How to Prepare for the U.S. Citizenship Application

If you’re thinking about completing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, there’s a lot you must consider. First, you should make sure you are eligible to apply for citizenship. Once you determine your eligibility, you can start organizing the documents you’ll need to complete the application.

Filing out the U.S. citizenship application is complicated. The instructions alone are 18 pages long. FileRight can make sure you’re fully prepared and assist you with your application for U.S. citizenship.

girl holds up her us passport
A little girl holds up her U.S. passport. FileRight can simplify the U.S. citizenship application process.

Benefits and Responsibilities of U.S. Citizens

Naturalization is the process when someone who was not born in the United States becomes a citizen. Taking the oath of citizenship comes with some responsibilities but also has plenty of benefits.

Responsibilities include:

  • Giving up all prior allegiance to any other country.
  • Swearing allegiance to the United States.
  • Supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States.
  • Serving the country when required.

The benefits of citizenship are:

  • Ability to vote for elected officials.
  • Bringing family members to the United States.
  • Most children can become citizens automatically.
  • Travel freely with a U.S. passport.
  • You can work for the federal government.
  • Run for elected government positions.

Knowing what to expect from becoming a citizen is a good way to decide if citizenship is for you. Next, check if you meet the eligibility requirements.

Are You Eligible to Apply for U.S. Citizenship?

FileRight makes getting started on your citizenship application easy. The first step is to take the automated eligibility quiz. The most common path to citizenship is to apply for citizenship through naturalization.

Citizenship Through Naturalization

You may apply for citizenship through naturalization after holding a permanent resident card (commonly known as a green card) for a number of years depending on your situation. If you have a conditional green card valid for two years that you acquired through marriage, you can apply for naturalization after three years.

If you received a green card valid for 10 years, you can complete your citizenship application after five years of holding a green card. Other requirements include:

  • Proving you have been physically present in the United States for at least half the time. That means conditional residents must prove they’ve been physically present for one and a half years while more traditional green card holders must prove physical presence for two and a half years.
  • You must also have lived within the state or district that will be handling your application for at least three months.
  • Being 18 years old or older.
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English. (There are English language exceptions for older applicants)
  • Have knowledge of U.S. civics.
  • Be a person of good moral character.

Documents to Prepare for Your Citizenship Application

When you file your immigration application, think of it as arguing a case in court. You must prove to the government that you deserve the immigration benefit you are requesting. In a courtroom, you prove a case with supporting evidence. 

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states there are three documents you need to support your Form N-400:

  1. A photocopy of both sides of your Permanent Resident Card (green card). If you have lost the card, submit a photocopy of the receipt of your Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card.
  2. A check or money order for the application fee and biometrics fee. You should write your A-number on the back of the check or money order.
  3. If you reside outside the United States, submit two identical color photographs, with your name and Alien Registration Number written lightly in pencil on the back of each photo.

The USCIS will usually accept photocopies of original documents unless they specifically ask for you to send the original document.

Other Documents You May Need for Your Application

Documents that prove other portions of your Form N-400 can include a variety of paperwork. Remember, you are trying to support the answers you gave in your application. The documents you should prepare depend on your specific circumstances.

If your current legal name is different from the name on your green card, you will likely have to provide documents that legally reflect your name change. These documents may include:

  • A marriage certificate 
  • A divorce decree 
  • Other court records

You Are Married to a U.S. Citizen

If you’re applying for citizenship after marrying a U.S. citizen, you’ll need evidence your U.S. citizen spouse has been a citizen for the last three years. Supporting documents could include:

  • A birth certificate 
  • A naturalization certificate 
  • A certificate of citizenship 
  • A photocopy of the inside front cover and signature page of your spouse’s current U.S. passport 

If your spouse became a U.S. citizen after being born abroad, you need to send in Form FS-240, Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America. Be sure to include:

  • Your current marriage certificate
  • Proof of termination of all prior marriages of your spouse
  • Documents referring to you and your spouse:
    • Tax returns, bank accounts, leases, mortgages, or birth certificates of children
    • Internal Revenue Service-certified copies of the income tax forms you both filed for the past three years
    • An IRS tax return transcript for the last three years

Citizenship Through U.S. Military Service

If you are currently in the U.S. military service, you may apply for citizenship based on that service. Submit a completed original Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military of Naval Service.

You Spent Six Months Outside the United States

If you have taken any trip outside the United States that lasted six months or more since becoming a green card holder, you’ll need to provide evidence that you and your family continue to live in work in and keep ties to the United States, such as:

  • An IRS tax return “transcript” or an IRS certified tax return listing tax information for the last five years (or for the last three years if you are applying on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen.)
  • Rent or Mortgage payments and pay stubs

You Have Been Arrested 

If you have ever been arrested or detained by law enforcement for any reason, and no charges were filed, submit an original official statement by the arresting agency or applicant court. This statement should confirm that no charges were filed.

If charges were filed against you, submit an original or court-certified copy of the complete arrest record and disposition for each incident. This could include your: 

  • Dismissal order
  • Conviction record
  • Acquittal order

If you have been convicted or placed in an alternative sentencing program or rehab, submit an original or court-certified copy of the sentencing record. Include evidence that you completed your sentence, such as:

  • An original or certified copy of your probation or parole record
  • Proof that you completed an alternative sentencing program or rehabilitative program

You Have Not Files Taxes

If you have ever failed to file an income tax return since you became a green card holder, submit all mail between you and the IRS regarding your failure to file a tax return.

If you have any Federal, state or local taxes that are overdue, send:

  • A signed agreement from the IRS or state or local tax office showing you have filed a tax return and arranged to pay the taxes you owe.
  • Documentation from the IRS or state or local tax office showing the current status of your repayment program.

Disability Exception

If you are applying for a disability exception to the testing requirement, submit an original Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions. It must be completed less than six months ago by a licensed medical or osteopathic doctor or licensed clinical psychologist.

Selective Service Registration

Males between ages 18 and 26 who live in the United States in a status other than a lawful nonimmigrant are required to register with the Selective Service. If you did not register with the Selective Service and are a male over age 26, submit a “Status Information Letter” from the Selective Service.

These documents are not required for every citizenship application. What you need to include will ultimately depend on the answers you gave in your application. 

How Much Does It Cost to Apply for U.S. Citizenship?

The cost of completing the citizenship application is $640 plus an $85 biometric fee. If you decide to use FileRight’s application preparation service, it costs $285.

The USCIS fees can change with very little notice. However, they typically do not decrease. Be sure to check the associated fees before submitting your application.

Filling Out Form N-400

When you have all your documents together and you’re ready to fill out your application for U.S. citizenship, you have three options. You can choose to fill out Form N-400 on your own, but we highly recommend you work with an immigration lawyer or a more affordable application preparation service. Form N-400 is 20 pages long, and mistakes could lead to delays or a rejection.

Using FileRight, you will prepare the citizenship application online, but the software will check your application along the way for common errors. We can also connect you with an immigration attorney who is willing to review your application for an affordable fee. 

Our customers feel more confident completing their citizenship application with our service as opposed to tackling the application alone.

Tips if You Choose to File an Application on Your Own

It’s very important to complete your naturalization application clearly and carefully. Here are some tips to ensure your application is completed accurately:

Only Answer Questions That Apply to Your Situation

You are not required to answer every question on the N-400 application. Depending on your situation, there may be several questions that don’t fit your situation. In these cases, you should write “N/A” (not applicable) rather than leaving the space blank. 

If you’re not certain how to answer a question, consider getting help from an attorney or by using online immigration software.

Be Honest 

You should answer all questions truthfully. Lying on an immigration application could result in your application being denied—or worse. It’s possible to have your immigration status revoked for lying about your eligibility.

Don’t Forget to Sign Your Form

The USCIS rejects all unsigned forms. Be sure to use the most current version of the form. 

The USCIS regularly updates their forms. You can find the most current versions on their website.

Write Clearly and Use Extra Pages if Necessary

The USCIS suggests using black ink if you’re filling out the application by hand or type out the application. Make sure your writing is legible. 

If there’s not enough room for an answer, you can write, “Please see attachment” in the field and then attach a separate piece of paper with the answer. You may attach a separate sheet of paper as long as the top of the page lists your:

  • Name 
  • Alien Registration Number 
  • Page number 
  • Part number 
  • Question number 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Mistakes on the citizenship application can lead to costly delays, rejections, or denials from the USCIS. Some of the most common mistakes on the U.S. citizenship application include forgetting to sign the application. 

Applicants also tend to forget to include the proper payment to the USCIS. Checks must be made payable to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Any other abbreviations will be rejected by the USCIS. A rejection typically means an applicant can reapply after correcting the error in question but means the applicant’s citizenship process will take longer.

How Long Does a U.S. Citizen Application Take to Process? 

Once the citizenship application is complete, the time it takes for the USCIS to process the application can vary tremendously. The time it takes to process depends on your case and where you are filing. You can expect your application to take at least six months to process.

In the Los Angeles area, the USCIS is completing applications between 9.5 and 14 months. The USCIS is very clear that even the posted processing times can change without prior notice.

If the application process seems confusing, there are ways to help avoid a headache. FileRight can eliminate the guesswork by reviewing your application. We will provide a list of supporting evidence you will need to prove your case.

What Happens Next?

After you complete your application for U.S. citizenship, you will have a few more tasks to complete. You can prepare for these as well.

Biometrics

If your application makes it through the initial screening, you will be contacted for what’s called a biometric appointment. Biometrics simply means information about you. The main purpose of the appointment is for USCIS to verify your identity. The process is simple:

  • Your photo will be taken. 
  • Your fingerprints will be documented. 
  • You will be required to provide an electronic signature.

Attend a Citizenship Interview

Once you’ve completed the biometric appointment, you will receive a date to attend your citizenship interview. The citizenship interview will include many of the topics immigrants can study for. You will meet with an immigration officer who will ask you about any answers on your application they need clarification on.

This is also when you’ll be quizzed on your knowledge of English, U.S. Civics, and History. If you pass the exam, the hard part is over. Review the civics practice test to prepare.

The Naturalization Ceremony

After successfully passing the citizenship interview you’ll be given a date to attend your naturalization ceremony. This is where you will officially take the oath of allegiance to the United States and become a U.S. citizen. You do not have to memorize the oath. 

The naturalization ceremony will typically be conducted in a courthouse where a judge naturalizes a large group of new citizens.

As part of the ceremony, you will be handed a certificate of naturalization. This document is very important because it proves your citizenship within the United States. It’s very important this document is not lost because that could mean trouble in the future.

It’s also important to ensure all the information on the certificate is correct. If it is not you should consider filing to get a replacement. Once all that is done you’ll be ready to celebrate with friends and family.

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