What should I know about becoming a U.S. citizen?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
Read this in: Spanish / Español


Becoming a U.S. citizen


What is naturalization?

There are three ways to become a citizen of the United States:

  • By being born in the United States.

  • Having a parent who is or becomes a U.S. citizen.

  • Through naturalization. This is an application process for non-U.S. citizens.


Naturalized citizens enjoy the full rights of a U.S. citizen including: 

  • the right to speak freely, 

  • to criticize the government, 

  • to work for the government, and 

  • to promote changes in the law. 


Naturalized citizens are not second class citizens. In fact, there are very few differences between citizenship by birth and naturalization, except in two important respects: 

  • Naturalized citizens cannot run for the office of President of the United States and, 

  • In extreme cases, naturalized citizens can be denaturalized. This means that if you got your citizenship through fraud, it could be taken away.  

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What are the requirements for naturalization?

In general, to apply for naturalization, you must:

  • Be 18 years old or older when you file your naturalization application.

  • Be a lawful permanent resident (have a “Green Card”). 

  • Have had a permanent residence in the United States for at least 5 years.

    • This may be 3 years if you are married to a U.S. citizen.

  • Show that you have been physically present in the United States for 30 months. 

    • This may be 18 months if you are married to a U.S. citizen.

  • Show that you have lived for at least 3 months in the state or USCIS district where you claim residence.

  • Show that you have good moral character. Good moral character is defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act by reference to a list of specific, prohibited activities.

    • There are some acts, like murder, that will permanently bar you from naturalization no matter how long ago the act occurred. 

    • Other acts will prevent you from getting citizenship if you committed them within recent years. These include drug convictions and incarceration for 180 days or more.

  • Demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. constitution,

  • Pass a naturalization test. This test is given by a USCIS officer and has two parts. You must:

    • Show a basic understanding of U.S. history and government. This is called the civics examination. The test is given orally and you must answer six out of ten questions correctly to pass.

    • Show that you can read, write, speak and understand English. 

      • You will be interviewed in English. You must demonstrate your ability to speak and understand the language. The interviewer will also ask you to read a randomly selected sentence and to write down a simple phrase (such as "I want to become a citizen"). You must be able to read and write the sentences clearly and accurately.

  • Take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This Oath will happen at your naturalization ceremony. 


There are exceptions and modifications to the naturalization requirements that are available to those who qualify. For example:

  • There may be an exemption from the language requirements for applicants who are older or have certain disabilities, or

  • Some people may be exempted from taking the full oath of allegiance because their religious beliefs prevent them from participating in government.

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What are the rights and responsibilities of a naturalized citizen?

As a U.S. citizen you:

  • Cannot be deported, unless you got your citizenship through fraud,

  • Are protected by all the laws of the United States, your state, and local jurisdiction,

  • Can travel with a U.S. passport,

  • Get federal benefits only available to U.S. citizens,

  • Can sponsor relatives for green cards,

  • Your children are automatically U.S. citizens,

  • Can vote in U.S., state and local elections,

  • Can run for elected office and apply for government jobs. 


As a U.S. citizen you are responsible for:

  • Filing U.S. income tax returns,

  • Registering with the Selective Service if you are a male between 18-26 years old,

  • Serving on jury duty if you are selected.

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How can I apply for U.S. citizenship?

Applying for citizenship through naturalization can be a complicated process. You should consult an immigration attorney to help you understand your rights. To apply for naturalization:

  • Fill out Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

  • Include all required evidence. Any documents in a foreign language must be translated. Documents may include:

    • A copy of your Permanent Resident Card

    • A copy of your marriage certificate (if applicable)

    • Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service (if applying for naturalization based on military service)

    • DD Form 214, NGB Form 22, or discharge orders (if applying for naturalization based on military service and separated from service)

    • A copy of your official military orders (if applying for naturalization based on military service and currently serving)

    • Evidence of your citizen spouse’s employment abroad (if applying under 319(b))

    • Two passport-style photographs (if you reside outside the United States)


  • Pay the filing fee. As of 2020, the fee is $640.

  • You can file:

    • Online, or

    • By mail:

      • The correct mailing address depends on which state you are in. Find out more on the USCIS website

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What happens after I file my application for naturalization?

After you file your application, you will:

  • Go to a biometrics appointment, if applicable. At this appointment, USCIS will likely take your fingerprints, photo, and verify your signature. The USCIS will send you an appointment notice with your appointment date, time, and location. 

  • Go to your naturalization interview. The USCIS will schedule an interview. This is where you will: 

    • Take your English and Civics tests, and 

    • Answer questions about your application and background. 

  • Get a decision from USCIS. The USCIS will mail you notice of their decision. Your application will either be:

    • Granted.

    • Continued. This means you will need to provide additional information or you need to retake a portion of the test.

    • Denied.

  • Take the Oath of Allegiance. After your application is approved, you will participate in a naturalization ceremony. There you will take the Oath of Allegiance. Once you take the oath, you will be a U.S. citizen. 


After USCIS gets your application, the process generally takes 6 months to 2 years, possibly more. 


You can check the status of your application:

  • Online or 

  • By calling Customer Service at 800-375-5283 or 800-767-1833 (TTY)

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How can I appeal a USCIS decision?

You can appeal a decision on your Application for Naturalization. You have 30 days from the date of the decision to file your appeal. To appeal:

  • Fill out Form N-336, Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings.

  • You can file your appeal:

    • Online, or

    • By mail:

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS):


P.O. Box 20100

Phoenix, AZ 85036


For FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:


Attn: Form N-336

1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S

Suite 100

Phoenix, AZ 85034

  • Pay the filing fee. The fee is currently $700.

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What happens after I file an appeal?

After you file your appeal, you will have a hearing with USCIS. If your appeal is denied, you can file a petition for a new review of your application in U.S. District Court.

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More info


Last Review and Update: Apr 08, 2022
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