How to apply for U.S. citizenship

Before you apply for citizenship, you need to know the U.S. citizenship requirements, learn how to apply for citizenship, complete form N-400, your biometric screening, the citizenship interview, and other steps needed for becoming a U.S. citizen.
Learn if you can benefit from any exceptions and if you can qualify for some accommodations and modifications.

A man with a US flag raising hand for pledge

What are the US citizenship requirements?

If you want to apply for citizenship, you first need to find out if you pass the citizenship requirements. These include:

  • Minimum of 18 years of age
  • Have lived in the USA for at least five years as a resident
  • No extended trips out of the USA
  • No major criminal activity
  • Basic understanding of US government and history
  • Ability to read, write and speak basic English

Read about the citizenship requirements in more detail to make sure you are eligible. Then you can apply for citizenship.

How to apply for citizenship

Applying for citizenship can be very confusing. If possible, we recommend you have a lawyer help you. It can be expensive, but you may be able to find free and low-cost legal help online and in your community.

1. Complete the N-400 (Application for Naturalization)

The first step is to complete the Application for Naturalization. This is a government form called the N-400. You can send the completed form in the mail or you can apply online. Download the N-400 form or apply online.

Important: from December 2019, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS, is only accepting the 2019 form. Make sure any form you are filling out has this at the bottom of each page: Form N-400 Edition 09/17/19. If it has a different date, download a new form and start again.

You have to include many papers with the application and you also have to pay the fee. Here is a checklist of what you need to include when you submit your N-400 application. You have to include two passport photos with your application. Remember to write your “A-number” on the back of these photos. Some people can apply for a fee waiver so you do not have to pay the fee.

If you are filling out your paperwork without a lawyer, the free website will help you through the application steps. Citizenshipworks can also connect you to free legal help online or to a Citizenshipworks partner in your area if you need extra help.

Applying for citizenship usually costs $725. You may be able to get a fee waiver if you can prove your income is low enough. A waiver means that you will not have to pay. Find more details about how to apply for a waiver.

Important: Make a copy of your N-400 before you send it.

2. Save your receipt and check your application online after you apply for citizenship

You will receive a letter of receipt that says USCIS received your application. Keep this and write down the 13-digit receipt number. Take a photo of the receipt on your phone and email it to yourself to make sure you don’t lose it. You can use the receipt number to check the status of your application.

3. Complete your biometric screening

Biometric screening is a security check. You will be asked to go to an office on a certain day and time. Make sure to go to this appointment and to arrive on time! At the appointment, they will take your fingerprints. This means they will stamp your fingerprints and run the picture through a system to make sure you are not a criminal. Learn more about the biometrics appointment.

4. Attend your citizenship interview

Complete an interview with an officer from the USCIS. Learn more about the naturalization interview and how to prepare for the test.

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Free U.S. Citizenship Class

USAHello has a free online class to help you prepare for the naturalization (citizenship) test.

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5. Take the civics test

During your interview, you will take a test about US civics, history, and government. On this exam, you must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly. You can take our citizenship practice quiz to see if you are ready for the test. If you are not ready, you can join our free citizenship class to prepare you for the exam.

6. Wait for a decision

You will receive a written decision from USCIS about your application. You might receive your decision on the day of your interview or you might receive it later in the mail. The decision will say if your application was:

  • Granted (this means you passed!)
  • Continued (this means USCIS is doing more research about you or it means you might have failed the English or Civics exams. You can take them again.)
  • Denied (this means USCIS decided you are not eligible for naturalization. If this happens, you may request an appeal)

7. Attend your citizenship ceremony

If you did pass, you will be ready to complete your citizenship ceremony and take the Oath of Allegiance. This is when you pledge loyalty to the United States.

If you have questions about the process, there are organizations you can call. These organizations offer advice in some newcomer languages. Find free or low-cost citizenship help near you.

Exceptions and accommodations for citizenship applicants

There are many exceptions and accommodations for qualifying applicants. 

English language exceptions

You could be eligible for the following exceptions:

  • 50/20 exception – For applicants 50 years or older at the time of application and who have been a United States permanent resident for 20 years or more.
  • 55/15 exception – For applicants 55 years and older at the time of application and have been a United States permanent resident for 15 years or more.
You are:
Lived as a permanent resident in the U.S. for:
Speak, read, write, and understand English
Applicant must take the:
Age 50 and older
at least 20 years
Civics test (100 study questions) in your language of choice
Age 55 and older
at least 15 years
Civics test (100 study questions) in your language of choice
Age 65 and older
at least 20 years
Civics test with only 20 study questions in your language of choice

Under the English language exception, you still need to:

  • Take the civics test. You can take the civics test in your own language
  • If you take the test in your own language, you need to have an interpreter with you
  • The interpreter needs to be fluent in English
  • Applicants who are 65 years and older and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years will be given special consideration regarding the civics requirement, like being exempt from the English language requirement

Learn more about the U.S. Citizenship test questions and answers.

Medical disability exceptions

Due to physical disability, developmental disability, or mental impairment; you could qualify for exceptions to English and civics requirements.

You can request this exception through Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability. You will need a medical professional to sign this form. 

Continuous residence exception

You could qualify for the continuous residence exemption if you are employed overseas. 

To learn more, visit the USCIS website about Continuous Residence and Physical Presence Requirements.

Accommodations for people with disabilities

You can list your needs in form N-400, Application for Naturalization. USCIS provides accommodations and modifications for applicants with physical or mental impairments that make it difficult to complete the process.

We hope this helped answer your question about how to apply for citizenship. Sign up below to take our free citizenship preparation classes. You can take them online, anywhere, anytime!

The information on this page comes from USCIS. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.