A close shot of the U.S. flag and passport.

Tips for the naturalization process

Written by Catherine Magennis, Esq., Senior Associate Attorney.

More than 7.7 million people, including 878,500 in FY 2023, have naturalized and become U.S. citizens over the last decade, according to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

As discussed further herein, the decision to become a U.S. citizen is a very personal choice for each individual and should involve careful consideration of the advantages as well as any potential drawbacks.

First and foremost, it is important to understand eligibility for naturalization. Green card holders are eligible to apply for naturalization when they:

  • Reach five years of lawful permanent resident status (three years if the applicant is married to a U.S. citizen)
  • Have resided continuously in the United States for the last five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen)
  • Have had a physical presence in the U.S. for at least half of the last five years (30 months, or 18 months if married to a U.S. citizen and applying after three years)
  • Have maintained a residency in the state or USCIS district where they will apply for at least three months before filing

Furthermore, the applicant must have basic knowledge of English and U.S. civics as well as “good moral character” to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. In addition, they also must keep continuous residence in the United States from the date of their filing to the date of the final adjudication.

For green card holders with conditional lawful permanent resident status who have applied to remove the conditions, the time spent in conditional lawful permanent residence still counts, even if the removal of conditions case has not yet been adjudicated.

Those eligible for and considering naturalization should also clearly understand the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a U.S. citizen, which will be based on personal preferences and circumstances. Of course, there are many advantages to U.S. citizenship, but there are some other factors green card holders should consider before beginning the application process.

For instance, a naturalized citizen has the same rights as a person born in the United States, including the right to vote in U.S. elections and acquire a U.S. passport. Additional benefits of naturalization include the ability to obtain citizenship for children and to petition for other family members to enter and live in the U.S. Further, becoming an American citizen greatly reduces the risk of deportation.

However, naturalized citizens almost always have to pay U.S. taxes forever, regardless of their place of residency; must serve on a jury if selected; and defend the United States in the military if it becomes a requirement by law (i.e. in the event of a draft).

Additionally, there are certain nations (including, but not limited to, Austria, China, Japan and India) that do not permit dual citizenship and view the act of naturalization as renunciation of the home country’s citizenship.

Green card holders should evaluate all the factors associated with becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen and decide whether starting an application is the best option for themselves and their family members. For those who decide to apply, below are a few tips to consider before, during, and after the process.

Apply for naturalization as soon as ready and able

Green card holders who are eligible and interested in becoming a U.S. citizen should start the process as soon as possible.

After submitting the application, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will schedule an interview with the applicant, followed by an examination and oath ceremony (discussed further below). This process can take several months or even up to a year, so it is important to account time for each of these steps and any government processing or scheduling delays.

Importantly, individuals who begin the naturalization process in the summer of 2024 could be eligible to vote in the presidential election, which will be held in early November. Delaying the decision could eliminate the possibility of voting in that election.

File naturalization application online whenever possible

Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm generally recommends that naturalization applicants complete the application process online whenever possible, as there are many benefits to utilizing the online application.

For example, filing an application online tends to lead to a faster decision, as the time for printing and physical mailing is eliminated. The online application also allows for the applicant and their attorney to collaborate more efficiently and receive real time notifications from USCIS.

In addition, many find the online application easier to complete with assistance of experienced immigration counsel.

Moreover, the cost to file an N-400 Application for Naturalization (with biometric services) online decreased by $15 when USCIS published a new final rule earlier this year adjusting the fees for many applications. Meanwhile, the cost increased by $35 to file the same application via paper and mail.

Thoroughly prepare for citizenship interview and examination

Green card holders must complete an interview with a USCIS officer and pass a written examination in order to naturalize and become a U.S. citizen.

At the interview, the USCIS officer will review the information in the naturalization application for accuracy and ask the applicant questions or for any applicable additional details.

Meanwhile, there are 100 different multiple-choice questions which could be featured on the written exam. A test-taker will be asked up to 10 of them and must answer six correctly to pass. They will also need to write and read a sentence in English dictated by the officer.

There are some exceptions which allow legal permanent residents to take the test in their native language. Medical exemptions for the written exam are also granted in very limited circumstances.

It is generally recommended that applicants meet with an immigration attorney before their naturalization interview to prepare. For example, Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm provides clients with study materials in advance of the written test. All green card holders moving through the naturalization process should ensure they review such materials before completing the examination.

Bring proof of paid taxes

Paying taxes is factored into the USCIS officer’s “good moral character” evaluation during the application review and interview process.  As such, green card holders must provide proof at their naturalization interview that they have filed and paid any applicable taxes in the United States. The applicant must bring copies of their certified tax returns for the last five years (if applicable) or for the last three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen.

Moreover, green card holders paying their taxes in installments via a plan developed with the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are usually considered up to date for naturalization purposes. These applicants will need to provide proof of all payments and the agreed upon repayment timeline.

“Good moral character” could be called into question if a naturalization applicant has a criminal record, failed to pay required spousal or child support, failed to pay taxes, willfully failed to register with the Selective Service, or lied to immigration officials to gain immigration benefits. Minor traffic offenses usually will not prevent someone from proving good moral character.

Apply for passport as soon as eligible, notify social security office and be aware of oath ceremony timing

All U.S. citizens are required to have and present an American passport when entering the United States, regardless of nation of origin.

A new citizen’s green card is turned over after completing the oath ceremony. This makes it extremely difficult or impossible for that individual to return to the United States if they travel internationally before receiving their American passport.

Consequently, the new citizen should apply for an American passport as soon as possible following the completion of the naturalization process and avoid international travel until it has arrived.

Individuals who must travel internationally near the completion of the naturalization process should consult with experienced immigration counsel to discuss their options. One such alternative is to delay an oath ceremony until after the applicant has returned to the United States.

There are also same-day offices that can issue a passport in one day, however, space at these locations is limited and it is discretionary as to whether applicants will be given the option to apply there.

Otherwise, individuals should use the Department of State’s expedited passport service whenever possible. New U.S. citizens can apply for expedited services at any passport acceptance facility.

The expedited passport service costs an additional $60 and usually guarantees the agency will process the application within two to three weeks, not including time for mailing. Therefore, the agency estimates a total of six to eight weeks from the time the application is sent to the agency to the time the U.S. citizen receives their passport.

A new citizen should also update their social security record at the nearest administration office within 10 days of their oath ceremony. They should be prepared to show Social Security Administration officials their Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. passport, if needed.

Register to vote

Applicants officially become U.S. citizens following the completion of the interview, passing the examination, and the oath ceremony, and are therefore eligible to register to vote.

New U.S. citizens are encouraged to register to vote as soon as possible so that they have the opportunity to cast a ballot in the November 2024 election, if they so choose.

Voter registration deadlines and procedures vary from state to state. In North Carolina, recently naturalized U.S. citizens can register to vote online or in person at the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV), or by mail. In some circumstances, volunteers are present at the oath ceremony to assist new U.S. citizens with completing the necessary registration forms.


Green card holders considering applying for naturalization should contact experienced immigration counsel to discuss their options and eligibility.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm at 704-442-8000 or via email with any questions.

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