If you are gearing up for your oath ceremony, congratulations! After years of stress, mountains of paperwork and USCIS interviews, you are about to become a U.S. citizen! The oath ceremony is the last step in the citizenship process, where you swear allegiance to the United States and get your naturalization certificate. Once the USCIS approves your N-400 (application for naturalization), you will receive a notice (N-445) which will have the details of your scheduled oath ceremony.
Occasionally, people are asked to take part in the oath ceremony on the same day as their citizenship interview, but it’s more common to receive a date in the mail. Your oath ceremony could be as early as weeks after your interview or couple months out. It often takes place in a federal or state building, but is not limited to them.
So, what is this day going to be like? While the experience varies from location to location, the general flow of the day is similar. I attended my own oath ceremony at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, New York this year (2019) so I will include insights from my personal experience. Let’s dive in!
How long after a citizenship interview is the oath ceremony?
It depends on where you reside / were interviewed. The workloads of local USCIS offices vary, but generally, the USCIS issues a notice scheduling the oath ceremony within a few weeks of the citizenship interview. The oath ceremony date is usually a few weeks from when the notice was mailed.
My experience: Mine was surprisingly speedy. I had my citizenship interview on March 6. 2019, received my oath ceremony notice in the mail on March 14, 2019 and my oath ceremony was scheduled for March 28, 2019.
What documents should I bring to the ceremony?
Be sure to bring the following with you:
- Your green card (permanent resident card)
- Oath ceremony notice (Form N-445) with the back completed (yes or no questions)
- Another form of ID such as a license or passport
- Any USCIS issued cards/documents like an EAD / Advanced Parole or re-entry permit
How long is the naturalization oath ceremony?
Expect to spend at least 2-3 hours attending your oath ceremony. If you are scheduled for a morning ceremony, it is best to take the morning off of work. You are unlikely to be done before 11:30/12. If you are located in a region that doesn’t see as many naturalization applicants, your day may go faster, but in areas like New York & California, hundreds of people are being naturalized at each ceremony.
My experience: My oath ceremony was scheduled for 8:30 am at Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn, New York. I showed up at 8 am at Cadman Plaza. As soon as you walk in to the courthouse, you go through security (just like an airport). After security, you have to check in your phone. You are given a token with a number which you use to get your phone back after the ceremony. My ceremony wrapped up around 11:45 am. If you are going to location that doesn’t allow phones, bring something to read. There is a lot of dead time where you are just sitting around. Ask Ellis clients that attended oath ceremonies in Manhattan were able to bring their phones inside and take photos. Cadman Plaza doesn’t allow you to take photos inside, even in the lobby area after you get your phone back.
What happens at the naturalization oath ceremony?
There are 4 main parts to the day – checking in at the ceremony, returning your green card / reviewing your naturalization certificate for accuracy, speakers and finally, taking the Oath of Allegiance!
Here was the flow of my day in Brooklyn, New York.
- It is best to arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled time. After clearing security and checking in my phone, I went upstairs (signs will point you to the ceremony location). There, I saw a waiting area outside of a large courtroom with 200+ people, all attending the oath ceremony.
- Around 8:30 am, the courtroom doors opened and a USCIS officer checked everyone’s ceremony notice (N-445) as we each walked in. After we were seated, we sat around for an hour doing nothing.
- A couple of USCIS officers set themselves up at two desks and everyone went up, one by one.
- When you go up, you return your green card (and any other cards issued by the USCIS to you such as an EAD card, etc.). You will be asked a few questions (which are on the back of your oath ceremony notice). I was asked the following:
- Have you traveled outside the U.S. since your interview? I had – I was asked to write down where I traveled to, the dates and initial next to it (on the N-445, which they keep).
- Has your marital status changed since your interview?
- You are given an envelope with a copy of the oath of allegiance, a passport application, a voter registration form and other relevant information.
- After this, you go to the second USCIS officer who has everyone’s naturalization certificates. You review yours for accuracy and then go sit back down. If you chose to change your name, your new name will be on your naturalization certificate. With 200+ people to get through, this part of the day took more than an hour.
- Next, you take the oath! To take the oath, you need the judge. We waited another hour or so for the judge to arrive. He came around 11:15 am
- The judge gave a short, but inspiring speech. After his speech, we all recited the Oath of Allegiance together. Don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize this, it’s in the envelope you just received.
- Collect your naturalization certificate as you leave – you are officially a U.S. citizen!
While we were waiting around, someone walked around collecting voter registration forms. If you intend to vote, this is a quick way to get registered. The form is very short!
Overall, the ceremony in Brooklyn isn’t nearly as festive as in other locations. In many locations, flags are given out, countries of origin are announced/recognized, there are great speakers, music and generally, it’s a more celebratory experience. At Cadman Plaza, it’s quite transactional with a lot of waiting around. The highlight was the 5 minute speech the judge gave. Regardless, I was thrilled to become a U.S. citizen and excited to be done with the USCIS forever.
Does the oath ceremony have a dress code?
The USCIS website says the following: “Please dress in proper attire to respect the dignity of this event (please no jeans, shorts or flip flops).”
My experience: I didn’t realize the USCIS website said no jeans, so I wore jeans, a t-shirt, a black blazer and flats – casual chic as I call it. No one cared what I wore, but to be safe, best to avoid jeans, flip flops and shorts. Of the 200+ people I observed, I saw a wide range of outfits. Many were dressed up – in suits & dresses, while others were less formal. Some folks were in their work clothes as they needed to go back to work afterwards. Basically, it’s up to you how dressed up you want to get – it is an important day so whatever you fancy!
Can you bring family to your naturalization oath ceremony?
The USCIS does not have any set guidelines around the number of guests you can bring, but as venues have limited capacity, that usually sets the final number for that day. You can bring friends, family, children –anybody meaningful to you. Keep in mind, it can take hours and guests typically wait in a different area than you.
My experience: In Brooklyn, guests are made to wait in the 3rd floor cafeteria. I was so glad I did not take my husband with me as he would be sitting by himself in a cafeteria for hours, without a phone. They ushered guests in ~10 minutes before the judge came. Early on, we were told that if the court room filled up completely with oath takers, guests would have to view the ceremony from a camera upstairs. Luckily, that did not happen and there was room for everyone’s guests in our court room.
Can you apply for a U.S. passport at the oath ceremony?
Sometimes. This depends on the location of your oath ceremony (in Brooklyn, New York, you can’t). There is no number to call to figure out if your ceremony will have a representative accepting passport applications or not, but it’s not a bad idea to bring a completed passport application to your ceremony (but not necessary). If there is no passport representative at your ceremony, you can go to a post office after your oath ceremony and apply for a passport there (many post offices require appointments for passport application submissions). The post offices near oath ceremony locations tend to to crowded – you are better off going to a different one. Be sure to read “How to apply for a passport for the first time” before you go.
After the ceremony
Congratulations! You are now a U.S. citizen. Your naturalization certificate serves as proof of your U.S. citizenship and you can use this to avail of all the privileges that come with being a U.S. citizen. We suggest you start with this:
- Apply for a U.S. passport
- Update your Social Security Record
- Renounce former citizenships if applicable (for example, if you are an Indian citizen, India does not allow dual citizenship so you must renounce your Indian citizenship after becoming a U.S. citizen)
More on this in our next blog!
*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.
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