How Long after a Green Card can you Apply for Citizenship?

Five years. This is as per the five-year rule. According to this rule, green card holders can apply for citizenship after living in the US continuously for five years.

However, exceptions are made for green card holders with a US citizen spouse.

This is known as the three-year rule. It states that all US citizens with both a green card and an American spouse can apply for citizenship after living in the US continuously for three years. 

How to Become a US Citizen through Marriage: Step-by-Step Process

Suppose you choose to apply for US citizenship through marriage. In that case, you are approximately one spouse, a marriage green card, four steps, and a few signatures away from your journey to citizenship.

Here is a step-by-step guide to becoming a citizen through marriage.

Form N-400

Filling in Form N-400, an application for naturalization is the first step to becoming a US citizen through marriage.

You must be 18 years and above and a 3-year resident of the US at the time of filling out this form to become a US citizen through marriage.

While filling out this form N-400, some of the supporting documents you have to bring include:

  • Two recently taken passport-size photographs (if you live abroad)
  • An original permanent residency card
  • Evidence of your matrimony to a US citizen
  • Documents that serve as proof of joint ownership, such as mortgage or children's birth certificates(where applicable)
  • Documents that serve as proof for any legal name change (where applicable)
  • Any evidence of the termination of your spouse's previous marriage (where applicable)

You can find a free copy of Form N-400 on the USCIS website. Unfortunately, filling out this form is not free.

The cost for filing an N-400 form is $640. The $85 biometric fee brings the total costs for filling out the N-400 form to $725.

Biometrics Appointment

The biometrics appointment is the next stage in your naturalization application right after filling out your N-400 form. It's a process to ensure that an applying citizen does not have a criminal history or is blacklisted in any criminal database.

Besides the technical sounding and jargon-like name, the biometrics appointment is a simple procedure that will take you no more than 20 minutes.

Some activities you can expect from your biometrics appointment include:

  • Taking your fingerprints
  • A few photos here and there
  • Taking your legal name and signatures

Your biometrics appointment will take place about a month after filling out your N-400. However, the precise date will be communicated to you by the USCIS.

Some of the supporting documents you should bring to your biometrics appointment include:

  • Identification, i.e., your driver's license or photo
  • Your ASC appointment notice (Form I-797C), which tells you the date and time for your appointment
  • Any particular documents that the USCIS has requested 

In case you would like to reschedule your biometrics appointment with the USCIS, you must call the USCIS contact center (800-375-5283). Do not mail your request.

US Citizenship Interview

Similar to the biometrics appointment, the USCIS will schedule and communicate the date and time for your United States citizenship interview.

That said, note that you will only receive one mail for the date and time of your interview; hence don't miss it when it arrives.

What can one expect at their citizenship interview? Well, the interview will try and test:

  • Your proficiency in the English language
  • Your knowledge and mastery of American history and civic structure
  • Come to a decision on your eligibility for citizenship

This whole process is not complicated and isn't something that should give you sleepless nights. It will take no more than 20 minutes and will comprise three sections. These are:

  • Asking for clarification on details in your Form N- 400 
  • An English test
  • A US Civics test (You will be required to answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly)

Even though this test is not hard, complicated, or created to make you fail, it's essential that you take time and prepare for it.

In the rare case that you fail your citizenship interview, you will get a second chance 60-90 days from the date of your initial interview.

 It's also crucial to note that on the retake, you will only be tested on the sections that you failed. If you fail again, you can complete another Form N-400 and begin the process.

Oath of Allegiance

Congratulations, once you get to this stage, what's standing between you and US citizenship are a few formalities.

Simply put, an oath of allegiance is a sworn declaration that rescinds your loyalty to any foreign government, dictator, or monarch and re-establishes it with the United States of America, its people, and the constitution.

Your oath of allegiance will happen on the same day of your interview if the USCIS is satisfied with all the data. 

Otherwise, the date and time will be communicated to you through the mail with a document called form N-445. Be careful not to miss this form, as it's sent once, and being physically present is mandatory.

Some supporting documents you should bring to this ceremony include:

  • A permanent green card (not a conditional green card)
  • The invitation letter Form N-445
  • Identification (driver's license or passport)
  • Any necessary travel documents

If you can't make it to the date of this ceremony, return Form N-445 to your local USCIS office with a letter requesting another date. 

Remember, failure to attend this ceremony twice will lead to the denial of your application.

After taking this oath, you'll receive your certificate of Naturalization, your proof of citizenship.

Why become a US Citizen? The American Privileges

Becoming a US citizen is one of your options for living in the USA. However, it's not the only one. Other options on the table include permanent residency, refugee status, or being a green card owner.

However, these options pale in comparison to the benefits of being a US citizen, something you can achieve through a marital union. Here's why:

Protection from deportation

Becoming a US citizen brings finality to your status as an American; it protects you, your children, and future children from deportation.

This means that regardless of political headwinds, the Immigration Services or ICE are things you'll never have to worry about for a very long time.

Citizenship for your children

Once you are naturalized as a citizen through marriage, naturalization for your children becomes a much easier process.

The 14th amendment establishes that children born or naturalized in the United States are citizens. This means that going forward, all children you'll have in America will automatically become US citizens.

However, children of the person seeking immigration who were not born on US soil do not automatically become citizens.

Family reunification

American citizenship can reunite families that have been split for years and end the emotional burden and trauma a thousand miles between families.

Reuniting with your spouse may mean that your children finally enjoy the many documented benefits of a two-family household, a better support system, and marital tax benefits.

Eligibility for government jobs

Did you know that federal workers receive 17% more total compensation (pay+benefits) than their private-sector counterparts?

That said, becoming an American citizen opens new doors in terms of employment opportunities in both the private and public sectors.

Freedom to travel

Permanent residence requirements severely limit prospective citizens' travel outside the United States. This can become a particular bother if one wants to visit their home country for emergencies, ceremonies, or other formalities.

However, once you become a US citizen, your status is no longer tied to your permanent residence requirements. This means the freedom to travel anywhere, anytime, and for any duration of time without compromising your citizenship.

Ability to vote

Most essential of all, becoming a United States citizen gives you the democratic right to vote. With this comes the ability to voice your concerns about the decisions that affect your present and future.

US Citizenship through Marriage Requirements

Here are the requirements and prerequisites before you can become eligible for US citizenship through marriage:

1. Three Years Rule

The three-year rule states that all green card holders, given that they permanently reside in the United States and are married to a US citizen, can apply for citizenship three years before filling out form N-400.

Some additional caveats to the three-year rule include:

  • There should be no divorce, annulment, or separation within the three years
  • The applicant must have lived with their spouse for three years (exceptions are made for violent spouses)
  • Three years of continuous residence
  • 18 months or 548 days of continuous presence

2. Five Years Rule

The five-year rule doesn't necessarily apply to citizenship through marriage because of the three-year exception.

However, if you're not eligible for the 3-year rule, you can qualify for the 5-year rule. This rule states that a Green Card holder can apply for citizenship after five years of permanent residency.

Some caveats to this rule are:

  • A physical presence of two-and-a-half years
  • Lived in the State or USCIS District of application for at least three months
  • Have permanent residency in the United States for five years

3. Pay your Taxes

Paying taxes and having proof of paid taxes are part of good moral character and essential for your naturalization process. 

To this effect, you are required to bring verified tax transcripts for the past three or five years to your naturalization interview.

On the contrary, having tax backlogs doesn't necessarily disqualify you. This is given that you don't lie, act ignorant or provide false information during the interview.

4. Never Register to Vote before being Naturalized

Voting as a non-citizen, either accidentally or deliberately, is a strict offense that can lead to deportation and dim your prospects of naturalization.

Hence it's crucial to ensure that you've never voted or registered to vote. Subsequently, ensure the same for your loved ones who are yet to be US citizens.

In the case that you accidentally registered to vote, it's essential to consult an experienced immigration attorney for the way forward.

5. Register for the Selective Service (men aged between 18-26)

Selective service is a government office that keeps a register of those that might want to join the armed forces in the future.

In this case, if you are between 18 and 26, it's essential to register for the selective service and keep proof of your registration.

6. Stay out of Trouble

Being of good moral character will go a long way in helping you with US citizenship. This broad term covers everything from avoiding felonies, conduct unbecoming, or State offenses.

Cost of Getting US Citizenship Through Marriage

The cost of getting citizenship through marriage ranges between $725 and $2485. This is circumstantial, depending on where you start the process, if you have a green card and whether you live within or outside the United States.

Some of the costs that go into getting citizenship through marriage with a green card include:

  • Cost of filling the N-400 which is $640
  • Cost of a biometric appointment is $85
  • Total $725

Some of the costs that go into getting citizenship through marriage if you are US based without a Green Card are:

  • Family sponsorship $535
  • Filling your Green Card Application $1140
  • Biometrics appointment $85
  • Filling the N-400, which is $640
  • Biometrics Appointment $85
  • Total $2485

Note that you'll also have to take into account immigration lawyer costs and other legal fees in the case that you use a lawyer to expedite the process.


Here are some of the frequently asked questions about citizenship through marriage:

Can I apply for citizenship after 3 years of marriage?

Yes. A permanent resident married to a US citizen can apply for citizenship after three years of permanent residence.

Do you automatically become a US citizen through marriage?

No. One can only become a US citizen through marriage after they meet lawful permanent residency criteria, are married to a US citizen, and complete the naturalization process.

Can I apply for citizenship after 2 years green card?

No. The earliest one can apply for naturalization is after three years of permanent resident status or if they have a US spouse. Otherwise, the minimum permanent residency is five years.

Can I apply for citizenship after 4 years of a green card?

Yes, but only if you are married to a US spouse and are a lawful permanent resident. This is because one can apply for naturalization if they are married to a US citizen after three years of residency.

If you aren't married to a US citizen, you'll have to wait another year to bring your total permanent residency to five years.

What is the 4-year 1-day rule for US citizenship?

This rule applies if you break permanent residency rules, i.e., leave the US within three or 5-year continuous residence. 

It states that from the time you come back, you must wait four years and a day to apply for naturalization again. Remember that this is every time you leave the US.

Can you live in the US if you marry a citizen?

Yes, this is called Green Card Marriage. Once married to a US citizen, you can apply for a Marriage Green Card and live in the US as a permanent resident. After three years, you can apply for naturalization and live in the US as a citizen.

Where We Come In

The naturalization process can be a daunting experience. It's easy to get lost in the mountains of paperwork, never-ending regulations, and a spectrum of emotions.

Well, not with us by your side. UpCounsel is your go-to for a more efficient, expedited, and hassle-free process. For more information, contact us today, and our immigration attorneys will be more than willing to help.