At last! You’ve paid your dues as a Green Card holder and now you’ve got the naturalization process going. With any luck, you’ll be a full U.S. citizen before long.
But what about immediate travel plans? Can you travel internationally while your application is pending? Are there travel restrictions while the naturalization process is ongoing?
As someone whose close family member has been through the permanent residence and naturalization process, I know how confusing it is. And, yes – it’s pretty stressful. So let me try to ease that stress and hopefully answer a few questions, especially if you’re going traveling.
Up to now, you’ve maybe limited your overseas travel to avoid risking your Lawful Permanent Resident status. That may be on top of years of waiting for your Green Card.
This is when you’ve had to apply for an Advance Parole document to go traveling. And THAT comes with its own worries: Will I be denied re-entry to the United States? Will I jeopardize my Permanent Resident Card application?
But now you’ve had your Green Card long enough to be able to apply for naturalization. The benefits this brings are tantalizingly close. A U.S. passport – worry-free border control – visiting family whenever you want? Bring it on!
But what about after submitting your application – can you travel abroad? Before we get down to the travel implications, let’s make sure everything else is in order, and that you’re ready to roll.
What We Cover
- How Do I Become a U.S. Citizen?
- 1. Being Born in the U.S. (Citizenship by Birth)
- 2. Citizenship by Acquisition or Derivation
- 3. Citizenship Based on Military Service
- 4. Citizenship by Naturalization
- Basic Requirements for Naturalization Application
- Can I Travel After Filing the U.S. Citizenship Application?
- Things to Know About Travel During Naturalization and Citizenship Process
- Can I Travel with an Expired Green Card?
- Now You’re a U.S. Citizen – What Next?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Can I travel while my naturalization application is in process?
- What documents do I need to travel during the naturalization process?
- What is the effect of traveling abroad on my naturalization process?
How Do I Become a U.S. Citizen?
There are several ways of becoming a US citizen:
1. Being Born in the U.S. (Citizenship by Birth)
Under U.S. law, all persons born within U.S. territories automatically become U.S. citizens. This includes persons born in Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands.
2. Citizenship by Acquisition or Derivation
A child “acquires” U.S. citizenship if one parent is a U.S. citizen at the time of the birth. And when these kids give birth, their children then assume U.S. citizenship.
An under-18 child “derives” U.S. citizenship when their Lawful Permanent Resident parent achieves citizenship. Check Form N-600 to find out more.
After a parent acquires citizenship through naturalization, their kids automatically “derive” citizenship, as long as they are US permanent residents. For this to happen, these children must be below 18. When a child acquires US citizenship via derivation, they don’t need to undergo the naturalization process themselves.
3. Citizenship Based on Military Service
If you weren’t born in the United States but are serving (or have served) in the U.S. armed forces, special arrangements apply. If you’re the widow or widower of someone who served, these may concern you, too. Check eligibility on the USCIS Naturalization Through Military Service page.
4. Citizenship by Naturalization
Adults not born in the United States can become citizens through the naturalization process. This usually means filing a naturalization application using Form N-400. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can grant citizenship if they judge you meet the eligibility requirements and have provided the necessary evidence.
As well as filing the application form and sending relevant fees, immigration paperwork, and photo ID, applicants attend three important appointments. These are the biometrics appointment, the interview, and the naturalization ceremony. Altogether, be prepared for the process to take from 10 to 18 months.
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Basic Requirements for Naturalization Application
To apply for naturalization, you must meet these eligibility requirements:
- Be aged 18 or older
- Have held a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) for at least five years (three years if you’re married to a U.S. citizen)
- Show continuous residence for at least three months in the state you’re applying to before the application filing date
- Show a physical presence in the United States for 30 months out of the five years before you filed your application (18 months if your spouse is a U.S. citizen)
- Show you possess good moral character and have done so for at least five years
- Be able to speak, read, and write basic English (unless granted a medical exemption)
- Show an understanding of U.S. history and civics (unless granted a medical exemption)
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Can I Travel After Filing the U.S. Citizenship Application?
Great news! Travel during the citizenship process is normally permitted. You already have a valid Green Card and can travel abroad without having to apply for an Advance Parole document (Form I-131). But before you travel, there are several essential things to consider.
Things to Know About Travel During Naturalization and Citizenship Process
Continuous Residence and Physical Presence
As we’ve seen, you need to show both continuous residence and physical presence. These two terms can be confusing, so let’s explore their meanings and their implications for your travel plans.
Continuous Residence – This means the amount of time you’ve had a home in the United States before making your citizenship application. The requirement is usually five years, although if your spouse is a U.S. citizen, it’s three.
Physical Presence – This considers the actual days you were physically in the United States. You have to be physically present for at least 30 months of the five years before filing your application (18 months if your spouse is a U.S. citizen).
This example might help: Let’s assume you spent the whole of May in Europe two years before filing your application. This was a vacation; meanwhile, your home country was the United States. So these 31 days still count towards your continuous residence requirement.
However, the same 31 days are excluded when counting your days on U.S. soil. This means they don’t contribute to your physical presence requirement. So you need to make sure the length of your vacation(s) doesn’t negatively impact the physical presence requirements.
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Length of Your Travel
If you’re traveling outside the United States with a Green Card, the length of your trip matters in other ways. Stick to trips lasting less than one year, unless you first apply for a re-entry permit on Form I-131. And note that this permit doesn’t guarantee re-entry.
Throughout the permanent residency period, USCIS officers monitor your travels. They will inspect your passports and visas during this time.
So don’t try any tricks, as they’ll be detected. Your citizenship plans might be permanently derailed.
The impression you make counts. USCIS or Customs and Border Protection officers may believe your overseas travel isn’t temporary. They will then consider that you’ve abandoned your permanent resident status.
Avoid multiple trips abroad that seem calculated to meet the minimum requirement for continuous residence. Some people will travel for five months abroad, return to America for a few days, and travel again. This pattern will trigger an alert with USCIS.
Their officers will analyze an applicant’s affairs even more closely to check the sincerity of the application. Family ties, bank accounts, employment records, and income tax arrangements can all be scrutinized. This process aims to weed out phony applicants intent on cheating the system.
So if you want to travel, only travel when necessary and follow all guidelines. It might pay to research immigration law or get legal help if you’re unsure of your Continuous Residence status.
Exceptions to the Continuous Residence Requirements
If you have Lawful Permanent Resident status and need to work abroad for over 12 months, you might be able to safeguard your naturalization application. There are very specific requirements, however.
Your work must be for a U.S. company or research institution or as an official connected to a validated religious organization. You’ll also need to have been continuously on U.S. soil as a Green Card holder for at least one year before working outside the United States.
If this applies to you, file Form N-470, “Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes.” This must be completed before the one-year stay abroad is over.
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Traveling overseas is legally allowed while you’re awaiting U.S. citizenship – and you’re desperate for a trip abroad. But is this wise? Remember those three crucial naturalization appointments.
Missing any one of them will disrupt your application. Rescheduling for even a sound reason like a family emergency can add months to the whole business.
So plan carefully. Travel plans must accommodate your attendance at the appointments.
Appointment dates are given individually, making it harder to predict when you’ll be needed. If you’re away from home, it might help to have someone check your mail and call you regarding dates and times.
Before going into detail about the three appointments, I’ve summed up the main steps toward naturalization in this table:
Steps to U.S. Naturalization
|Born on U.S. soil or with U.S. parents?
|YES – Likely already a U.S. citizen
NO – go to STEP 2
|Use Naturalization Eligibility Tool to see if you’re ready to apply
|YES – go to STEP 3
NO – apply when you’re eligible
|Complete Form N-400 and collect evidence
|Go to STEP 4
|Submit Form-400 plus documents and all fees
|Await biometrics appointment
Go to STEP 5
|Attend biometrics appointment
|Await interview appointment
Go to STEP 6
|Attend naturalization interview and take English and civics tests. Bring appointment notice and all relevant documents
|Successful – await notice of approval. Go to STEP 7
Continuation – await further interview appointment
Denied – complete Form N-366 to appeal decision
|Await Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony
|Complete questionnaire on Form N-445
|Attend naturalization ceremony. Bring Green Card. Take Oath of Allegiance
|Hand in Green Card. Receive Certificate of Naturalization and check it for typos. Celebrate!
A biometrics appointment is scheduled some weeks after your application’s been received. You’ll provide biometrics including fingerprints and photographs.
USCIS uses these to confirm your identity and run security checks. Occasionally this step is bypassed when data from previous background checks is used.
You’ll then get notice of the naturalization interview. Here, a USCIS officer will ask you about your application and you’ll take the English and civics tests.
There are plenty of free resources to help you prepare. And check regularly for test updates. Maybe get a family member to test you before the interview date. We found a daily WhatsApp civics question took the sting out of revision!
After the naturalization interview, USCIS will tell you if your application has been approved. However, you might need to submit more documents, attend another interview, or retake part of the tests.
This is known as a continuation. Another interview will take place within 60 to 90 days.
All applicants receive a written notice of the decision. You can request a hearing to appeal the decision if your application is denied.
If your application is successful, CONGRATULATIONS! But remember – you’re not a U.S. citizen until you’ve taken the Oath of Allegiance.
You take the Oath at the naturalization ceremony, which may be scheduled for a couple of months, some weeks, or just a few days after your interview. Watch the mail carefully! After you’ve sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution, you’ll turn in your Green Card in exchange for your Certificate of Naturalization.
So, as you plan for international travel, make sure you can attend these appointments. An immigration lawyer will generally advise you to restrict yourself to traveling inside the United States while the application is pending.
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Can I Travel with an Expired Green Card?
Permanent Resident status is a key eligibility factor pending naturalization. This means holding a valid Green Card.
But what if your Green Card expires as you’re planning to file N-400? Will having an expired Permanent Residence Card mess up your citizenship application? Can you still travel while waiting for a replacement Green Card?
First off, double check your card’s expiration date. If your Permanent Resident Card has expired, don’t wait.
After all, an expired Green Card makes life difficult, as well as being illegal. You must show a valid Permanent Residence Card to get a new job, a mortgage, and a driver’s license.
If you’re traveling abroad, an expired Green Card causes further headaches. Some airlines won’t let you board with an expired card. And Customs & Border Protection officers won’t accept a Green Card beyond its expiration date. This causes delays and extra fees at best, and you may even be refused re-entry.
But all is not lost. When you file to replace your expired or expiring Green Card, USCIS sends you a receipt notice within the month.
These I-90 receipt notices extend the validity of Green Cards for two years. Use your receipt notice together with your expired Permanent Resident Card while your new Green Card is being processed.
You can apply for an I-551 temporary evidence stamp if your Green Card is missing. This goes inside your passport and lasts for one year.
Both the receipt notice and the stamp provide temporary proof of permanent resident status. This means you can use them to travel abroad until your new card arrives.
Now You’re a U.S. Citizen – What Next?
As a brand-new U.S. citizen, you have the right to travel to other states “without government interference and intrusion,” as the Fourteenth Amendment puts it. But what about abroad?
One benefit of U.S. citizenship is the increased ability to bring family members to the United States. You can guide them smoothly through the procedure if they want to stay. After all, you made it through Green Cards and the N-400 to the other side!
But with these rights come responsibilities. You may want to reschedule a vacation to exercise your new right to vote.
You might need to cancel a trip to serve on a jury. You may even want to use your experience of Customs and Border Protection to apply to join the CBP. Whatever you choose, enjoy the rights and freedoms you’ve worked hard to earn!
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International travel during the naturalization process is allowed. However, you must prove permanent U.S. residency before re-entering the country.
This means showing a valid Green Card. Also, you should ensure travel doesn’t prevent you from attending crucial naturalization appointments.
Limiting your overseas travel is generally safer During a pending application. An immigration attorney can provide legal advice if your situation is complicated. USCIS gives information on finding reputable attorneys.
If you really need to get away, why not have fun exploring your chosen home country a little more?
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I travel while my naturalization application is in process?
Legally, you can travel abroad while your naturalization application is ongoing. Make sure you carry your Green Card as proof of permanent U.S. residence.
Be mindful that once your application is filed, you must attend three key appointments. Don’t let your travel plans interfere with these important dates.
What documents do I need to travel during the naturalization process?
You must carry a valid Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) as proof of permanent residence status for U.S. Border Control. If you have an expired Green Card you can still travel abroad if you can show temporary proof of permanent residence.
This means applying for a new Green Card a month before you travel and carrying the I-90 notice of receipt along with your out-of-date Green Card. If your Green Card is missing, you can apply for an I-551 temporary evidence stamp inside your passport. And, of course, you must always carry a valid passport and relevant visas when traveling to other countries.
What is the effect of traveling abroad on my naturalization process?
If you travel abroad while seeking naturalization, carefully count the days you are out of the country. In the run-up to filing N-400, you must have been on U.S. soil for at least 50% of the minimum continuous residence period.
Frequent and extended vacations during this period can give a negative impression to USCIS. This might result in extra scrutiny of your application or in the authorities deciding you have abandoned your permanent resident status.