How to File for US Citizenship: Eligibility, Requirements, Cost, and Application ProcessFiling for US Citizenship is done through the process of Naturalization. US Citizenship through Naturalization is for persons who were born outside of the United States and wish to voluntarily apply for USA Citizenship. US Citizenship is a status that is either acquired through birth or through a grant of a Certificate of Naturalization. Lawful Permanent Residents (Green Card holders) for at least 3 or 5 years, spouses of U.S. Citizens, and members of the US military are eligible to become Naturalized Americans. Applying for United States Citizenship allows you to vote in federal elections, possess a US Passport, run for public office, and sponsor your immediate relatives for Permanent Residency. 

Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) is the document used to file for USA Citizenship for persons who were born outside the USA. Applicants must meet certain requirements such as minimum length of residence in the United States, English proficiency, knowledge of American Government and history, and respect for the U.S. Constitution to qualify for American Citizenship. The cost to be paid for US Citizenship through Naturalization consists of the N-400 filing fee and biometrics service fee. 

How to Apply for US Citizenship?

US Citizenship is either acquired by birth or applied for through the process of naturalization. There are 10 steps to apply for US Citizenship through Naturalization.

1. Know if You are already a US Citizen.

Persons who are US Citizens at birth are those that were born in the United States or in territories of the United States. Children born from a parent or parents who were US Citizens at the time of their birth are considered to be U.S. Citizens by acquisition. Adopted children with parent(s) who became USA Citizens before they turned 18 years old also qualify to become U.S. Citizens without the need to go through Naturalization.

2. Find out if You are Qualified for US Citizenship.

There are key criteria that must be met to qualify for USA Citizenship. Eligibility for US Naturalization depends on your immigration status, length of physical residence in the USA, and specific circumstances related to military service and marriage. 

3. Accomplish your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) is the document used to apply for US Citizenship for persons who were born outside the USA. The N-400 form can be filed by mail or online by creating an account on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the agency that handles and adjudicates all US immigration petitions and applications such as Form N-400

4. File Form N-400 and Pay the Filing Fees.

Foreign citizens are able to file their N-400 as early as 90 days before their 3-year or 5-year anniversary as US Permanent Residents (Green Card holders). USA Permanent Residents (Green Card holders) are foreign citizens that have obtained the right to live in the United States indefinitely. The full 3 or 5 years of Permanent Residence must still be fulfilled to become a United States Citizen. The N-400 filing fee must be paid to ensure the processing of your Naturalization petition. Ensure that your mailing address is updated to receive the notices from USCIS regarding your USA Naturalization application.

5. Attend the Biometrics Appointment.

Applicants who need to attend a biometrics appointment will receive a notification through Form I-797 (Notice of Action) from the USCIS regarding the date, time, and location of the appointment. The biometrics screening for USA Citizenship involves a background check and requires the taking of fingerprints, photos, and signature. USCIS uses Form I-797 for varied purposes including notifying you of the receipt or approval of your petition.

6. Go to Your Naturalization Interview.

USCIS will schedule you for your U.S. Citizenship interview at a UCSIS field office or at a U.S. embassy or consulate if you are outside the United States. Inform USCIS beforehand if you are unable to attend your USA Citizenship interview and request for rescheduling. Failure to attend your interview will result in the administrative closing of your application and prolong your US Naturalization process. Inability to contact USCIS 1 year after your US Citizenship petition has been paused will result in a denial. You then need to begin the application process and pay Form N400 filing fees again. 

7. Complete the Required US Citizenship Examinations.

The interview process includes the U.S. Citizenship exams consisting of 2 parts. The first is the English Language Test to evaluate your speaking, reading, and writing skills in English. The second is the Civics Test which assesses your knowledge of American history, government, and the rights and responsibilities of USA Citizens. You are allowed to retake the parts of the Citizenship tests 60-90 days after your first exam if you fail certain sections. 

8. Get the Decision from USCIS on Your Form N-400.

USCIS mails the result of your N400 application. The USCIS decision is also accessible online through your USCIS account. Below are the possible outcomes after you filed for United States Citizenship.

  • Granted. Approval of your N 400 submission means you qualify to become a naturalized US Citizen.
  • Continued. USCIS issues this status for applications who need to submit additional documents or fail to pass portions of the USA Citizenship examinations. 
    • You need to go through a second interview to retake the portions of the Citizenship test you failed. Inability to clear the USA Citizenship test upon retake results in denial.
    • You will receive a letter or Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS if your evidence is incomplete. You need to respond to the request within 30 days to avoid denial. 
  • Denied. This decision means that the evidence you filed with your N-400 form is not sufficient and does not qualify you for Naturalization. You are allowed to appeal the decision within 30 days of receiving the denial letter from USCIS using Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (Under Section 336 of the INA). You will be scheduled for a hearing in 180 days and if you still receive a denial after the hearing, you have the option to take your case to the U.S. district court. 

9. Obtain a Notice to Take the Oath of Allegiance.

You need to attend the Oath of Allegiance ceremony to complete your US Citizenship application after obtaining USCIS approval. The Oath of Allegiance ceremony usually happens on the same day as the interview if approved. You need to answer the questions on Form N-445 (Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony) and submit it to a USCIS officer for review. Permanent Residents will need to surrender their Green Cards during the ceremony. You will be given your Certificate of Naturalization after the Oath of Allegiance ceremony and in some instances, be able to register to vote.  

You have to return Form N-445 to the USCIS field office in your area if you are unable to attend the ceremony. You need to submit a letter explaining the reason why you are unable to attend your Oath of Allegiance ceremony as well as a request for a new date. The inability to attend the ceremony more than once can result in denial.

10. Review the Rights and Responsibilities of US Citizens.

Naturalized Americans must exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities as citizens of the United States. 

Here are your rights as an American Citizen.

  • The right to freedom of expression.
  • The right to worship as you wish.
  • The right to a prompt, impartial trial by jury.
  • The right to vote for public government officials.
  • The right to apply for federal jobs that require USA Citizenship.
  • The right to run for public office.
  • The right to pursue “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”.

Here are your responsibilities as an American Citizen.

  • Uphold and defend the US Constitution.
  • Keep yourself informed of issues in your community.
  • Take part in the democratic process.
  • Respect, and obey federal, state, and local US laws.
  • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of other people.
  • Engage with your local community.
  • Pay your income taxes to the federal, state, and local governments honestly and on time.
  • Act as a member of a jury when called upon to do so.
  • Defend the United States of America if needed.

Who is Eligible for US Citizenship?

The USCIS has a Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet that helps you determine whether you are qualified for U.S. Citizenship. 

These are the general qualifying criteria for US Citizenship through Naturalization.

  • Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing Form N400.
  • Held a Green Card for at least 3 or 5 years depending on the mode of Permanent Residency application.
  • Resided continuously in the USA for at least 5 years before filing N 400 form.
  • Have not been outside the United States for 30 months or more in the last 5 years.
  • Lived in the US State where you are applying for Naturalization for a minimum of 3 months.
  • Read, speak, and write in basic English.
  • Have knowledge and understanding of US history and its government.
  • Demonstrate respect and support for the US Constitution.
  • Be a person of good moral character and be willing to take an Oath of Allegiance to the USA.

Can I Apply for US Citizenship through Investment?

US Investor Visas allow foreign citizens to obtain Permanent Resident status which leads to USA Citizenship after 5 years. US Investor Visas are for foreign entrepreneurs and investors who seek to set up commercial ventures in the United States for purposes of immigration. US Investor Visas lead directly or indirectly to a USA Green Card. The E-2 Investor Visa is an indirect path to US Permanent Residency that requires a substantial investment and an active role in setting up a US business. Only citizens of treaty countries are eligible for the E2 Visa. Treaty countries such as Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Mexico maintain a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States. The EB-5 Visa is an immigrant classification that directly leads to a Green Card. EB5 Visa investors have to invest a minimum amount in a new commercial enterprise that yields at least 10 full-time jobs for US workers to become Permanent Residents. E2 investors are able to apply for a Green Card through the EB 5 Visa Program. 

What are the Requirements for US Citizenship?

Below are the common qualifying documents and evidence required to file for American Citizenship.

  • Copy of your Permanent Resident Card.
  • The check or money order for the N-400 filing fee and biometrics fee.
  • 2 identical colored photos for applicants outside the US with the name and Alien Registration Number (A-Number) written lightly with a pencil on the back of each photo.
  • For foreign citizens applying for USA Naturalization through marriage, below are the required documents.
    • Proof of the US Citizenship of your spouse for the past 3 years such as birth certificate, certificate of naturalization, certificate of citizenship, and your current marriage certificate.
    • Proof of termination of prior marriages of your spouse such as divorce decrees, annulments, or death certificates.
    • Documents showing your relationship with your spouse such as tax returns, mortgages, or birth certificates of children.
  • The original and completed Form N-426 (Request for Certification of Military or Naval Services) for applicants seeking American Citizenship through US military service.
  • An original official statement by the arresting agency for arrests or detainment wherein no charges were filed.
  • An original or court-certified copy of the complete arrest record and disposition for arrests or detainment wherein charges were filed.
  • An original or court-certified copy of the court order for arrests or convictions that have been vacated, set aside, sealed, expunged, or otherwise removed from your record. 
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) correspondences if you failed to file an income tax return since becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).
  • A signed agreement from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or state or local tax office if you have any federal, state, or local taxes that are overdue.
  • An original Form N-648 (Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions) for foreign citizens applying for a disability exemption to the US Citizenship test.
  • A “Status Information Letter” from the Selective Service if you did not register with the Selective Service, are male aged 26 years or older, and lived in the USA in a status other than a lawful nonimmigrant between the ages of 18 and 26.

What are Exemptions to US Naturalization Requirements?

Exemption from the US Naturalization tests exists for certain applicants. 

Applicant Characteristics English Test Exemption Civics Test Exemption
Applicants 50 years and above and have resided in the United States and as LPRs for at least 20 years Yes No
Applicants 55 years and above and have resided in the United States as LPRs for at least 15 years Yes No
Applicants 65 years and above and have resided in the United States as LPRs for at least 20 years Yes No, but are only required to study 20 out of the typical 100 questions that other applicants are asked about. Only 10 questions will be asked and the applicant only needs 6 correct answers to pass.
Applicants with medical disabilities that have lasted or are anticipated to last at least 12 months Yes, with waiver approval Yes, with waiver approval

An applicant who files for Naturalization based on military service is exempt from travel and residence requirements but will have to demonstrate good moral character based on their criminal records. 

How Much Does it Cost to Apply for US Citizenship?

The cost of filing for USA Citizenship through Naturalization is $725. The Naturalization fee is composed of the N 400 application fee and the biometrics service fee. Military applicants are exempted from paying the US Citizenship costs while applicants 75 years and older are exempted from paying the biometrics fee. You are able to pay for the US Naturalization costs through check or money order. Only the N400 form filing fee is payable via credit card.

What to Do if I Cannot Afford the US Citizenship Filing Fee?

You are able to apply for a reduction or waiver of the U.S. Citizenship costs by filing Form I-912 (Request for Fee Waiver) together with an explanation of why you are unable to afford the required fees. Your total annual household income must be between 150% and 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines to qualify for a USCIS fee reduction.

How Long Does it Take to Obtain US Citizenship?

The processing time for US Citizenship applications is between 18 and 24 months. The US Citizenship processing time starts from the date of filing your Form N400 up until you attend your Oath of Allegiance ceremony.

What is US Citizenship?

US Citizenship is a bond that links people who share a sense of civic duty and a commitment to the liberties and rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. A US Certificate of Citizenship is given to persons who have acquired USA Citizenship by being born in the United States or one of its territories or by being born to parents who are US Citizens.

What is Naturalization?

Naturalization is the process by which foreign citizens become USA Citizens if they meet the qualifying conditions. Naturalization is applied for by foreign citizens who have been Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) for at least 5 years, spouses of US Citizens, and members of the U.S. military. 

What is the Difference Between US Citizenship and Naturalization?

US Citizenship is a status while Naturalization is the process of obtaining US Citizenship. US Citizenship is acquired and automatic if you are born from US Citizen parents or born in the United States or one of its territories. Naturalization involves voluntarily applying for U.S. Citizenship if you have been an LPR for 5 years, married to a US Citizen, or served in the U.S. military. A Certificate of Naturalization is granted to an approved applicant for Citizenship in the US. 

What are the Advantages of US Citizenship?

While Lawful Permanent Residents are able to stay, work, and study indefinitely in the United States, they will have to renew their status every 10 years to retain these benefits. A Green Card holder files for US Citizenship to afford more benefits than those enjoyed by LPRs.

  • Obtain the right to vote. US Citizens are not limited to voting in certain local municipalities only but are allowed to cast their ballots in federal elections.
  • Run for public office. You are able to file your candidacy for the USA elections as a Naturalized American Citizen.
  • Be free from immigration forms and procedures. You no longer need to renew your Green Card and pay the associated fees. You are able to move anywhere in the United States without notifying the US government which is required of Green Card holders.
  • Work for the US government. You are eligible for employment in the US government and receive more benefits and higher wages compared to working in private companies.
  • Have more access to government assistance programs. The limits on your access to federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare are lifted as an American Citizen. You are eligible for federal college assistance which is only dedicated to US Citizens.
  • Sponsor family for US immigration. You are able to sponsor not only your spouse and minor children for Green Card but also your siblings, parents, and adult children as a Naturalized American. There is no annual cap and an immigrant visa is always available to immediate relatives of US Citizens.  
  • Get acquired USA Citizenship for your children. Your children are automatically Citizens of America once you become Naturalized even if they were born outside the US. You will need to notify the nearest US embassy or consulate to ensure your child’s claim to US Citizenship.
  • Do away with deportations. You cannot be forcibly deported from the US, just like any other US citizen, even if you are convicted or arrested. A Naturalized Citizen can only be deported if their citizenship is first revoked, which is extremely uncommon. The first application has to have been fraudulent for this to happen.
  • Get a US Passport. One of the key advantages of getting U.S. Citizenship is possessing a US Passport that grants visa-free access to more than 180 countries and territories. You are no longer restricted as to the duration and frequency of your overseas travel as an American Citizen.

What are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Naturalized US Citizen?

You need to consider what is required of you after becoming a US Citizen. A foreign citizen who files for USA Citizenship must observe these duties and responsibilities of American Citizens.

  • Renounce your citizenship in other countries. Not all countries allow for dual citizenship. Dual citizenship means that you can retain your citizenship from 2 countries at the same time. The USA allows for dual citizenship however if you are from a country that does not allow dual citizenship such as India, Japan, United Arab Emirates, or Venezuela, you will have to let go of your citizenship in those countries to become a USA Citizen. 
  • Serve in the US military. Mandatory military service has been discontinued since 1970, however, all male US Citizens or LPRs that lived in the United States between the ages of 18 and 26 must register with the Selective Service System. The Selective Service System is a contingency measure in case conscription turns out to be essential.
  • File US income tax returns (ITRs) regardless of your residence. Even if you relocate abroad, you are still required to submit U.S. income tax returns (ITRs) as a Citizen of the United States. However, as long as you meet specific criteria, you will be able to remove from your income up to the annual cap permitted by the U.S. government ($100,000) to be excluded from taxation. Any income that is higher than that threshold will be taxed.
  • Serve as a member of the jury. You need to attend if summoned for jury duty and if selected, serve as part of the jury. Certain individuals are exempt from jury duty depending on age, disability, or positions in public office. 

When can I File for US Citizenship?

As a Green Card holder, you are able to file your Naturalization for Citizenship as early as 90 days before your anniversary as a Lawful Permanent Resident for 3 or 5 years. LPRs with no special circumstances such as EB-5 immigrant investors are able to file for US Citizenship after 5 years of obtaining their Green Cards. LPRs who are married to U.S. Citizens are able to file for Naturalization after 3 years as Green Card holders. Applicants who can apply for American Citizenship at any time are widow(er)s of US Citizens who died honorably while serving in the military and members of the US military during wartime service. 

Do I Need a Green Card to Apply for US Citizenship?

Yes, generally, you must be a Green Card holder for at least 3 or 5 years if you wish to become a USA Citizen. Only members of the U.S. military at any period during wartime service are eligible for US Citizenship without Green Card.

Learn more about USA Green Card application.

Does the US Allow Dual Citizenship?

Yes, the United States permits dual citizenship wherein a person possesses citizenships from 2 countries simultaneously. The US does not require its citizens to renounce their citizenship in other countries. You need to check if your home country allows for dual citizenship before applying for US Citizenship, especially if you intend to keep your first citizenship.

Know more about getting Dual Citizenship in USA.

What are the Differences Between a US Citizen and a US National?

All US Citizens are US Nationals but not all US Nationals are considered US Citizens. A US National is a person born in “outlying possessions of the United States” such as American Samoa and Swains Island. USA Nationals are allowed to reside in the United States and apply for Naturalization after 3 months. US Nationals have restrictions on their rights compared to Americans such as the inability to vote in the local, state, or federal elections. USA Nationals will have to be Naturalized to be able to run for federal office. The US government cannot revoke the right of US Nationals unlike those of Green Card holders. USA Nationals cannot lose their status and cannot be deported back to their home country. 

Do I Have to Pass an English Language Exam to Apply for US Citizenship?

Yes, you need to prove that you are able to read, write, and speak in English to become a Naturalized American Citizen. Only applicants of a certain age and length of US residence and certain persons with disabilities are exempted from taking the English language test for US Citizenship.

Do I Get a US Passport After Becoming a Naturalized American Citizen?

Yes, one of your privileges as a Naturalized Citizen of America is getting a U.S. Passport. You need to present your Certificate of Naturalization, a government-issued photo identification document, and a passport photo to apply for a USA Passport. 

What is the Fastest Way to Obtain US Citizenship?

Marrying a U.S. Citizen is a quicker way toward Naturalization. You only need to be a Green Card holder for at least 3 years before you are able to apply for US Citizenship through Naturalization.