Can I Afford to Apply for U.S. Citizenship?

Costs you might incur when applying to naturalize as a U.S. citizen include the filing fee, a lawyer's fee, and costs to obtain documents and to travel to your appointments with USCIS.

If you're thinking about applying for U.S. citizenship ("naturalization") and wondering whether you have enough money to pay the various costs, you have to consider four types of associated expenses:

  1. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) might charge you a fee to file the application form and a fee to take your biometrics (fingerprints and other identifying information).
  2. You might want to pay an immigration lawyer to handle your case.
  3. You may need to spend some money to obtain documents that you have to give to USCIS.
  4. Traveling to your nearest USCIS office for biometrics and again for your citizenship interview might be a significant cost, especially if you have to take time off of work for those appointments.

USCIS Filing Fee

The normal filing fee for the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization is $640 (2018 figure). The normal fee for biometrics is $85. So, most people have to come up with $725 just to apply for citizenship. There are some exceptions, however.

Members of the military

If you're a current or past member of the U.S. armed forces applying under the special naturalization rules available to you, you don't have to pay any filing fee or any biometrics fee. The application is free for you.

Age 75 or older

No one age 75 or older has to pay the biometrics fee. USCIS still might require such persons to give biometrics, but they won't be charged for it.

Low income or no income

USCIS recognizes that some people just can't afford to pay hundreds of dollars for citizenship. You can apply for a "fee waiver" (permission to apply with no fee for the N-400 application form or biometrics) if you can prove one of the three things discussed below.

You're Receiving a Means-Tested Government Benefit

If you, your spouse, or the head of household living with you receives a "means-tested benefit" from the government, you can get a fee waiver. A means-tested benefit is money or services you get from the government (federal, state, county, or city) because your income and resources are low.

Examples of means-tested benefit programs are Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP--what used to be called "Food Stamps"), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). However, things like Medicare, unemployment benefits, Social Security retirement benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Social Security Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (RSDI), and student financial aid are not means-tested benefits. You may have to ask the government agency you get money from or a lawyer whether something is a means-tested benefit.

You Have Low Income

You can get a fee waiver if, at the time you're applying for citizenship, your household income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines based on your household size. You'll have to know what the poverty guidelines are for the year you're applying, and how many people are in your "household." There are different poverty guidelines for residents of Alaska and Hawaii.

The government publishes the most recent poverty guidelines. You'll have do some math to figure out what 150% of those amounts are. (Multiply by 1.5.)

The amount you care about is the amount for your household size. A "household" includes all the people who depend on your income, your spouse’s income, or your head of household’s income. So, you need to count you, the head of your household (if not you), your spouse, if living with you, and any family members living in your household who are dependent on your income, your spouse’s income, or the head of household’s income. This includes your children or legal wards who are unmarried and under 21 years of age, and who live with you; your children or legal wards who are unmarried, are over 21 years of age but under 24 years of age, are full-time students, and who live with you when not at school; your children or legal wards who are unmarried and for whom you are the legal guardian because they are physically or developmentally disabled or mentally impaired to the extent that they cannot adequately care for themselves and cannot establish, maintain, or re-establish their own household; your parents who live with you; and any other dependents listed on your federal tax return or your spouse or head of household’s federal tax returns.

There Are Other Reasons You Can't Afford It Right Now

You can get a fee waiver if you are experiencing a temporary financial hardship. This can be any emergency that requires you to spend your money elsewhere, or a change in circumstances that made you lose your recent level of income. Examples would be medical expenses of family members, unemployment, eviction, and homelessness.

Reduced Fee

If you don't qualify for a fee waiver, you still might qualify to pay a fee for the Form N-400 that's half the usual $640 (2018 figure). This fee reduction is for people in households that make slightly more than the 150% of poverty guideline that would qualify them for a total fee waiver, but still make only 200% (double) the amount of the poverty guideline, or less.

If you qualify for the reduced fee, it will be $320, plus, if you're under 75, $85 for the biometrics fee, for a total of $405 (2018 figure).

Lawyer Fee

If you want to hire an immigration lawyer to help you apply for citizenship, the lawyer is probably going to charge you a fee for his or her services. You can shop around, but be prepared to pay anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand. See, for instance, Who Should NOT Apply for Naturalized U.S. Citizenship (Without Talking to a Lawyer First).

Do not spend money hiring anyone who is not an immigration lawyer or who is not someone authorized to represent you in front of USCIS. If you like gambling your money like that, go to a casino instead. At least the casino won't mess up your citizenship.

Cost of Obtaining Documents

You might not need to spend any money getting the documents necessary for your citizenship application, but it's possible you might have to. Any documents that are in a foreign language have to be translated into English, so if you don't know anyone who will do it for free, you'll have to pay a translation service.

If you have an arrest or conviction history that has to be documented, the court may charge you a small fee to get a certified copy of the records they have. Most of the tax documents you'll need are available for free from the appropriate government agency upon request, but copies of older returns will cost money to obtain.

If you're applying from overseas, you'll have to pay to get two passport-style photographs of yourself to send with your application.

Travel Costs

Depending on how far away from your nearest USCIS office you live, traveling to and from your biometrics appointment and your citizenship interview could get expensive. USCIS is open only during certain daytime hours on weekdays, so hopefully you have a flexible schedule or can get time off of work to attend these two appointments. Otherwise, when you're thinking about how much it will cost you to apply for citizenship, you'll have to add in the cost of missing work.

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