How to prepare for your naturalization ceremony
Finalize your naturalization journey by understanding what to expect at the Oath of Allegiance ceremony.
What Is the Oath of Allegiance Ceremony?
The oath ceremony, also known as the neutralization ceremony, is where you swear allegiance to the United States and receive your naturalization certificate. For most applicants, this is the final step in the journey to becoming a U.S. citizen.
The actual oath is typically administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), at an administrative ceremony or by a judge, in a judicial ceremony. It is a sworn declaration that takes place under oath. This means you promise to respect the rights, freedoms, and laws of the United States.
How Long After the Citizenship Interview is the Oath Ceremony Scheduled?
In most cases, the naturalization oath ceremony takes place 3 to 6 weeks after USCIS approves your Application for Naturalization (Form N-400).
Suppose the USCIS has all the information and documentation it needs to approve your application immediately after your citizenship interview and naturalization exam (also known as the "citizenship test"). In that case, your oath ceremony may take place the same day. A USCIS officer will tell you to come back to the same venue later that day for your naturalization ceremony.
If you do not complete the oath ceremony the day of your interview, USCIS will mail you a copy of Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony (Form N-445), with the date, time, and venue of your naturalization ceremony.
Where Will the Oath Ceremony Take Place?
An oath ceremony takes place in a federal or state building, usually the same place where your interview and exam was held. In situations where several hundreds of applicants are taking oath on the same day, the ceremony may be held in a stadium or convention center.
What if I am Unable to Attend the Oath Ceremony?
If you cannot your neutralization ceremony for whatever reason, you'll need to mail the oath ceremony notice back to the USCIS office that scheduled your original appointment. The notice must be accompanied by a letter of explanation, in which you'll give reasons for your unavailability on the given date. You will then receive an appointment for a ceremony at a later date.
It is important to note that failure to appear more than once for your oath ceremony may lead to denial of your citizenship application.
What Happens if I Do Not Receive a Notice?
In some occasions, you might not receive your oath ceremony notice by mail. If that is the case, you can log in to your online account and print out a copy there to bring with you.
Preparing for the U.S. Citizenship Oath of Allegiance Ceremony
The oath ceremony notice contains two pages. On the front page, it will have your Alien Registration Number on the top. This confirms the notice is intended for you. Further down the page, you will see a box with the date, time, and location where your oath ceremony will be held. Next to that box, you will see a list of documents that you need to bring with you, including:
- Any Permanent Resident Card ("green card") you might have, valid or expired (not a conditional green card).
- All reentry permits or refugee travel documents in your possession, valid or expired.
- Any USCIS document ever issued to you, such as EAD or advanced parole, valid or expired.
- The oath ceremony notice you received in the mail.
- Another form of ID, such as a driver's license or state-issued ID.
On the back of the notice, you'll find 8 yes-or-no questions. All 8 questions have been asked during your citizenship interview. The reason for repeating them is to confirm that none of the answers you gave during the interview have changed.
If you answer "yes" to any of the questions, make sure to bring supporting documents with you to the ceremony. For example, if you got married or divorced after your interview, bring your marriage certificate or divorce degree.
With all the excitement that comes with being granted full citizenship, it's easy to make a mistake on your notice during the big day. Therefore, we strongly advise you to carefully review the questions and answer them truthfully before arriving at the oath ceremony. At the bottom of the page, be sure to put down your full address and zip code as well as the name of the city and state of where your oath ceremony will take place.
How Should I Prepare?
There's no special preparation required for the oath ceremony. All you need to do is follow the instructions outlined in your appointment letter (oath of ceremony notice) and bring with you all of the documents listed on it.
Is There a Dress Code?
Taking the oath to become a U.S. citizen is an important event in your life. People will be bringing guests and some ceremonies may even have VIPs attending, so you will want to look your best. As mentioned on the oath of ceremony notice, avoid wearing jeans, shorts, or flip-flops.
At the minimum, business casual would be appropriate, but you can also dress up in a suit or dress if you are so inclined. It is best to leave the tux or ball gown in the closet or you will likely feel overdressed.
Who Should Come To The Ceremony?
Generally speaking, you are allowed to bring to bring friends, family, children, and anyone else you want to your oath ceremony. However, as there is limited capacity at state and federal buildings, your guests will likely have to wait elsewhere.
While the actual oath ceremony may take 30 minutes or less, the whole process can take hours. Therefore, we recommend that you do not bring children, as they may become disruptive, bored, or hungry during the event. If you are considering inviting an elderly or disabled person, keep in mind that a seat may not be guaranteed.
Do I Need to Memorize The Oath of Allegiance?
It is not compulsory to memorize the oath. Before the ceremony, you will be given a sheet of paper with all the words to the Oath of Allegiance. In some locations, the words are projected on a screen.
For your convenience, here is how the Full Oath of Allegiance to the United States reads:
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."
Please note that this is the most current version of the Oath of Allegiance, as indicated by the Code of Federal Regulations.
What to Expect at Your Naturalization Ceremony
When the big day arrives, you only need to present yourself at the facility holding the ceremony and the USCIS officers present will take it from there. To be on the safe side, be sure to arrive at the facility at least 30 minutes before your scheduled oath ceremony time. Some locations will not let you in if you arrive late.
When you get to the facility, a USCIS officer will first ask you to go through security, much like an airport. Then the officer will go over your Form N-445 to make sure you did not respond "yes" to any of the eight questions on the oath of ceremony notice. If the officer determines that you are eligible to take the Oath of Allegiance, you will be asked to surrender your green card and any other travel documents issued by the USCIS, if any (see above).
During check-in, you may also receive the following items:
- An American flag
- Welcome packet
- Citizen's almanac
- Pocket-sized pamphlet of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence
After Checking In
After you are checked in, you will most likely wait in a designated area until all applicants are checked in. Depending on the location, there might be a welcome speech by a USCIS officer or a judge.
You and other applicants will then be instructed to stand, raise your right hand, and repeat after the officer to recite the Oath of Allegiance out loud in English.
After that, the officer will ask you to come up one by one to pick your Certificate of Naturalization (Form N-550) on the way out. At this point, you are officially a U.S. citizen.
After the Ceremony
Once you have received the naturalization certificate, the first thing you need to do is to check for errors. If there is any error, notify the USCIS officer present before you leave. Usually, they can make the changes within a day or two. It is much easier to correct the error on the spot. Once you leave the office, correcting the error will take much longer.
If your certificate has no errors, it is a good idea to sign it on the spot. Sign with the name and style you would use for any other legal document and be sure to use black ink. Any other color will make it invalid.
When you get home, be sure to keep the certificate in a safe and secure place, as it will serve as your proof of citizenship going forward. Keep in mind that if you lose your Certificate of Naturalization, replacing it will be a costly endeavor. To replace a lost certificate, you would need to file the Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document (Form N-565) as well as incur a $555 fee.
Avoid laminating your naturalization certificate at all costs. If you laminate the certificate, it will become invalid and you would have to reapply for a new one. That will take time and ultimately cost you extra money.
Here is what else you should do after your naturalization ceremony:
- Apply for a U.S. passport – There are two reasons to do this right away. One, now that you are a U.S. citizen, even if you hold citizenship of another country, you must use your American passport to enter and leave the United States. The other reason is lengthy passport backlogs, with applicants sometimes having to wait for up to 12 weeks to get their passports.
- Register to vote – It is both your right and your responsibility to register as a voter. Some USCIS offices may allow you to register on-site immediately after your ceremony.
- Update your Social Security record – When you apply for a job, many employers use a system called E-Verify to check that you are allowed to work in the U.S. So you want to make sure that your most updated status is in the system.
- File Form N-600 for your children – If you have children that are under the age of 18 and green card holders, they may have automatically acquired U.S. citizenship. You can apply for a U.S. passport on their behalf or file Form N-600, officially called the Certificate of Citizenship. While you're not required to get this certificate because a passport already serves as proof of citizenship, it is still prudent to have it on hand in case you need to use it.
Keep in mind that applying for a U.S. passport and updating your Social Security record both require you to send over your original naturalization certificate.
USCIS allows certain modifications and waivers to the Oath of Allegiance for personal, religious, or medical reasons.
The wording of the oath may be changed to exclude military and religious commitments. Depending on your preference, you can request to exclude any of the following phrases:
- "On oath" (Instead, you will use "solemnly affirm.")
- "So help me God"
- "Willing to bear arms on behalf of the U.S."
- "Willing to perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the U.S."
By default, children under the age of 14 are not required to take the Oath of Allegiance. USCIS may also waiver the oath for people who cannot express the meaning of the oath due to mental impairment or physical disability.
Required Evidence to Show Eligibility for a Modified Oath
While it is possible to recite a different Oath of Allegiance or choose not to participate in the swearing-in process at all, this can only happen if you have sufficient evidence to back up your convictions.
For instance, if you cannot or are unwilling to perform military service based on religious objections, USCIS will require you to provide a sworn or notarized statement from the church or organization that is representative of your beliefs. At your naturalization interview, a USCIS will ask you further questions to confirm if your beliefs are genuinely sincere and deeply held.
Applicants for citizenship with a medical issue preventing understanding of the Oath of Allegiance are required to submit these two documents:
A written request by the individual's legal guardian, surrogate, or representative
A written evaluation by a doctor or medical professional
If possible, submit these documents with the original Form N-400. However, it is still acceptable according to USCIS to provide the proof at any stage leading up to the oath ceremony.
FAQs About the U.S. Citizenship Oath of Allegiance Ceremony
- Can I take my phone to the oath ceremony?
It varies by locations. Some locations require you to check in your phone and you are given a token, which you use at the end of the ceremony to get your phone back. This also means that you cannot take any photos inside this building.
In other locations, you are allowed to bring your phone and take photos inside. So be sure to confirm with the USCIS officer during check-in.
- Can I travel abroad before the oath ceremony?
Yes, you can. Normally, travel during the citizenship process is permitted. Since you are already a green card holder (permanent U.S. resident) by the time of application, you are allowed to travel while you await your naturalization ceremony.
Extensive travels, however, negatively affect your permanent resident status and can lead to the rejection of your U.S. citizenship application.
- Can I travel abroad after the oath ceremony?
Remember, you have to surrender your green card during the oath ceremony. If you are traveling abroad, you need to have a U.S. passport to return back to the U.S. You can apply for a U.S. passport after your oath ceremony using your original naturalization certificate.
- What activities should I avoid before my oath ceremony?
It is in your best interest to stay out of trouble and avoid any activities that could jeopardize your candidacy for citizenship during the period of time between your naturalization interview and your oath ceremony.
Some activities that could potentially disqualify you from the oath ceremony include:
- Arrests and convictions
- Long trips outside the U.S.
- Lapses in moral character
- Community Party affiliation or membership
- Refusing to serve the U.S. in a natural emergency or refusing military service
If you join a religion or group that prohibits solemn service to the United States, you must inform USCIS officials of the change and request to take a modified Oath of Allegiance as a conscientious objector.
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