In What Three Ways Can American Citizenship be Lost?

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • Under normal circumstances, U.S. citizenship cannot be easily lost.
  • Exceptions include voluntary relinquishment, wrongful acquisition, or forceful denaturalization.
  • Denaturalization is rare and usually occurs if a person commits serious crimes against the U.S. such as fraud.
  • Minor offenses or travel outside the U.S. do not lead to citizenship loss.

As someone that has not been born in the United States, you might always have that thought lingering at the back of your mind: what if something happens and I end up losing my citizenship? Can that actually happen – and can I be kicked out of the country, even if I’m a citizen of the United States?

Technically speaking, there are a few ways in which you may lose your citizenship – three, to be more precise. However, those situations are rare and exceptional. But in what ways can American citizenship be lost? This article will provide you with information on that aspect.

Can U.S. Citizenship Be Lost?

Under normal circumstances, U.S. citizenship cannot be stripped away once it was given – and if it does happen, it does so in limited exceptions. A person can give up their status voluntarily, he/she has wrongfully gained his/her citizenship or was denaturalized forcefully.

While many people fear denaturalization, the cases in which it can happen are quite rare. For an individual to have his citizenship taken away from them, they will have to commit a serious crime against the United States – for example, fraud, or other serious criminal offenses.

They won’t lose their citizenship over getting a few parking tickets or minor crimes that do not affect the U.S. (although they should still be avoided). They also won’t be stripped of their citizenship if they decide they like to travel outside the U.S. now and again. They have the same rights as a born-and-raised American citizen. Provided they do right by the country, they will retain their citizenship.

Losing Citizenship that Was Wrongfully Gained

A person that has wrongfully gained their citizenship may have it revoked from them. This generally happens when the person brings out false information or hides other information that would have otherwise been essential.

For example, if a person lies about having taken part in genocide or execution, or have been involved with a Communist or Nazi party, they may have their citizenship taken away from them once that information comes out. The same thing applies to whether a naturalized citizen has been involved in terrorism or not (any time before, or within five years after being naturalized).

When this happens, denaturalization will usually not be an immediate action. In most cases, it is as a result of federal proceeding from within the court. Depending on the circumstances of the denaturalization, it may also happen by a lawsuit.

When someone is denaturalized, they are seen by the law as someone that has never had a United States citizenship at all. As a result, if that person petitioned for a visa to bring their family or even workers in the State, those individuals will also be deported. They can only stay if they have a different basis upon which they can remain.

Losing U.S. Citizenship or Nationality by Voluntary Act with Specific Intent

In certain circumstances, a person living in the United States might also voluntarily give up their citizenship. This can happen when that person wishes to change their citizenship and leave the United States.

However, giving up their citizenship voluntarily is not as easy as saying “I don’t want to be a citizen anymore. There are certain laws to be followed, and everyone must do both of the following:

  • Voluntarily doing any of the seven “expatriating acts” that have been accepted by the law
  • Performing the act(s) with the specific intent of relinquishing citizenship

In the end, saying that you have the intent of voluntarily relinquishing your citizenship will not be enough. You also have to show and prove that you have that specific intention.

Seven Forms of Expatriation

By committing the following acts of expatriation, one will lead to the presumption that the action was done voluntarily with the thought of renouncing their U.S. citizenship. Depending on the circumstances, a citizen might be able to dispute the expatriating acts if they wish to remain U.S. citizens:

  1. Becoming a citizen of another country after they have turned 18.
  2. Declaring their allegiance formally to a former country after they have turned 18.
  3. Accepting a position within a foreign government after declaring their allegiance to that country.
  4. Joining in the military forces of a country other than the U.S., in the circumstances where the other country is engaging in hostile action against America.
  5. Formally giving up their U.S. citizenship from abroad before a consular officer or a U.S. diplomatic.
  6. Formally giving up their citizenship on U.S. grounds while the country is at war, in writing, and approved by the Department of Justice in the United States.
  7. Engaging in attempts to overthrow the United States government or being convicted of treason.

The first five only become effective if the citizen committing them is outside the United States. The sixth one, where the citizen is still on the grounds of the United States, has not had its procedure defined. That being said, the act must have a specific and conscious desire to relinquish their U.S. citizenship. You can’t lose your citizenship if you live abroad – but you can if you express a desire to do so.

Some of these acts may be contested in court and the citizenship will not be revoked automatically. However, you have to state your case and prove that you are still eligible for maintaining your citizenship.


With the creation of the “denaturalization task force,” more and more eyes are going towards denaturalization nowadays. What most citizens do not know is that these programs generally target a limited number of foreign nationals, all of which have committed serious crimes against the United States. If the crime is minor, then the citizen will not be affected.

Denaturalization generally does not apply instantly, and it only goes into effect if the citizen was not entirely truthful when they applied for their citizenship. In other words, if they fraudulently obtained their citizenship, their case will be taken to the criminal or civil court in order to denaturalize the citizen.

If their citizenship was revoked and the person was denaturalized, this does not mean that they will have to leave the United States – not unless they were subjected to removal. Instead, they will be reverted to their previous status before they obtained their citizenship.

Having said that, if they petitioned for their families to join them in the United States based on their citizenship, those visas will also be revoked unless they have a different type of visa to keep them there. Once a person is denaturalized, it is considered that they’ve never had citizenship altogether – so obviously, all the other visas based on it will be nullified.

Wrap Up

So, in what three ways can American citizenship be lost? Well, first is through wrongfully gaining their American citizenship. The second is through a voluntary act, and the third is through denaturalization.

All of these can happen only if the person in question has committed serious crimes, and therefore is no longer eligible for being a citizen in the United States. You won’t have your citizenship revoked if you travel too much – but you will have it if you commit serious fraud or if you voluntarily go against the U.S. government.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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