Skip to main content

Becoming a U.S. Citizen: The Naturalization Process

Immigration Laws & Rights

This article explains how to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Learn about the concept of "naturalized citizenship." Who can become a naturalized citizen, and how? What rights and duties does a naturalized citizen get?

What is naturalized U.S. citizenship?

Individuals can become U.S. citizens through birth in the U.S. And, someone can also become a U.S. citizen if they were born to parents who were U.S. citizens.

Naturalization, on the other hand, is the process through which a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States can become a U.S. citizen. It requires an application to be filed. Also, the applicant must pass an English and Civics exam. This process will be explained more in the following sections.

What are the benefits of U.S. citizenship?

The benefits of U.S. citizenship include:

  • The right to vote. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal, state, and local elections.
  • Travel with a U.S. passportthere are no time-limit restrictions for how long a United States citizen can travel and remain outside the U.S.
  • The ability to petition for additional family members to immigrate to the U.S., including parents, siblings, and married adult children.
  • The ability to apply for immigration benefits for certain family members, including parents, minor unmarried children, and spouses without being subject to the visa categories and the long wait times for those categories.
  • U.S. citizenship cannot be taken away from an individual (except in very limited circumstances). It provides permanence in the U.S.
  • The ability to obtain certain government loans: Some government loans require U.S. citizenship.
  • The ability to hold elected positions.

What are the responsibilities of naturalized U.S. citizens?

You must be willing to pledge your allegiance to the U.S. by taking the Oath of Allegiance, be willing to uphold and defend the Constitution of the U.S., and be willing to serve the U.S. as a civilian when needed.

U.S. citizens have the responsibility to participate in elections, serve on juries, and serve in the military when it is required for all citizens.

Who can naturalize?

Lawful Permanent Residents who have had their status for five (and in some cases, three) years can naturalize.

Some individuals may apply to naturalize after they have had their lawful permanent resident status for three years:

  • Individuals married to U.S. citizens (who petitioned for them) and who remain married to their petitioning U.S. citizen spouse
  • Individuals who received their lawful permanent residency through a VAWA self petition for certain widows and survivors of abuse who were married to U.S. citizens.

If you are a current or former member of the U.S. military, you may be eligible to apply for naturalization regardless of how long you have been a lawful permanent resident, depending on the dates of your service and how you were discharged. 

What are the requirements for naturalization?

To naturalize, you must be 18 years old and demonstrate good moral character, and not have violated certain laws of the U.S., such as criminal laws, immigration laws, and other civil laws of the U.S.

You also must have a basic understanding of U.S. history and civics; be able to read, write, and speak basic English; and have maintained a physical presence in the U.S. with lawful permanent residency for the statutory time period (three or five years).

What are the exceptions for the English-language requirements?

There are exceptions to the English requirement for certain individuals, that allow them to take the history and civics exam in their native language:

  • 50/20: 50 years old or more and have been a permanent resident for 20 years when applying for naturalization
  • 55/15: 55 years old or more and have been a permanent resident for 15 years when applying for naturalization
  • 65/20: 65 years old or more and have been a permanent resident for at 20 years are given special consideration. You are only required to study 20 of the 100 civics test questions for the naturalization test.

What are exceptions for the language requirement and history and civics exam?

There are also exceptions to the English requirement (reading, writing, and speaking) and the history and civics exam for individuals who have a physical or mental disability that prevent them from meeting these requirements.

What documents are necessary to apply for naturalization?

Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, along with:

  • $725 ($640 + $85) for the filing fees to Immigration to process the naturalization application
  • Two passport-sized photos
  • A copy of your permanent resident card
  • A copy of your social security card
  • Birth certificate with English translation
  • Marriage certificate, if your lawful permanent resident status was obtained through your marriage to a US citizen spouse
  • Divorce decree (if applicable)
  • Your passport
  • Proof of any name change
  • A copy of your criminal record (or lack thereof) from the Texas Department of Safety
  • A certified copy of any final court dispositions for any criminal convictions (if applicable)
  • A copy of your taxes from the most recent tax year
  • Proof that you are not behind of child support payments (if applicable)

What are the steps to naturalize?

Submit the Naturalization Application (form N-400) to Immigration (US CIS) with all of the required documentation and filing fee.

You will receive a receipt notice from US CIS and a biometrics appointment notice for you to have your photos and fingerprints taken. That information will be used to obtain your criminal and immigration history from the FBI.

You will receive a notification and an appointment notice for your citizenship interview with USCIS.

What happens at my naturalization interview?

You will be placed under oath.

You will have to answer questions about your application and any criminal history that you have.

You will have to take the English and Civics Exam. (You will be asked 10 questions from the list of 100 questions). You must answer 6 of the 10 correctly to pass the civics exam.

At the end of the interview, you will receive conditional approval of your application if the immigration officer decides that you have met all of the basic requirements.

If the immigration officer decides that you have not met all of the basic requirements, they may provide you with a list of missing documents and a date by which you must submit those documents.

What if I don't pass my civics or English exam?

If you are unable to pass the English or civics exam, you will be given another interview within 60 to 90 days to retake the exam.

If you are unable to pass the exam you will have to re-apply for your citizenship at a later date.

What happens if my application is conditionally approved?

After your conditional approval, you will receive a notice for an oath ceremony to receive your citizenship

At your oath ceremony you will:

  • Return your permanent resident card
  • Take the Oath of Allegiance
  • Receive your Certificate of Naturalization
  • Have the opportunity to register to vote.

Related Guides

  • I want to understand the immigration process.

    Individual Rights

    This guide can help you understand the United States immigration process.
  • Related Articles