U.S. citizenship requirements
and categories

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. If you are born in the United States you are automatically a citizen. You can also become a citizen through naturalization. 

Naturalization is the process of becoming a citizen if you were not born in the USA.

U.S. citizenship requirements 

In general, you must meet the following requirements when you apply for naturalization as a lawful permanent resident. See the chart below for a list of specific requirements by naturalization category.

  • Be 18 years of age or older at the time you file the application
  • Be a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for usually 5 years before filing
    • A lawful permanent resident is someone who is not a citizen but is allowed to live in the USA.
    • Your green card must be valid and not expired.
  • Have continuous residence in the United States for usually 5 years before filing
    • You must live in the USA and have not left the U.S. for any trips over 6 months.
    • If you do take a trip over 6 months, you still might have limited options to apply. Be sure to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Documents. 
  • Be physically present in the U.S. for usually 30 months before filing
    • You must prove you have been in the U.S. for at least half of the continuous residence time period.
    • All of your days outside of the USA, including days you were traveling to and from the USA, are added up.
  • Have proof of state residence for at least 3 months before filing
    • You will need to have documents that show you live in the state listed on your application.
    • Examples include state driver’s license, home deed or title, lease, or mortgage agreement, utility bills, and employment pay stubs.
  • Show good moral character for usually 5 years before filing 
    • Good moral character means you act like most citizens in your community. In general, this means you are honest and have not committed certain crimes. If you do have a criminal history, try to speak to a lawyer for legal support.
    • This must also continue during the application process, including being honest in the naturalization interview.
  • Register for military service if you are a male green card holder between the ages of 18 and 26  

In the application process you will also be required to:

You will also be required to show proof of vaccination for COVID-19.

There are exceptions to some requirements based on your age, time in the country, or medical condition.

It is important to get legal help if you are not sure you meet the requirements. The process is complicated and you do not get your money back if your application is denied. Many organizations and lawyers offer free or low-cost legal services.

Naturalization categories

Naturalization categories are the different ways you can apply for U.S. citizenship. They include:

Naturalization through lawful permanent residency

You must be a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or green card holder for at least 5 years.

Naturalization through marriage

You must be married to a U.S. citizen and have lived with them for at least 3 years before filing.

Naturalization through military service

You must have served or currently be serving honorably in the U.S. armed forces for at least one year during peacetime. You can also apply if you are serving or have served in the military during certain periods of hostility.

Naturalization through military family members

Your spouse must have or currently be serving in the U.S. armed forces abroad for at least one year. Your children can also get citizenship through a parent serving in the military. You have options for expedited and overseas naturalization. Those with a family member who died in service may also apply. 

Family members living with a military family member or applying for expedited naturalization are exempt from continuous residence and physical presence requirements. 

Acquisition of citizenship through a parent

You can get citizenship through a parent. You must be under 18 and have at least one parent U.S. citizen. They can be a natural-born or naturalized citizen. This includes adoptive parents.

You do not have to file N-400 to apply for naturalization through a U.S. citizen parent. You may already be considered a U.S. citizen and can file for proof of citizenship with Form N-600.

Citizenship requirements by category

The requirements can be different depending on your naturalization category. Below find how long you must have LPR status, continuous residence, physical presence, and good moral character at the time you file Form N-400.

LPR status
Continuous residence
Physical presence
State residence
Good moral character
Legal permanent resident (LPR)
5 years
5 years
30 months
3 months
5 years
3 years
3 years
18 months
3 months
3 years
Military service during peacetime
Active on filing date
5 years or exempt if active
30 months
5 years
Military service during hostilities
Active on date of service
1 year
U.S. citizen parent
Under 18
Active on filing date
Active on filing date

Active means you currently meet this requirement at the time of your naturalization interview.
Exempt means you do not have to meet this requirement.

If you are applying for naturalization through lawful permanent residency or marriage, you may be able to file your application 90 days early and before you meet your LPR status requirement.

Note: SIV recipients’ option to naturalize is through lawful permanent resident (LPR) status category and not military.

The USCIS naturalization eligibility tool and Citizenshipworks pre-screener can help you learn if you meet the requirements.

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship is when you have citizenship in two countries at the same time. The U.S. does not require you to give up your citizenship in another country. However, some countries do not allow dual citizenship with the United States.

Next: Learn how to apply for citizenship 

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.