learn about citizenship process and requirements

There are five (5) basic requirements to apply for U.S. citizenship (also called naturalization).


1. You must be 18 years of age or older.

2. You must be a legal permanent resident and satisfy one of two requirements (either A OR B):

A. Have lived as a Legal Permanent Resident in the United States for five (5) years AND:

  • You must not have left the United States for more than 6 months at a time.
  • You must have been physically present in the United States for a total of at least 30 months.

B. Have lived as a Legal Permanent Resident for three (3) years AND:

  • Your spouse must have been a citizen for the last 3 years.
  • You must have been married to and lived with your spouse for the last 3 years.
  • You must not have left the United States for more than 6 months at a time.
  • You must have been physically present here for a total of 18 months.

3. You must be a person of good moral character. How does USCIS determine “good moral character”? It looks principally at criminal records and honesty in the application process. Certain crimes or offenses can lead to denial of your application, and sometimes deportation from the United States.

If you have EVER been arrested or convicted of any crime, you must report it on your application. Even if a charge was removed from your record, or it happened many years ago, you must list it on your application. These offenses will not necessarily prevent you from becoming a citizen, but they may require you to hire a lawyer. USCIS will take your fingerprints and conduct a background check as part of the citizenship application process, and so it will only hurt your case to try to hide any past arrests or convictions. You should always seek advice from an immigration attorney or an accredited legal services provider (“BIA Accredited”) before applying for citizenship if you have ever been arrested. BIA-Accredited representatives only work at nonprofit organizations.

If any of the following things is true for you, you will need legal advice before applying for citizenship. These things don’t necessarily mean that you cannot apply for naturalization, but you should talk with an immigration attorney so you can explain your situation to USCIS.

  • You have been out of the U.S. for more than 6 months at a time since getting your green card.
  • You have moved to another country since getting your green card.
  • You have been arrested for, charged with, convicted of, or have admitted to committing a crime.
  • You have been arrested for drug-related offenses.
  • You have been involved in prostitution or commercialized vice.
  • You have engaged in or are engaging in activity USCIS calls “terrorist activity.”
  • You have been involved with illegal gambling.
  • You are on probation or parole from a criminal conviction.
  • A court has determined that you violated a protection order.
  • You are in deportation or removal proceedings, or have a deportation order – past or present.
  • You have helped someone come to the U.S. illegally, even if the person is your child or spouse.
  • The information on your citizenship application differs from or contradicts the information you gave to get your green card or another immigration status.
  • You have lied or given false information to retain or obtain an immigration benefit, including your green card.
  • You are a male and did not register for the Selective Service between the ages of 18 and 26.
  • You have failed to pay taxes, or paid as a non-resident.
  • You have failed to pay child support.
  • You are what USCIS calls a habitual drunkard.
  • You came to the U.S. to practice polygamy.
  • You have voted or registered to vote in any election in the U.S.
  • You claimed to be a U.S. citizen verbally or on a written form.

4. You must be able to read, write, and understand basic English. You do NOT have to speak English if you meet either of the following requirements, based on your age and time as a Legal Permanent Resident:

  • You are at least 50 AND have been a Permanent Resident for at least 20 years.
  • You are at least 55 AND have been a Permanent Resident for at least 15 years.

If you do not have to take the English test, you must bring an interpreter to your interview. You still must take the U.S. history and civics test (below), but you will take it in your own language.

5. You must show knowledge of U.S. history and civics. There is a list of 100 possible questions that you will need to study. (If you are eligible to complete the interview in your own language, you will study the 100 questions in your own language). At your interview, the officer will randomly ask you any 10 questions from the list. The test is given verbally; it is not a written test. You must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly to pass.

  • If you are at least 65 and have been a Permanent Resident for at least 20 years, you can study from a list of just 20 questions. You will be asked 10 out of 20 questions, and you must answer 6 correctly to pass.

If you have certain medical conditions that make it impossible for you to learn new information, you may not have to take either exam. A medical doctor or psychiatrist must complete Form N-648 (Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions) if you believe you have a medical condition that warrants an exemption. Some medical conditions that can qualify for the N-648 waiver are traumatic brain injury, stroke, dementia or PTSD.

What to Expect in the Citizenship Application Process

Step 1: Complete the N-400 Application for Naturalization. Once you know you are eligible to apply, you can complete the Form N-400 Application for Naturalization.

Step 2. Submit the Form N-400 Application for Naturalization. USCIS requires you to submit a filing fee of $725 with your N-400 application, but low-income people may apply for citizenship at a discounted rate of $405 or for free (without paying the $725 filing fee) if they request a fee waiver. About a month after you submit Form N-400, USCIS will send you a receipt notice in the mail. You can check current processing times and the status of your application online or by calling the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 or 1-800-767-1833 (hearing impaired). If you have not received your receipt notice in the mail within 30 days, you should email the USCIS Lockbox directly at LockboxSupport@uscis.dhs.gov.

Step 3. Go to the biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment. About 1-3 months after you mail your application, USCIS will send you an appointment notice that includes your biometrics appointment date, time, and location. If you cannot make your appointment, reschedule it. DO NOT MISS ANY APPOINTMENTS.

Step 4. Complete the interview. A few months after you have completed your fingerprints, USCIS will schedule an interview with you to complete the naturalization process. If you cannot make your appointment, reschedule it. DO NOT MISS ANY APPOINTMENTS.

At your interview, USCIS will make a decision:

  • Granted—USCIS may approve your Form N-400 if the evidence in your record establishes that you are eligible for naturalization.
  • Continued—USCIS may continue your application if you need to provide additional evidence/documentation, fail to provide the correct documents, or fail the English and/or civics test. If you fail the English or the civics test, you can schedule another appointment 2-3 months later to retake it. If you fail a second time, you will have to start the application process over again.
  • Denied—USCIS will deny your Form N-400 if the evidence suggests you are not eligible for naturalization.

Step 5: Take the Oath of Allegiance. If you pass your interview, you may be able to participate in a naturalization ceremony on the same day as your interview. If a same-day naturalization ceremony is unavailable, USCIS will mail you a notification with the date, time, and location of your scheduled ceremony.
Step 6: Register to Vote.  Registering to vote – and voting – is one of the most important privileges and responsibilities that only U.S. Citizens possess. As a citizen, you can influence government decisions that matter to you, your family and your community. Registering is easy, and you can even complete the voter registration form in your own language.