Understanding US citizenship requirements is important if you want to navigate the naturalization process successfully. Use this guide to determine if you are eligible to become a US citizen.
How to Become a United States Citizen
U.S. citizenship is first and foremost derived from one’s birthplace. People who are born within the United States boundaries become subject to the laws and jurisdiction of the United States as citizens from birth. Those born within territories held by the United States may be citizens at birth but also may be subject to residency requirements.
Those born in American Samoa and Swains Island are generally considered nationals but not regarded as citizens of the United States.
Additional Ways To Become A United States Citizenship
- Those born outside United States borders if one or both parents are United States citizens at the time of the birth.
- By operation of law, seek legal advice for this citizenship option.
- Those who are not United States citizens at birth may opt to become a citizen through the process of naturalization. Naturalization is defined as conferring U.S. citizenship to someone after birth by any means. A naturalization application is submitted to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) and meets the criteria established by the United States Congress.
See our guide on how to become a U.S. citizen for more detailed information.
The Rights & Privileges of U.S. Citizenship
Seeking U.S. citizenship as an immigrant is an important decision one can make. U.S. citizens, even naturalized citizens, equally share the privileges and rights offered by U.S. Citizenship.
United States citizenship offers the citizen the ability to -
- Vote in federal elections
- Participate in jury duty
- Receive state and federal benefits not available to noncitizens
- Get and use a U.S. passport
- Be eligible to be elected to elective public office
- Become eligible for federal and specific law enforcement jobs
- Be able to get citizenship for children born outside the country
- Have the ability to bring family members in other countries to the United States
US Citizenship Requirements (Eligibility)
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, if one is a Green Card holder fora minimim of five years, they must meet these requirements to apply for naturalization -
- Be 18, or older
- Lived within the state or other U.S. jurisdiction over the applicant's place of residence for a minimum of three months before the date of applying. Students may apply in the place they attend a school or where their family lives (if t financially dependent on their parents).
- Be physically present in the country for a minimum of 2.5 years out of the five years immediately preceding the date of applying. See Legal Basis from the USCIS.
- Note - extended absences to foreign countries are likely to impact the citizenship's requirements of continuous residence.
- Absences of more between six months and one year may disrupt an applicant’s continuous residence unless the applicant can prove otherwise
- Absences over one year or more may disrupt an applicant’s continuous residence,
- Live consistently in the United States from the date of application for naturalization, up the completion of the naturalization process
- Demonstrate the ability to read, write, and speak English and have the knowledge of U.S. history and civics
- Have a proper moral character that commits to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and well disposed to the right order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law.
Exceptions to Eligibility Requirements
The Immigration and Nationality Act permits certain exceptions to the continuous residence requirement for those applicants working abroad for -
- The United States government, including the Military.
- An acknowledged American institution of research
- Contractors of the United States government
- An international organization that is public
- An organization that meets the requirements delineated in the International Immunities Act
If a citizenship applicant seeks to preserve their continuous residence (for naturalization purposes) while employed outside the United States by one of the above-noted recognized institutions. Simply file a Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes with the United States Citizenship & Immigration Service.
Any company/organization may obtain United States Citizenship & Immigration Service recognition as an American Institution of Research to allow employees to preserve their continuous residence status for its employees who are assigned out of United States' borders for a significant amount of time. The company or organization seeking this status should follow the instructions found here - Requesting Recognition as an American Institution of Research.
For more information, visit the USCIS’ A Guide to Naturalization and the USCIS Policy Manual Citizenship and Naturalization Guidance.
English Language Exemptions
Some citizenship applicants are exempt from the naturalization’s English Language Requirement, but are still required to take the civics portion of the test if -
- The 50/20 Exception - The applicant is at least 50 years old at the time of the naturalization application, and has lived as a permanent resident (green card holder) in the United States for 20 years, or more
- The 55/15 Exception - The applicant is at least 55 years old at the time of the naturalization application and has lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 15 years, or more
Of Note -
Even if one qualifies for the 50/20 or 55/15 English language exceptions as noted above, one must still sit for the civics test as follows -
- Applicants are allowed to sit for the civics test and take the exam in their native tongue.
- Should you choose to take the test in your native language, an interpreter must accompany you in the interview.
- The chosen interpreter must be fluent in both English and your native tongue.
- Applicants that apply when they are a minimum of 65 years old (and are permanent residents for a minimum of 20 years are afforded consideration regarding the citizenship's civics exam.
The Naturalization Examination
The USCIS conducts an investigation and examines all naturalization applicants to determine whether an applicant meets the legally defined eligibility requirements. The process encompasses -
- Security & criminal background checks
- Review of the applicant’s immigration record
- In-person interview(s) with oral and written testimony
- Testing for English and civics requirements
- Qualification for a disability exception
The United States Citizenship & Immigration Service officers have bestowed the authority to conduct the investigation and examination. This includes the legal authority for certain officers to -
- Administer the Oath of Allegiance
- Collect both written, oral testimony during the interview,
- Subpoena witnesses
- Request evidence
The Background Investigation
The United States Citizenship & Immigration Service conducts an investigation of the applicant. The investigation consists of a criminal background and security checks. The security checks included in the U.S. citizenship processes include -
The collection of collecting fingerprints
A "name check" performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
The USCIS performs other inter-agency criminal background and security checks, as well.
All naturalization applicants must sit for an in-person examination before a United States Citizenship & Immigration Service officer. The citizenship applicant's examination includes both an interview and the administration of United States citizenship required tests. The applicant's interview is a fundamental component of the naturalization examination.
The officer places the applicant under oath before interviewing them. The initial naturalization examination includes –
- The review of information provided in the application and questions relating to the applicant’s eligibility for naturalization
- The administration of tests to meet naturalization requirements
The written responses by the citizenship applicants regarding the answers to the question included in the applicant's application initially submitted. It is noted that the answers provided by a citizenship applicant under penalty of perjury.
Each citizenship application differs so that the USCIS officer may choose to -
- Record the face-to-face interview as established by the USCIS. A mechanical, electronic, or videotaped device are all permitted
- Have a transcript written for the discussion
- Prepare a citizenship affidavit regarding the testimony of the applicant during the face-to-face interview process. The freedom of Information Act (FOIA) permits either the applicant or his or her authorized attorney or representative may request a copy of the record of proceedings.
USCIS may schedule an applicant for a re-examination if need to be to determine the applicant’s eligibility
The U.S. Citizenship Test (Civics Exam)
The Civics portion of the United States Citizenship exam asks the applicant ten non-multiple-choice questions. A passing grade for the civics portion of the exam requires a score of 60%, which is equal to 6 correct answers. These ten questions are pulled from a list of one hundred civics exam questions.
Each citizenship applicant has two chances to pass the civics exam. The 2nd exam is typically taken after 60 or 90 days after the initial interview.
The Civics test contains questions regarding –
- The Principles of American Democracy
- The Constitution
- The Bill of Rights
- The Declaration of Independence
- The American Government (Branches of the Government and their Roles) and American History.
- The Rights and Responsibilities of the United States’ Citizens
- U.S. historical events during the 1800s century
- Recent American History
- The Geography of the United States
- The U.S. Flag and National Anthem
- Important U.S. holidays
The Oath of Allegiance
The final act of naturalization includes the oath of allegiance in a public ceremony to the U.S. government and Constitutions.