How to become a U.S. citizen

In this comprehensive guide for 2020 the immigrant will learn how to become a U.S. citizen. In this article we review the different paths, documents and requirements so that you can achieve your goal.


You also count with the legal support of our immigration lawyers in Los Angeles. We can help you in any city since we have been guiding immigrants towards their American dream for more over 40 years. Our consultation is 100% free and does not commit you to anything.

How to become a U.S. citizen in 2020

The first step in becoming a U.S. citizen is to be a resident. This can be achieved through consular processing or adjustment of status, among other procedures.

Review our guide on “How to get a Green Card” to know how to become a permanent resident.

With the previous step completed you can become a U.S. citizen by:

  • Birth.
  • Naturalization. 

In other words, you can become a U.S. citizen at birth or after birth.

How do you obtain citizenship by birth?

  • You were born in the US or in certain territories or outlying possessions that are subject to US jurisdiction or;
  • You were born abroad and your mother, father, or both are U.S. citizens at birth. This implies other requirements.

How can you get it after birth?

You can do it in 2 different ways:

  • Citizenship acquired or derived through parents.
  • By naturalization.
benefits and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship

Citizenship through naturalization

Naturalization is the process by which US citizenship is granted voluntarily to a citizen not born in the United States. The applicant must meet the requirements established by the U.S. Congress at INA.

Basic requirements to apply for naturalization

To be eligible for naturalization you must meet the following requirements:

  • 18 or older.
  • You have been a permanent resident for a period of time. The usual time is 3 to 5 years. This depends on how you got your status.
  • Possess good moral character.
  • You have a basic understanding of the US government. This point has exceptions for possible permanent physical or mental limitations.
  • You have a period of physical and continuous residence in the US.
  • Basic level written, read and spoken in the English language. It also has exceptions for those:
    • 55 years old and have been a resident for at least 15 years or;
    • 50 years old and have been a resident for at least 20 years or;
    • Possessing a mental or physical disability that prevents them from meeting these requirements. 

Physical presence and continuous residence requirements for citizenship

Physical presence: In this case, applicants must demonstrate that they were:

  • Physically present in the U.S. for 30 months in the 5-year period immediately before submitting their application or;
  • Physically present in the U.S. for 18 months in the 3-year period before submitting their application. This is the case for eligible spouses of U.S. citizens.

Note: You must also demonstrate that you have resided for the immediate 3 months prior to the submission of Form N-400 in the USCIS state or district where you claim to have residency.

Continuous residence: Applicants must demonstrate the following:

  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. for 5 years before submitting the application or;
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. for 3 years for eligible spouses of U.S. citizens.

Continuous residence means that the applicant has resided in the US for the required time. Prolonged absences outside the country can affect this period of residence:

  • Unless the applicant can demonstrate otherwise, absences of between 6 months and 1 year will interrupt the continuity of the period of residence.
  • Absences in excess of one year or more will interrupt the continuity of the period of residence for the applicant.

Exceptions and modifications to naturalization requirements

Related to English language proficiency: You are exempt from the English language requirement although you must take the civic education exam in the following cases:

  • Exception 50/20: At the time of applying for naturalization, you are 50 or older and have been a legal permanent resident of the U.S. for 20 years.
  • Exception 55/15: At the time of applying for naturalization, you are 55 or older and have been a legal permanent resident of the U.S. for 15 years.

To consider:

  • Even being eligible for the previous ones, you must take the civic education exam.
  • You can take the civic education test in your native language.
  • If you do it in your native language, you must bring an interpreter for the interview.
  • The interpreter will be fluent in English and your native language.
  • If when applying for naturalization you are 65 years old and have been a permanent resident for at least 20 years, you will have special consideration in relation to the civic education requirement.

Exceptions for medical disabilities for the English and civic education exam: Either due to physical or mental disabilities, you can be exempt in such circumstances. To request this exception you must file Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions. The form will be completed by a certified doctor, psychologist, or osteopath.

Exceptions to continuous residence time: Exceptions in these cases are for employees of:

  • The U.S. government including the Armed Forces.
  • U.S. government contractors.
  • Recognized American research institution. In this case, the institution may obtain recognition from USCIS in this regard. For more information visit USCIS website.
  • Public international organization.
  • Organization designated under the International Immunity Law.

To preserve your continued residence in order to obtain naturalization while working abroad you must file Form N-470.

For the disabled: Under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amendments are provided for applicants with physical or mental problems seeking naturalization.

Oath of Allegiance: The law allows some modifications to the Oath of Allegiance that must be done in public ceremony. You can check the following USCIS resources: 

These resources are not easy to follow or you may not have the time to read them all. Our lawyers are here to make your life easier and help you, feel free to drop us an email or contact us anytime.

When can I request naturalization? 

You can apply if you are at least 18 years old and have been a permanent resident in the US:

  • For at least 5 years or;
  • At least 3 years in which you have been and continue to be married and living in marriage with a spouse who is a U.S. citizen or;
  • You have served with honor in the U.S. Army: For spouses of citizens and members of the United States Army, the deadline to apply for naturalization may be less than the one mentioned in this section. 

Note: Members of the United States Armed Forces, veterans, and their dependents may qualify for special considerations to obtain naturalization.

Documentation to apply for naturalization

Form N-400 is the one you must submit for your naturalization application. On USCIS website you have specific information about this document and where to present it.

Note: The applicant does not necessarily have to be present in the United States to submit this form.

Process for obtaining U.S. citizenship by naturalization

After meeting the eligibility requirements, the immigrant must follow these steps:

  1. Fill out form N-400. For those who apply for 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 have your fingerprints taken. 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 a USCIS officer will take.
  4. The oath ceremony and the passport. At this point, and if you have passed the interview and test, you will receive a notification to appear at the oath ceremony. There you will receive your naturalization certificate and become a U.S. citizen.

You can apply for your U.S. passport immediately after the ceremony.

Naturalization test

This exam has two parts. The first is based on civic education questions where you must correctly answer 6 out of the 10 questions that the interviewer will ask you. 10 questions will be 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.

What happens if I don’t pass the test?

You have 2 opportunities to pass the test for the English or civic education parts or to answer questions related to your N-400 application.

If you do not satisfactorily answer any questions in your initial interview, you will be re-examined on the parts where you failed between 60 and 90 days after the initial interview date.

Benefits and responsibilities of obtaining U.S. citizenship

The new status as a US citizen gives the beneficiary rights and privileges, but also obligations and promises to be fulfilled. Some of these benefits are:

  • Being able to work in the U.S.A.
  • Right to receive U.S. protection.
  • Being able to vote in the U.S.
  • Right to live permanently in the U.S.
  • Being able to bring family members to the U.S.
  • You are able to obtain citizenship for children born abroad.
  • Be eligible for federal jobs.
  • Become an official.
  • Show your patriotism.
  • Travel with a U.S. passport and obtain assistance abroad.

Acquiring U.S. citizenship also carries an obligation to:

  • Obey the laws of the United States.
  • Promptly file your taxes.
  • Enroll in the Selective Service System if you are male and between 18 and 25 years old.
  • Give up all previous loyalty to any other nation or sovereignty.
  • Serve the country when necessary.

How to get American citizenship by marriage

In this process the spouse, who is a U.S. citizen, will petition for a foreign relative.

On our website we explain step by step how to fill out form I-130.

You may be eligible for naturalization if:

  • You have been a permanent resident holder of a Green Card for at least 3 years.
  • During that time you have lived in a marriage union with the same American spouse.
  • You meet the eligibility requirements in the following section.

Note: In certain cases, spouses of U.S. citizens employed abroad may be eligible for naturalization regardless of meeting the minimum time required as a permanent resident.

U.S. citizenship by marriage

General requirements for the applicant

In this case the applicant must:

  • Be 18 years or older.
  • Have been a permanent resident for at least the 3 years prior to filing Form N-400.
  • Have lived in a marriage union with the U.S. spouse during the 3 years prior to the application date and during and until the test date. This spouse, in turn, must have been a US citizen during all this time.
  • Also have resided in the same USCIS district or state that has jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence for 3 months prior to the filing date of the application.
  • Must have resided continuously in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for at least 3 years prior to the filing date of the application.
  • Continuously reside in the U.S. from the filing date of the application until naturalization.
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 18 months in the 3 years prior to and required to apply.
  • Be able to read, write, speak English, and have an understanding of the US government (civics) and history.
  • Being a person of good moral character with what all this implies.

Spouses of US citizens employed abroad

As a general rule, the spouse must be present in the United States, have been legally admitted and have permanent residence at the time of the test and naturalization. 

He/she must meet the previously listed requirements with the following exceptions:

  • Although the spouse must be a permanent resident, a specific period of time is not required.
  • A specific period of time of physical presence or continuous residence in the U.S. is not required.
  • Although the spouses must live in a marriage union, a specific marriage union time is not required.

Note: It is important to emphasize that the intention to travel to the U.S.A. after naturalization must be demonstrated with the idea of ​​residing in the country as soon as your spouse ends employment abroad.

Citizenship derived through parents

Before entering into details, let’s see the definition of “child” in terms of citizenship and naturalization.

The concept of child in terms of citizenship

 Single person who:

  • Is the genetic, adopted, or legitimized son of a U.S. citizen or;
  • He is the son of a gestational mother, that is, an American non-genetics who is legally recognized as the mother of the child.

Now that we have clarified this concept, there are 2 general ways to obtain citizenship through American parents, one at birth and one after. In both cases, always before reaching the age of 18.

Which children qualify for citizenship

The law currently determines that a person born outside the U.S. to a citizen parent (or parents) is a U.S. citizen at birth. 

As a general rule, one of the parents is required to be a U.S. citizen and that the mother or father must have resided in the United States. over a period of time.

adoption citizenship

Note: It is important to emphasize that these foreign-born children can also become American citizens after birth.

Children of U.S. citizens born abroad who now reside in the U.S.

Children born outside of the U.S.A. but now living in the U.S.A. automatically become citizens when all of the following conditions are met on or after February 27, 2001:

  • The child’s parent (including adoptive parent) is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization;
  • The child is under 18 years old;   
  • The child is a lawful permanent resident and;
  • The child resides in the U.S. under the physical and legal custody of the U.S. citizen mother or father.

Children of U.S. citizens residing outside the US

A child who regularly resides outside the U.S.A. may be eligible for naturalization if the following conditions are met:

  • The child’s parent (including adoptive parent) is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization;
  • The U.S. citizen parent or grandparent of the child meets certain physical presence requirements in the U.S. or its territories;
  • The son is under 18 years old;
  • The child resides outside of the US in the physical and legal custody of the US citizen parent. or a person who does not object to the request if the US citizen parent is deceased and;
  • The child is legally admitted, physically present, and also maintains legal status in the U.S. when the application is approved and upon naturalization.

Note: The process for children of the US military residing outside the country can be completed from abroad.

Frequently asked questions about obtaining U.S. citizenship

Below we answer many of the questions we receive on the topic. They will likely resolve many of your own questions.

If you are looking for assistance in your specific case, contact us. Our lawyers will assist you in a free and 100% confidential consultation that does not commit you to anything.

I was convicted of a crime but I cleared my criminal record. Should I indicate this on my application or inform the USCIS officer?

Yes, you must be honest and especially if you have been convicted or arrested. Even if you were not charged or convicted or if your criminal record was erased.

Even if it is a misdemeanor USCIS could deny your request if you don’t report this. 

Note: Include any compensatory evidence in your favor regarding the circumstances of the arrest or offenses.

You may be interested in reading our article “How to clean a criminal record.”

Unless the traffic accident is related to drugs or alcohol (example DUI ) it is not necessary to submit documentation of fines and incidents that do not involve an arrest. This would be the case of fines of less than $ 500 or loss of points on your driver’s license.

How long does it take to become an American citizen?

The process to obtain American citizenship can take five months or more, with an average of 6 months. This from the moment USCIS receives Form N-400 and processes it.

Cost and payment of the naturalization process for citizens 

The naturalization application fee that is processed with Form N-400 is $ 640. Plus the $ 85 paid for biometric services, totals $ 725.

However, it has been reported that this process will have an increase of 83%, which means that it will be increased from the current $ 640 to $ 1,170.

You can pay online or by personal check, money order, cashier’s check, or credit card using Form G-1450. Check payments must be made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

What if I can’t go to my scheduled interview?

It is important not to miss your interview to obtain U.S. citizenship. However, if you must reschedule the appointment, contact the office where you will make the appointment as soon as possible. This can add months to the process.

Please note that if you do not attend your case is administratively closed. Unless you contact within 1 year after USCIS closes your case, your request will be rejected.

How to report a change of address?

It is extremely important that USCIS has your most current address or you may not receive important notifications. If you move after submitting your naturalization application:

Call 1-800-375-5283 (TTY: 1-800-767-1833). You must also file Form AR-11 within 10 days of the move.

If I naturalize can I change my name?

USCIS has no legal authority for it and there are only 2 ways you can issue a naturalization certificate with a new name:

  • If you present proof of having changed your name following the legal requirements applicable in your state.
  • If you are taking the oath of allegiance at a naturalization ceremony in Court, you can ask the Court to change your name. If the court accepts the petition, your new name will appear on your certificate.

I cannot attend the oath ceremony, what should I do?

You must return the Form N-445 that you received from your USCIS office including a letter stating why you cannot go. Make a copy before sending it. The USCIS office will schedule a new ceremony notice for the naturalization oath (Form N-445).

What do I do if USCIS denies my application?

If you think you were rejected by mistake, you can request a hearing with an immigration officer. In the denial letter you will have more details about the process. 

You can file an appeal with Form N-336. You must do so within 30 days of receiving the denial letter. You must also include the corresponding fee. Ultimately you could also file an application with the U.S. District Court.

On our website we have a specified section dedicated to the immigration appeal process. There you can learn everything about the subject in question.

Is it possible to reapply for naturalization if USCIS denies my application?

In many cases you can reapply. You must do it with a new Form N-400 and the payment of the corresponding fee. They should also take your biometric data again.

If your application is rejected again, the same rejection letter indicates the date on which you could reapply for the certificate to obtain U.S. citizenship.

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 waiting period can be up to a year and that the process carries a cost.

For more information, contact the USCIS National Customer Service Center or our lawyers. If you are reading this from abroad, please contact the United States embassy of the country where you currently are.


For more information about how to become U.S. citizen we are at your service. The immigration lawyers of Lluis Law will help you to clear all your questions. 

We have experience representing immigrants throughout the country so feel free to contact us right now.