How to Get Your Papers to Become an American Citizen

By Claire Gillespie - Updated March 15, 2018
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If you want to become a U.S. citizen, you need to get papers for citizenship. This involves a process known as naturalization. Provided you meet the eligibility requirements and have the necessary identification, the process is relatively simple.

Tip

To become a U.S. citizen, you must meet eligibility requirements, provide identification and other paperwork and go through an interview/testing process.

Requirements for U.S. Citizenship

If you want to become a U.S. citizen, you must have had a Permanent Resident Card (informally known as a Green Card) for at least five years, or at least three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen. You must be at least 18 years old at the time of filing for citizenship, be able to read, write and speak basic English, and have good moral character. If you apply for citizenship less than six months before your Green Card expires, or apply after your Green Card has already expired, you must renew your Green Card. You can apply for naturalization before you receive your new Green Card, but you must send a photocopy of the receipt of your Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, as soon as you get it.

Naturalization Application Form

The 10-step naturalization process determines your eligibility to become an American citizen. First you complete and submit form N-400, the application for naturalization. Send a photocopy of both sides of your green card (or a photocopy of the receipt of your Form I-90) and a check or money order for the application fee and the biometric services fee. If you live outside the U.S., also send two identical color photographs with your name and Alien Registration Number in pencil on the back of each photo. If you are applying for citizenship on the basis of being married to a U.S. citizen, you must send evidence that your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for the last three years (such as his birth certificate, Certificate of Citizenship or Certificate of Naturalization), your current marriage certificate, proof of termination of any previous marriages, and paperwork referring to both you and your spouse, such as a tax return, bank statement, mortgage statement or your child's birth certificate.

U.S. Naturalization Test

You must pass the naturalization test to become a U.S. citizen. This involves an interview about your application and your background, an English test and a civics (American history and government) test. Some people qualify for an exemption or waiver from one or both of the tests – for example, if you are age 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have held a Green Card for at least 20 years (known as the "50/20" exception), you are exempt from the English test. Study materials for the English test and the civics test are available from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If you don't pass either at your initial interview, you get another chance to answer the part of the test that you failed within 60 to 90 days after the date of your initial interview. Some applicants are also required to have a biometrics appointment, which typically takes no longer than 30 minutes and simply involves taking your photograph, fingerprints and signature. This is to help confirm your identity. If you are required to have biometrics screening, the UCIS will send you an appointment notice after you submit your application stating the date, time and location for your appointment.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen

If your application for citizenship is granted, you receive a written notice of the decision from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services the same day as your interview. You will participate in a naturalization ceremony that day if it is available. If a same-day ceremony is not available, you get a notification through the post with the date, time and location of your scheduled ceremony. At the naturalization ceremony, you take the Oath of Allegiance, the final step toward becoming an American citizen.

About the Author

Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.

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