Monday, April 22, 2013

The guide to Naturalization…final piece.

The final piece in the naturalization process comes after passing the naturalization ceremony and getting the citizenship certificate. Now’s the time to get your passport, so you can travel the world as an American.

On the naturalization day, one of the things you get is a passport application form, but you can get those online too. In fact, I recommend filling the form online here:

This is better, because the system has you go through the form fields on-screen, and then generates a PDF for you with everything printed, so there’s no risk of your application getting denied because of your chicken-scratch. It also makes sure you don’t miss any field. Stuff you need for the application includes:

1. Your full details…duh
2. Full name, maiden-name, and birth date of both your parents.
3. One passport-sized photo (2”x2”)
4. Your naturalization certificate
5. Payment.

The passport has 3 costs associated with it:
1. Passport book (which is what most people have, and is what you need to travel to Europe and most of the rest of the world. This costs $110.
2. Passport card, which is useful for travelling to Canada and the likes. This costs another $30
3. Execution fee. This is $25

Let’s say you opt for a passport book only – that will set you back $135 (110+25), but note that you need to pay the fees separately. The execution fee is for the body that takes your application (like your local courthouse) and the rest is for the department of state. Checks are accepted almost universally for this, and some places accept cash, but most don’t take credit cards. I strongly advise bringing ALL three payment options in exact change with you, and bring your whole checkbook, not just pre-written checks. The last thing you want is to wait half an hour in line only to find you miss-wrote the number or payee name and have to come again.

Officially, it takes “6-8 weeks” to get the passport, but unofficially, it’s a lot faster. In my case, the passport came in the mail 13 days after I filed the forms…less than two weeks. However, since you’re actually *stuck* in the US until your passport arrives, you might want to file your request with expedited service, which is an extra $60. With this, the processing is almost instant, and the passport is delivered to you in 2-3 days.

Another thing to consider at this point is name changing. In the previous guide I mentioned that you can have your name changed, if you want, as part of filing the N-400, but in some cases, that doesn’t work. In my case, for example, it was denied because the USCIS office in Seattle doesn’t have a judge, which is required to sign the paperwork and approve the name change. Instead, I filed for a name change in my local courthouse, which is also where I filed for the passport. It’s important to do the name change BEFORE getting the passport, because if you did it the other way around, you’ll have to get a new passport with the new name…and pay the passport fees all over again.

Changing your name is simple and easy – you just fill a form with all the details, and pay the fee, which is $130. The court clerk feed the data into the computer and verifies it with you (to make sure there are no spellers) and submits it to the judge for approval. Depending on the size and schedule of the court, it might take a few hours until they get the judge to sign – sometimes overnight if you came in late in the day. When you come back, you receive a document that certifies the change. This is VERY important, so keep it well protected. You can also purchase additional copies at $5 apiece. When you file for a passport (typically as soon as you get the document…), you will submit it with your application to show that you changed your name from what appears in the naturalization certificate.

When you submit the passport application, the clerk will collect the fees and paperwork, and will take your naturalization certificate as well. This is required to prove your citizenship, and it will be returned to you in the post shortly after the passport itself arrives. It might be a good idea to scan the certificate beforehand – I Xeroxed mine so I’d have something to show friends and family while waiting for my passport. Such a copy is also good if you want to frame and hang it. Why not simply frame the original? Well…remember that it’s a very expensive document. If something happens to the certificate, it costs over $350 to get a new one, so I’d advise storing it in a bank vault, or at least in a fireproof safe. Hanging it on the wall is not very safe – from theft through moisture damage to fire…


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  2. Naturalization or citizenship is a huge step for most immigrants. Applying for citizenship means that you are ready to take on all the rights and privileges of US citizenship, including the right and responsibility of voting.