Though the U.S. constitution and laws protect anyone living in the U.S., there are many benefits and rights that are reserved exclusively to U.S. citizens.
To be able to take advantage of all the benefits, it’s important to have proof of your U.S. citizenship.
The documents that you can use to prove your U.S. citizenship depend on how you became a U.S. citizen:
- For natural born citizens (those born inside the U.S.), an official birth certificate showing your U.S. place of birth can be proof of your U.S. citizenship. If you have lost your birth certificate, you can contact the Bureau of Vital statistics in the state where you were born and request a copy.
- For naturalized citizens (those who have gone through naturalization), your proof of status is the U.S. naturalization certificate you receive from the USCIS once you become a U.S. citizen. If you have lost your naturalization certificate, you can apply for a duplicate with Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization Document with the USCIS.
- For children under the age of 18 who’ve become U.S. citizens because their parents are naturalized citizens, your proof of status is a U.S. citizenship certificate. This citizenship certificate can be obtained by filing Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship with the USCIS. You can receive your certificate once your parent becomes a U.S. citizen. If you have lost your citizenship certificate, you can apply for a duplicate with Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization Document with the USCIS.
- For the children born outside of the U.S. to parents who were already U.S. citizens when the child was born, you can get proof of your citizenship by using Form FS-240, Consular Report of Birth Abroad and filing it with the U.S. Department of State. You can request copies of this document at any time.
Note: With a U.S. birth certificate, a naturalization or citizenship certificate or a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, you can apply for a U.S. passport, which is the most convenient proof of citizenship. You can apply for a U.S. passport with the U.S. Department of State by filing Form DS-11 (to apply in person) or DS-82 (to renew a passport by mail). Many U.S. Post Offices have passport services that facilitate the process.
Naturalization is the process that a non-U.S. citizen goes through to become a U.S. citizen. You can apply for naturalization using Form N-400, Application for Naturalization as long as you meet a list of general requirements.
In general, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have been a permanent resident of the U.S. for a certain period of time (5 years for most people, 3 years for the wives and husbands of U.S. citizens)
- Meet the continuous residence requirements for your situation (continuous residence generally means you must have been living in the U.S. for a certain period of time without going abroad for more than 6 months at a time)
- Meet the physical presence requirements for your situation (physical presence generally means you must have spent a certain period of time inside the U.S.)
- Be able to speak, write and read English
- Be a person of good moral character (you can’t have committed any serious crimes)