Everyone applying for citizenship through the process known as naturalization must fill out Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, prepared by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The form collects basic biographical information about applicants and asks questions to find out whether you meet all the citizenship eligibility requirements (discussed in “Who Can Apply for U.S. Citizenship”).
Form N-400 is available for free by telephone at 800-870-3676, and on the N-400 page of the USCIS website.
Tips on Filling Out This and Other USCIS Forms
How clearly and carefully you prepare your paperwork can affect how your application is judged. It’s important to:
- Deal appropriately with inapplicable questions. If you know that a question on Form N-400 doesn’t fit your situation, write “N/A” (not applicable) rather than leaving the space blank. If you don’t feel certain how to answer a question, consult an attorney.
- Be honest. Lying to USCIS can get you in bigger trouble than the problem you are lying about. Even if no one discovers the lie now, it can result in your citizenship being revoked later—even many years later. Again, if you are unsure how to deal with an issue, contact a lawyer.
- Be consistent with your previous immigration applications. Check your files for other applications or paperwork that you have submitted to U.S. immigration authorities and double check that the information you are entering now matches what’s there -- unless, of course, the previous applications contained typos or minor errors. Enter the correct information on your N-400, but be ready to explain the previous error and provide evidence of the true situation.
- Use extra pages if need be. In a few places on Form N-400, your response may need to be longer than the form has room for. If so, write “Please see attachment” in the appropriate space on the form and then attach a separate piece of paper. At the top of the attachment page, print your name, A-number, and the words “Attachment to Form N-400.” Then state which question(s) from which part(s) of the form you are answering.
Line-by-Line Instructions for Form N-400
Now, let’s go through the form, question by question (but skipping instances where the questions are self-explanatory). Note that at the top of every page of the form, you must remember to fill in your A-number.
Part 1. Your Name
Question A. Your current legal name. Enter your full name. If your name has ever changed – perhaps due to adoption, marriage, or a court-ordered name change -- include legal documentation of the change.
Question B. Your name just as it appears on your Permanent Resident Card. This question helps USCIS match your application to your green card, so copy your name exactly as it appears there, even if there are mistakes or your name has been or will be changed.
Question C. If you have ever used other names, you will have a chance to enter them below. Here you should provide only alternate versions of your name (such as from past marriages) as well as names by which you have been commonly known. For example, if your legal name is Juozas but everyone calls you Joe and it appears on some of your personal records and documents, mention Joe on this part of the application. If, however, only your wife or a few friends call you Joe, then you don’t need to write it here. If unsure, simply enter the nickname, to be on the safe side.
Question D. Name change. If you have been wanting to legally change your name, this may be your opportunity. You can legally change it without any extra court procedures by filling in your chosen new name on Form N-400; on one condition. Your swearing-in ceremony must be held in a courtroom, presided over by a judge, not by a USCIS officer. In some USCIS districts, ceremonies presided over by a judge are held only a few times per year if at all, so asking for a name change will either be impossible or will result in your waiting longer than other people to receive citizenship. Contact your local USCIS office and for details. If you are able to request a name change, the USCIS officer will have you fill out a form called a Petition for Name Change during your interview. Realize also that the law places limits on what you can change your name to; see Nolo's "Name Change FAQ" for more information.
Part 2. Information About Your Eligibility
Check the box matching your citizenship eligibility basis. Most people check Box A (five years of permanent residence). However, spouses of U.S. citizens can check Box B (if they have been married and living together for three years) and people in military service can check Box C, stating that they qualify for an exception to the five-year rule. (Remember that you will need to provide proof that you fit in the stated category.) Refugees and asylees should check Box A. Although they are permitted to credit some of their years as refugees or asylees toward the five-year requirement, they are not exempt from the requirement itself.
Part 3. Information About You
Most of this section is self-explanatory, but below we will discuss certain questions that may not be.
For Question C, you can find the date you became a permanent resident on your green card.
In Question F, USCIS is inquiring whether your parents are U.S. citizens, just in case they transmitted U.S. citizenship to you automatically (in which case you would not need to apply for naturalization at all). Whether this occurred depends on various factors, such as your date of birth, how long your parents lived in the U.S., and whether one or both of them were citizens. For more information on the rules surrounding transmission of citizenship, see “U.S. Citizenship by Birth or Through Parents.”
In Questions H and I, you can advise USCIS as to whether you have any physical or mental disabilities, that is:
- whether you are requesting a reduction or waiver of the English language and/or U.S. history and government exam requirements because of your disability, and
- whether USCIS can do something in particular to make your interview easier for you to handle, such as providing wheelchair access or a sign language interpreter.
It’s fine to say yes to both questions.
There is actually a third issue regarding disability that Form N-400 doesn’t cover. Applicants whose conditions are particularly severe may, even after being approved for citizenship, be unable to understand or repeat the Oath of Allegiance that makes them a U.S. citizen. The applicant will not automatically be allowed to skip this oath, but someone must first request a separate waiver of the oath requirement on his or her behalf (assuming that the applicant cannot speak for him- or herself). USCIS suggests using the space under this question to request the oath waiver; or else doing so in the cover letter to the N-400 or in a separate statement.
Part 4. Addresses and Telephone Numbers
Question A. Enter your current home address. If you do not wish to receive mail there, state where to send mail in the next section.
Question B. Care of. Fill in this section only if you want someone else to receive your mail for you or would prefer that USCIS send correspondence to a post office box or temporary address. (Regardless of whether you complete this section, you must enter your home address in Section A.)
Question C. This asks for your phone numbers and email address. If you have neither, answer “none.” Or, you could use a friend or neighbor’s phone number -- USCIS is unlikely to actually call you.
Part 5. Information for Criminal Records Search
Fill in this information honestly. If you do not believe you fit into any of the categories, choose the one that is closest. Under “Race,” people of Latin American or Hispanic background typically choose “White.”
If you have a criminal history, don’t try hiding the truth — USCIS will separately check your fingerprints. If you are have reason to believe that USCIS will turn up negative information in its check of your records, by all means consult an immigration lawyer.
Part 6. Information About Your Residence and Employment
Here, you must give details about where you worked and lived for the last five years. If you cannot remember a particular address from years past, put in as much information as you can remember. If you have gone through periods of unemployment, unpaid work, self-employment, or taking care of your home or children, list these too. Include any time you spent working in the U.S. illegally before you got your green card (but make sure that it matches the information on your green card application forms).
Part 7. Time Outside the United States
You will need to prove that you spent the required minimum amount of time in the U.S. in the years leading up to filing your N-400 and that your visits outside the United States did not last too long.
For Question C, if you cannot determine the information, enter as much as you can. For example, some people may write in the space (or on an attachment page) something like, “I crossed the border into Canada to spend time with my father approximately once a month for the last six years. Most of my visits were two days long, except for visits at Chinese New Year, when I usually stayed for five days.”
Part 8. Information About Your Marital History
This section raises questions for many applicants. For example, Question G is a source of confusion. It asks, “How many times has your current spouse been married?” The key is to understand that your current marriage counts in adding these up. So, for instance, if your spouse had been married twice before, you would answer “three” here.
Another common concern is the question about your spouse’s immigration status, particularly if your spouse is living in the U.S. after an illegal entry or a visa overstay. See “What happens if I reveal on Form N-400 that my undocumented spouse lives with me?” for details on this issue.
Divorces are a source of worry for some applicants. See “Can I apply for citizenship if I’ve divorced the person who got me my green card?” for details on that issue.
Why does USCIS need to know about your and your spouse’s previous marriages? One reason is to double check that you aren’t married to more than one person, which would make your current marriage invalid or be a sign that you’re intentionally engaging in polygamy, which USCIS considers to demonstrate bad moral character. Even if the double marriage was an accident, it can create a problem if you got your green card as a result of your latest marriage. After discovering this, USCIS could take steps to not only deny your citizenship, but remove your status as a green card holder. If you find yourself in such a situation, see an immigration lawyer.
Part 9. Information About Your Children
As stated in the N-400 instructions, you must list every one of your children, regardless of whether they are:
• alive, missing, or dead
• born in other countries or in the United States
• younger or older than 18 years
• married or unmarried
• living with you or elsewhere
• stepsons or stepdaughters not legally adopted, or
• born out of wedlock.
If you neglect to mention a child on your citizenship application, then come back later with a petition to immigrate that child, USCIS may suspect that you are committing a fraud to help someone else’s child get a green card.
Part 10. Additional Questions
These pertain to your eligibility for citizenship, in particular your moral character and the amount of time you have lived in the United States with a green card. If your answer to any of the questions is “yes” (with the exception of questions in Parts B, G, and H, discussed below), you are at risk for your application being denied. See a lawyer.
Part B. Affiliations. There is no need to fear listing your membership in community organizations such as a social club, church group, P.T.A., volunteer corps, or other such group. These activities demonstrate your good moral character. But it’s a different story if you belong to a group that advocates world communism, violence, terrorism, or other perceived threats to the U.S., or if you were involved with Nazi activities in Germany. If you belong to a group that might fit any of these descriptions, consult with an immigration lawyer before going further.
Part D. Good Moral Character. Notice that in this part of Form N-400, the questions about your criminal history are very broad. In fact, you will need to mention any traffic tickets that you have received (in Question 16). That doesn’t mean that any or every crime will result in your being denied citizenship. In fact, traffic stops or tickets ordinarily will not disqualify you from naturalizing. (Don’t worry about listing parking tickets here -- just the incidents that happened while you were behind the wheel of a vehicle.) But you should consult an immigration attorney for anything more serious on your criminal record.
Part E. Removal, Exclusion and Deportation Proceedings. If you have been summoned for immigration court proceedings, applying for naturalization will not protect you. Your citizenship application will most likely be denied. See a lawyer for a full analysis of your situation; or if you answer “yes” to any of the other questions in this section about removal, exclusion, or deportation.
Part G. Selective Service Registration. Here, you must state whether you are a male who was living in the U.S. or got your green card before or between the ages of 18 and 26. If so, you were probably required to register for Selective Service, a list kept in preparation for a U.S. military draft. If you have not done so, you must either register with the Selective Service now (which you can do only if you are still younger than age 26) or attach a statement explaining why you did not comply with your duty to register.
Part H. Oath Requirements. Here, you must demonstrate that you are loyal to the United States and will fight for it if necessary. If you are a conscientious objector, meaning that for religious or moral reasons you refuse to take up weapons or join in a war, you can answer “no” to Question H37, which asks whether you will bear arms for the United States. If your beliefs would prohibit you from providing any support to a war effort, answer “no” to Question H38, which asks whether you would be willing to provide noncombatant services. You will have to attach proof of your conscientious objector status and request taking a modified Oath of Allegiance.) If you part of a religion that prohibits taking any sort of oath (for example, the Quakers and the Jehovah’s Witnesses), answer “no” to Question H36, but submit a letter from your church or other religious body confirming your membership. (Include this when you send in your N-400.)
Part 11. Your Signature
If possible, sign your name in cursive, not printed letters. Cursive means a flowing style, usually slanted to the right, where the letters are connected.
If you are disabled and not able to sign your own name (for example, because your hands don’t work, or because of cognitive difficulties), you have two choices. You can either mark an “X” in place of your signature, or your legal guardian can sign for you. (After the signature, guardians should write, in parentheses “signed by [guardian’s name], designated representative.”)
Part 12. Signature of Person Who Prepared This Application for You
If a lawyer, paralegal, or other document preparer (including the designated representative of a disabled person) completes Form N-400 for you, that person must sign this section. If you completed Form N-400 on your own, or if you merely received some advice from a friend, neither of you needs to complete this section.
Parts 13 and 14. Signature and Oath
You will not fill these out until your interview.