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How Long Does It Take to Get U.S. Citizenship After Applying?

Understanding the naturalization timeline

Immigrant at the Oath of Allegiance Ceremony
A newly naturalized citizen holds an American flag in Virginia (USCIS)

Citizenship Processing Time

How long does it take to become a U.S. citizen?

The processing time for naturalization (citizenship) averages 4.9 months (Boundless updates this information monthly based on our analysis of government data). During this time, as the government works to process the Application for Naturalization, applicants must complete several steps before becoming citizens.

Here’s a brief summary — from application filing to the swearing-in ceremony (with helpful details on what to expect in each step further below):

It’s important to note that the wait and processing times in this guide are official averages and estimates only and do not reflect possible delays (discussed in more detail below). In practice, the naturalization process may take more or less time, depending on where the applicant lives. This is because some U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field offices handle applications much faster than others (see “Understanding USCIS Processing Times” below).

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Step 1

Filing your Application for Naturalization (Form N-400)

The first step of the process is to file Form N-400 either online, or by mail using the paper version of the N-400. If you’re applying for U.S. citizenship from outside the U.S. or you’re applying for a fee reduction or waiver, you are required to file by mail. The processing time for an N-400 application, which averages 4.9 months is not just approval of the application, it encompasses the timeline for the entire citizenship process — from receipt through the oath ceremony.

Sending your U.S. citizenship application and supporting documents to USCIS kicks off the process. The faster you can collect supporting documentation — for example, a photocopy of your green card (Form I-551, officially called the “Permanent Resident Card”) — the sooner you can send these to USCIS, which can then begin to review your application.

It’s important to make sure that your application is complete, your answers are correct, and your supporting documents are in the format and order the U.S. government prefers. If any of your documents are written in a language other than English, you must obtain a certified English translation of that document, as well — so be mindful of these extra steps, which can take additional time to complete. Any missing information or documentation will likely slow down the process.

Important:

Make sure to notify USCIS any time you move or change your mailing address to avoid missing official notices.


Step 2

Attending your biometrics appointment

A biometrics appointment is a required step for U.S. citizenship applicants, and it usually only takes about 15-20 minutes (although there is often a long wait to get into your appointment). During this appointment, the applicant provides their fingerprints, photograph, and signature to be used for background check processing. After submitting your initial application, you’ll receive an appointment letter (Form I-797C, officially called the “Notice of Action”) from USCIS specifying when and where your fingerprints, photos, and signature will be collected. USCIS will also forward your fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct a background check.

Be sure to bring all required documentation with you to the biometrics appointment to avoid having to return a second time. These documents include your appointment letter, Permanent Resident Card (your green card), and a second form of ID with your photo on it such as a driver’s license or state-issued ID card.

During this stage of the process, it’s also possible to receive a notice from USCIS requesting additional information or materials, which will be specified in a letter (officially called a “Request for Evidence,” or RFE). These documents could be court or police records (if USCIS discovers information during the background check that needs clarification or substantiation, for instance). There could also be other required documents listed in this checklist from USCIS. Make sure to send these to USCIS as soon as possible to minimize the delay.


Step 3

Attending your citizenship interview and exam

INTERVIEW

The U.S. citizenship interview usually takes place about 4.9 months, on average, after USCIS receives your naturalization application (sooner or later for some applicants). USCIS will send you a letter — only once — with the date and location of your interview, as well as a list of any documents that you must bring.

For a successful interview, make sure that you:

Important:

You must notify USCIS before your appointment date if you anticipate not being able to attend. Otherwise, USCIS will pause (“administratively close”) the naturalization process. If you let a year go by without contacting USCIS after they pause your application, you will be denied. If this happens, you will need to start the process all over again and pay the fees a second time. You can request to reschedule the appointment by writing to the office where your interview is to take place. You will then receive a new letter with a revised date and time, but this could be several months in the future, which underscores the importance of showing up on the original date.

EXAM

In most cases, the citizenship test is scheduled on the same day as your interview. There are two parts to the test: an English proficiency test as well as a civics test (a test on U.S government and history). It’s a good idea to prepare for both components of the exam (English language skills and civics) so you can avoid having to retake the test.

If you don’t pass, you’ll need to retake the appropriate portion of the exam in order to move on to the next step of the process. You will be asked to return to the appointment location about 60 to 90 days following the initial date of your exam.

2022 Citizenship Test Update: The U.S. government recently announced it would be trialing a new version of the citizenship test. The new U.S. citizenship test announced by USCIS in 2022 is set to include questions about American history, civics, and government. Questions will also be focused on the rights and responsibilities of United States citizens, as well as their knowledge of the English language. Additionally, applicants will also have to pass a literacy test in English. Currently, the trial is only available to 1,500 participants and will be reviewed later this year.

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Step 4

Receiving a decision on your application

If all goes well and you’ve provided all the paperwork that USCIS needs to make a decision, your naturalization application may be approved on the same day as your citizenship interview and exam. Otherwise, USCIS will have 120 days (four months) from the date of your citizenship interview and exam to send you its decision in writing. More specifically, you’ll receive Form N-652 (officially called the “Notice of Examination Results”). Learn about how to check on your citizenship status here.

You can expect one of three outcomes:

1. Your application is approved, in which case you can move on to Step 5 below.

2. Your application is continued, meaning USCIS will place it on hold for one of these reasons:

  • You did not pass your citizenship exam (or a portion of it): In this case, you must return for a second interview and retake the necessary portion of the exam. If you do not pass the exam a second time, your application will be denied.
  • You did not provide the appropriate documentation or information: In this case, you must wait to receive a Form N-14, explaining what, where, and how to send the required information/documentation to USCIS. You will have 30 days to respond. If you do not fulfill this request within the deadline, your application may be denied.

3. Your application is denied, in which case you will receive a letter from USCIS stating this decision and your options. If you believe you deserved to be approved for U.S. citizenship, you may file an appeal (request a hearing with a USCIS officer) within 30 days of receiving the denial letter. USCIS will then schedule a hearing within 180 days. If the USCIS officer denies your application after the hearing and you still believe you deserve approval, you can request to have a U.S. district court review your case.

To prevent this process from dragging on (and your application from being denied), it’s important to adequately prepare for the citizenship interview and exam. It’s also critical to provide all of the information that USCIS requests in a timely fashion.

No matter how unique or complex your situation might seem, Boundless can help you apply faster, easier, and more confidently. Get started today!


Step 5

Taking the Oath of Allegiance and receiving your Certificate of Naturalization

In many cases, your Oath of Allegiance ceremony will take place on the same day as your interview and exam, assuming your application is approved. Otherwise, USCIS will schedule it about two to six weeks later. You’ll receive a letter (Form N-445, officially called the “Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony”) with the date, time, and location of the next available ceremony. You’ll receive your Certificate of Naturalization — and in some cases be able to register to vote — at the same location after taking the Oath.

If you can’t make it to your Oath of Allegiance ceremony, you must return the notice to your local USCIS office, along with a letter requesting a new date and explaining why you cannot make it on the original date. Failing to appear more than once for your naturalization ceremony may lead to a denial of your application.

Remember: You are not yet a U.S. citizen until you’ve taken the Oath of Allegiance, so it’s important that you show up for the ceremony on the dates that you’re scheduled or rescheduled to appear.


What’s Next?

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You can begin enjoying your life as a U.S. citizen.

Although you will officially be an American upon taking the Oath of Allegiance, there are important steps to take as soon as possible after naturalizing:

These steps are not part of the naturalization process but are necessary to be able to travel and file taxes as a new U.S. citizen.


Understanding USCIS Processing Times

USCIS is the government agency responsible for processing naturalization applications (and other immigration forms). In order to handle the enormous volume of applications it receives, USCIS is supported by field offices across the United States.

Each applicant is assigned a field office based on their ZIP code, and therefore each field office also receives a different number of applications that directly affects its processing speed compared with other offices. USCIS publishes the processing wait times at each field office and updates the figures once per month.

The processing times are presented as a single number. For example, the processing time range for naturalization applications (Form N-400) at the Seattle, WA field office may be 15 months. The number reflects “the time it takes to complete 50% of cases the median,”

The “national average processing time” referenced at the beginning of this guide actually reflects the median processing time averaged across all USCIS field offices in the United States (Sept 2022), according to USCIS. It’s important to be aware that the backlog of pending U.S. citizenship applications has also grown in recent years, while wait times have been steadily rising. This underscores the importance of applying sooner than later if you’re eligible now.

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