From getting a green card to taking the United States citizenship test and interview, it can take quite a long time to become a U.S. citizen. Currently, it takes about six months to a year to obtain United States citizenship from the time you apply.
The citizenship process actually starts when you first get your U.S. permanent residency card (green card). But the requirements for U.S. citizenship and the time frames for how long each part of the U.S. citizenship process takes can vary, depending on your situation.
Citizenship Eligibility Requirements
In most cases, you must meet the following requirements before you can apply for U.S. citizenship:
- You must be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder).
- You must be at least 18 years old.
- You must show that you have been continuously present in the U.S. for at least five years. (You only need to have been continuously present in the U.S. for at least three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen.)
- You must show that you have lived for at least three months in the same state or USCIS district where you currently live.
Please keep in mind that the requirements might vary depending on your personal circumstances and the reasons you qualify for U.S. citizenship. If you are not yet a permanent resident, see our page on applying for a green card.
USCIS Processing of Form N-400
Most people will need to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, to start the process. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires you to submit two passport-style photos with your application. You’ll also need to send in various supporting documents:
- A copy of your Permanent Resident Card (green card)
- A copy of your marriage certificate, if you’re married.
- Form N-426 if you’re applying for citizenship based on military service
- DD Form 214, NGB Form 22, or other discharge orders if you’re applying based on past military service.
- A copy of your official military orders if you’re applying based on military service and you’re currently serving.
- Evidence of your citizen spouse’s employment abroad if you’re applying under 319(b).
The time it takes for the USCIS to process your application depends on where you file it. Where you need to file your application depends on where you live. Check with the processing center in your jurisdiction to find the current processing times.
The USCIS will take this time to review your forms and supporting documents to decide whether you qualify to become a U.S. citizen. Because the USCIS will contact you mostly through the mail, it’s extremely important that it has your current mailing address.
After the USCIS receives your application, it will send you a letter scheduling you for a biometrics appointment from the USCIS. You will have to go to your local USCIS Application Support Center at a specific time to get your fingerprints, photograph, and signature taken.
The USCIS will use this information to check your criminal background (if any). Once your criminal background check is completed, the USCIS might ask you for more information based on what they’ve found.
If the USCIS wants additional information or documents, it will contact you by mail and tell you what information it needs and where to send it. This letter will also contain a deadline for when you need to send the USCIS this information.
The Citizenship Interview
Once the USCIS has all the information it needs, the next step in the process is a scheduled citizenship interview. You will receive a notice in the mail with the date, time, and location of this interview. At the interview, a USCIS officer will meet with you, review your application and ask you questions.
The purpose of the interview is for the USCIS officer to decide whether you qualify to become a U.S. citizen. They might ask you questions about your eligibility for U.S. citizenship. For example, this could include questions about the relative or employer who qualified you to apply for your green card.
The interview could also include questions about any past criminal arrests or convictions, so be prepared to explain such events and provide documents. If the interview goes well, you will be asked to take the English and U.S. history tests.
The Citizenship Tests
For the English test, you will be asked to read a sentence in English aloud and to write a sentence in English. You may be exempted from this requirement if you’re over the age of 50 and have been a lawful permanent resident for at least 20 years.
For the history and civics test, you must answer at least six of 10 questions correctly to pass. The USCIS publishes a study guide of 100 history questions that you can study before the test. The USCIS officer will pick the 10 questions for your test from these 100 questions.
You might be exempt from the history and civics test, but only if you’re filing under a medical disability exemption. That said, they can translate this test through an interpreter in your choice of language, and applicants over the age of 65 get a specially designated test form.
What Happens If I Fail the Tests?
If you’ve passed everything up to this point but fail one of the tests, you will get another chance to take the tests, usually within 60-90 days. If you’ve already passed one, you won’t have to retake it.
If you fail them a second time, you can ask for a hearing on the denial of your application by filing Form N-336. At the hearing, you’ll receive a third chance to pass the tests. However, if you fail the third time, your application will be denied and you’ll have to reapply.
If you feel you passed the tests and the USCIS officer didn’t hear you correctly, you should also file Form N-336. During the hearing, a different officer will give you the tests. If you study well enough, you hopefully won’t have to go through this process again!
The Naturalization Ceremony
Once you have passed the interview and the English and history tests, you will get a letter scheduling you for your naturalization ceremony. Again, the amount of time between your interview and your naturalization ceremony will depend on your jurisdiction.
At the naturalization ceremony, you will be asked to take an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. You will also exchange your green card for a Certificate of Naturalization, which is proof of your status as a U.S. citizen.
Before you leave the ceremony, carefully check your Certificate of Naturalization for any errors. While rare, catching a mistake early will make it much easier to correct the document than doing it after the ceremony!
At this point, you will be a U.S. citizen! The process can be long, but most people find the benefits are well worth it.
What To Do After Citizenship
Congratulations on becoming a United States citizen! Once you’ve obtained citizenship, the USCIS recommends you do the following:
- Apply for a passport or passport card as soon as possible. You’ll receive an application at the ceremony or you can pick one up at any U.S. Post Office.
- Register to vote.
- After 10 days have passed, update your Social Security record at your closest Social Security office.