What’s the Difference Between a U.S. National and a U.S. Citizen?

U.S. citizens are also considered to be U.S. nationals. U.S. law defines a national as “a person owing permanent allegiance to a state.” Since citizens owe allegiance to the United States, they are both U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals. However, it’s possible to be a national but NOT a citizen.

What does this mean, especially for U.S. nationals that want to travel to the United States? What are the differences between them? Should a U.S. national become a citizen, and how can they do that? FileRight.com explains the similarities and differences between citizens and nationals.

woman holding united states passport
A woman holding a United States passport. Can a U.S. national get one of these, or do they have to be a U.S. citizen?

Who Are U.S. Nationals?

People who were born in the outlying possessions of the United States are U.S. nationals. These places include American Samoa and Swains Island. They don’t have the same rights as U.S. states but are under the protection of the U.S. government. 

You might also be a U.S. national but not a U.S. citizen if both of your parents were born in American Samoa or Swains Island and they lived in the U.S. before you were born. You wouldn’t need to have been born in American Samoa or Swains Island to be a U.S. national. 

In some cases, you might qualify to be considered a U.S. national even if only one of your parents was born in American Samoa or Swains Island and lived in the U.S. However, that parent would have to meet specific residency requirements.

Finally, there may be some elderly individuals who, if born in the Philippines or Guam, may still be considered U.S. Nationals. People born in Guam before 1950 or the Philippines before 1946 will have this status.

The Major Difference Between Citizens and Nationals

The significant differences between a U.S. citizen and a U.S. national are voting rights and the eligibility to hold public office. U.S. nationals are not allowed to vote in federal elections or serve in a federal office. To do that, they will have to become naturalized citizens.

However, nationals who aren’t U.S. citizens still have many of the same privileges as citizens. For example, they can apply for a U.S. passport, and they have the right to protection by consular offices when they are traveling abroad. They are also allowed to travel, live, and work in the United States.

Furthermore, unlike the privileges that accompany a green card, the government cannot revoke these rights. This means a U.S. national can never lose their status and, if living in the U.S., will never be deported back to their home country under any circumstances.

Becoming a Citizen as a U.S. National

Your status as a U.S. national makes it much easier to become a naturalized citizen. For example, foreign nationals must live in the U.S. as green card holders for three to five years before applying for naturalization. In comparison, U.S. nationals meet the residency requirements after only three months. 

Once you’ve been in the U.S. for at least three months, you will then follow the same steps as other immigrants to acquire citizenship:

  • Complete and submit USCIS Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, along with applicable fees.
  • Attend your scheduled interview.
  • Pass the civics and English tests.
  • Take part in a biometrics exam to verify your identity.
  • Attend your citizenship ceremony and swear an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

Even if you plan to live in the United States long term, staying as a U.S. national may be enough; you get nearly all the same benefits as a citizen by being born as a national. But if you wish to participate at the higher levels of government, whether voting or serving, you’ll need to go through the naturalization process.

FileRight.com Makes It Easy to Apply for Naturalization

When you are ready to become a U.S. citizen, FileRight.com has the tools you need. Just answer a few simple questions and let our automated software complete the USCIS forms for you. Then, with our error checker and immigration lawyer review, you can be sure that your petition is accurate and complete.

Then, our package assembly service takes the guesswork out of your citizenship application. All you’ll need to do is sign where instructed and mail your application in the postage-paid, pre-addressed envelope. 

Get started on the path to naturalization by taking our U.S. citizenship qualification quiz today!

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