If you're a U.S. permanent resident (with a green card) who has spent the required number of years in the U.S. and meets the other eligibility requirements for U.S. citizenship, the first step in the application process is to fill out USCIS Form N-400. It is important to fill out the N-400 completely and correctly in order to avoid mistakes that may result in delays or a denial.
The form itself can be downloaded for free from the N-400, Application for Naturalization page of the USCIS website. (But there will be a non-refundable fee to file it.)
Here are some tips to help you fill out the form.
1. Pay Extra Attention to Certain Questions
Many of the questions on Form N-400 are self-explanatory. However, let's look into some that people are sometimes confused by (referring to the version of the form published 09/17/19, due to expire 09/30/2022):
- Part 1, Information About Your Eligibility. Most people will check box 1.A, to say that they "have been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least five years." This includes refugees and asylees, despite the fact that they were allowed to credit one or more years of their refugee or asylee status toward their permanent residence. If you check one of the other boxes, indicating that you qualify for an exception allowing you to apply early, be sure to attach proof of what you are claiming.
- Part 2, Question 4; Name change. Because the citizenship swearing-in ceremony often happens in court, this is an opportunity for you to have a legal name change done at the same time. Of course, if you're happy with your name, then you should ignore this. But if, for example, you have found that no one in the U.S. seems able to spell or pronounce your name, and your life would be easier if it were shortened or changed, now is a chance to make the change easily and cheaply. There are some legal limits on what you can change your name to. For example, if your proposed new name would cause confusion or tread on the rights of others (like if you took the name of a famous person), or the new name is obscene or a racial slur, your request is likely to be denied.
- Part 2, Question 9. The date you became a permanent resident is shown on your green card. For asylees and refugees, this date might appear earlier than expected, due to something called "rollback." Asylees are credited with one year of permanent residence for the time they were asylees, and refugees are credited with all time after having entered the United States.
- Part 2, Questions 10 and 11. Your country of birth and country of nationality might well be the same. If, however, you are or have become a citizen of another country (and gave up citizenship in your birth country, if you had it in the first place), that is your country of nationality.
- Part 2 Question 12. If you have a physical or mental disability, you might qualify for a waiver of the exam requirements, or to take have the interview done in your own language (through an interpreter, which USCIS will provide). The Form N-648 that you're asked to attach must be filled out by a doctor who examines you. If you are severely disabled and cannot leave your house, USCIS might, in rare cases, agree to visit you and conduct the interview (as an "accommodation").
- Part 3, Accommodations for Individuals With Disabilities and/or Impairments. Even if you don't qualify for any exceptions or exemptions, this is where you can ask USCIS to make things easier for you at the interview, for example a sign language interpreter.
- Part 4, Information to Contact You. Here, you'll provide basic contact information.
- Part 5, Information About Your Residence. There's an important reason that USCIS is asking for your addresses over the last five years. If you didn't spend at least half those years in the U.S., you might not yet be eligible for citizenship.
- Part 6, Information About Your Parents. The reason you're being asked about whether your parents are U.S. citizens is that it's possible, depending on the law in effect when you were born, that you acquired or derived citizenship from them, automatically. In that case, you could skip the whole application and apply for a U.S. passport.
- Part 7, Biographic Information. Self explanatory.
- Part 8, Information About Your Employment and Schools You Attended. Also self explanatory.
- Part 9, Time Outside the United States. This is another important section to get right, because it establishes whether you've been physically and continuously present for the required amount of time before applying for citizenship. If you cannot determine exact travel dates, put down as much information as you can, and enter the dates as "approximate."
- Part 10, Information About Your Marital History. If you received U.S. residency based on marriage and have since divorced, that's not necessarily a problem, but you might be asked to provide extra evidence that your marriage was bona fide (not a fraud). If your spouse has no legal immigration status in the U.S., simply write "alien" here. Thus far, USCIS has not made a priority of using this information to track down undocumented immigrants.
- Part 11, Information About Your Children. Self explanatory.
- Part 12, Additional Information About You. Hopefully, you can answer "no" to most of these. If you have had any arrests or committed any crimes, see an attorney before completing this application. The exception is parking tickets, which are not a bar to U.S. citizenship. Traffic tickets are usually okay too, but you might want to see an attorney just in case. Answering "Yes" to whether you are a member of any groups can be a good thing, if it shows your community involvement and therefore good moral character. For example, being a member of church or religious groups, a parent-teacher's association, or volunteering for a charity can all help your application. But if you're a member of a group that advocates world communism, terrorism, violence, or Nazi ideology, it will hurt your application (and you should see an attorney before proceeding).
- Part 13. Be sure to fill this in and sign your name.
- Parts 14, 15. If you got help from an interpreter or lawyer, that person should help fill out these portions, and sign them.
- Part 16. Wait for the interview to sign this.
- Part 17, Renunciation of Foreign Titles. If you happen to be royalty or nobility, be ready to give up your title!
- Part 18, Oath of Allegiance. This is a preview of what you'll be asked to promise if approved for citizenship. Sign it now to show you're willing. Full or partial exceptions can be made for conscientious objectors or people whose religion forbids taking an oath, but you'll need to document your beliefs.
2. Gather Supporting Documents or Pieces of Information
Gather all the documents you will need before you start filling out Form N-400. These might include your passport and all prior addresses and employment information, including addresses and phone numbers. If you have made any trips outside the United States, it will help to gather documents showing the exact dates. The form will be easier to fill out if you have the information at your fingertips.
3. Tell the Truth
Do not guess at any answer to any questions on Form N-400. If you are not sure about an answer, either find the correct information before answering, say "unknown," or offer an explanation as to why you cannot answer it.
If you believe an honest answer might hurt your chances of approval, consult an immigration lawyer before answering. Lying on a N-400 form, or any immigration documents, can lead to removal from the United States, and you could eventually lose your U.S. citizenship even if it is granted. See Denial of Citizenship for Lies or False Statements.
4. Read the N-400 Instructions Carefully
USCIS offers detailed instructions for filling out Form N-400 on the same Web page as you download the form from. Print the instructions out, and as you work through each question on the instruction sheet, cross off the question and move on to the next.
The instruction sheet will help you determine what documents you need to submit, as well.
5. Get Someone to Give Your N-400 Application a Second Look
If you're not using an attorney, then when you've completed the Form N-400 application for naturalization, have a family member or friend look it over to make sure every question is answered. Any errors or missing information could result in a delay of your naturalization process, which will already be several months long (depending on how backed up your local USCIS office is; you can check USCIS processing times online). Someone else looking over your application before you file it is more likely to find errors you don't see.
For further help in figuring out whether you are eligible for citizenship, filling out form N-400, preparing for the citizenship exam, and more, see the book Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview, by Ilona Bray, J.D. (Nolo).