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Residence and physical presence requirements

What you need in a nutshell

  • Three months residence in the USCIS district where you will apply for citizenship
  • Five years of continuous residence in the US (only three years if you have been married to and living with your US citizen spouse)
  • You must be physically present in the US for half of the three- or five-year period

What residence means

Residence means your principal dwelling place, in other words, where you really live. If you have a second residence outside the country, CIS must consider it to be secondary to your United States residence.

Three months local residence

You have to have lived in the state or CIS district where you will be interviewed for three months prior to filing your naturalization application. If you have moved to a new USCIS district in the last ninety days, don’t apply until you have ninety days at your new address.

Five years (or three) of continuous residence in the United States.

You must have resided in the US continuously for five years just prior to filing your N-400 application. The time period is reduced to three years if you have been married to and living with your United States citizen spouse for the three years or if you gained residence based on having been battered by your United States citizen spouse (also called a VAWA application.)

The rules on disruption of residence can be tricky. CIS will likely consider your residence to be disrupted if you travel outside of the US for more than 180 days. If at all possible, avoid traveling outside the US for more than 180 days at a time. If you did travel for more than 180 days, preserve evidence that you did not intend to disrupt your residence when you took the trip. Try to show that you kept your job, house or apartment, bank accounts, car, etc. here in the US. If your trip was unexpectedly prolonged by a relative’s sudden illness, get medical records to show this.

CIS will consider your residence to be disrupted if you travel for a year or more, even if you requested a travel permit in advance. Limited exceptions exist for government personnel, missionaries and employees of US companies stationed overseas who file Form N-470 to preserve their residence for citizenship purposes. Again, if gaining citizenship is important to you, plan in advance and divide your travel into shorter trips of under 180 days.

Physical presence: half of the required three- or five-year period prior to filing

You must have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the five- or three-year pre-filing period: To see if you meet this requirement, just count the days that you spent in and out of the United States in the three- or five-year period. For the purposes of measuring residence and physical presence, the United States includes Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands.

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