How to Apply for U.S. Citizenship
To apply for naturalization you must file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
Before you apply, it’s important that you verify you’ve met all eligibility requirements. Check if you qualify for any exceptions and accommodations. You can use the naturalization eligibility worksheet and document checklist to help you prepare.
Application for Naturalization – Form N-400 (1.48 MB PDF)
Instructions for Form N-400 (424 KB PDF)
Naturalization Requirements Information (220 KB PDF)
Other Forms & Information
Citizenship and Naturalization-Based Forms
Find all other official citizenship and naturalization based forms.
Check current filing fees for immigration services and benefits.
Fee Waiver Guidance
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Check Processing Times
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10 Steps to become a U.S. Citizen.
Step 1. Determine if you are already a U.S. citizen.
What to do: If you are not a U.S. citizen by birth, or you did not acquire or derive U.S. citizenship from your parents automatically after birth, go to the next step.
Step 2. Determine if you are eligible to become a U.S. citizen.
What to do: Review the naturalization eligibility worksheet to help you decide if you are eligible to apply for naturalization.
Step 3. Prepare your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
What to do: Download the form and read the instructions. Get 2 passport-style photos and collect the necessary documents to demonstrate your eligibility for naturalization. Use the document checklist to make sure you collect all the required documents.
Step 4. Submit your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
Once you submit Form N-400, USCIS will send you a receipt notice. You should check current processing times and the status of your application online or by calling the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 or 1-800-767-1833 for the hearing impaired.
Step 5. Go to your biometrics appointment, if applicable.
What to do: If you need to take biometrics, USCIS will send you an appointment notice that includes your biometrics appointment date, time, and location. It’s important that you arrive at the designated location at the scheduled time. Have your biometrics taken.
Step 6. Complete the interview.
Once all the preliminary processes on your case are complete, USCIS will schedule an interview with you to complete the naturalization process. It is mandatory that you report to the USCIS office at the date and time on your appointment notice. You must also bring the appointment notice with you.
Step 7. Receive a decision from USCIS on your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
USCIS will issue you a written notice of decision.
Granted—USCIS may approve your Form N-400 if the evidence in your record establishes that you are eligible for naturalization.
Continued—USCIS may continue your application if you need to provide additional evidence/documentation, fail to provide USCIS the correct documents, or fail the English and/or civics test the first time.
Denied—USCIS will deny your Form N-400 if the evidence in your record establishes you are not eligible for naturalization.
Step 8. Receive a notice to take the Oath of Allegiance.
What to expect: If USCIS approved your Form N-400 in step 7, you might be able to participate in a naturalization ceremony on the same day as your interview. If a same day naturalization ceremony is unavailable, USCIS will mail you a notification with the date, time, and location of your scheduled ceremony.
Step 9. Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
Important: You are not a U.S. citizen until you take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony.
What to do: Complete the questionnaire on Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony. Report for your naturalization ceremony and check in with USCIS. A USCIS officer will review your responses to Form N-445. Hand in your Permanent Resident Card (Green Card). Take the Oath of Allegiance to become a U.S. citizen. Receive your Certificate of Naturalization, review it, and notify USCIS of any errors you might notice on your certificate before leaving the ceremony site.
Step 10. Understanding U.S. citizenship.
Citizenship is the common thread that connects all Americans. Check out this list of some of the most important rights and responsibilities that all citizens—whether Americans by birth or by choice—should exercise, honor, and respect.
10 Steps to Naturalization (1.57 MB PDF)
Becoming a U.S. Citizen: An Overview of the Naturalization Process
I’m a Permanent Resident. How Do I Apply for U.S. Citizenship (2.21 MB PDF)
Study for the Naturalization Test
Free Naturalization Information Sessions
The 100 civics (history and government) questions and answers for the naturalization test
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Civics and English Test Study MaterialsNaturalization Self Study Test #1
USCIS Videos on U.S. Citizenship:
Background Information on becoming a United States Citizen
Citizenship in the United States, being a citizen, is a status that entails specific rights, duties and benefits. Citizenship is understood as a “right to have rights” since it serves as a foundation for a bundle of subsequent rights, such as the right to live and work in the United States and to receive federal assistance.
There are two primary sources of citizenship: birthright citizenship, in which a person is presumed to be a citizen provided that he is born within the territorial limits of the United States, or other circumstances existing at the time of their birth (for example, citizenship of a parent), and naturalization, a process in which an immigrant applies for citizenship and is accepted. These two pathways to citizenship are specified in the Citizenship Clause of the Constitution’s 1868 Fourteenth Amendment which reads:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
National citizenship signifies membership in the country as a whole; state citizenship, in contrast, signifies a relation between a person and a particular state and has application generally limited to domestic matters. State citizenship may affect tax decisions and (2) eligibility for some state-provided benefits such as higher education and (3) eligibility for state political posts such as U.S. Senator.
In Article One of the Constitution, the power to establish a “uniform rule of naturalization” is granted explicitly to Congress.
U.S. law permits multiple citizenship. A citizen of another country naturalized as a U.S. citizen may retain their previous citizenship, though they must renounce allegiance to the other country. A U.S. citizen retains U.S. citizenship when becoming the citizen of another country, should that country’s laws allow it. Citizenship can be renounced by American citizens who also hold another citizenship via a formal procedure at a U.S. Embassy, and it can also be restored.
What it means to be a citizen
Freedom to reside and work. United States citizens have the right to reside and work in the United States. Certain non-citizens, such as permanent residents, have similar rights. However, non-citizens, unlike citizens, may have the right taken away: for example, they may be deported if convicted of a serious crime.
Freedom to enter and leave the United States. United States citizens have the right to enter and leave the United States freely. Certain non-citizens, such as permanent residents, have similar rights. Unlike permanent residents, U.S. citizens do not have an obligation to maintain residence in the U.S. – they can leave for any length of time and return freely at any time.
Voting for federal office in all fifty states and the District of Columbia is restricted to citizens only. States are not required to extend the franchise to all citizens: for example, several states bar citizen felons from voting, even after they have completed any custodial sentence. The United States Constitution bars states from restricting citizens from voting on grounds of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, failure to pay any tax, or age (for citizens who are at least eighteen years old). Historically, many states and local jurisdictions have allowed non-citizens to vote; however, today this is limited to local elections in very few places. Citizens are not compelled to vote.
Freedom to stand for public office. The United States Constitution requires that all members of the United States House of Representatives have been citizens for seven years, and that all senators have been citizens for nine years, before taking office. Most states have similar requirements: for example California requires that legislators have been citizens for three years, and the Governor have been a citizen for five years, upon taking office. The U.S. Constitution requires that one be “a natural born Citizen” and a U.S. resident for fourteen years in order to be President of the United States. The Constitution also stipulates that otherwise eligible citizens must meet certain age requirements for these offices.
U.S. citizens may be summoned to serve on a jury. Jury duty is only imposed upon citizens. Jury duty may be considered the “sole differential obligation” between non-citizens and citizens; the federal and state courts “uniformly exclude non-citizens from jury pools today, and with the exception of a few states in the past, this has always been the case.
Military participation is not currently required in the United States, but a policy of conscription of men has been in place at various times (both in war and in peace) in American history, most recently during the Vietnam War. Currently, the United States Armed Forces are a professional all-volunteer force, although both male U.S. citizens and male non-citizen permanent residents are required to register with the Selective Service System and may be called up in the event of a future draft. Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg writes, “The professional military has limited the need for citizen soldiers.”
Taxes. In the United States today, everyone except those whose income is derived from tax-exempt revenue (Subchapter N, Section 861 of the U.S. Tax Code) is required to file a federal income tax return. American citizens are subject to federal income tax on worldwide income regardless of their country of residence.
Consular protection outside the United States. While traveling abroad, if a person is arrested or detained by foreign authorities, the person can request to speak to somebody from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Consular officials can provide resources for Americans incarcerated abroad, such as a list of local attorneys who speak English. The U.S. government may even intervene on the person’s behalf. Non-citizen U.S. nationals also have this benefit.
Increased ability to sponsor relatives living abroad. Several types of immigrant visas require that the person requesting the visa be directly related to a U.S. citizen. Having U.S. citizenship facilitates the granting of IR and F visas to family members.
Ability to invest in U.S. real property without triggering FIRPTA. Perhaps the only quantifiable economic benefit of U.S. citizenship, citizens are not subject to additional withholding tax on income and capital gains derived from U.S. real estate under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA).
Transmission of U.S. citizenship to children born abroad. Generally, children born to two U.S. citizen parents abroad are automatically U.S. citizens at birth. When the parents are one U.S. citizen and one non-U.S. citizen, certain conditions about the U.S. citizen’s parent’s length of time spent in the U.S. need to be met. See United States nationality law for more details. Non-citizen U.S. nationals also have a similar benefit (transmission of non-citizen U.S. nationality to children born abroad).
Protection from deportation. Naturalized U.S. citizens are no longer considered aliens and cannot be placed into deportation proceedings.
Other benefits. The USCIS sometimes honors the achievements of naturalized U.S. citizens. The ‘Outstanding American by Choice Award’ was created by the USCIS to recognize the outstanding achievements of naturalized U.S. citizens, and past recipients include author Elie Wiesel who won the Nobel Peace Prize; Indra K. Nooyi who is CEO of PepsiCo; John Shalikashvili who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and others. Further, citizenship status can affect which country an athlete can compete as a member of in competitions such as the Olympics.
A Brief History of citizenship in the United States
Citizenship began in colonial times as an active relation between people working cooperatively to solve municipal problems and participating actively in democratic decision-making, such as in New England town hall meetings. People met regularly to discuss local affairs and make decisions. These town meetings were described as the “earliest form of American democracy” which was vital since citizen participation in public affairs helped keep democracy “sturdy”, according to Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835. A variety of forces changed this relation during the nation’s history. Citizenship became less defined by participation in politics and more defined as a legal relation with accompanying rights and privileges. While the realm of civic participation in the public sphere has shrunk, the citizenship franchise has been expanded to include not just propertied white adult men but black men and adult women.
Earlier on, U.S. citizenship was not given to people of Indian or East Asian descent. A. K. Mozumdar was the first person born in the Indian sub-continent to attain U.S. citizenship. Few years earlier, as a result of the 1898 United States v. Wong Kim Ark Supreme Court decision, ethnic Chinese born in the United States became citizens. During World War II, due to Japan’s heavy involvement as an aggressor, it was decided to restrict many Japanese citizens from applying for U.S. citizenship, while Chinese citizens encountered no trouble, because of China’s alliance with the United States.
U.S. citizenship is usually acquired by birth when a child is born in the territory of the United States. In addition to U.S. states, this includes the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Citizenship, however, was not specified in the original Constitution. In 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment specifically defined persons who were either born or naturalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction as citizens. All babies born in the United States—except those born to enemy aliens in wartime or the children of foreign diplomats—enjoy U.S. citizenship under the Supreme Court’s long-standing interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The amendment states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” There remains dispute as to who is “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States at birth.
By acts of Congress, every person born in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands is a United States citizen by birth. Also, every person born in the former Panama Canal Zone whose father or mother (or both) are or were a citizen is a United States citizen by birth.
Regardless of where they are born, children of U.S. citizens are U.S. citizens in most cases. Children born outside the United States with at least one U.S. citizen parent usually have birthright citizenship by parentage.
While persons born in the United States are considered to be citizens and can have passports, children under age eighteen are legally considered to be minors and cannot vote or hold office. Upon the event of their eighteenth birthday, they are considered full citizens but there is no ceremony acknowledging this relation or any correspondence between the new citizen and the government to this effect. Citizenship is assumed to exist, and the relation is assumed to remain viable until death or until it is renounced or dissolved by some other legal process. Secondary schools teach the basics of citizenship and create “informed and responsible citizens” who are “skilled in the arts of effective deliberation and action”.
The agency in charge of admitting new citizens is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, commonly abbreviated as USCIS. It is a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. It offers web-based services. The agency depends on application fees for revenue.
Pathways to citizenship
People applying to become citizens must satisfy certain requirements. For example, there have been requirements that applicants have been permanent residents for five years (three if married to a U.S. citizen), be of “good moral character” (meaning no felony convictions), be of “sound mind” in the judgment of immigration officials, have knowledge of the Constitution, and be able to speak and understand English unless they are elderly or disabled. Applicants must also pass a simple citizenship test. Up until recently, a test published by the Immigration and Naturalization Service asked questions such as “How many stars are there in our flag?” and “What is the Constitution?” and “Who is the president of the United States today?” At one point, the Government Printing Office sold flashcards for $8.50 to help test takers prepare for the test. In 2006, the government replaced the former trivia test with a ten-question oral test designed to “shun simple historical facts about America that can be recounted in a few words for more explanation about the principles of American democracy, such as freedom”. One reviewer described the new citizenship test as “thoughtful”. While some have criticized the new version of the test, officials counter that the new test is a “teachable moment” without making it conceptually more difficult, since the list of possible questions and answers, as before, will be publicly available. Six correct answers constitutes a passing grade. The new test probes for signs that immigrants “understand and share American values”.
Military participation is often a way for immigrant residents to become citizens. Since many people seek citizenship for its financial and social benefits, the promise of citizenship can be seen as a means of motivating persons to do dangerous activities such as fight in wars. For example, a 2009 article in the New York Times said that the United States Military was recruiting “skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas” by promising an opportunity to become citizens “in as little as six months” in exchange for service in Afghanistan and Iraq where US forces are “stretched thin”. The option was not open to illegal immigrants.One estimate was that in 2009 the US military had 29,000 foreign-born people currently serving who were not American citizens. Spouses of citizens or non-citizens who served in the military also have less difficulty becoming citizens. One analyst noted that “many immigrants, not yet citizens, have volunteered to serve in the United States military forces … Some have been killed and others wounded … Perhaps this can be seen as a cynical attempt to qualify more easily for U.S. citizenship … But I think that service in the U.S. military has to be taken as a pretty serious commitment to the United States.” Immigrant soldiers who fight for the US often have an easier and faster path to citizenship. In 2002, President Bush signed an executive order to eliminate the three-year waiting period and made service personnel immediately eligible for citizenship. In 2003, Congress voted to “cut the waiting period to become a citizen from three years down to one year” for immigrants who had served in the armed forces. In 2003, of 1.4 million service members, 37,000 active-duty members were not citizens, and of these, 20 percent had applied for citizenship. By June 2003, 12 non-citizens had died fighting for the United States in the Iraqi war. The military has had a tradition of “filling out its ranks” with aliens living in the U.S. Non-citizens fought in World War II. The military has struggled to “fill its depleted ranks” by recruiting more non-US citizens. But there is considerable anxiety about using foreigners to serve in the U.S. armed forces. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was quoted as saying: “When Rome went out and hired mercenary soldiers, Rome fell.”
Grandparent rule. Section 322 of the INA, added in 1994, enabled children of a U.S. citizen who did not get citizenship at birth, to use the physical presence period in the U.S. of a grandparent who was a citizen to qualify for U.S. citizenship. In 2006, there were 4,000 applications of citizenship using the physical presence of grandparents. Israelis comprise 90% of those taking advantage of the clause.
According to a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, “citizenship is a very, very valuable commodity”. However, one study suggested legal residents eligible for citizenship, but who don’t apply, tend to have low incomes (41 percent), do not speak English well (60 percent), or have low levels of education (25 percent). There is strong demand for citizenship based on the numbers of applications filed. From 1920 to 1940, the number of immigrants to the United States who became citizens numbered about 200,000 each year; there was a spike after World War II, and then the level reduced to about 150,000 per year until resuming to the 200,000 level beginning about 1980. In the mid-1990s to 2009, the levels rose to about 500,000 per year with considerable variation. In 1996, more than one million people became citizens through naturalization. In 1997, there were 1.41 million applications filed; in 2006, 1.38 million. The number of naturalized citizens in the United States rose from 6.5 million in the mid-1990s to 11 million in 2002. By 2003, the pool of immigrants eligible to become naturalized citizens was 8 million, and of these, 2.7 million lived in California. In 2003, the number of new citizens from naturalization was 463,204. In 2007, the number was 702,589.In 2007, 1.38 million people applied for citizenship creating a backlog. In 2008, applications decreased to 525,786. In 2013, a total of 779,929 persons naturalized according to the 2013 DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.