Six Tips for Filing the USCIS N-400 Form

It is important to fill out the USCIS Form N-400 application for citizenship completely and correctly in order to avoid mistakes that could result in delays or a denial. Here are some tips for getting it right.

If you're a U.S. permanent resident (with a green card) who has spent the required number of years in the United States and meets the other eligibility requirements for naturalized 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 on Form N-400

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 04/01/2024):

  • Part 1, Information About Your Eligibility. Most people will check box 1.A, for "General Provisions," meaning they have been a U.S. lawful permanent resident for at least five years and meet the other bases for applying, which are summarized in the N-400 instructions. This includes refugees and asylees, despite the fact that they are 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. If you're applying after only three years based on marriage to and residence with a U.S. citizen during that time period, check box 1.B.
  • Part 2, Question 3; Name change. Because the citizenship swearing-in or "oath" 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 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. Also, as a practical matters, USCIS offices that conduct all oath ceremonies in-office rather than having a judge handle them are not legally empowered to make name changes.
  • Part 2, Question 7. The date you became a lawful 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 8 and 9. 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 10. 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 instead.
  • Part 2 Question 11. 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 2 Question 12. If you wish, USCIS can communicate with the Social Security Administration to advise it of your new status and get you an updated card. This would be a particularly good if, for instance, you haven't been in touch with them since you were here on a temporary visa (as a "nonimmigrant") and your card says it's only valid with DHS work authorization.
  • Part 3, Biographic Information. Self explanatory.
  • Part 4, 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. (If you're applying based on exception allowing submission of the N-400 after only three years with a green card, you'll need to have spent at least half those years in the United States).
  • Part 5, Information About Your Marital History. This is especially relevant for applicants claiming the three-year exception based on a U.S. citizen spouse. But it can also be a place where USCIS roots out immigration marriage fraud, for example if it sees that an applicant divorced their U.S. spouse pronto after they'd gotten their green card. 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., don't panic. Thus far, USCIS has not made a priority of using this information to track down undocumented immigrants.
  • Part 6, Information About Your Children. Self explanatory.
  • Part 7, Information About Your Employment and Schools You Attended. Also self explanatory.
  • Part 8, 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 9, Additional Information About You. Hopefully, you can answer "no" to most of the questions about crimes, membership in terrorist-associated groups, or other negative behavior. 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. As for Question 30a, if you happen to be royalty or nobility, be ready to give up your title! And regarding Question 33, if you're able to read it, your answer to it should be "No." This is truly meant for people whose physical and mental condition is such that a legal guardian is filling out their N-400 and will need to take the oath of allegiance on their behalf.
  • Part 10, Request for a Fee Reduction. If your income is low, but not so low that you qualify for a total fee waiver, read the N-400 instructions on whether you might qualify to pay a reduced filing fee. There's a confusing aspect of these questions, however. If you are planning to apply for a fee waiver, you'll need to answer "Yes" to question 1.a regarding whether your household income is below 400% of the U.S. Poverty Guidelines. Yet if you fill out this whole section, it might look like you'll settle for a fee reduction rather than a complete waiver. Experts are hoping USCIS will issue a clarification at some point. In the meantime, one good approach is to leave all questions except the first one blank, but handwrite in: "I am not applying for a reduced fee. I am eligible for a full fee waiver and am also filing an I-912, Request for Fee Waiver." In addition, write these same words in the "Additional Information" section near the end of your Form N-400 (Part 14).
  • Part 11. Applicant's Contact Information, Certification, and Signature. Be sure to fill this in and sign your name.
  • Parts 12, 13. If you got help from an interpreter or lawyer, that person should help fill out these portions, and sign them.
  • Part 14, Additional Information. This has handy space to use if your answers didn't fit on the main N-400, or if the form itself asked you to supply additional information based on one of your answers.
  • Part 15. Wait for the interview to sign this.
  • Part 16, Oath of Allegiance. This is a preview of what you'll be asked to promise if approved for U.S. 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 will need to document your beliefs, such as with a letter from your religious leader.

      2. Gather Supporting Documents or Pieces of Information Before Sitting Down to Fill in Form N-400

      Gather all the documents you will need before you start filling out Form N-400. These might include, for example:

      • your passport
      • all prior addresses
      • employment information for the last five years, including addresses and phone numbers, and
      • documents showing the exact dates of any trips you made outside the United States.

      The form will be easier to fill out if you have the information at your fingertips.

      3. Tell USCIS 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 where you download the form. 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).

      6. Make Sure You're Not Filing Too Early

      If you send your N-400 before you should, it will either get sent back to you or you'll go to your interview only to discover you weren't really eligible yet. You'll need to consider the following timing issues:

      • your age
      • how long you've been a U.S. permanent (or conditional) resident
      • whether you've been physically present in the United States for the required amount of time before applying to naturalize
      • whether you've broken the continuity of your U.S. residence with any long stays outside the United States
      • whether you've lived in the same U.S. state for the required amount of time before applying to naturalize, and
      • when you actually submit the application.

      We'll cover these in more detail below.

      Your Age When Applying to Naturalize

      You must be at least 18 years of age in order to apply for naturalized U.S. citizenship. (However, there are situations in which younger people can obtain U.S. citizenship automatically, through their parents.)

      How Long You've Been a U.S. Permanent (or Conditional) Resident Before Applying to Naturalize

      You are required to have lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years before applying to naturalize—though exceptions exist, as described next.

      If you got your U.S. residence as a refugees or asylee, you will benefit from something called "rollback," which allows you to count some of the time before you actually applied for your green card as if you already had permanent residence. If you entered the U.S. as a refugee, you can count all the time starting on your day of entry in the U.S., no matter how long it took you to apply for your green card. If you received asylum within the U.S., you can count one year of your asylum status toward your permanent residence. (Note: In either case, your green card will show the rolled-back date, so you'll still need to count five years from that date.)

      Spouses of U.S. citizens, who have been married and living with the citizen for the last three years, can apply to naturalize after three, rather than five years with a green card.

      And battered spouses who got their green cards based on marriage to a U.S. citizen, but who filed independently based on a law called VAWA (using Form I-360) due to the abuse, can also use this three-year exception.

      U.S. military personnel and their spouses (or widows and widowers) can also make use of various exceptions. For example, those who have served honorably for one year and got an honorable discharge can apply to naturalize without waiting beyond the date they get their green card—but must apply within six months of discharge. And people who served in certain conflicts (including all the major wars in the last century) can apply for U.S. citizenship even without getting a green card first.

      How Long You've Been Physically Present in the United States

      You must have lived in the United States for at least half of your five years of permanent residence. Or, if an exception allows you to apply to naturalize in less time, you must have lived in the U.S. for half that amount of time—18 months for spouses of U.S. citizens, for example.

      Whether You've Maintained Continuous Presence in the United States Before Applying to Naturalize

      You'll need to have not only lived and been "physically present" in the United States for a certain number of years, but not have broken up your residency with any long absences. An absence of six months or more will raise a presumption that you've broken your continuous presence by living in another country. In the worst case, U.S. immigration authorities could decide that you abandoned your U.S. residence altogether, and thus effectively gave up your right to a green card (in which case you'd be placed in removal proceedings, in immigration court).

      How Long You've Lived in the U.S. State Where You Plan to Submit Your N-400 Application

      Three months is the minimum time in which you need to have lived in a particular state within the United States, or particular USCIS service district, before submitting an application to naturalize. That's because, although your application is initially sent to a central processing center, it will ultimately be reviewed by the nearest USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) office to you, and you'll attend your interview there.

      If you move to a new state that's close to where you lived before, you might find that you get lucky and remain within the same "service district" over which one USCIS office has jurisdiction. (This is more likely to happen in the Northeast, where states are small and one USCIS office might serve a large area.) The easiest way to check your service district is to enter your new and old zip codes into USCIS's field office locator, and see if the same USCIS office serves both.

      Also, if you live in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), those fall within the definition of a "state" for purposes of this naturalization requirement.

      The Earliest You Can Submit Your N-400 Application

      You must submit the completed Form N-400 either online or to the USCIS service center having jurisdiction over your place of residence in the United States. (USCIS's N-400 page will give you the exact address.) Because USCIS tends to be quite delayed, you're allowed to submit the application up to 90 days before you've actually reached your five years (or fewer years, if you fall into an exception).

      There's no upper limit on how long you can wait to submit Form N-400. Many permanent residents live in the U.S. for decades before deciding to become citizens.

      Do You Need an Attorney to Help You Apply for U.S. Citizenship?

      Many people successfully apply for naturalized citizenship without a lawyer's help. Nevertheless, if your case presents questions or complications; perhaps you're not sure whether an arrest or marijuana use will impact your eligibility, or whether your divorce from a U.S. citizen who sponsored you will look suspicious, consulting or hiring an attorney can be well worth the cost.