How to Become a US Citizen – Everything You Need to Know Before Filing Your Application

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How to Become a US Citizen

Figuring out how to become a US citizen is not all about completing some forms and waiting for your new citizenship. In fact, it requires doing some homework, becoming familiar with the responsibilities, and discovering the main ways to do it properly.

But before getting there, it is important to ask yourself – why do you want to become a US citizen? Indeed, there are certain benefits associated with this venture, as well as some drawbacks. Besides, what works for some people will not work for everyone else.

Here is everything you need to know.

10 benefits of becoming a US citizen​

Here are some of the most important reasons wherefore you might consider this opportunity.

The right to vote

This is one of the main benefits of becoming a US citizen – the possibility to vote and get involved in local politics. You obviously need to be 18 years old or older in order to vote – this is your opportunity to make your voice heard.

No risks of deportation

Deportation is not a risk for undocumented people only. Even lawful residents can face deportation for a bunch of reasons – such as committing a crime. The system is rough on anyone who does not hold citizenship.

Cheaper overtime

Staying in the USA as a lawful permanent resident is more expensive than becoming a citizen. Renewing green cards will continue to gain in price. Overall, costs for naturalization are higher, but they prove cheaper in the long run.

The possibility to bring your family over

As a US citizen, you will have the opportunity to petition for siblings, children, partners, and parents. You can bring them to the USA. Adult married children can also be brought over. Green card holders can only petition for unmarried children and spouses.

Getting the US passport

If you love traveling – whether for recreational purposes or with business ideas in mind, the US passport will give you the opportunity to travel to over 180 countries without having to apply for a visa. Plus, you will be able to reenter without any restrictions at all.

Access to federal benefits

As a green card holder, you are not allowed to apply for some federal jobs or grants. You cannot apply for scholarships and other similar benefits either. As a US citizen, all these restrictions become history, so you can apply for anything.

Easy to get back into the USA

If you are sick and tired of spending hours in long lines and dealing with all kinds of checks when getting back into the USA, US citizenship will help you skip all these. You will face easier procedures in other countries as well due to the strength of this passport.

Tax law advantages

If your spouse also becomes an American citizen, real estate can be left behind to the partner. Basically, real estate will transfer to the spouse and will no longer have to face property taxes – a serious advantage when you get close to retirement.

Forget about the Department of Homeland Security

No one really appreciates dealing with the Department of Homeland Security. There are lots of agencies you need to deal with – USCIS, CBP, or ICE, among others. It is frightening and requires lots of paperwork. It is stress you simply do not need in your life.

Children become US citizens

Finally, learn how to become a US citizen, go through all the procedures, and your kids will automatically become US citizens too. This is perfectly true, even if your kids are not in the USA at the moment, but abroad. If your kid is born abroad, simply report the birth to a local consulate or embassy.

Three disadvantages of becoming a US citizen

Becoming a US citizen is not all about milk and honey – here are the main drawbacks in the process.

Paying tax on foreign income

This is one of the main reasons wherefore more, and more people give up their US citizenship. When you work and get paid in the USA, it makes perfect sense to get taxed. You do not mind it. But then, you could live somewhere else and make money somewhere else – the US government will want a share.

Even if you actually pay tax in the other country, the US government will still ask for a share. If your money comes from a different country, discuss your possibilities with a local tax expert – you need to know how this move can affect you from a financial point of view.

Once you get US citizenship, escaping tax liability in the USA is almost impossible. As a green card holder, things are much easier. So, if you think about leaving the country as you retire, plan everything upfront because some things simply make no sense.

The necessity to perform jury duty

Some people actually like the idea of performing jury duty. To many others, this is a potential nightmare. After all, you have no legal knowledge and education – why would you need to end up judging others’ legal actions?

This is not a general rule – some people are never called to serve on a jury. However, it may happen – and green card holders will never be required to do it, but only US citizens. The issue goes even further, though.

You could lose money by not being able to work in order to perform jury duty for weeks, months, or even years. Plus, depending on how severe the case is, you basically risk exposing yourself to a plethora of dangers.

Losing a different citizenship​

The main reason wherefore a lot of people chose not to become US citizens is the necessity to give up other citizenship statuses. At the end of the day, it depends on your other nationality. The good news is that most countries allow becoming dual citizens – just double-check upfront.

However, there are a few countries out there that only allow one citizenship. Becoming a US citizen means losing other citizenship, which could be an advantage. Double-check the pros and cons upfront.

It is worth noting that the USA allows dual citizenship, so it always depends on the other country.

Now, if you have a diploma, certificate, or degree, you know how it works – it takes more than one application to get it. The same rule applies when learning how to become a US citizen. Basically, there is a process you need to go through, and here are the steps.

Eight steps to becoming a US citizen

Here are the main steps you need to go through at a glance if you are interested in naturalization.


Unless one of your parents has US citizenship, the classic naturalization process starts with the actual immigration – you need to get to the USA first. In other words, gaining permanent residency is the first step before applying for citizenship.

This status implies holding a green card – this card proves your right to be a permanent resident. Now, there are more ways to immigrate to the USA – studies, employment, asylum claims, family, or investment. The green card lottery or military service will not work.

Five-year residence

This is the second step in the process. To learn how to become a US citizen implies being an immigrant with a green card first. You need to hold this card for at least five years. There is also an exception – being sponsored by a US citizen spouse.

In this case, the spouse needs a green card for three years only.

Physical presence

To be allowed to apply, you must have been present in the country for at least half the time you have had this card. In other words, if you need to spend five years in the USA, you must be in the country for at least 2.5 years. If you are lucky to be required to spend three years, you need 1.5 years in the USA.

This is not everything, though – you must have been a resident of the state for 90 days or more. It may sound a bit difficult to understand. Both conditions must occur simultaneously. Out of those five or three years, 90 days must be spent in the state you go for – simple.

Good moral character

The five or three years you spend in the USA must be clean too. You have to be of good moral character – small mistakes could put you on a blacklist. You risk facing rejection before you even get into the application.

Now, what does a good moral character mean? Generally speaking, you should avoid getting a criminal record. Some crimes can ban you permanently, and you would never be able to get citizenship – such as murder. In fact, you may even face deportation for murder.

Other crimes are measured against the general standard of average citizens. There are two considerations worth some attention. Failing to register with the selective service between 18 and 26 years old while in the USA is linked to an adverse moral character.

Second, some individuals could be considered a threat to the country – such as terrorists.

Such individuals will never be able to get citizenship.

Embracing the local constitution​

Learning how to become a US citizen also implies becoming familiar with the principles of the local constitution. The goal is to be dedicated to the good order of the USA, as well as the overall well-being of the country.

As an applicant, you will have to reveal all the organizations or parties you were part of in the past. Lying is not a good idea because many things can be verified, even if these organizations are established abroad.

To help you get an idea, Nazis, anarchists, and communists are barred. Other subversive organizations will go in the same category. On the same note, joining such an organization can get you denaturalized, too, especially if you do it within five years after getting citizenship.

The will to bear arms​

This is of national importance for the country – the possibility to bear arms. You must be willing to do so and perform all kinds of services in the interest of the USA. You might need to perform noncombatant service, for example.

This requirement is extremely important for the selective service law.

Those who avoid it can be easily denied citizenship.

Civic testing​

This step occurs for pretty much any citizenship out there. No matter what country you go to, chances are you will need to take a test and show that you understand the lifestyle, morals, and language in the respective country.

The same goes for the USA. You need to prove that you can speak English. You must learn more about the history of the USA, as well as the government. Normally, such tests are taken through an interview with a citizenship officer.

There are, of course, some exceptions for elders or perhaps those with various disabilities.

Tests may change from one year to another, as well as requirements. Generally speaking, you will have over 100 civic test questions to learn, and you will be asked a small percentage of them. You need to provide good answers for about 60% of them – more is better.

Double-check the rules before applying because they get harder and harder every year.

Oath of allegiance​

The final step implies taking a public oath of allegiance to the country. This is basically a meeting – you show your dedication to the USA and the will to do whatever it takes for its well-being. This process may often be covered by the media as well.

Who is eligible for naturalization

There are some eligibility criteria in order to submit the application for US citizenship. First of all, you must be at least 18 years old. You must have lived in the USA with a green card for a particular amount of years, too – three or five, depending on your circumstances.

Furthermore, you must have established residency in the state where you want to apply. You must prove your good moral character – a criminal record will not be too helpful here. You also have to prove your knowledge of the English language, local customs, and history.

Male applicants must register the willingness to perform civil services should such situations arise – no such requirements for female applicants at the moment. Finally, the applicant needs the will to swear obedience to the local constitution.

You can apply for citizenship if you meet all these criteria.

Becoming familiar with the N400 application

Learning how to become a US citizen through naturalization implies following some procedures – they are usually straightforward, though. When it comes to the actual application, the N400 form is your main responsibility.

The form is divided into 18 parts. You will need to print it and complete everything in black ink, yet you can also file online. If you need extra space for it, you can attach an extra sheet of paper – indicate the page, part, or item to which extra answers refer.

Each question must be answered in full – accurately too. Type N/A if a question does not apply to you unless directed otherwise. On the same note, type none instead of zero for questions related to numbers – unless directed otherwise, of course.

Do not highlight or cross out. Avoid typing or printing outside the area required for your response. If you make mistakes and you need to make corrections, simply print the same page again and start from scratch. White correction fluid or tape could cause problems leading to rejection.

You need to enter the A number on the top right corner of every single page. This number is on the permanent resident card. There should be seven – up to nine – digits. If your number has less than nine digits, place some zeros before the first digit to make a total of nine digits.

Complete the application appropriately. File and sign it. Even if some pages are blank, they must be included in the process. Keep in mind that typewritten names or stamps are not accepted inside of signatures.

While these are the rules for filing offline, you can also do it online. When filing offline, you basically do it by mail. You will get a USCIS account acceptance notice with details on how to get online, manage and track the case. The application will be handled without an account too, but it would help you.

Keep in mind that unsigned forms will be rejected.

Filing online is much easier and comes with a few benefits:

  • The possibility to handle all the correspondence related to the case.
  • The possibility to upload evidence straight away.
  • The chance to check the case status and update information within seconds.
  • The chance to get case status alerts instantly.

In order to file the N400 form online, you will need to create a USCIS account. You can use this account to pay your filing fee over the Internet, get notifications, respond to requests, save time, and so on. If you hire a professional for this service, they can do the same on your behalf.

Checklist before submitting the N400 form

This checklist may not always be required. Some of these documents are needed and requested – some others are not. It depends on your particular circumstances. The list will help you prepare the form, but follow the instructions and do not send anything extra.

Avoid sending original documents – unless they were particularly requested in the instructions. Other than that, you might need to send documents in a foreign language – make sure you include the full translation in English as well.

The translation must be conducted by a certified translator – not yourself.

All in all, here are the documents you may need:

  • A copy of the permanent resident card.
  • A copy of the marriage certificate.
  • A copy of official military orders.
  • Evidence of the citizen spouse’s employment in another country.
  • Two passport photographs.
  • NGB Form 22, DD Form 214, or discharge orders.
  • Form N426, request for certification of naval service or military.

Preparing for the naturalization interview​

A UCSIS officer will handle the naturalization interview. You will be asked about the application – different things that may raise some interest, as well as your background. Furthermore, the naturalization test consists of two different tests.

The English test

Taking the English test is part of how to become a US citizen. You must be able to speak and understand the local language. This test is split into a few different parts, and each of them covers a specific aspect.

First, you will be tested on your speaking skills. You must understand and speak English – your skills will be assessed by the officer. Then, you must read in English. You will usually be asked to read a few sentences in order to prove your ability.

Finally, the writing part implies writing some sentences correctly as well.

There are lots of supportive materials to help applicants get ready for these tests.

The civics test

The civics test changes on a regular basis. In 2007, it was oral, and the officer asked 10 questions from a list of 100 questions. A 60% result was required to pass – you basically had to answer six questions correctly.

The 2020 version, on the other hand, is also oral, but it will bring in 20 questions. The list is also longer – 128 potential questions. The applicant must follow the same percentage to pass – 60% or 12 out of 20 questions.

Both tests are still in use today – applicants may or may not have the option to choose which one they want to take. It normally depends on when they apply for US citizenship, as there are different time frames for each test.


Bottom line, learning how to become a US citizen is not as hard as it may seem. Over 700,000 people are naturalized on a yearly basis. The process will take up to a year, but it can be sorted out faster – it depends on your circumstances and location.

While there are no doubts that you can do everything yourself, you do require a lot of attention to small details. From many points of view, it might be easier to employ an expert service or attorney to help out with everything and work on your behalf.

Mistakes are costly and can delay the application.
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