What’s the Difference Between Naturalization and Citizenship?

two people holding an American flag

There are so many different definitions and terms being thrown around when we talk about immigration and citizenship that things can get pretty confusing. That’s the immigration process in a nutshell, really—vague, difficult to understand, and frustrating.

So let’s clear up that confusion once and for all by clearly defining the differences between naturalization and citizenship. There are big similarities and a few differences between a certificate of naturalization and a certificate of citizenship, so let’s dive in and put the issue to rest once and for all.

Differences Between Naturalization and Citizenship

While both types of certificates prove you’re a United States citizen, they aren’t the same document. A United States citizenship certificate is given to someone who derives or acquires citizenship from their US parents, while a certificate of naturalization is given to someone who later becomes a citizen via our naturalization process.

The naturalization process is managed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. USCIS permits foreign nationals who are 18 or older to naturalize as US citizens.

However, usually when someone is born outside the United States to parents who are already US citizens, that child is typically able to obtain a citizenship certificate.

What is the Naturalization Process Like?

The path to naturalization starts with, of course, paperwork. The N-400 is one such form, and applicants should already hold a green card. Applicants must also meet other requirements, such as length of residence and continuous residence, plus English language proficiency (for both speaking and writing).

Applicants are required to attend an interview as part of the naturalization process, take a civics test, and in certain cases must pass an additional English test.

If the applicant is then approved, they’ll then attend a naturalization ceremony where they’ll have to take their Oath of Allegiance to America.

Finally, the applicant will be given a certificate of naturalization, which proves US citizenship.

Do Naturalized Citizens Have Different Rights?

Holders of both naturalization certificates and citizenship certificates have the same rights, such as the right to receive a US passport and the right to vote.

Naturalized citizens may never be deported or have their citizenship revoked. In other words, the end result is the same—it’s only the path to citizenship that differs.