American Citizenship

Am I a United States citizen?

You are a United States citizen if:

  • You were born in the United States or one of its territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, The Virgin Islands, The Panama Canal Zone, and The Northern Mariana Islands;
  • You were born abroad, both your parents were U.S. citizens and married at the time of your birth, and at least one of them has lived in the United States before your birth;
  • You were born abroad, one of your parents was a U.S. citizen and married to your other parent when you were born and that U.S. citizen parent lived at least five years in the United States before your birth, with at least two of those five years occurring after the parent’s 14th birthday; time abroad serving honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces or employed with the U.S. government or with certain international organization can be counted towards the physical process requirement. (Please note that different residency requirements apply to those born before November 14, 1986);
  • You were born abroad to an unmarried U.S. citizen (father or mother), provided special requirements related to paternity acknowledgement, financial support, and physical presence are met;
  • You have completed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) naturalization process.

How do I know if I am eligible to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization?

You are eligible to be naturalized and become a U.S. citizen if you are a permanent resident, you have a valid alien registration card (green card), and you have lived continuously in the United States for at least five years (or three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen). In addition, you must be of good moral character; have an understanding of U.S. history and civics; be willing to take an oath of allegiance to the United States; and be able to read, write, and speak English and pass the Citizenship Test.

One of my parents became a naturalized citizen after I was born but before I turned 18 years old. Did I automatically become a citizen?

Maybe. If you were born after February 27, 2001, you are under 18, residing in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence, and are in the physical and legal custody of the U.S. citizen, then you may automatically be a U.S. citizen. You may also be a U.S. citizen if you were born after February 27, 2001, and were adopted by a U.S. citizen before your 16th birthday, so long as you are legally in the United States under the physical and legal custody of the U.S. citizen with whom you have resided for the past two years.

What are the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship?

  • You have the right to vote in federal, state, and local elections.
  • You can obtain a U.S. passport and have freedom to travel outside of the United States.
  • You can serve on a jury.
  • You will become eligible for certain jobs in the federal government that require citizenship.

If you have questions about your immigration status or the naturalization process, it is best to speak with an attorney who practices immigration law. You also can call the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at (800) 375-5283 [TD (800) 767-1833] or visit its website at

Watch out:

Immigration consultant fraud occurs when an individual who is neither a licensed attorney nor a Board of Immigration Appeals accredited non-lawyer representative offers to provide services related to procuring an immigration benefit for an individual, family, or business. These individuals call themselves “notarios,” “notario publicos,” “visa consultants,” “immigration consultants,” “licensiados,” and other terms in other languages. They take advantage of undocumented aliens, U.S. business owners, legal permanent residents, and U.S. citizens. They usually charge fees for their services but are not authorized to give legal advice about immigration law.

Learn more from the Virginia State Bar.

So You’re 18 is presented by the Virginia State Bar Conference of Local and Specialty Bar Associations.
For print copies of So You're 18 contact (804) 775-0521 or [email protected].