Both lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and U.S. citizens enjoy many of the same rights, such as the ability to live permanently and work in the US. However, U.S. citizens enjoy some important benefits that green card holders don’t.

Responsibilities and Benefits As a Green Card Holder

As a green card holder, you can:

  • Apply for visas for your husband or wife and unmarried children to live in the U.S.
  • Be eligible to receive social security benefits, Supplemental Security Income or Medicare benefits
  • Serve in certain branches of the U.S. military
  • Be eligible for federal benefits such as food stamps, Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. This will depend on how long you have been in the U.S. and how much money you make.
  • Travel outside of the U.S. Trips that last for less than one year are usually okay, but longer trips could hurt your green card status.

Responsibilities and Benefits As U.S. Citizen

As a U.S. citizen, you can:

  • Run for office in a public election
  • Vote in local, state and federal elections
  • Apply for visas for your relatives to live in the U.S. Unlike green card holders, citizens can apply for visas for their brothers and sisters. And their immediate relatives—their husbands or wives, unmarried children under age 21 and parents—don’t have to wait in line for a visa to become available.
  • Get citizenship for children born abroad
  • Travel outside of the U.S. with a U.S. passport. Many countries won’t make you get a visa to enter if you have as U.S. passport. And you can seek protection or assistance at any U.S. embassy or consulate while abroad, using your passport as proof of your U.S. citizenship. For example, if you have a medical emergency, if your passport is lost or stolen or if you are a victim of crime, you can get help at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
  • Apply for certain federal jobs—many federal agencies require applicants to be a U.S. citizen.

Also, as a U.S. citizen, you are required to serve on a jury or in the military when called for duty.

Benefits of Both Green Card Holders and U.S. Citizens

Both green card holders and U.S. citizens can:

  • Own or rent property in the U.S.
  • Apply for a driver’s license
  • Go to public schools and colleges
  • Get bank accounts
  • Get a social security number, which you will need to apply for a job

Also, both green card holders and U.S. citizens must:

  • File federal and state income tax returns
  • Register with the Selective Service if you are a man between the ages of 18 and 25

I Have a Green Card But I Want to Become a U.S. Citizen. How Do I Know If I Qualify for U.S. Citizenship?

You might be eligible to become a U.S. citizen by filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization if all of these things are true:

  • You have continuously lived in the U.S. for at least five years since you got your green card.
  • You have lived in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of those five years.
  • You are at least 18 years old.
  • You have continuously lived in the U.S. from when you file Form N-400 to when you become a U.S. citizen.
  • You have lived your state or United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) district for at least three months.
  • You can read, write and speak basic English.
  • You can pass a test of basic U.S. history and government questions.
  • You have good moral character that reflects the values of the U.S. Constitution. The USCIS looks at your naturalization application, your final interview and whether you have a criminal record to decide whether you have good moral character. People who have committed certain criminal acts can’t show good moral character.

These requirements might be different for people who are:

  • Green card holders who are married to a U.S. citizen
  • Getting citizenship through their parents
  • In the U.S. Armed Forces or are related a service member

Green card holders and U.S. citizens receive different benefits. Knowing these differences could help you decide whether naturalizing is right for you.