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U.S. citizenship requirements and categories

Are you eligible to become a U.S. naturalized citizen? Learn if you meet the citizenship requirements. Get information on the ways you can become a U.S. citizen.


What is citizenship

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.

Citizenship requirements 

In general, you must meet the following requirements when you apply for naturalization as a lawful permanent resident.

You must be 18 years of age or older at the time you file the application.

You must be a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for usually 5 years before filing.

  • An LPR is someone who is not a citizen but is allowed to live in the USA.
  • Your green card must be valid and not expired.

You must 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 for travel documents. 

You must 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.

You must 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 a state driver’s license, home lease, mortgage agreement, utility bill, or employment pay stub.

You must show good moral character for usually 5 years before filing.

  • In general, this means you are honest and have not committed certain crimes.
  • This must also continue during the application process, including being honest in the naturalization interview.
  • If you do have a criminal history, try to speak to a lawyer for legal support.

You must 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:

  • File Form N-400
  • Go to the naturalization interview
    • Read, write, and speak basic English
    • Know U.S. history and government
  • Go to a biometrics appointment
  • Show proof of COVID-19 vaccination
  • Promise loyalty to the U.S. Constitution

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. 

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 Form 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.

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

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.

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

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. Dual citizenship is when you have citizenship in two countries at the same time.

Help with eligibility

The requirements can be confusing. There are helpful tools to help you understand if you meet the requirements:

Next: Learn how to apply for citizenship 


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