The path to U.S. citizenship is often seen as the pinnacle of the immigration process. Obtaining citizenship comes with many benefits – the right to vote, the ability to apply for certain government jobs, protection from deportation, ease of foreign travel, and more.
But before those citizenship benefits can be enjoyed, immigrants face a complex, lengthy and often costly naturalization process. So how much does it actually cost to become a U.S. citizen? What fees and expenses should future Americans budget for?
This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the naturalization costs involved, to help immigrants financially prepare for U.S. citizenship.
How Much Does It Cost to Become a US Citizen?
In total, the fees paid directly to the U.S. government to become a US Citizen range from $810 to $825 for a typical naturalization application. The majority of costs for obtaining U.S. citizenship come directly from various government fees charged by USCIS. Here are the key expenses:
The filing fee for the N-400 Application for Naturalization is $725. This is the cost to submit the application and have it processed.
Biometric Services Fees
Applicants must also pay $85 for biometrics, which covers fingerprinting and taking photographs.
Interview and Oath Ceremony
No additional fees are charged for the naturalization interview or the oath ceremony. However, some costs may be incurred related to traveling to these appointments.
Total USCIS Fees: $810
According to Marketplace, the cost of becoming a US citizen is $725 for the application fee. They also go on to say that there could also be legal costs and other expenses.
Boundless Immigration also notes that the naturalization fee for a US citizenship application is $725, which includes $640 for application processing and $85 for biometrics services. Some applicants can have these fees reduced or waived entirely.
The Naturalization Process
Naturalization is the process by which lawful permanent residents, also known as green card holders, become U.S. citizens. The most common path is to qualify for naturalization by living continuously in the U.S. as a green card holder for 5 years (or 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen).
To apply for citizenship, immigrants submit Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization. The steps include:
- Paying fees and submitting Form N-400
- Completing biometrics (fingerprints and photos)
- Passing required English and civics tests
- Attending an interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Taking the Oath of Allegiance at a citizenship ceremony
Once approved, citizenship is granted after the oath ceremony. The entire process typically takes 6 to 12 months.
Additional Naturalization Expenses
Beyond the USCIS fees, other costs often come up during the citizenship process:
Many applicants choose to hire an immigration lawyer to help prepare forms, collect documents, and provide legal advice. Attorney fees often range from $1,000 to $3,000. Complex cases can be even higher.
Citizenship Textbooks and Study Materials
To pass the civics and English tests, applicants need to study. Textbooks, flashcards, and practice tests can cost $20 to $100. Some also enroll in test prep classes.
A medical exam by an approved doctor is required, costing $200 on average. Vaccinations may be extra.
Applicants must travel to biometrics appointments, interviews, tests, and oath ceremonies. Transportation, lodging, parking, and lost wages can add up.
Applicants may need to pay for certified translations of foreign documents required for their application. Each translated page can cost $20 to $60.
Total Additional Costs: $1,500 to $5,000
When all is said and done, applicants looking to become US citizens can expect to spend between $1,500 to $5,000 or more above the base USCIS fees during the citizenship application process.
Comparative Costs of Naturalization Over the Years
The price to become a U.S. citizen has increased substantially over the past 30 years:
- In 1990, the total USCIS fees were just $90 compared to $810 today.
- In the early 2000s, total USCIS fees were around $300.
- By 2016, the USCIS citizenship application fees had risen to $725 for naturalization.
- The current fees were established in 2020, over 8 times higher than in 1990.
These cost increases far exceed the pace of inflation, making citizenship financially out of reach for many.
Fee Reductions and Waivers
USCIS offers fee waivers for the N-400 application and biometrics if an applicant meets one of these criteria:
- Currently receiving a means-tested benefit like SSI
- Household income is under 150% of federal poverty guidelines
- Financial hardship that makes paying fees unaffordable
Fee waivers cover the $725 N-400 fee and the $85 biometrics fee. Those who qualify pay $0 in USCIS fees.
Partial fee reductions may be granted on a case-by-case basis if payment causes severe financial strain.
Using an Immigration Attorney
With complex immigration forms, required disclosures, and high application denial rates, many applicants turn to immigration lawyers for help with their citizenship application.
Hiring an attorney can increase the odds of success, but it comes at a cost. Lawyers typically charge a flat legal fee of $1,000 to $3,000. More complex cases can exceed $5,000 in legal fees.
Factors that determine legal fees include:
- Attorney’s experience and location
- Complexity of your case
- Whether translations or extra forms are needed
- If you had prior immigration issues like a criminal record
Applicants must decide if paying the added expense for an attorney is worth the benefit of increased reassurance and legal expertise.
Non-profit organizations like the Immigration Advocates Network offer low-cost or free legal aid for those who qualify.
Preparing for the Citizenship Test and Interview
A critical part of applying for U.S. citizenship includes passing two exams:
1. The English test – evaluates whether you can read, write, and speak basic English.
2. The civics test – assesses your knowledge of U.S. history and government structure.
Study materials and classes can range from $20 to $500 depending on services used. USCIS provides free study materials to download online.
Practice is vital, as applicants have two chances to pass these exams during their interview. Failing either test results in a denied citizenship application.
Conclusion: Invest Now in Your Future as a U.S. Citizen
The total cost to become a U.S. citizen can range from $2,300 to $6,300 including USCIS fees, legal fees, and other expenses.
While the financial commitment is significant, gaining U.S. citizenship offers invaluable benefits and opportunities. View the naturalization costs as an investment in your future.
Rest assured the expenses are a one-time payment. Once you hold that citizenship certificate, you’ll join the proud ranks of Americans and realize it was all worthwhile.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become an official U.S. citizen?
The total time to become a U.S. citizen is typically 6 to 12 months from submitting Form N-400 to attending the citizenship ceremony.
The process includes submitting application and fees, biometric screening, interview, tests, and oath ceremony. Most applicants complete the steps within one year.
How much do you need to invest in us to get citizenship?
There is no direct investment or payment to the U.S. government that leads to citizenship, beyond paying the required USCIS citizenship fees that typically total around $810.
The main path to citizenship is by qualifying for naturalization based on your time as a lawful permanent resident (green card holder).
How much does it cost to get residency in US?
The fees to obtain a green card granting permanent U.S. residency depend on the application process. For those already in the U.S., Form I-485 costs $1,140 for the application fee and $85 for biometrics, totaling $1,225. Other common paths like employment-based green cards have added costs for the sponsoring employer. Fees are higher for applicants outside the U.S.