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What Are the Eligibility Requirements for US Citizenship?

U.S. Citizenship EligibilityHow can you become a U.S. citizen? First, you must meet the nine basic eligibility requirements.

But before you do! Check to make sure that you are not already a citizen. If either of your parents are or were U.S. citizens, you may qualify for automatic citizenship. If not, you would need to apply for citizenship through the naturalization process. The requirements for citizenship through naturalization (using Form N-400) are explained below.

1. Be at least 18 years old.

You must be at least 18 years to apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization. If you are under age 18, it is possible to obtain U.S. citizenship. Your parent(s) can apply for citizenship and include you on their application for naturalization.

2. Be a permanent resident for at least 3-5 years*.

In most cases, you must be a permanent resident for five years to qualify for naturalization. However, if you are married to a U.S. citizen, the requirement is only three years. This requirement can also differ if you served in the U.S. military. See the chart below for specific exceptional circumstances which require less than 3 years time as a permanent resident.

If you… Time as a permanent resident
Are in the U.S. Armed Forces (Or will be filing your application within 6 months of an honorable discharge); and have served for at least 1 year. You must be a permanent resident on the day of your naturalization/ citizenship interview.
Performed active duty military service during:

  • World War I (Apr. 6, 1917 – Nov. 11, 1918)
  • World War II (Sept. 1, 1939 – Dec. 31, 1946)
  • Korea (Jun. 25, 1950 – Jul. 1, 1955)
  • Vietnam (Feb. 28, 1961 – Oct. 15, 1978)
  • Persian Gulf (Aug. 2, 1990 – Apr. 11, 1991)
  • On or after Sept. 11, 2001
You are not required to be a permanent resident.

NOTE: If you did not enlist or reenlist in the United States or its outlying possessions, you must be a permanent resident on the day you file your application.

If you were married to a U.S. citizen who died during a period of honorable active duty service in the U.S. armed forces. You must be a permanent resident on the day of your naturalization/ citizenship interview.
If you are at least 18 years old and:

  • Are a U.S. national (a non-citizen who owes permanent allegiance to the U.S.); and
  • Have become a resident of any state; and
  • Are otherwise qualified for naturalization
You are not required to be a permanent resident
If you are at least 18 years old and:

  • A member of the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • An employee or an individual under contract to the U.S. government;
  • An employe of an American institution of research recognized by the Attorney General;
  • An employee of an American-owned firm or corporation engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce for the United States;
  • An employee of a public international organization of which the United States is a member by law or treaty; or
  • A person who performs ministerial or priestly functions for a religious denomination or an interdenominational organization with a valid presence in the United States and You will be proceeding to join your spouse whose work abroad under orders of the qualifying employer will continue for at least 1 year after the date you will be naturalized. Form N-400 should be filed prior to departing.
You must be a permanent resident at the time of your USCIS interview.

3. Show that you have live in the same state for 3 months.

Most applicants are required to have lived in the same state or USCIS district for three months before applying for naturalization. See the chart below for exceptions.

If you… Time in USCIS District or state
Are in the U.S. Armed Forces (Or will be filing your application within 6 months of an honorable discharge); and have served for at least 1 year. Not required
Performed active duty military service during:

  • World War I (Apr. 6, 1917 – Nov. 11, 1918)
  • World War II (Sept. 1, 1939 – Dec. 31, 1946)
  • Korea (Jun. 25, 1950 – Jul. 1, 1955)
  • Vietnam (Feb. 28, 1961 – Oct. 15, 1978)
  • Persian Gulf (Aug. 2, 1990 – Apr. 11, 1991)
  • On or after Sept. 11, 2001
Not required
If you were married to a U.S. citizen who died during a period of honorable active duty service in the U.S. armed forces. Not required
If you are at least 18 years old and:

  • Are a U.S. national (a non-citizen who owes permanent allegiance to the U.S.); and
  • Have become a resident of any state; and
  • Are otherwise qualified for naturalization
3 months or not required, depending on your qualifications
If you are at least 18 years old and have been employed for 5 years or more by a U.S. nonprofit organization that principally promotes the interests of the United States abroad through the communications media. Not required
If you are at least 18 years old and:

  • A member of the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • An employee or an individual under contract to the U.S. government;
  • An employe of an American institution of research recognized by the Attorney General;
  • An employee of an American-owned firm or corporation engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce for the United States;
  • An employee of a public international organization of which the United States is a member by law or treaty; or
  • A person who performs ministerial or priestly functions for a religious denomination or an interdenominational organization with a valid presence in the United States and You will be proceeding to join your spouse whose work abroad under orders of the qualifying employer will continue for at least 1 year after the date you will be naturalized. Form N-400 should be filed prior to departing.
Not required

4. Meet the continuous residence requirement.

Continuous residence is the requirement to have spent a prolonged period of time in the U.S. without having left the country for more than a short time. Most applicants must demonstrate 5 years of continuous residence, without having left the United States for trips 6 months or longer. See the chart below for exceptions.

 

If you… Continuous Residence
Are currently married to and living with a U.S. citizen; and have been married to and living with that same U.S. citizen for the past three years; and your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for the past three years. 3 years as a permanent resident without leaving the United States for trips longer than 6 months
Are in the U.S. Armed Forces (Or will be filing your application within 6 months of an honorable discharge); and have served for at least 1 year. Not required
Were in the U.S. Armed Forces for less than 1 year or were in the U.S. Armed Forces for 1 year or more, but you were discharged more than 6 months ago. 5 years as a permanent resident without leaving the United States for trips of 6 months or longer.

NOTE: If you were out of the country as a part of your service, this time out of the country does not break your continuous residence. It is treated just like time spent in the United States.

Performed active duty military service during:

  • World War I (Apr. 6, 1917 – Nov. 11, 1918)
  • World War II (Sept. 1, 1939 – Dec. 31, 1946)
  • Korea (Jun. 25, 1950 – Jul. 1, 1955)
  • Vietnam (Feb. 28, 1961 – Oct. 15, 1978)
  • Persian Gulf (Aug. 2, 1990 – Apr. 11, 1991)
  • On or after Sept. 11, 2001
Not required
If you were married to a U.S. citizen who died during a period of honorable active duty service in the U.S. armed forces. Not required
If you are at least 18 years old and:

  • Are a U.S. national (a non-citizen who owes permanent allegiance to the U.S.); and
  • Have become a resident of any state; and
  • Are otherwise qualified for naturalization
The same requirements as any other applicant for naturalization, depending on your qualifications. NOTE: Any time you resided in American Samoa or Swains Islands counts the same as the time you resided within a state of the United States.
If you are at least 18 years old and have been employed for 5 years or more by a U.S. nonprofit organization that principally promotes the interests of the United States abroad through the communications media. Not required
If you are at least 18 years old and:

  • A member of the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • An employee or an individual under contract to the U.S. government;
  • An employe of an American institution of research recognized by the Attorney General;
  • An employee of an American-owned firm or corporation engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce for the United States;
  • An employee of a public international organization of which the United States is a member by law or treaty; or
  • A person who performs ministerial or priestly functions for a religious denomination or an interdenominational organization with a valid presence in the United States and You will be proceeding to join your spouse whose work abroad under orders of the qualifying employer will continue for at least 1 year after the date you will be naturalized. Form N-400 should be filed prior to departing.
Not required

5. Meet the physical presence requirement.

Physical presence is the amount of time required that you be physically present in the U.S. in the time immediately prior to filing your N-400 application for naturalization. Most applicants must meet a physical presence requirement of 30 months out of the last 5 years.

 

If you… Physical Presence in the United States
Are in the U.S. Armed Forces (Or will be filing your application within 6 months of an honorable discharge); and have served for at least 1 year. Not required
Are currently married to and living with a U.S. citizen; and have been married to and living with that same U.S. citizen for the past three years; and your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for the past three years. 18 months
Were in the U.S. Armed Forces for less than 1 year or were in the U.S. Armed Forces for 1 year or more, but you were discharged more than 6 months ago. 30 months

NOTE: Time in the U.S. Armed Forces counts as time physically present in the United States no matter where you were.

Performed active duty military service during:

  • World War I (Apr. 6, 1917 – Nov. 11, 1918)
  • World War II (Sept. 1, 1939 – Dec. 31, 1946)
  • Korea (Jun. 25, 1950 – Jul. 1, 1955)
  • Vietnam (Feb. 28, 1961 – Oct. 15, 1978)
  • Persian Gulf (Aug. 2, 1990 – Apr. 11, 1991)
  • On or after Sept. 11, 2001
Not required
If you were married to a U.S. citizen who died during a period of honorable active duty service in the U.S. armed forces. Not required
If you are at least 18 years old and:

  • Are a U.S. national (a non-citizen who owes permanent allegiance to the U.S.); and
  • Have become a resident of any state; and
  • Are otherwise qualified for naturalization
The same requirements as any other applicant for naturalization, depending on your qualifications. NOTE: Any time you resided in American Samoa or Swains Islands counts the same as the time you resided within a state of the United States.
If you are at least 18 years old and have been employed for 5 years or more by a U.S. nonprofit organization that principally promotes the interests of the United States abroad through the communications media. Not required
If you are at least 18 years old and:

  • A member of the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • An employee or an individual under contract to the U.S. government;
  • An employe of an American institution of research recognized by the Attorney General;
  • An employee of an American-owned firm or corporation engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce for the United States;
  • An employee of a public international organization of which the United States is a member by law or treaty; or
  • A person who performs ministerial or priestly functions for a religious denomination or an interdenominational organization with a valid presence in the United States and You will be proceeding to join your spouse whose work abroad under orders of the qualifying employer will continue for at least 1 year after the date you will be naturalized. Form N-400 should be filed prior to departing.
Not required

6. Meet the English language requirement.

Most applicants are required to speak, read and write basic English. As a part of the naturalization process, you will be required to take an English test. However, there are some exceptions. If you are age 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident (green card holder) in the United States for 20 years or you are age 55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 15 years, you do not need to take the English test.

7. Pass the U.S. civics exam.

All applicants are required to take a U.S. civics exam. During the civics test, you must answer 6 out ten questions correctly in order to pass. These questions are off a list of 100, which is available from the USCIS to study beforehand. Download the questions from the USCIS website.

8. Be a person of good moral character.

All applicants are required to demonstrate good moral character. Generally, this means you must prove you are an upstanding citizen and live your life within the law. Gambling offenses, prostitution, perjury, and drug offenses on your record may prevent you from meeting this requirement, making you ineligible for citizenship. If you have concerns, read more about a good moral character or contact an immigration attorney.

9. Demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.

This last requirement refers to the Oath of Allegiance. All naturalization applicants are required to take this oath before becoming a full U.S. citizen. Basically, it is a promise to live by laws of the U.S. Constitution and remain loyal to the country. Here is the oath:

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.

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