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Under most circumstances, you can be eligible for citizenship after you have held your green card for 5 years. This is the most frequently used path to U.S. citizenship. The primary eligibility requirement is to have lived continuously in the U.S. for 5 years prior to the date you file your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. All the detailed requirements are outlined in Title III, Chapter 2 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). We have simplified it for you here.


Be at least 18 years old

To apply under this eligibility category, the applicant must be 18 years of age or older.

Be a permanent resident (green card holder) for at least 5 years

You must have your permanent resident status for at least 5 years before filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Your time as a permanent resident begins the day you were granted permanent resident status. You can find the date on your green card next to “Resident Since.” But the rules do allow you to file your Form N-400 application up to 90 days before the 5-year anniversary. So a person who has been a permanent resident since 1/1/2010 would meet this requirement on 10/3/2014.

Have resided in the state or jurisdiction of filing for a minimum of 3 months prior to filing

Applicants must have resided in the state or USCIS jurisdiction of filing for at least 3 months before filing Form N-400. Moving to a new state or district will delay your eligibility to file by 3 months.

Have lived continuously in the U.S. for 5 years as a green card holder prior to filing the application

By maintaining a residence inside the United States for the specified amount of time, you are showing your desire to assimilate to the American community and live in the U.S. Although you are required to maintain this U.S. residency for 5 consecutive years immediately prior to filing your N-400, you are allowed to take trips abroad as long as you continue to show your desire to maintain residency by continuing to file your taxes. You should, however, avoid trips longer than 6 months as these may cause a disruption to your permanent resident status. Additionally, you must continuously reside in the U.S. from the date you file your application until the date your naturalization process is complete. Certain exemptions may apply to this rule for applicants involved in employment overseas, including work with the U.S. Armed Forces or government.

Have been present in the United States for a minimum of 30 months out of those 5 years prior to filing the application

This requirement refers to the amount of time an applicant is actually present in the United States during the period prior to filing Form N-400. You must subtract every day you are absent from the United States. Exemptions for certain types of employment with the U.S. Armed Forces and government may apply to you.

Have a working knowledge of the English language and U.S. history and civics
  • Generally, applicants must know how to speak, read, and write English and know some U.S. history, as well as understand some concepts of the American government.

There are, however, some exceptions to this requirement. The following applicants may qualify for an exemption based on age and length of residency:

  • Applicants who are at least 50 years old at the time of filing and have been permanent residents for 20 years are not required to take the English language test and may choose which language they want to take the civics test in.
  • Applicants who are at least 55 years old at the time of filing and have been permanent residents for 15 years are not required to take the English language test and may choose which language they want to take the civics test in.
  • Applicants who are at least 65 years old at the time of filing and have been permanent residents for 20 years are not required to take the English language test but must take a condensed version of the civics test in the language of their choice.

Additional exemptions are available to applicants with learning or physical disabilities.

Possess a good moral character

While applicants are not required to be perfect, they must demonstrate good moral character and a desire to abide by the principles of the U.S. Constitution and the laws and guidelines of American society. Applicants must abstain from the following activities to maintain their eligibility to naturalize:

  • Crimes with intent to harm another person
  • Crimes of fraud against the Government
  • 2 or more crimes with a combined penalty of a 5-year sentence
  • Controlled substance law violations (of U.S., state, or foreign country)
  • Persistent drunkenness
  • Prostitution
  • Illegal gambling
  • Having more than 1 spouse simultaneously (polygamy)
  • Lying for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits
  • Failure to pay child support or alimony payments as ordered by the court
  • Incarceration of 180 total days in jail, prison, or other institution
  • Failure to complete probation, parole, or suspended sentence prior to applying for naturalization
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Persecution of individuals based on race, national origin, religious beliefs, or political or social affiliations











Zontlaw.com is the premier online resource for helping you prepare your USCIS Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Our groundbreaking software will guide you, step-by-step through the entire application with easy-to-understand instructions while checking for mistakes.

We make the process so simple that you can do it yourself and we guarantee the USCIS will accept your application.

Applicants with no complications, such as arrests or immigration violations, can easily prepare their N-400 without the help of a lawyer, however, the USCIS still denies or rejects thousands of applications every year.

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