How to Acquire Private Citizenship

By Rhonda Donaldson - Updated June 20, 2017
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Becoming a private U.S. citizen is a process that can be accomplished if you meet certain requirements. Before you apply, you must be 18 years of age, have been a continuous resident of the United States with a green card for at least five years, and prove at least three months' residency in the state you are applying. Once you have filed your application there will be an interview and testing process. You will also be responsible for paying the fees that accompany the process. Once approved, you will be a private citizen of the United States.

The Process

Complete Form N-400, which is your application for private citizenship. You can print a copy of the application from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Your local citizenship and immigration office will also have application forms if you do not have access to a computer. Once you have completed the application, return the required paperwork and photos by mail or to your local office. You can locate the application center in the state or county you live through the local telephone directory or through your local law enforcement or county clerk's office. You may submit the application to them up to 90 days before you meet residency requirement.

Wait for an appointment letter from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigation Services office. This letter is sent once your application for citizenship has been received. The letter will inform you of the date and time to report for an interview. You should have reviewed all requirements for citizenship before your interview. Requirements to acquire a legal green card in the United States are not the same as the requirements to apply for citizenship. You must have a legal residence and identification, which is your green card, before you apply for U.S. citizenship.

Go to your local USCIS office at the specified time. Be sure to take all of your identification with you as well as additional documents that might be requested specific to your case, such as your birth certificate or a marriage license if your spouse is a U.S. citizen. Your letter will state if any additional documents are needed other than the ones you have already supplied with your application. Once your interview begins, be prepared to answer questions from the immigrations officer concerning your application and background.

Pass a required English and civics test that are required at your interview. You can find suggested test questions for review and study through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. The site provides a video outlining the process and an overview of the test. It is also available in Spanish.

Pay the filing and fingerprinting fees. These fees are outlined through the website and may total several hundred dollars. No cash will be accepted. The fees must be paid by a money order drawn on a U.S. bank, a cashier's check, a personal check on a U.S. bank, or a MasterCard, Visa or Discover credit card. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office will notify you once your application is approved for citizenship or you may check your application status online through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.


A criminal record will affect your ability to become a citizen. There is a five year waiting period for some offenses while certain other crimes will prohibit you from citizenship altogether. If you are the child of a naturalized citizen or are married to a U.S. citizen, your application status will have more lenient requirements.


Your fees are not refundable if you do not pass your exam or your application is not approved. There are organizations and websites that charge fees to do the paperwork for you. Be cautious if you choose this option. You can do the task yourself free of charge, though you will have to pay the required filing fees.

About the Author

Rhonda Donaldson began writing for a daily newspaper in 1991. She was published by the Associated Press and the National and International Wire, as well as a Texas college alumni magazine. Her work includes writing the history for one of Texas' oldest television stations. Donaldson has won several Associated Press awards and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications.

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