Immigration Topics Explained:

How to Become a Citizen in the United States

Naturalization Explained

What is the process to obtain U.S. citizenship?

The process in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen is called naturalization. For foreign-born persons, naturalization is the most common way to become a citizen in the U.S. In order to naturalize, applicants generally must be permanent residents of the United States and meet several other eligibility criteria. Currently, there are an estimated 9.2 million permanent residents who are eligible to naturalize.

In addition to birth in the United States and naturalization, there is one other way to become a citizen of the United States. Certain foreign-born individuals may have to claim to citizenship through their parents. The may automatically become citizens at birth or after birth (but before the age of 18). To learn more, view our page on U.S. Citizenship through Parents.

The following describes in general terms the process for how to become a citizen in the U.S. If you’re ready to get started with the application, skip to how CitizenPath can help.

Eligibility for Naturalization

What are the requirements?

You must meet certain requirements before you are eligible to apply for naturalization with Form N-400. Generally, you must be a permanent resident who is at least 18 years old. Here is how to become a citizen in the U.S. based on the three most common eligibility categories:

5-Year Permanent Resident

Most green card holders are eligible to naturalize after five years as a lawful permanent resident.
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Married to a U.S. Citizen

If you’re a permanent resident who is married to a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to naturalize after just three years.
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U.S. armed forces basis for naturalization

U.S. Armed Forces

If you've served at least one year in the U.S. military during certain periods, you may be eligible to naturalize now.
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If you are applying based on five years as a permanent resident or based on three years as a permanent resident married to a U.S. citizen, you may file the application up to 90 days before you meet the “continuous residence” requirement. You must meet all the other requirements at the time that you file your application with USCIS.

The vast majority of applicants fall into one of the categories above. However, there are additional eligibility categories. You can check your eligibility by using CitizenPath's service to prepare the N-400 application. You don't have to pay unless you want to finish the application. There is no cost to check your eligibility.

U.S. Citizenship Application Process

How do I apply for naturalization?

If you wish to apply for U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process, you must file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. For detailed instructions on how to prepare the forms and which supporting documents to include, refer to the USCIS website or utilize CitizenPath to prepare your Form N-400. CitizenPath is the industry’s best preparation software designed by immigration attorneys and backed up with live customer support. Our affordable online immigration services make USCIS applications easier and help eliminate common mistakes that cause delays, rejections, and denials. We even guarantee that USCIS will approve your application. Learn about the Naturalization Application Package >>

Download a FREE N-400 checklist that will help you gather some of the necessary information to prepare the naturalization application.

Cost for Naturalization

How much does it cost to become a U.S. citizen?

The USCIS filing fee for Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) is significant. But when compared to the lifetime costs of remaining a permanent resident, citizenship through naturalization is very affordable. Did you know the average 35-year old permanent resident will spend another $4,400 in green card renewal fees over a lifetime? Applicants 75 years of age or older are exempt from the biometric fee, and U.S. armed forces applicants don’t have to pay a fee at all!

Become a Citizen at a Reduced Fee

USCIS will grant a fee waiver if you meet certain criteria and are unable to pay the fees. You will likely qualify for the fee waiver if your income is below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Other factors that may help you qualify include receiving a means-tested benefit or you are experiencing a financial hardship that prevents you from paying the filing fee. Learn more about fee waivers.

You may request a reduced filing fee for the application if your documented annual household income is greater than 150 percent but not more than 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines at the time you file. If you qualify, you'll have to pay a reduced filing fee of $405. Learn more about fee waivers.

Pay by Credit Card

Don’t have the cash? USCIS will now accept credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover) for the N-400 fees. Use Form G-1450 to pay by credit card.

Naturalization Time Line

How long does it take to become a citizen?

After you file your application, USCIS will mail you an appointment notice for a biometric screening. This is a relatively quick appointment at a USCIS Application Support Center to obtain your photo, fingerprints and signature. USCIS uses the biometric data to conduct a mandatory criminal background check.

Several months later, USCIS will likely require you to attend a naturalization interview. They will notify you of the time, date, and location for an interview. USCIS uses the naturalization interview to confirm the information you provided on the application. It’s also an opportunity for them to see if circumstances have changed that may make you ineligible. Generally, this is a quick interview that only lasts 20 to 30 minutes. Once the USCIS officer approved Form N-400, you'll be invited to an oath ceremony.

For an in-depth look at what happens after filing Form N-400, visit our N-400 processing time line.

Preparing for the U.S. Citizenship Tests

Is the citizenship test and interview difficult?

Study materials have made it easier than ever to take the test to become a U.S. citizen. At the naturalization interview, the USCIS officer will give you a short English and civics test. If you know what to study, this can be easy for most everyone to pass. There are several free resources to help you get ready for the tests.

English Test Practice

You will only be expected to read, write, and understand simple vocabulary and use basic grammar. You can study from a list of likely vocabulary words.

History/Civics Test Practice

There are 10 questions, and you will only need to answer 6 questions correctly to pass. You can study from a list of 100 possible questions.

For older permanent residents (age 50 or more) or applicants with medical disabilities, there are also several exemptions for the test.

Form N-400, Application for Naturalization

Use Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) to apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Each year, USCIS rejects or denies thousands of N-400 applications. Therefore, it's important to get it right.

each year an average of
N-400 applications are filed*
out of these
get rejected*
and another
get denied*

How CitizenPath Helps You Prepare the Naturalization Package

How to become a citizen with the peace of mind you've done everything correctly

CitizenPath's affordable, online service makes it easy to prepare Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Designed by immigration lawyers, the Naturalization Package helps you eliminate the common errors that create delays, rejections and even denials. That's because the service alerts you when your answer to a question may be a problem. You'll also get customized filing instructions based on your situation. It's a powerful, do-it-yourself tool that puts you in control. And we've got your back -- CitizenPath provides live customer support and provides a money-back guarantee that USCIS will approve the application. Get started >>

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