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How to get a US passport

After obtaining a Green Card, US citizenship is the final achievement for most US immigrants. Learn if you should consider becoming a “real” American and what steps you need to take to get your US passport.

Who can get a US passport?

There are three different ways to obtain a US passport:

  1. You are a Green Card holder (also called “Lawful Permanent Resident” or “LPR”) who meets the eligibility requirements
  2. You were born outside the USA, but you have parents who are US citizens
  3. You are the spouse or child of a US military member that meets specific eligibility requirements (section 328 or 329 of the INA, Immigration and Nationality Act)

For most people, the first way is the most comfortable because a Green Card is comparably easy to obtain through the Green Card Lottery.

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The difference between US Citizenship and Green Card

There are only a few differences between a US Citizen and a Green Card holder, for example, the right to vote in federal and state elections and the absence of tiresome document renewals. Otherwise, life in the US looks pretty much the same for both:

Rights US Citizen Green Card holder
Permanent residence  ✔️  ✔️
Permanent work permit  ✔️  ✔️
Easy entry and exit  ✔️  ✔️
Medicare benefits, government assistance  ✔️  ✔️
Study at US universities at cheaper in-state tuition fees (up to 80% less)  ✔️  ✔️
Vote in federal and state elections  ✔️  
Vote in local elections  ✔️ In some states
Run for a seat in public office  ✔️  
Apply for government-sponsored
financial aid for educational purposes
 ✔️  ✔️
Access to security clearances and exemptions from export restrictions  ✔️  ✔️
Protected from entry bans  ✔️  ✔️
Eligibility for federal student loans  ✔️  ✔️
Bring family members into the country Immediately Waiting time*
Duties  US Citizen Green Card holder
File income tax returns  ✔️  ✔️
Renew residence documents every ten years    ✔️

*No long waiting times when a family wins the Green Card Lottery.

Take your chance for a Green Card now! Apply now

Do I need a US passport?

By becoming a US citizen, you will have a say in how the United States is governed. However, a US passport is not essential. Millions of people are insanely happy with their Green Cards and like to keep their “old” citizenship.

By applying, though, you demonstrate your commitment to the United States of America. Like no other nation, Americans are united by the shared values of freedom and equality.

Ever since, the USA has been welcoming newcomers from around the world with open arms. Thus, the decision to become a US citizen could be seen as an appreciation of diversity and liberty.

Eligibility requirements for a US passport

Lawful Permanent Residents may qualify for the so-called naturalization (obtaining US citizenship) after five years of Green Card ownership. If you are married to a US citizen, there is only a three-year wait.

The basic requirements for getting a US passport include:

  • You have spent at least 30 months within the last five years in the United States (or 18 months within three years if you are married to a US citizen.)
  • You have continuous residence and physical presence in the United States.
  • You respect the US Constitution and demonstrate a good moral character (meaning you haven’t broken any laws.)
  • You are willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
  • You are fluent in English (an official test is required), and you have a good knowledge of American history and government.
  • You are at least 18 years old.

If you meet these requirements, you can apply for a US passport.

The US citizenship application process

To become naturalized, file a petition with the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). You will go through the following steps:

  • You create a free online account on the USCIS website
  • You file Form N-400
  • You receive a notice confirming USCIS received your application You attend a biometrics appointment (if applicable)
  • You get an interview invitation (if required in your case) and do the language and civics test
  • You receive a decision on your petition

What does a US passport cost?

Of course, you can't just buy a US passport, but you will have to pay a filing fee if you go through the US passport application process. Depending on your way to US citizenship, there are different filing fees:

Becoming a US citizen Fee
… through Naturalization (Green Card holders) $640
… through your parents (if you were born outside the US) $1,170
… through a family member who is a military member in the USA $640
Additional fees: -
Biometrics Services Fee (if applicable) $85

How do I prepare for the naturalization interview?

Many Green Card holders are afraid that they will mess up the naturalization interview and test. However, you do not have to worry. If you meet all the requirements and show up well prepared, nothing will go wrong. The following steps await you:

  1. Naturalization Interview
  2. English Test
  3. Civics Test
  4. Decision on your US citizenship
  5. Receiving Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony
  6. Naturalization Ceremony and Oath of Allegiance
  7. Changing your Social Security data
  8. Registering your voting ballot

1. Naturalization Interview

At the naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will question you about your petition and personal background. Just answer truthfully.

If you do not qualify for an exemption (these can be made for older residents who have lived in the USA for a long time or disabled people), you will take the tests right after the interview.

2. Civics test for naturalization

The civics test for naturalization is an oral test done by a USCIS officer. There are 100 facts to study about the American government and history. Here are some examples for test questions:

  • What is the form of government of the United States?
  • How are changes made to the US Constitution?
  • What is the rule of law?
  • How many US senators are there?
  • What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
  • When did the Great Depression start?
  • And so on. To study all questions, go to the , go to the USCIS’ Naturalization Interview and Test section.

Update 2021: After former President Donald Trump made the US naturalization test significantly more complex and difficult in 2020, this additional hurdle was removed again by the Biden administration, effective March 1st, 2021. The easier naturalization test, which was last revised in 2008, now applies again.

3. English test for naturalization

The USCIS English test is held to prove your comprehension and writing skills in the English language. If you do not qualify for an exemption (e.g., for older residents who have lived in the USA for a long time or disabled people), you will take the English test during and right after the civics test.

You may ask for words to be repeated or rephrased, and you do not have to worry if you pronounce or spell words wrong. But be prepared for the following:

  • a speaking test
  • a reading test
  • a writing test

“Speaking test” only means answering the questions of the USCIS officer during your civics test. So by finishing the civics test, you already completed your first language challenge.

After that, You will have to read aloud and write one out of three sentences correctly using standardized reading test sheets.

What if I don’t pass the naturalization test?

If you fail to pass your naturalization test or the language test, you will get a second try. Between your first and second attempts, there will be between 60 and 90 days for preparation.

If you fail the English test the second time, you can appeal the decision by requesting a hearing. This will give you a third and final chance to pass the test. Otherwise - that is, if you actually failed all the tests - start your application process over again when you feel confident enough. There are no waiting periods for reapplying.

Naturalization ceremony

After you passed your naturalization interview and test, USCIS approves your Form N-400 and invites you to take the Oath of Allegiance at your naturalization ceremony.

The formal oath ceremony is the highlight of the naturalization process. Depending on where you live, yours could take place in a small room on the day of your civics test or in a federal building months later.

Regardless of where your oath ceremony is held, it is a solemn occasion, so dress up. Show up about an hour before your appointment to allow enough time for a USCIS officer to verify your eligibility. Therefore, bring the following:

  • Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony
  • Your Green Card
  • Your re-entry permit or refugee travel document (if applicable)
  • Any immigration documents you may have
  • Your children, if they have also been approved for naturalization
  • Any other documents requested by USCIS

Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America

The Oath of Allegiance

As part of the naturalization ceremony, you will take the Oath of Allegiance that has led to American citizenship for more than 200 years. By doing so, you declare that:

  • You support the US Constitution
  • You do not serve foreign governments
  • You will support and defend the US Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies
  • You will bear arms in the name of the United States when required to do so by law
  • You will perform as a noncombatant in the army when required by law
  • You will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law

Suppose you don't want to recite the part about carrying weapons and serving in the armed forces. In that case, you must demonstrate sincere religious convictions or a deeply held moral or ethical code that prevents you from doing so.

After you took the oath, you will be welcomed as a US citizen and receive your naturalization certificate. Double-check all the information on the document, sign it, and then – CONGRATULATIONS! – celebrate your naturalization in a fitting manner.

Make sure to change your Social Security data and register your voting ballot. You’re a real American now!

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Sources:

uscis.gov, nolo.com