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Congratulations to the newly naturalized American citizen!

You filled out the forms—paid the fees—had your finger prints taken—had your background checked by the FBI (at least once)—prepared for and passed your naturalization interview—turned in your green card—and took the Oath of Allegiance.   You are now an American.   As a US citizen, you are now entitled to the same rights, obligations, and opportunities as all other Americans (well almost—you can’t be President, but that’s about it).   You can vote, hold public office, carry a US passport, serve on a jury, work for the US government, serve as an officer in the armed forces, and we almost forgot (but Uncle Sam didn’t)—continue to pay taxes.

So lets get started:

After the Oath Ceremony

After the speeches, celebrating, picture taking, backslapping, handshaking and hugging, we suggest you do the following:

Step 1.    Sign Your Certificate of Naturalization

You need to sign the certificate with your name exactly as it appears on the certificate.   Don’t use the same abbreviated signature you use to sign checks, letters, or credit-card slips.   For example, if the name on the certificate appears as John James Doe, then sign exactly like that "John James Doe."   Even if you sign your name as John Doe or J. Doe or J.J. Doe, don’t sign it that way.   To repeat, sign your name exactly as it appears on your Certificate of Naturalization. If you previously signed the photograph that is mounted to your Certificate of Naturalization, then sign your certificate using the exact same signature you used to sign your photograph, even if that signature does not match the full name shown on your certificate.

Before you sign the Certificate of Naturalization please understand two things:

1.   Since most people don’t usually sign their name using their full name and since you only get one chance to sign your Certificate of Naturalization correctly, we recommend practicing your signature on a blank sheet of paper before signing the certificate.

2.   When you are ready to sign your Certificate of Naturalization, sign it in black ink, preferably with a rollerball or felt-tip pen (like a Sharpie®).   Use a pen that will leave a permanent, inerasable mark.   Ballpoint pen ink can be erased and may fade over time.
After you sign your Certificate of Naturalization:

Step 2.   Make Backup Copies

We recommend that you make at least one backup copy of your Certificate of Naturalization and store it in a secure and different place than your original.

The bottom left hand corner of your Certificate of Naturalization reads, "IT IS PUNISHABLE BY U.S. LAW TO COPY, PRINT, OR PHOTOGRAPH THIS CERTIFICATE, WITHOUT LAWFUL AUTHORITY."
You have lawful authority to make backup copies of your certificate in case it is lost, damaged, or stolen.   For example, should you lose your original Certificate of Naturalization, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS or CIS) will ask you to attach a copy of your certificate when you apply for a new one.   The CIS will also ask for a copy of your Certificate of Naturalization if you petition to bring other family members into the US, so make at least two copies.

Unlawful copying of a Certificate of Naturalization includes such things as copying for the purposes of falsifying or altering the photograph, falsifying information on the certificate, copying so others may use the certificate, and copying for the proposes of counterfeiting or other criminal activity.

Step 3.   Securely Store Your Certificate of Naturalization

Your Certificate of Naturalization is your primary legal proof of citizenship and residency in the United States.   Be very careful how and where you store your Certificate of Naturalization.   Since you turn in your green card at the naturalization ceremony, your Certificate of Naturalization is all you have to prove your right to live and work in America.

Your whole way of life and livelihood in our great nation depend on you having and keeping your Certificate of Naturalization.   It should only be carried and used when you have to legally prove your citizenship (like at the border or when applying for a job).

Furthermore, there is an added risk that CIS may accidentally destroy, alter, or lose your naturalization records (we know of at least one case).   This would leave your Certificate of Naturalization as the only genuine proof that you became a US citizen.

If you lose your Certificate of Naturalization, you risk losing the life you have built for yourself and your family here in the United States.   We strongly recommend that you store your Certificate of Naturalization in a bank safe deposit box.   Another alternative would be to store your certificate in a fireproof safe or fireproof strong box at home.   The certificate should be stored flat or loosely rolled so there are no creases.   We do not recommend folding the document, but, as a last resort, we would rather see a folded certificate stored in a fire and theft proof safe than an unfolded certificate that can be burned or stolen.

A bank safe deposit box is the best place for storing your certificate since it is the most secure and most fireproof.   We also recommend storing other important personal documents and possessions in your safe deposit box, such as:
  • birth certificates,
  • marriage certificates,
  • adoption papers,
  • current US passports
  • old, expired passports,
  • other family records,
  • rare coins and stamps,
  • valuable jewelry,
  • medals,
  • military service records,
  • social security cards,
  • US savings bonds,
  • vehicle titles,
  • deeds and mortgages, and
  • any family heirlooms.
We advise you to sit down with your family and make a list.   If you plan on getting a safe or bank safe deposit box remember to include room for all the above items plus your Certificate of Naturalization.   You may also want to store some emergency cash in your bank safe deposit box.   Instead of storing cash, we recommend storing US savings bonds.   They are highly liquid (your bank will cash them for you) and they collect interest tax free while you have them in storage.   See US Savings Bonds for further information.

It is very difficult to get a new Certificate of Naturalization should you damage or lose the original.   Please go to What if I lose my Certificate of Naturalization? for further information on how to replace a Certificate of Naturalization.

Step 4.   Get a US Passport

The next important step is to get a US passport. Even if you don’t plan on leaving the country anytime soon, there are compelling reasons for obtaining a passport:

  1. It is an alternate form of legal proof of US citizenship.   US passports are only issued to US citizens—it’s that simple.   So by having a US passport you have an alternate means of legally proving your citizenship should you lose your Certificate of Naturalization.

  2. US passports are good for ten years and are easier to carry and replace than the Certificate of Naturalization.   Rather than showing your Certificate of Naturalization while travelling or applying for a job, we recommend using a US passport.   Every time you remove your certificate from your safe deposit box or home safe you run the risk of damaging or losing your only proof of US citizenship and your right to live in this country.   Traveling outside the country with your certificate makes you more vulnerable to loss or theft, and you may even be barred from reentry to the US should you lose both your certificate and your passport.

  3. Passports are an alternative form of picture identification that you can use at banks, airports, and government offices.   Like a driver license, a US passport proves who you are.   Driver licenses can be easily faked unless they have holograms.   All US passports have digital pictures and complex holographic images on the identification page making them nearly impossible to counterfeit.   So if you lose your driver license you also have an alternative form of picture ID.
For more information on obtaining a passport go to Passport Information.

Step 5. Report Your Change in Citizenship to the Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration requires any person who has a change in his or her immigration or citizenship status to report that change to the Social Security Administration (see Your Social Security Number And Card ).

Reporting this change is actually to the benefit of you, the new citizen.   Why?
  • The social security database will be updated showing you as a US citizen.   This database is shared with all federal agencies and many state agencies further validating your US citizenship status with the federal and state governments.
  • With your social security records updated showing you as a US citizen, it will be much easier in the future to apply for and receive all social security benefits entitled to you.
  • If you ever have to replace your social security card, obtaining a new card will be easier now that you are a US citizen.
  • Lastly, in some states, certain disability benefits are only available to US citizens.   By changing your citizenship status with the Social Security Administration, you will ensure you receive all disability, retirement, and social security benefits for which you qualify as a US citizen.
You must report the change by completing Form SS-5 and by visiting your local Social Security Administration office in person.   The change cannot be done by mail. To find the office nearest you, see Office Locator.

When you visit the Social Security Administration office, you must bring proof of US citizenship such as your Certificate of Naturalization or your US passport and some other form of picture ID such as a driver’s license.    You must also bring the completed Form SS-5 or you can just obtain the form there and complete it while you are waiting.

Your will be interviewed by the Social Security Administration office staff.   They will verify your citizenship and then update your records.   Updating your social security records will not result in a new social security card being issued to you unless there were restrictions on your old card.   If you would like a new social security card, make a request for one during your interview with the office staff.

Step 6.   Register to Vote

Another thing to do as soon as you become a citizen is register to vote.   As a citizen you have a right (not an obligation) to vote and participate in the election process.

When you, the citizen, learn about the candidates and the issues, you become one of the decision makers who help shape the direction and future of our country.   This is a privilege only citizens have.

Also by registering you will get a voter registration card, which by itself is not proof of citizenship, but is further evidence of your citizenship status and US residency should you be questioned about it in the future.   You will also be added to the voter registration list, which is used by many municipalities, counties, and the federal courts for jury selection.

For further information on voting and voter registration please go to Voter Registration & Politics.

Step 7.   Explore the Other Opportunities You Now Have as a US Citizen

This website presents to you a whole of host of ideas and activities you can take advantage of as a US citizen.   You can run for public office, work for the federal government, or learn the Star Spangled Banner.   Enjoy your new found freedoms.   We hope you learn to cherish and value your citizenship and contribute to our great nation as a model citizen of the United States.

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