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How to Become a US Citizen

Citizenship Eligibility, Application, Exmaination

To be able to vote, hold public office, or serve on a jury, a person must be a United States citizen. Citizenship may be acquired in one of two ways; either as a natural citizen or a naturalized citizen. Those who obtain their citizenship at birth are referred to as natural citizens, while those who become citizens at some time after their birth are referred to as naturalized citizens.


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Natural citizens can be subdivided into two groups; those who acquired their citizenship by having been born in the United States, and those who acquired their citizenship by been born to parents that are citizens of the United States. Those individuals who are born on U.S. soil are said to have received their citizenship under the doctrine of "jus soli" or by the "right of the land". Natural citizens who are not born within the United States, but who are born from parents who were citizens of the United States at the time of their birth acquire their citizenship under the "jus sanguinis" doctrine or by the "right through blood".

  1. File an application.
  2. Take a naturalization examination.
  3. Participate in an Oath Ceremony

Not everyone, however, is eligible to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. A person must meet certain

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • A lawful permanent resident for five years
  • A person of good moral character
  • Be able to understand, read, write, and speak basic English
  • Possess a basic understanding of United States government and history
  • Be willing to take an oath of allegiance to the United States

Additional eligibility details are provided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Application for Naturalization

All applicants must complete the "Application for Naturalization" (Form N-400) to become naturalized.

The application requests information such as name, address, date of birth, basis for eligibility, absences from the U.S., employer information, marital history, information about children, allegiance to the U.S. and more.

All applicants must be fingerprinted by the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) for the purpose of conducting FBI criminal background checks. The INS charges $25 per person (for most applicants) at the time of filing for this fingerprinting service.

Applicants must include the following with their Application for Naturalization:

  • 2 color photographs
  • $250 ($25 for fingerprinting and $225 for processing the application)

Naturalization Examination

After the Application for Naturalization has been filed, applicants will be notified to appear at a INS office to be interviewed.  The applicant will be asked questions about his/her application and some questions that will examine his/her knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government. 

Do you think you would be able to pass this exam?  Find out by taking the online Naturalization Self Test. Below are a few of the questions applicants may be asked :

  • What is the legislative branch of our government?
  • Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
  • Who is the Commander in Chief of the U.S. military?
  • Who is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court today?

During this interview, applicants will also be examined on their ability to read, write, and speak English.  The following applicants do not have to complete this part of the exam:

  • Individuals who are more than 50 years of age and who have been lawful permanent residents for 20 years or more.
  • Individuals who are more than 55 years of age and who have been lawful permanent residents for 15 years or more.

Oath Ceremony

If one's Application for Naturalization is approved, then the next step to becoming a citizen is to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

If an individual cannot promise to bear arms or perform noncombatant service because of religious training and belief, he/she may omit those statements when taking the oath.  

In some places, one can choose to take the Oath the same day as the interview, or to request to be scheduled for an oath ceremony in a court.

Citizenship Day

On February 29, 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill establishing September 17 as Citizenship Day; a day to recognize and honor citizens. September 17 is also the date on which the United States Constitution was signed in 1787.

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