen.

You can apply for citizenship with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The entire application process can take several months to over a year depending on your location.

Steps to apply for citizenship

If you want to apply for citizenship in the United States, it is helpful to learn about the different steps along the way.

1. Find out if you are already a U.S. citizen

You may already be considered a U.S. citizen: 

  • If you were born in the United States. This is called a natural-born citizen.
  • If you were born abroad to one or two U.S. citizen parents and you are under 18 years old. This is called acquired citizenship.
  • If you have one or two naturalized U.S. citizen parents and you are under 18 years old. This is called a derived citizen.

You do not have to go through the naturalization process if you have a parent who is a natural-born or naturalized U.S. citizen. You can apply for proof of citizenship by filing form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship

2. 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. You need to:

  • live in the U.S. for 5 years (or 3 if applying through marriage)
  • 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

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

3. 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. Finding free and low-cost legal advice can help. You can file your application online or mail it to your local USCIS Lockbox. 

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. 

4. 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. 

5. 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.

6. 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. It can also be scheduled 2-6 weeks after 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.

Find help

Citizenshipworks is a non-profit that helps people apply for citizenship fo free. An immigration legal representative can also help you apply for citizenship. Search for legal help in your area using our FindHello app. Learn more about finding free and low-cost legal help.

Next: Learn about Form N-400 

woman waving at citizenship ceremony
Free U.S. Citizenship Class

USAHello has a free online class to help you prepare for the civics test in the naturalization interview.

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The information on this page comes from trusted sources, including USA.gov and USCIS.gov. We aim to offer information in plain language that is easy to understand and updated regularly. This page is for guidance. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice.