Complete Guide to Proof of Citizenship

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • Proof of citizenship is a document that certifies an individual’s status as a citizen of a particular country.
  • It is required for various applications and legal matters.
  • The required documents vary based on whether the person was born in or outside the country.
  • Primary documents such as a passport or government-issued birth certificate are typically requested, with secondary documents accepted if primary ones are unavailable.

Many citizens wonder why they need to provide proof of their citizenship for applications. While the process might be cumbersome to some, it is highly important. From general tasks, like opening a bank account, to requesting passports and visas, you’ll be asked to provide proof of citizenship documents. In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about proof of citizenship and how you can get it for yourself.

What Is Proof of Citizenship?

Proof of citizenship is nothing but a piece of paper certifying that you are a citizen of a given country. If you’re an American citizen, then you’ll have proof of U.S. citizenship. As you will see in this article, these are different for both citizens and non-citizens who later become citizens by various methods. These documents are different in other countries.

Why Do I Need to Prove My Citizenship?

Certain forms require proof of citizenship before you can proceed with the application. For example, if you are applying for a U.S. passport with Form DS-11, you must prove to the USCIS that you are an American citizen and are looking forward to getting a U.S. Passport. Similarly, to process other documents, officials need to ensure that you are an American citizen.

It is even more important for non-citizens who eventually take up American citizenship. They will be asked to prove their citizenship before they are entertained.

So to answer the question of why you need to prove your citizenship, this proof needs to be established with all levels of the U.S. government when dealing with legal matters or citizenship benefits.

Documents That Can Prove Citizenship

Providing relevant and necessary documents to the USCIS is part of the U.S. naturalization process. The type of documents required depends on the applicant, whether they were born in or outside of the United States. Green card holders applying based on their marriage to an American citizen must provide a larger set of documents than others.

The documents can be separated into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary documents are prioritized. But if you cannot provide them, you have the chance to submit secondary documents.

If Born in the United States

If you were born inside of the United States, the primary documents asked for are as follows:

The birth certificate should be issued by the county, city, or state where you were born. It should clearly show your full name, along with your parent’s name. It should be signed and properly stamped and sealed. If you, for any reason, cannot provide these documents, you can submit secondary ones like:

  • Delayed birth certificate
  • Early public records
  • Letter of No Record

Early public records like a baptism certificate, U.S. Census records, U.S. school records, a hospital birth certificate, a family bible record, doctor or medical records, or Form DS-10 Birth Affidavit are accepted.

If your birth certificate wasn’t issued by the state, county, or city you were born in, you have to obtain a Letter of No Record certificate from the registrar. This has to be issued by the state you were born in, should contain your full name and DOB, list the number of years for which a search was conducted for tracing your birth record, and an official statement that no birth certificates were found.

If Born Outside of the United States

For applicants born outside of the United States, the following documents are counted as primary documents:

  • U.S. Passport
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certificate of Birth
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Certificate of Citizenship

These documents will be asked for at different stages of the naturalization process, including the interview process. While it is allowed to submit photocopies of the documents, it is advised to bring them along with you to the interview. So keep them ready to be presented when asked for.

How to Obtain Proof of Citizenship

Foreign nationals who later became U.S. citizens need to provide their proof of citizenship and showcase documents supporting this. In this section, we’ll explain how you, being a foreign national, obtain proof of citizenship.

U.S. Citizenship at Birth

If you were born outside of the United States to American citizens, you can claim U.S. citizenship without much hassle. Parents must simply register their child’s birth with a U.S. consulate in that foreign country so the child will be issued a certificate known as a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. This is conclusive proof of U.S. citizenship. Here are the documents asked for:

  • Foreign-government or hospital-issued birth certificate
  • Parents’ evidence of U.S. Citizenship (U.S. Passport)
  • Parents’ marriage certificate
  • A statement detailing their places and periods of residence both nationally and internationally before your birth

The thing to note here is that this has to be done within five years of the birth of the child. Once they are five years old, there is no way they can obtain U.S. citizenship with their foreign birth certificate. Also, keep in mind that duplicates cannot be issued for this particular proof if the original is lost. So, keep it very secure.

Here is a detailed insight into obtaining citizenship through parents.

U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization of Parents

If you were born outside of the United States to foreign parents, but your parents acquired U.S. Citizenship through naturalization, you can claim U.S. citizenship as well. Here are the documents you need to submit along with your passport application:

  • Birth certificate issued by a foreign government listing your parents
  • Naturalization certificates of both of your parents
  • Documents showcasing permanent resident status (Green card or I-551 visa entry)
  • Marriage certificate of your parents (in case you were born before you and your parents legally entered into the U.S., they were married, and you were under 18 at that time)
  • Documents of legal custody (in case your parents weren’t legally married at the time you entered the U.S.)
  • Evidence of the legitimation of a child (in case your parents weren’t married at the time of your birth); includes a certified court order of legitimation or your parents’ marriage certificate dated after your birth

U.S. Citizenship by Adoption

If you were born in a foreign country but adopted by American citizens while you were under the age of 16, here are the documents asked for along with your application:

  • Your parents’ proof of U.S. citizenship
  • Your adoption decree
  • Evidence of lawful entry required for permanent residence (Form I-94)

There are other requirements that must be met; for instance, the child has to be in the custody of American parents for at least two years. The adoption will be finalized outside of the United States, and the citizenship process will begin from there.

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Proof of citizenship will help you in the long term. If the process seems complicated at any stage, it is advised to get in touch with an experienced attorney, preferably practicing in this field.

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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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