Table of Contents

Your Guide to Becoming a United States Citizen

This guide provides an overview of the steps—and information—you need to become a United States citizen. 

We know that the journey to become a United States citizen is a long, winding road. But we also know that reaching the end of that road is worth all of the time and effort it took to get there. Describing the moment that he finally became a U.S. citizen, one new American said:  

“At my ceremony there were people from 52 countries. The person who gave the speech was a military man. He said something I will never forget: He and his fellow natural-born citizens had not chosen to live in the US, but we - those leaving behind their countries of birth – had made a conscious decision to become citizens. He said that took courage, and should be recognized and admired. I felt proud to be a US citizen at that moment.”

-Phil, Australia

Like others before you, you've made the choice to become a U.S. citizen, and this guide will help you understand the steps you need to take to get there. We'll cover the following: 

  • Eligibility to become a U.S. citizen
  • Form N-400 Application for Naturalization
  • How to prepare for your USCIS interview
  • What to expect--and how to ace--your USCIS interview
  • What to do if your application is not approved
  • What to expect at your swearing-in ceremony 

If you have any questions as you review our U.S. Citizenship guide, don't hesitate to reach out to the team at Aliro Immigration. Let’s get started. 

Step One: Understand if you’re eligible

The first step on your path to U.S. citizenship is to determine if you meet the eligibility requirements.

The citizenship eligibility requirements are strict, so it’s critical that you understand them and truthfully assess your situation. With few exceptions, to become a United States citizen, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Legal permanent resident (green card holder):To become an American citizen, you must already be a legal permanent resident; in other words, you must be a green card holder. Typically, you must be a legal permanent resident for at least five years before you can apply. There are some exceptions to the five-year requirement, including if you’ve been married to and living with your U.S. citizen spouse for three years. 
  • Age requirement: At the time you file your Form N-400 Application for Naturalization, you must be at least 18 years old.  
  • Physical presence requirements: You must also meet strict physical presence requirements (the requirement that you’ve been in the United States for a certain period of time) before you can apply. To meet this requirement, you must have lived in the United States for at least half of the time you’ve been a permanent resident (for instance, two and a half out of five years); not spent long periods of time outside of the United States (for instance, being outside of the U.S. for six months or more at a time); and have been living in the same U.S. state or USCIS district for at least three months before applying.  
  • Good moral character standard: The U.S. government requires that you be of “good moral character.” The Form N-400 will ask you a number of questions about your background, including whether you’re a habitual drunkard, have committed any crimes, or have been involved in other reckless or illegal behavior. 
  •  English language skills: Unless an exception applies, you must be able to read, write, and speak English. You'll be tested on your English language skills during your USCIS interview. 
  • U.S. History and government exam: You must be able to pass a short test that covers questions about U.S. history and government.  Don't worry though—these questions are selected from a pre-defined set of 100, so you can study beforehand. 
  • Loyalty to the United States: In addition to all of these requirements, you must also be willing to swear an oath of loyalty to the United States and serve in the U.S. military if you’re called upon. 

Step Two: Prepare Your U.S. Citizenship Application

One of the most difficult parts of the process is accurately preparing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Form N-400 is a 20-page document that will ask you questions about your past and present. Be prepared to answer questions about your employment and education history, mother, father, children, current and past spouses, trips taken, and any mishaps you may have had in your past. 

To help you answer the questions you'll be asked on the N-400, consider gathering the following documents beforehand: 

  • Your Legal Permanent Resident card (green card) 
  • Your social security number, if you have one
  • The addresses of every place you've lived over the past five years 
  • The addresses of every place you've been employed or a student over the past five years
  • Information about the location and duration of all of the trips you've taken abroad over the past five years (you can use things like credit card statements or airline ticket receipts to determine the duration of your travel) 

Gathering these documents before you tackle the application will help you quickly and accurately complete it. You want everything to be accurate: even though Form N-400 is long and complex, USCIS is unforgiving when it comes to mistakes on your application. Make sure that you answer all of the questions honestly and that you use a trusted source to prepare your application. 

Finally, when you’re done preparing Form N-400, remember that USCIS also requires you to submit certain documents in support of your application. Depending on your situation, you'll be required to provide different supporting documents. Those supporting documents may include items like the following: 

  • A photocopy of your Permanent Resident Card
  • Your payment for the USCIS application fees and biometric fees
  • Proof that any earlier marriages ended 

When your application packet is finally complete, you’ll mail it to your assigned USCIS office. 

Step Three: Prepare for your interview

After you file your application, start preparing for you interview and attend your biometrics appointment. 

The time between filing your application and your interview with USCIS could take weeks or even months. But don't worry—there are many things you can be doing in the meantime. 

  • Monitor your application’s progress: After you mail your application, you should monitor your application’s progress and be sure that USCIS received it. We recommend you file Form G-1145 with your application, which allows USCIS to email and text you updates on the status of your application. Within two months of mailing in your application, you should receive Form I-797C, which is the official notice receipt from USCIS that they have received your citizenship application. 
  • Attend your biometrics appointment: A few weeks or months after sending in your application, USCIS will send you a notice of your biometrics appointment, unless you’re over the age of 75. At your biometrics appointment, USCIS will take your fingerprints and send them to the FBI for a background check.
  • Prepare for your U.S. history and government exam: To become a U.S. citizen, you have to pass a U.S. history and government exam. You’ll take the exam during your citizenship interview with the USCIS officer. The USCIS officer will ask you ten questions and, to pass, you must answer six correctly. But don’t fear--the ten questions come from a set list of 100 questions that you can review and study prior to the exam. 
  • Prepare for the English language test: During this time, you’ll also want to be brushing up on your English language skills. To pass your English language test, you need to be able to read, write, and speak basic English. 
  • Be on the lookout for notice of your USCIS interview: Finally, you’ll receive Form I-797 telling you when and where to appear for your USCIS interview. 

We know that the wait between filing and the interview can seem never-ending. Just remember, it's well worth the wait:  

Having grown up in Russia in the former Soviet Union I emigrated to the US because I wanted to live in a free country. The ceremony was a very touching and meaningful event – the courthouse was filled with people from all over the world and excitement was palpable.

- Anna, Russia 

Step Four: Attend the USCIS interview

While the USCIS interview can seem intimidating, the right preparation can make sure that everything goes smoothly. 

Once you receive your notice telling you when and where to attend your interview, you should do the following:

  • Know where you have to go to attend the interview and make any transportation arrangements
  • Review your Form N-400 Application for Naturalization and be aware prior to the interview of any mistakes on your application or changes in circumstances
  • Collect the items listed on the N-569 Interview Document Checklist to bring with you to the interview, including your interview notice 

When you arrive at the USCIS office, you’ll submit your interview notice and wait to be called. When it’s your turn, one or two USCIS officers will interview you at their desk or in a conference room. During the interview, you’ll be asked for certain supporting documents and asked questions about information on your application. The USCIS officer will also conduct the U.S. History and Government exam by asking you 6-10 government and history questions (remember--the list of questions and answers is available to you, and you can study beforehand). At the end of the interview, the officer will let you know whether your application is approved. 

Want to learn more about what the interview will be like? You can watch this video prepared by USCIS: 

Step Five: What to do if you're not approved

It can be incredibly disheartening if USCIS doesn't grant you U.S. citizenship after your interview, but there are still steps you can take.

  • You must first understand why you weren’t granted citizenship at the interview: If you’re issued a final denial, then USCIS will either tell you its reasoning during the citizenship interview or in a subsequent letter. 
  • You didn’t pass the exams: If you failed the interview because you couldn’t pass the English language or U.S. history and government exams, then it’s time to study. You could have to return for a second interview anytime between 60 and 90 days later—so it’s important that you hit the books. 
  • You need to provide additional documentation: If the USCIS officer is delaying making a decision on your citizenship until you provide additional documents, then submitting those additional documents can give you another chance at approval.
  • Decide whether to appeal or reapply: If you’re issued a final denial, then you must decide whether to appeal or reapply. USCIS will provide you with a letter detailing why your application was denied. Because of the high stakes —your ability to become a U.S. citizen—we highly recommend contacting and hiring a personal immigration attorney to navigate this process.

Step Six: Attend the swearing-in ceremony

If you’ve been approved to become an American citizen, the last step in your journey is to attend a swearing-in ceremony.

The swearing-in or oath ceremony is a special occasion where you’ll complete your U.s. citizenship journey.  At your interview or shortly after, USCIS will give you a written notice telling you when and where your swearing-in ceremony will be held. On the day of your ceremony, remember to bring the following: 

  •     The swearing-in notice, with all of the questions filled out
  •     Your legal permanent resident card (green card)
  •     Reentry permit or refugee travel document, if you have them
  •     Any immigration documents you have, including any USCIS  approvals or permits 
  •     Any other documents that USCIS requests that you bring in your swearing-in notice

When you arrive on the day of your ceremony, a USCIS officer or volunteer will tell you where to go. The officer will review your appointment notice and the other documents you’ve brought with you. Ceremonies are conducted in a main hall, where you'll be joined with your family and friends. The ceremony will be an exciting--if not the most exciting--part of your immigration journey:

It's almost time. Friends and family start to stream in to the ceremony room -- they had to wait until all the candidates for citizenship were seated -- and the atmosphere relaxes a little. There are waves and smiles, a few excited babies and children. The room is now full with the candidates and their loved ones. The cameras start to come out.

There, you'll be asked to raise your hand and recite the Oath of Allegiance.

At that point, you're officially a U.S. citizen. We hope you get to have this incredible experience. If you have any questions about the citizenship process, please reach out to the team at Aliro Immigration.

Want to know if you're eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship? 

We know that the path to U.S. citizenship can be confusing--and that you might not be sure if you're eligible to apply yet. That's why we've created a helpful checklist so that you can see if you're eligible to apply. Simply submit the form to receive your free checklist. 

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