How To Become A United States Citizen

How To Become A United States Citizen

A citizen is a participatory member of a political community. Citizenship is gained by meeting the legal requirements of a national, state, or local government. A nation grants certain rights and privileges to its citizens. In return, citizens are expected to obey their country’s laws and defend it against its enemies.

Becoming a citizen through naturalization is a process in which a non-U.S. citizen voluntarily becomes an American citizen. U.S. citizens:

Owe their allegiance to the United States

Are entitled to its protection 

Should exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens

Review this visual overview (PDF, Download Adobe Reader) about the general naturalization process.

To become a U.S. citizen, you must:

Have had a Permanent Resident (Green) Card for at least five years, or for at least three years if you’re filing as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.

You must renew your Permanent Resident Card before applying for citizenship if:

Your card will expire within six months of applying, or

Your card has already expired

You can apply for naturalization before you receive your new Green Card. But, you’ll need to submit a photocopy of the receipt for your Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, when you receive it.  

Meet certain eligibility requirements. To see if you’re eligible, click on the link that is most similar to your situation. Some requirements may include being:

At least 18 years old when you apply 

Able to read, write, and speak basic English

Of good moral character

Go through the 10-step naturalization process which includes:

Determining your eligibility to become an American citizen

Completing form N-400, the application for naturalization, and creating a free account to submit your form online 

Taking the U.S. Naturalization Test and having a personal interview

Dual Citizenship or Nationality

Dual citizenship (or dual nationality) means a person may be a citizen of the United States and another country at the same time. U.S. law does not require a person to choose one citizenship or another.

If you’re a citizen of another country, contact that country’s embassy or consulate for information about its:

  • Laws
  • Policies
  • Mandatory military service

For information on dual nationality from the point of view of another country, contact that country’s embassy or consulate.  

If you have dual citizenship and plan to travel to or from the United States, you must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States.

Information about giving up or losing your U.S. citizenship is also available.

A licensed attorney skilled in citizenship matters can assist you with questions about your situation. A local bar association can often provide a good referral.

Establish Citizenship Without a Birth Certificate

If you were born in the U.S. and there is no birth certificate on file, you will need several different documents to prove your citizenship:

  • A letter from the vital records office in your birth state with your name and what years they searched for your birth certificate.
  • A Letter of No Record from the vital records office. You will also need secondary evidence of U.S. citizenship to prove your birth in the United States.

If you were born outside the United States and your U.S. parent(s) did not register your birth at the U.S. Embassy or consulate, you may apply for a U.S. passport, but you will need:

  • Your foreign birth record showing your parents’ names
  • Evidence of your parent(s) U.S. citizenship
  • Your parents’ marriage certificate

If you were born outside the U.S. and your U.S. parent(s) registered your birth with a U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) will be able to help you get a copy of a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240).

U.S. Citizenship for People Born Abroad or in U.S. Territories

You are a U.S. citizen if:

You have a birth certificate issued by a U.S. state. 

You were born in a U.S. territory and have a birth certificate issued by that territory. If you don’t have a birth certificate from your birth territory, you may be able to verify your citizenship status using other documents.

You were born outside of the U.S. to at least one U.S. citizen parent and your parent(s) recorded your birth with the U.S. Embassy or consulate in that country.

If your birth was recorded before your 18th birthday, the Embassy or consulate issued your parent(s) a document that is proof of your U.S. citizenship. This document is known as a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA or Form FS-240). Learn how to request copies, amendments, or corrections to a Consular Report of Birth Abroad from the U.S. Department of State (DOS).

If the Embassy or consulate did not issue a CRBA and you are 18 years of age or older, learn how to get a Certificate of Citizenship. This document proves your U.S. citizenship and can be obtained from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).