The Difference Between a U.S. Green Card and U.S. Citizenship

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 United States. However, U.S. citizens enjoy some important benefits that green card holders do not.

FileRight can help guide green card holders through the process of applying for U.S. citizenship. We have many useful resources to prepare you for the process and help guide you along the way.

united states flag behind green card and passport
A United States flag behind a green card and a passport. Learn the differences between U.S. green card holders and U.S. citizens.

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 United States.
  • 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 a 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 United States. 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 a 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 U.S. citizens.

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 Citizenship?

You might be eligible to become a U.S. citizen. To check your basic eligibility, you may use our U.S. citizenship eligibility quiz or read through the basic eligibility requirements given below:

  • You have maintained continuous residence 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 in 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 a 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 U.S. citizens.
  • Getting citizenship through their parents.
  • In the U.S. Armed Forces or are related to 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. 

Steps to Take to Become a U.S. Citizen

Once you have held a green card in the United States for five years (three if married to a U.S. citizen), you may apply for citizenship. You will need to make sure you meet all the requirements listed above before submitting your application. 

The Application Process

Once you have confirmed that you are eligible, you will need to fill out Form N-400, Application for Naturalization

Filing this application can be done online or on paper. Be prepared for a long and complicated process as the instructions alone are 18 pages and the form itself is 20 pages. You’ll also have to submit numerous supporting documents to prove that you meet the eligibility requirements. 

You also need to be aware that the road to citizenship is not cheap. The filing fee for your application is $725.

Citizenship Test and Interview

After your citizenship application is approved, you’ll be scheduled to sit through the citizenship test and interview. During the interview, you’ll be asked questions about your eligibility for U.S. citizenship. You may need to bring along the originals of the documents you submitted with your application. 

You may be asked some of the same questions you answered on your N-400 application. The interviewer is simply trying to ensure that you didn’t lie on your application and to verify your eligibility. They are also testing your ability to speak and understand basic English, a requirement of naturalization.

The citizenship test includes an English reading and writing test and a civics test. The English test requires you to read and write one English sentence. In the civics test, you will be asked 10 out of a possible list of 100. You must answer six of these questions correctly in order to pass. The USCIS website offers a convenient civics test study guide.

The Naturalization Ceremony

Once you have passed the interview and tests, you will be scheduled for your naturalization ceremony. At the ceremony, you will take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. You will also exchange your green card for a Certificate of Naturalization. Then, you will be able to fully enjoy all the rights and privileges of a United States citizen!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

By clicking “Send” you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Check Your Application Status