How and when can you be naturalized in your expat country?

  • naturalization
    Jana Shea /
Published on 2023-02-14 at 10:00 by Ameerah Arjanee
After multiple years in a country, expats might wish to acquire local citizenship. They might feel that this country is now as much of their home as their birth one. They might want to buy property more easily, vote or even run in local elections, and enjoy the privileges of the local passport. How long does it take to get naturalized in popular expat destinations, and what are the conditions to be met? In most countries, it takes 5 years of continuous residence to apply for citizenship.

Green Card holders need to have been in the US for 5 years to apply for citizenship

In the United States, the general rule for naturalization is that it's open to expats who've had a Green Card, i.e., permanent residency, for at least 5 years. If an expat is married to a US citizen, this condition gets shortened to 3 years. Permanent residents who've served in the US military for at least 1 year can also apply for naturalization earlier. 

Are there any continuous residence requirements? Yes, expats must have been physically present in the US for at least 30 months out of the last 5 years of their Permanent Residency. They must also have been in their USCIS district, that is, their jurisdiction as classified by the immigration services, for at least 3 months at the time of application. 

Applicants must also, of course, have a clear criminal record. In case they have committed a crime, they need to wait 3-5 years after the date of the crime to apply. Their applications may still get rejected after this period if the USCIS (immigration services) deems that their crime was serious enough to show a lack of good character.

How much does the process cost? While the cost of the entire naturalization process is $725, some applicants can benefit from a full or partial fee waiver. Those who served in the military enjoy a full fee waiver. Elderly applicants over 75 pay $320, and applicants who qualify as low-income can pay a reduced fee of $405. 

All of these applicants also need to prepare to take the Naturalization Test, which is split into a Civics Test and English Test. Only basic English of an A2 level is tested. As for the Civics Test, applicants need to score 6/10 on a series of simple questions about American history, government and values. They are also subject to an interview about their background. As the final step, they need to make an oath of allegiance to be loyal to the country before becoming full citizens. 

Permanent Residents in Canada need to have been in the country for 3 out of the last 5 years to apply for citizenship

The conditions for naturalization in Canada aren't that different from those in the United States. A major difference, however, is that expats in Canada need to have been in the country for less time than in the US: 3 out of the last 5 years (1,095 out of 1,826 days), rather than 5 full years. They must show that they paid taxes in Canada over these 3 years. The citizenship fee is CAD$630, about 470 US dollars, for adults.

Unfortunately, there is no fast track for spouses of Canadian citizens. Foreigners who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces may get fast-tracked, and expats can also file a request for urgent processing if they have a justifiable reason for it. Valid reasons can be needing Canadian citizenship to avoid losing one's job or needing a Canadian passport to travel for urgent health problems.

Like in the US, applicants for Canadian citizenship are also subject to an interview and a test. Those under 18 and over 54 are exempted from the test. The others need to obtain at least 15/20 on that multiple-choice and true-or-false test about Canadian history, geography, economy, laws, symbols, etc. As Canada is officially bilingual, this test can be taken in either English or French. 

Applicants also need to submit proof of elementary proficiency in either of these two languages (English or French) that's equivalent to a CLB Level 4, a CERF A2, or an IELTS 3.5. Various internationally recognized certificates can be submitted as proof of language proficiency. And, of course, applicants must have a clear criminal record. Like in the US, if they have committed a crime, they won't be eligible for citizenship for some extra years or, in case of a serious crime (e.g., murder), be barred from citizenship altogether.

Expats must have lived in Germany for 8 years and be willing to renounce their former nationality to become citizens

Unfortunately, Germany has more stringent citizenship rules than most other countries. 

For one, instead of the usual 3-5 years, expats need to have lived in the country for 8 years before applying to become German. Expats in marriages or civil partnerships with a German citizen for at least 2 years can, however, apply for citizenship after only 3 years of residency. Other expats who've taken a state-approved “integrationskurts” (integration course) can apply after 7 instead of 8 years.

In addition, Germany still doesn't allow dual citizenship in most cases, so an expat has to renounce his home country's citizenship upon taking the German one. This year, the German government might finally allow dual citizenship for everyone, but it remains to be seen if the proposed legislative amendment will be passed. 

Higher language proficiency is required than for American or Canadian naturalization. In Germany, expats must have a B1 (lower intermediate) rather than an A2 (elementary) level of German proficiency to be eligible for citizenship. However, the overall naturalization fee is lower than in these other countries: only €255. 

Of course, there is also a naturalization test to determine if applicants are familiar with the way the German state and German society works. Expats must score at least 17 out of 33 on it. Those who've graduated from a social science program at a German university are exempted from that test. The applicants must also have a clear criminal record, although some minor offenses, especially if they date from a long time back, might be disregarded, as the legal firm of Rudolph Rechtsanwälte clarifies.

French naturalization is one of the most affordable ones, even if the process remains highly bureaucratic 

Expats in France can get naturalized after 5 years of living in the country. However, traveling outside of France for more than 6 months during this 5-year period can void your length of stay, so be careful of making long overseas trips unless you have a very important reason for it.

If an expat has been married for at least 4 years to a French citizen, he/she can also become a citizen through declaration. Legionnaires, i.e., third-country nationals who've served in the French military's Foreign Legion, can apply for naturalization after only 3 years. Wounded members of the Foreign Legion have an automatic right to citizenship without even having to wait for 3 years.

France has the same level of language requirement as Germany for naturalization: B1 or lower intermediate. Only over-60s are exempted from this requirement. Various diplomas can attest to this level of proficiency, but a DELF (Diplôme d'études en langue française/Diploma in French Language Studies) is the most recommended option because it is awarded by France's Ministry of Education itself and is valid for life.

There is no citizenship test about French history or values, but applicants are subject to an interview (carried out in French, of course). They'll be asked basic questions about French society, for instance, the name of the national symbol or the meaning of “laïcité” (secularism), during that interview. They might also be visited at their domicile by the local police. 

The entire process is extremely affordable: only €55. This excludes other costs the expat might have to pay on an individual level, such as counseling fees with an immigration lawyer or the translation of his/her official documents. Minor criminal offenses do not hurt your application if they were committed over 10 years ago.

While all of the above looks simple enough, what is most tiring about the process is compiling the “dossier de naturalization,” a folder of various documents related to your work situation (e.g., proof of employment), taxes, housing (e.g., proof of residence), bills (e.g., electricity and water bills), education, family life (e.g., marriage certificate, proof of family ties to a sibling or parent) and other matters. The documents must be less than a year old, so trying to get them can be a cumbersome process. Moreover, the specific documents required depend on each applicant. 

Obtaining French citizenship is quite ceremonial, for upon successfully completing the process, new citizens are invited to a ceremony by their local departmental prefect or mayor. At the ceremony, the prefect or mayor hands them over a booklet about French laws, government and values.

Expats need to have been in Ireland for 5 out of the last 9 years to apply for citizenship

Expats in Ireland need to have been in reckonable residence in the country for at least 5 out of the last 9 years. For expats with an Irish spouse or civil partner, this period is reduced to 3 out of 5 years. 

Reckonable residence means that they were not absent from Ireland for more than 6 weeks (about 1.5 months) in a year. This means that if expats apply for citizenship in 2023, they must not have traveled abroad for more than 6 weeks in 2022. If they were overseas for 2 or 3 months in 2022, they'll have to wait until 2024 to apply. If an emergency forced them to travel abroad for over 6 weeks in the 8 years before the last, they should justify what the emergency was in their application.

There is no citizenship or language test to be taken. Expats just need to fill in Form 8, attach the standard required documents (birth certificate, Immigration Registration Card, proof of residence, pay slips, etc.) and pay the processing fee. Their criminal record will also be examined for proof of “good character.” 

The citizenship processing fee is only €175, but keep in mind that they'll also have to pay €950 for the Certificate of Naturalisation at the citizenship ceremony if their application is successful. This ceremony is also where successful new citizens make a declaration/oath of loyalty to the country.

Expats in the UK with ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain' status for a year can apply for citizenship

The basic criteria to be eligible is twofold: first, to have been residing in the UK for at least 5 years, and second, have had an Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or Indefinite Leave to Enter (ILE) status, the equivalent of permanent residency, for 1 year. 

Expats married or in a civil partnership with a British citizen need to have lived in the country for only 3 instead of 5 years. In addition, all applicants must show that they didn't travel overseas for more than 450 days in these past 4-5 years and not more than 90 days in the past year.

Applicants must show proof of English proficiency of at least a B1 level through a test like the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). They must also take a multiple-choice citizenship test called the "Life in the UK Test", on which they must score at least 18 out of 24. They must not have recent or serious offenses on their criminal record – this includes unpaid taxes and problems with the immigration authorities.

The cost of the whole naturalization process is quite hefty: £1,330, or nearly 1,600 US dollars. This excludes the cost of the "Life in the UK Test" (£50/60 USD) and other costs like sworn translations of documents or legal counseling.

Expats in Australia can apply for citizenship a mere year after becoming permanent residents 

In Australia, even if expats need to have been living in the country for at least 4 years at the time of application for citizenship, they need to have been permanent residents only for 12 months. They might have spent these 3 other years as international students or short-term workers. 

Furthermore, they must not have been overseas for more than 365 days (1 year) out of the past 1,460 days (4 years), and neither must they have traveled abroad for over 90 days (3 months) in the last year. Unfortunately, none of these conditions can be lowered even if an expat is married to an Australian citizen.

Applicants also need to get at least 75% on a citizenship test and undergo an interview. Under 18s and over-60s can be waived of this test that includes 20 multiple-choice questions and 5 short-answer questions about Australian values. This test also indirectly tests their ability to understand simple English.

Of course, applicants must also prove to have “good character” through their criminal record. They will be rejected if they've committed recent crimes or serious crimes, for instance, those which made them serve a jail sentence. The entire naturalization process costs 490 AUD for adults, which is about 340 US dollars. After their application is approved, expats are then invited to a citizenship ceremony, where they make a pledge of loyalty to the country.

Expats in New Zealand can apply for citizenship after 5 years

New Zealand's rules for naturalization are quite standard. Expats need to have been residents of the country for at least 5 years. They must have been physically present in New Zealand for at least 240 days out of each year. The same rules apply to expats married to New Zealanders. 

While applicants must submit proof of English proficiency (e.g.: IELTS, academic record), there is no citizenship test to take. Only a few candidates need to present themselves for an interview, for instance, if it's not clear enough from their submitted documents that their English level is good. The documents submitted must include a witness (referee), and the entire process costs 470.20 NZD, or about 330 US dollars. 

As for proof of “good character,” expats must not have been guilty of any offense (even minor ones) in 3 years. A citizenship ceremony takes place at the local council, where new citizens make an oath of allegiance.

Permanent Residents in Singapore can become citizens after only 2 years

In contrast with the countries above, expats with Permanent Residency in Singapore can become citizens after only 2 years, not the usual 5 years. This requirement is not lower for the spouses of Singaporean citizens: they also need to have been Permanent Residents (PRs) for 2 years. Adults need to be at least 21, not 18, in order to apply independently.

The processing fee is 100 Singapore dollars, or about 75 US dollars. If the application is successful, the new citizen must then pay an additional 70 Singapore dollars (about 52 USD) to get his/her Singapore Citizenship Certificate.

The documents that expats need to submit as part of the application are quite standard: birth certificate and passport, marriage and divorce papers, PR card and certificate, academic certificates, employment certificate or business profile (accompanied by a business balance sheet), and income tax returns. They may optionally include a cover letter where they talk about the roots/emotional connection they have established in Singapore and how they can help the country's development. And, of course, they must also present a clean Police Certificate (criminal record).

There is no language or citizenship test, but like in France, there is a compulsory citizenship ceremony for successful candidates. The new Singaporean citizens need to make a pledge to the country during that ceremony.