How to become a U.S. citizen

There are several ways to become a U.S. citizen, in addition to nationality by birth and blood. Like naturalization, citizenship by derivation and adoption. American citizenship guarantees full social, economic and political rights to the person. That means, you can live, work, travel and engage in the activity of your choice without any restrictions.

Citizenship and nationality do not mean the same, although both concepts are very related. Citizenship is a political and legal concept, while nationality is more associated with cultural identity. In other words, citizenship is the legal status that the person obtains in the political system of their country. While nationality is what unites the people of a given nation.


In this article we will clarify many of the questions related to the different ways to obtain US citizenship. We will also explain some general concepts related to this topic and give answer to frequently asked questions. Here we will inform you of general guidelines and legal recommendations, but remember that you can contact our expert immigration lawyers in Los Angeles from the Lluis Law office at any time.

We have been advising clients in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years. You can schedule your free consultation right now and be attended by our lawyers.

How to become a U.S. citizen in 2020?

The immigrant must meet the eligibility requirements, these are described in the following subtitle. Then you must follow the steps:

  1. Fill out the N-400 form. For those who request naturalization with Form N-400, fill out the form and send it along with the payment of the procedure to the service center indicated in the instructions of the form and its necessary documentation.
  2. Go to the appointment to take your fingerprints. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will receive and review your application and schedule an appointment to obtain your fingerprints. This is an essential requirement for the rest of the naturalization process.
  3. Go to the interview where you will take your naturalization test. It is the last step to obtain US citizenship. During your interview you must pass the test that will be done by a USCIS officer.

This exam consists of two parts. The first part is based on civic education questions where you must correctly answer 6 of the 10 questions that the interviewer will ask. There will be 10 questions chosen from the study guide that contains 100 questions and answers in total.

The second part of the exam is an oral, written and reading English test.

4. The oath ceremony and passport . At this point and if you have passed the interview and the exam, you will receive a notification to appear at the oath ceremony. Here you will receive your naturalization certificate and become a US citizen.

You can apply for your US passport immediately after the oath ceremony.

Requirements to become a U.S. citizen

  • Be at least 18 years old and be able to read, write and speak English.
  • You must be a legal resident of the United States. For a minimum of five years and be able to demonstrate that you have been physically present in the US for at least 30 months within those five years. A legal resident is the holder of a Foreigner Registration Card, known as a “Green Card” (Form I-551).
  • Have been a permanent resident for 3 years or more, meet the eligibility requirements to process naturalization and be married to a US citizen.
  • Prove that you have a good moral character, during the period of residence in the United States, INA Sec. 316 (a). This means that the naturalization applicant must not have been convicted of any criminal charges.

There are cases where permanent legal residents have been arrested for DUI or DWI (driving while intoxicated) and paid the fine for it. The payment of the fine is an admission of guilt and is a conviction for a crime. If you want more information on the subject, check our “DUI lawyers in Los Angeles” section.

  • Renounce all allegiances to other countries and declare under oath your willingness to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
  • Members of the asset in the US Armed Forces may also be eligible for US citizenship by naturalization.
  • Be the son / daughter of a U.S. citizen born outside the United States. Likewise, the children of citizens who currently reside outside the US and meet the other eligibility requirements.

Benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen

The new status as a US citizen gives the beneficiary rights and privileges, but also obligations that must be met. These benefits are:

  • Right to work in the United States.
  • Right to receive protection from the United States.
  • Right to vote in the United States.
  • Right to live permanently in the United States.
  • Right to request the papers of their relatives.

Responsibilities of becoming a U.S. citizen

Acquiring U.S. citizenship also entails the obligation to:

  • Obey the laws of the United States.
  • Promptly declare your taxes.
  • Enroll in the Selective Service System if you are male and between 18 and 25 years of age.

How long does it take to become a U.S citizen?

The process to obtain American citizenship can take five months or more. From the moment the Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) receives Form N-400, Application for Naturalization and processes it.

After fulfilling the 5-year stay requirement in the US with an immigrant visa (3 years for a spouse), you can submit the naturalization application. Remember that only permanent legal residents of the USA (holders of a Green Card), can request naturalization.

In the past, amnesty periods have been declared for those who initially entered the US with a nonimmigrant visa, but their papers were expired. Then, they were allowed to request the appropriate documentation and process the adjustment of status towards the permanent legal Residence. There are no amnesties at this time.

What is the difference between residence and citizenship?

It is convenient not to confuse the two concepts, since they differ in terms of the benefits, rights and obligations of each. So they cannot be used interchangeably. Less those who intend to emigrate to the United States.

The legal permanent resident (LPR) has the right to live and work in the country permanently and indefinitely. After adjusting its status, the LPR obtains the Green Card, which also serves as an identity document. The green card gives its holder a series of benefits. Among them, request their immediate relatives (spouse and unmarried children under 21 years) to also obtain permanent residence.

Although permanent residence cannot be revoked so easily, the owner could be deported for committing a serious crime. Permanent resident status also does not grant the right to vote or hold public office.

While a US Citizen by birth or naturalization enjoys full benefits and rights. If you are looking to be a permanent resident or a US citizen, remember that Lluis Law expert immigration lawyers can help you. We have over 50 years serving the Latino community in the Los Angeles area.

Citizens can obtain a US passport and travel abroad without the need for a re-entry permit. This permit is processed through Form I-131 , but is different from Advance parole. In addition, if a citizen, the person does not need to live in the United States to maintain their citizenship.

The only way for citizenship by naturalization to be revoked and the beneficiary to be deported is to determine fraud in obtaining the Green Card.

What is the naturalization certificate?

It is a certificate issued by the United States government as proof of your U.S. citizenship before the country’s authorities. The USCIS recommends that you keep this document in a safe place to avoid loss or theft. To request an original citizenship certificate, you must complete Form N-600.

Replacement for loss or theft of the naturalization certificate

If you have lost your certificate please follow the instructions and fill out Form N-565 and send it to the address indicated there to receive a copy. Keep in mind that the wait can be up to one year and that the process involves a cost.

For more information consult the USCIS National Customer Service Center. If you are reading this from abroad, do not be alarmed and contact the US embassy of the country where you are.

How to become a U.S. citizen by marriage

US citizenship can also be obtained through marriage to a United States citizen. The process is that the spouse, who is a US citizen, makes a request for a foreign relative .

After complying with the requirements demanded by USCIS to be a permanent resident, the applicant obtains the Green Card. This process can currently take 12 to 24 months. Then the foreigner must wait another three years to process US citizenship, prior to meeting the requirements.

To make the naturalization request, the spouse of a US citizen must verify that:

  • He has lived married to the same spouse for 3 years;
  • It meets all other eligibility requirements set forth in the Immigration Law.
U.S. citizen by marriage

Derived and acquired citizenship

Derived citizenship is one that is acquired after birth and through parents or grandparents. That is, through a naturalization process. Acquired citizenship refers to citizenship granted to the children of a citizen of the United States, born in another country. In other words it is, as the name implies, citizenship acquired by blood right.

While derivative citizenship is acquired as a result of the naturalization of either parent or by adoption. To obtain derived citizenship it is necessary to apply for naturalization and take the naturalization test.

Citizenship by naturalization is also called acquired citizenship or derivative citizenship. To obtain it, all the requirements of the law must be met, including the naturalization test. In this test, it must be demonstrated that the applicant is fluent in the English language (reads, writes and speaks perfectly). You must also have knowledge about the history and government of the United States (civic education).

Citizenship derived by grandparents

Citizenship derived from grandparents applies to foreign children with an American grandfather who are the children of a U.S. citizen. However, at the time of birth their parents do not meet the requirements to transmit their nationality.

The procedure requires that the parents of the child or young person complete the petition in the United States. In addition, the beneficiary must have legally entered the country.

Requirements to acquire citizenship by one of the grandparents

  • The child must be under 18 years of age and single;
  • You must live outside the US;
  • Be an American father / mother child with legal custody over him. It doesn’t matter how they acquired citizenship.
  • The child must be the grandson of a US citizen. If he has passed away, his blood line must be proven.
  • Prove that the grandfather has lived in the United States for a period of not less than 5 years, 2 of which after having turned 14.

Derived citizenship through parents

A person can become a citizen of the United States when he is born in US territory and is the son of American parents. Likewise, through the naturalization process. Derived citizenship is acquired through the parents, prior compliance with the requirements established in the Immigration and Nationality Law.

Derivative citizenship through parents is one that is acquired through parents who are US citizens, but who obtained their citizenship through a naturalization process. The requirements that children must complete to acquire nationality or derived citizenship are the following:

  • Child of at least one parent with United States citizenship.
  • Must be under 18 years.
  • You must already have the status of legal permanent Resident.
  • The father or mother who is a US citizen must have physical and legal custody of the child.

Children of US citizens living outside the US also qualify for this immigration benefit. Like the children of the military. 

U.S. citizen by adoption

Orphan children born abroad can also acquire U.S. citizenship by adoption. The two possible cases in which citizenship can be processed for an adopted child are when:

  • The child enters the US to live with their adoptive parent /s.
  • The child lives in another country together his American parent (s).

Each of these cases requires different procedures. When the child already resides in the USA, U.S. citizenship can be acquired automatically, after certain legal requirements have been met.

If the adoptive parents reside abroad and do not have an address in the United States, the child’s naturalization must first be requested. Then they must meet the immigration requirements.

There are two fundamental criteria that the adopted child must meet to acquire citizenship:

  1. The case must be framed within the definition of “adopted child” established in the Immigration and Nationality Law (INA).
  2. The adoption circumstances must meet the criteria set forth in the INA to automatically acquire U.S. citizenship.
adoption citizenship

What is an adopted child?

The definition of a child adopted for the purposes of immigration to the United States is that which meets the requirements mentioned below:

  • The minor was legally adopted before the age of 16.
  • The child has been in the legal custody of his adoptive parents for at least two years.
  • The child has lived with his adoptive parents for at least two years.

Adoptive parents should know that legal custody of the child is obtained through a court of law or the appropriate government agency. There are cases in which even the child could be subject to a deportation process. The most advisable thing is to consult an expert immigration lawyer, to help expedite and guarantee a successful process of obtaining citizenship.

Child Citizenship Law

The Child Citizenship Law was enacted in order to make it easier for adopted children to acquire U.S. citizenship. For this purpose certain steps and costs were eliminated. The law states that children adopted abroad can automatically acquire U.S. citizenship, subject to compliance with the following legal requirements and criteria:

  • At least one of the child’s adoptive parents is a US citizen.
  • The child is under 18 years old.
  • The child remains in the legal and physical custody of the American father.
  • The child has been admitted to the US with an immigrant visa as a legal permanent residence.
  • The adoption of the child is final.

When the child does not meet any of these requirements, an immigration lawyer should be consulted on the procedure to follow.

Naturalization process of adopted children

Adopted children who enter the United States with IH-4 or IR-4 visas are eligible to automatically obtain citizenship. The requirement is to be under 18 and that their parents have fully obtained their legal adoption in the USA or another country.

If the child is not eligible to receive the Certificate of Citizenship automatically, and the legal adoption process has been completed, one can be requested before the USCIS, through Form N-600 . But, if the US citizen does not live in the US, he must submit a request for the child’s naturalization. This is done through Form N-600K , pursuant to Section 322 of INA.

The applicant must travel to the United States with their child to attend a pre-decision interview on their application.

How much does American citizenship cost?

According to the USCIS website, the Naturalization Request fee that is processed with Form N-400 is $ 640. Plus the $ 85 paid for biometric services, total $ 725. However, it has been reported that this process will have an increase of 83% which means that from $ 640 it would go to $ 1,170.

In the case of applying online, the respective fee is also paid online. You can also pay by personal check, money order, cashier’s check or by credit card using Form G-1450, Authorization of Credit Card Transactions. Payments by check must be made in the name of the US Department of Homeland Security.

cost of obtaining citizenship in the united states

If the interested party has any question about the eligibility of their adopted child or about the citizenship application process, they should consult with an immigration lawyer who is an expert in these matters. A good lawyer can also help you prepare and organize the required documentation.


For more information about becoming a U.S. citizen, or any other immigration related matter for you or a family member, Lluis Law immigration attorneys are available to you. They will help you clear all your doubts. We have experience in representing immigrants in the Los Angeles area and the rest of California.