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Becoming a legal permanent resident–getting that all-important Green Card–is the hard part. Becoming a citizen of the United States is fairly straightforward. The process of becoming a citizen is called naturalization. You become a citizen through a naturalization ceremony after which you receive a Certificate of Citizenship. Many documents and forms will be required and should be carefully filled out. You will even have to be finger-printed. To apply to become a citizen you must fulfil certain basic requirements:

Proof of Age. You must be at least 18 years old. You’ll need to present some kind of proof of your age, like a birth certificate. (The birth certificate is also handy in applying for a driver’s license.)

Proof of Residency. You must be a permanent resident for five years and prove it. You may leave the United States during this period providing that you may be away for no more than six months at a time and have spent at least half the five years (thirty months or more) in the United States. You must have been a resident of the state where you apply for citizenship for at least six months. There are some exceptions to this rule. If you achieve permanent resident status by marrying an American citizen, you may be allowed to apply for citizenship after three years.

Moral Character. You must show good moral character over the five year residency period. Basically, this means not getting into trouble with the law, with drugs, prostitution or alcoholism. You must be loyal to the United States and not have advocated the violent overthrow of the government. Formerly, membership in the Communist party of any country fewer than ten years before the date of application was suspect, though this is probably not as critical an issue as it used to be. Any past wrongdoing involving visas and immigration matters can hamper the naturalization process. In such cases, a lawyer may be necessary.

English Language. You must show some English language abilities. These requirements are very simple. You will be asked some questions by the examiner about your application and made to read and write some simple sentences. Three to five years residence in the United States should be enough to learn some English. Note here, that, despite the English requirement, the United States does not have an official language.

American Institutions. You must show some knowledge of American history and the American system of government. Most book stores sell texts covering these subjects, and the government itself publishes pamphlets. While this examination is very basic, you’ll understand life in the United States better if you study these subjects in depth.

The Oath. You must take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. In this oath you will renounce all ties to your former country.

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