Immigrants around the world have visions of the American dream. Arriving at the land of opportunity is only the first step in a long journey to citizenship. Most immigrants make it to the United States legally by getting a green card or becoming a legal permanent resident.

Although applying for a green card is the most common way to gain U.S. citizenship there are some other ways to do it. There are four main ways to obtain U.S. citizenship they are:

Citizenship through naturalization.

Citizenship through marriage.

Citizenship through parents.

Citizenship through the military.

Citizenship Process #1:

Gaining Citizenship through Naturalization


Citizenship through naturalization is one of the most common ways of obtaining U.S. citizenship.
A green card is key to becoming a naturalized citizen. Having a green card technically means you are a legal permanent resident of the United States. You can live and work freely throughout the country.
You may be able to get a green card:

  • If you already have a relative living legally in the United States. They can sponsor you. A U.S. citizen can immediately sponsor a spouse, unmarried children under 21 years of age and parents. The wait time these relatives have for a green card is minimal. U.S. citizens can also sponsor siblings, unmarried children over 21 years of age and married adult children. These relatives will have to wait several years to obtain a green card.
  • If you have a qualifying job offer. If you are moving to the United for a permanent job offer your employer can petition you for a green card. Immigrants who demonstrate exceptional ability do not need a sponsor and can petition themselves.
  • If you are legally in the United States as a refugee or asylee. If you are in either of these categories and have lived in the United States for a year, you may petition for a green card.

There are a variety of residency requirements to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization.

Residency Requirements

The residency requirements set by the USCIS ensure that you have lived in the country while a green card holder.

  • You must prove that you’ve had a permanent home in the United States for at least five years immediately before the date you applied for naturalization. So if you want to apply for naturalization in May of 2018, you must have been a green card holder since May 2013.
  • You will need to prove you have been physically present in the United States for two and a half years of those five years. This means you will have to prove you were physically in the country for two and a half years.
  • You must also need to prove you’ve lived in the same state or USCIS district for at least 30 months.

The personal requirements for U.S. citizenship cover your knowledge of the U.S. and it's history.

Personal Requirements

Personal requirements for naturalization ensure you are old enough, are a good person, and understand the language and the U.S. government.

  • You need to be at least 18 years old the day you file your application for naturalization.
  • Your knowledge of reading, writing, and speaking English will be evaluated during the citizenship test.
  • You will also need to know the basics of the U.S. government and U.S. history.
  • Lastly, you must be a person of good moral character. This means you are a law-abiding person who will be a contributing member of society.

Filling out your Form N-400 Application for Naturalization can be done online.

Complete your Naturalization Application

Filling out the application. The USCIS form you need to complete is Form N-400 Application for Naturalization. The application can be completed online using FileRight’s software. The program simplifies the application, makes it easy to understand and checks your answers for common errors as you complete it.

  • Your application will include supporting evidence. Essentially that means you must prove certain answers you gave on your application. For example, to prove you are a legal permanent resident you will need to provide a copy of your green card. FileRight will break down exactly what documents you’ll need.
  • As of May 2018, the filing fee is $640 but could increase. You will also have to pay a biometric fee that’s $85. Payments by check need to be made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” If you do not copy that exactly it could lead to a rejection of your application.
  • After completing your application, FileRight will provide you a filing packet that will include personalized instructions on how to properly assemble your application.

The biometrics appointment is a time for the USCIS to gather information about you.

The Biometrics Appointment

Biometrics simply means, information about you. The majority of citizenship applicants will have to submit a photograph, an electronic signature, and fingerprints during the biometrics appointment.

  • The information is used to conduct a background check and to ensure you are the person you say you are.

Preparing for the u.s. citizenship test can be done online.

Prepare for the Citizenship Test

Part of the citizenship interview includes the test. The USCIS officer will ask you about your application and your background. This is also the time you will take the English and civics test. This is the last step before a final decision is made regarding your citizenship so being prepared is important.

  • FileRight does offer a citizenship test preparation course plus plenty of information for you to know exactly how to get ready for this test.

The USCIS will interview you about your application and also test you on your knowledge of the U.S. and English.

The Citizenship Interview

After your biometrics appointment, you will receive a letter telling you the time and date of your citizenship interview. You’ll take the English and citizenship tests at the interview.

  • Along with the date and time of the interview, you will also receive a checklist of documents to bring to the interview. Do not forget them.

During the oath ceremony you will become a U.S. citizen and obtain your naturalization certificate.

Take the Oath of Allegiance

This is the final step of the naturalization process. You’ll receive your invitation to a naturalization ceremony in the mail. On the back of that Form 455, you will have to answer the questions on the back and review them with an officer during the naturalization ceremony.

  • After taking the Oath of Allegiance and completing the naturalization ceremony, you will receive your naturalization certificate.
  • It’s very important to keep this document in a safe place because it is your proof of citizenship.

Citizenship Process #2:

Gaining Citizenship through Marriage

The U.S. citizenship process for married couples can be a bit faster.

If you’re married to a U.S. citizen you can apply for a green card by submitting Form I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative. Form I-130 establishes a relationship between you and your immigrant spouse. You will need to prove the marriage by submitting documents such as a marriage certificate.

  • If your immigrant spouse is already living with you legally in the United States they can adjust status at the same time as you complete Form I-130. The other form that needs to be completed is Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residency or Adjust Status. Both forms can be submitted together.
  • If your immigrant spouse is outside the United States they’ll have to wait for a visa to be available and then attend an interview at an embassy or consulate. Once the immigrant spouse is admitted to the United States, they can file to adjust status by filing Form I-485.

The USCIS does what it can to prevent immigration fraud. Marriage interviews are one way to protect against fraud.

The Marriage Interview

You’ll need to discuss your marriage with an officer. The U.S. government does everything it can to prevent fraud. The marriage interview consists of an officer asking personal questions to determine if your marriage is real or not. You can expect questions about:

  • Your relationship history.
  • Questions about who is responsible for bills or cooking?
  • Personal information like birthdays.
  • Detailed questions about your wedding.

Residency requirements are similar to those for 5-year green card holders.

Residency Requirements

Your immigrant spouse will not be able to apply for naturalization immediately after receiving a green card. There are residency requirements you must complete before.

  • You must have a green card for at least three years before applying for naturalization.
  • During those three years, you must be a continuous resident of the United States and prove you were physically present in the country for at least a year and a half.
  • Your spouse must have been a U.S. citizen for those three years and you must have lived as a married couple the entire time.
  • You must also live for three months in the state or USCIS district that will be handling your application.

Personal requirements for U.S. citizenship include knowing English as well as U.S. civics.

Personal Requirements

These requirements are similar to the requirements most immigrants must meet in order to become a naturalized citizen.

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Speak, read and write English.
  • You must have entered the United States legally. Undocumented immigrants who marry a U.S. citizen cannot apply for citizenship as easily.
  • You must be a person of good moral character. This means you’re generally a good person, who pays taxes, child support and hasn’t broken any serious laws.

Filling out your Form N-400 Application for Naturalization can be done online.

Apply for Naturalization

The day you satisfy all the requirements listed above is the day you are eligible to apply for naturalization. You’ll have to complete Form N-400 Application for Naturalization. FileRight can simplify the citizenship process.

  • Your application will include supporting evidence. Essentially that means you must prove certain answers you gave on your application. For example, to prove you are a legal permanent resident you will need to provide a copy of your green card. FileRight will break down exactly what documents you’ll need.
  • As of May 2018, the filing fee is $640 but could increase. You will also have to pay a biometric fee that’s $85. Payments by check need to be made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” If you do not copy that exactly it could lead to a rejection of your application.
  • After completing your application, FileRight will provide you a filing packet that will include personalized instructions on how to assemble your application and where to mail it.

During a biometrics appointment the USCIS will collect personal information about you.

Biometrics Appointment

Attend biometrics appointment. The government will send you a letter telling you where you must attend your biometrics appointment. Biometrics simply means information about you. Fingerprints, photographs and an electronic signature will be collected. The information will be used for a background check and to make sure you are the person you say you are.

The USCIS will interview you about your application and also test you on your knowledge of the U.S. and English.

The Citizenship Interview

You’ll need to attend your citizenship interview. The citizenship interview is one of the final steps before a decision is made regarding your citizenship. Immigration officials will ask you about your background and your N-400 application. You’ll receive a checklist of documents you must bring for your interview. Do not forget these documents.

  • You will take your citizenship test during the interview. That means you will need to prepare for the English and Civics portions of the test.
  • You will be asked to read and write in English. You will also be asked basic questions about U.S. history and how the government works.

During the oath ceremony you will become a U.S. citizen and obtain your naturalization certificate.

Take the Oath of Allegiance

The final step in this long process is taking the Oath of Allegiance at your naturalization ceremony. You will receive Form 455 in the mail and it will tell you when and where your naturalization ceremony will be. Once you’ve completed this ceremony you’ll receive your naturalization certificate. It’s important to keep this document safe because it is proof of your citizenship.

Citizenship Process #3:

Obtaining Citizenship Through Parents

U.S. citizenship through parents can be gained by birth or after birth.

U.S. Citizenship by Birth

If both of your parents are U.S. citizens and married, you become a U.S. citizen even if you were born outside of the United States. One of your parents must have lived in the United States before the child’s birth.

U.S. citizenship can be gained if one parents is a citizen.

One Parent is a U.S. Citizen

If one parent is a U.S. citizen you can still acquire U.S. citizenship. To qualify, the parents of both children must be married to each other. The U.S. citizen parent must also have physically been in a territory or state for at least five years prior to the child being born.

  • Two of those years must have been after the U.S. citizen parent was 14 years old.
  • The child’s birthdate must be on or after November 14, 1986.
  • The U.S. citizen parent may still qualify if they spent time outside the United States to serve in the armed forces, work for the U.S. government, or was employed by certain international organizations.

If your parents are unmarried you can still gain U.S. citizenship.

Unmarried Parents

If the parents are unmarried a child could still gain citizenship through the following scenarios, according to the USCIS.

  • The child’s mother must have been a U.S. citizen when the child was born and she must have physically been in the U.S. for at least one year.
  • The child’s genetic father is a U.S. citizen at the time of birth. The father must clear evidence they are the child’s biological father. The father must also promise to provide financial support, in writing, until the child is 18 years of age. The father must have also spent 5 years in the United States with two of those years being after the father turned 14 years old.

Citizenship at birth can be gained through your parents.

Citizenship After Birth

You can earn citizenship after birth. If a child was born after Feb 27, 2001, they can become a U.S. citizen if they meet these criteria:

  • One parent must be a U.S. citizen.
  • The child must be under 18 years old.
  • The U.S. citizen parent must have legal and physical custody of the child.
  • The child must live in the United States.
  • Different criteria are placed on children that were born prior to Feb 27, 2001.

Citizenship can be gained through adoption.

Citizenship Through Adoption

Some children become U.S. citizens through adoption. Parents who adopt children and want them to become citizens must have legal and physical custody of the child. The child can become a U.S. citizen if one of the following requirements is met:

  • They’ve lived with the child legally in the United States for at least two years and the parents adopted the child before the child turned 16 years old.
  • The child must have been admitted into the United States as an orphan (IR-4) or Convention adoptee (IH-4)who arrived to be adopted. The parents must have adopted the child before the child turned 18 years old.
  • The child was adopted outside the United States before the child turned 18 years old and was admitted to the United States as an orphan (IR-3) or Convention adoptee (IH-3).

Citizenship Process #4:

Through the Military

If you served honorably in the armed forces you could be eligible to apply for naturalization. Some of the requirements are similar to those of five-year green card holders.

U.S. Citizenship can be gained through the military.

Personal Requirements

The personal requirements for naturalization through military services are very similar to those of a five-year green card holder.

  • You must be a person of good moral character. That means you have not been convicted of serious crimes and you’re a person who pays their taxes, child support and generally seen as a positive member of the community.
  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • Speak, read, and write English.
  • Have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government.

Serving in the military during times of hostility mean a separate set of requirements.

Serving During Period of Hostility

There are different requirements if you served in the military during peacetime or times of hostility. The United States has been in a period of hostility since September 11, 2001.

  • A person serving during a period of hostility may apply for naturalization right away.
  • Must complete their military service honorably.
  • Residency requirements may not apply.

Serving the military during peacetime means you'll have to meet other requirements to gain U.S. citizenship.

Serving during Peacetime

For those serving during peacetime, the requirements are different. You can apply for naturalization if you:

  • Served honorably for at least one year.
  • Obtained a green card.
  • Filed the application while you were still in the service or within six months of separation.

Filling out your Form N-400 Application for Naturalization can be done online.

Complete your Application

Most military installations will have a contact person to ask about naturalization. You will need to complete Form N-400 Application for Naturalization and Form N-426 Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service. Form N-426, in part, proves you served honorably in the armed forces.

  • Your filing fee will be waived.
  • You can ask the USCIS questions about military service and naturalization by phone at 1-877-247-4645.
  • You can also email the USCIS at militaryinfo.nsc@dhs.gov.

During the oath ceremony you will become a U.S. citizen and obtain your naturalization certificate.

Swear the Oath of Allegiance

Anyone wishing to become a U.S. citizen must show their attachment to the U.S. Constitution by swearing the oath of allegiance. Once that is complete you will be given a naturalization certificate. That document is very important because it proves your status as a U.S. citizen.