U.S. citizenship gives a person as many rights as the U.S. has to offer; for example, the right to vote, petition for family members to immigrate, and live abroad without losing the right to return. For these reasons, citizenship is not easily obtained.

To become a U.S. citizen through the process known as naturalization, you must first have a green card (permanent residence) and then meet other requirements, listed below. There are only a few rare exceptions in which a person goes straight from having no U.S. status to getting U.S. citizenship; some are discussed in Nolo’s article “U.S. Citizenship by Birth or Through Parents.”

The Eligibility Criteria

If you are interested in applying for U.S. citizenship, first make sure that all of the following apply to you:

  • you have lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years (with exceptions for refugees, people who get their green card through asylum, spouses of U.S. citizens, and U.S. military personnel)
  • you have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the last five years
  • you have lived in the district or state where you are filing your application for at least three months
  • you have not spent more than a year outside the United States
  • you have not made your primary home in another country
  • you are at least 18 years old
  • you have good moral character
  • you are able to speak, read, and write in English
  • you are able to pass a test covering U.S. history and government (based on questions provided by USCIS), and
  • you are willing to swear that you believe in the principles of the U.S. Constitution and will be loyal to the United States.