American citizenship

From Green Card holder to US citizen - obtaining US citizenship means taking the final step toward a permanent life in the United States. Learn how to obtain a US passport.

Advantages of American citizenship

Green Card holders have the opportunity to become true Americans after three to five years in the USA. In most cases, this is recommended because American citizenship comes with some additional rights.

In comparison to Green Card holders, US citizens have the following advantages:

  • Right to participate in national elections (e.g., presidential elections)
  • Possibility to run for a political office
  • No more need to renew resident documents
  • Green Card for family members usually without long waiting times

Requirements for the US passport

If you want to apply for American citizenship, you must meet some basic requirements. First, you must be a permanent resident of the United States and have lived in the USA for at least 30 months within the past five years (or, in case of spouses of US citizens, only 18 months).

Furthermore, you must be at least 18 years old, respect the US Constitution, have not broken any laws throughout your time in the US, and be willing to take the American Oath of Allegiance.

Path to naturalization

Once you have decided to apply for American citizenship, you will go through a multi-step process.

Application with USCIS

First of all, there is a lot of paperwork waiting for you. Your path to becoming a US citizen begins with a comprehensive application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). More specifically, you'll have to:

  • create an account on the USCIS website,
  • submit Form N-400 ("Application for Naturalization")
  • if applicable, provide fingerprints and passport photos at a biometrics appointment

The Civics Test

To obtain US citizenship, you should, of course, be familiar with your future home country. Therefore, you will have to pass a naturalization test before you can receive a US passport. It includes questions about the history, politics, geography, and values of the USA.

The Civics Test is conducted in the form of an interview with a USCIS officer. You will be asked ten questions in English, covering the topics listed above. The USCIS keeps a list of 100 possible questions, from which the officer can choose freely. To pass the naturalization test, you must answer six of the ten questions correctly.

On the USCIS website, you can take an online test with possible questions to assess your current level of knowledge and prepare well for the test. But be aware: Unlike the online version, the actual Civics Test is not a multiple-choice test.

After elections or political appointments, the correct answers may change at short notice. So make sure that you can provide the most up-to-date information on the questions.

Some people may be granted exemptions, for example, because they are older and have been living in the USA as permanent residents for a very long time. They may be able to take the test in another language. Exceptions are also made for people with disabilities.

Examples of questions from the Civics Test

  • What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?
  • What does the judicial branch do?
  • What is freedom of religion?
  • What was one important thing that Abraham Lincoln did?

The naturalization ceremony

Once your application for American citizenship has been approved, it's time to celebrate! In most states, the naturalization ceremony for new Americans takes place in a major celebration or exhibition hall in the state capital. Be sure to bring your Green Card to this event.

Just before the actual ceremony, the first bureaucratic act takes place. Future Americans must line up in front of a couple of tables at which immigration officials are seated. There, the officials check the names and collect the Green Card. After that, each future US citizen receives a large white envelope containing a letter from the acting president, a brochure, and a small USA flag.

Envelope in hand, everyone moves on to the seats. Then, an official of the authority comes to the podium and explains the naturalization ceremony. In principle, you can imagine this like a court hearing. Before the actual ceremony starts, more forms are distributed, and there are some speeches.

After that, a court official enters the stage and opens the ceremony with a strong hammer blow. The judge attending the ceremony now asks all future citizens to stand up and raise their right hand. Next, the oath, called the "Oath of Allegiance," is sworn:

„Oath of Allegiance“
„I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen. That I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law. That I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.“

The oath is recited word for word after the judge. After this, the official welcomes the new Americans with the words: "You are now citizens of the United States." After this, everyone takes their seats again, and the judge gives a short speech.

When the initial cheering has faded, the lights dim a bit, and a video message from the president follows. After two pieces of music and another short excursion through the culture of America, the final act of the ceremony now takes place: each new US citizen can collect their naturalization certificate and now officially holds American citizenship.

Dual citizenship

If you are thinking about becoming an American citizen, but you don't want to part with your old citizenship (yet), we have good news for you: dual citizenship is possible in the USA!


For example, it is possible for an American citizen's child that is not born in the United States to receive US citizenship in addition to that of the country of birth. The same applies if a US citizen marries a foreign partner. They can then obtain the citizenship of the spouse's home country in addition to US citizenship. Green Card holders can also keep their old citizenship after naturalization.


German expats who wish to become American citizens, for example, can keep their German passports, but they have to justify why they want to have dual citizenship. In this case, it is very important to submit an application to the responsible German authority before applying for American citizenship. The authority then examines all public and private concerns in accordance with Section 25 (2) StAG, including persisting ties to Germany (e.g., relatives or property in Germany).

More USA tips

Do you want to get more practical tips about life in the USA? Check out our guides on US health insurance, the American school system, or driving in the USA to learn more!

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