So, you’ve been preparing your naturalization application and finally come to the section asking you to list all of your time outside of the United States and you have to provide dates of departure and return. Then you realize that you forgot some trips, or you can’t recall the dates of departures for some of the trips. What do you do now? Is it time to hire a lawyer? Do you abandon all hopes of ever becoming a citizen of these great United States of America? Of course not!

The question is: How critical are accurate dates in the “Time Outside of the United States” section of the N-400? The answer is, it depends. Those dates are used to determine eligibility for naturalization, namely length of residence, physical presence, and for jurisdictional purposes. We’ll go into a little bit more detail, but for now let’s just say that the more frequent and longer your absences are, the more you’ll need exact dates.

Although the form and form instructions don’t mention it, it’s OK to estimate your travel dates in good faith. A good faith estimate is NOT a lie. Remember that a lie is an intentionally false statement, and you must never ever, ever lie in our N-400.

If you do estimate your travel dates, please tell the officer during your interview. You should also include a brief statement on the N-400 declaring that your travel information is based is a good faith estimate based on your recollection.

The vast majority of the time the officer will be satisfied with your good faith estimate because your absences won’t even come close to disqualifying you from naturalization.

You see, the officer is mainly—and I say mainly—looking out for any trip that was for more than 6 months, and also for the total number of days that you were absent from the U.S. during the past 5 or 3 years.

Specifically, and assuming you had to wait 5 years to apply for naturalization, the officer wants to know…

  1. Whether you have been residing, or living in the U.S., for the past 5 year immediately preceding the filing of the N-400.
  2. Whether any of your trips outside of the US were for more than 6 months,
  3. Whether you were physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months during the past 5 years. Or In other words, whether in total you were outside of the US for more than 30 months during the preceding 60 months before filing your naturalization application.
  4. And remember that you’ll also be asked about any absences after filing your naturalization application, and I suggest to keep your trips after filing nice and short.

So as an example, let’s say that I only went to The Netherlands every year for two weeks during the past five years. In that case it’s OK to estimate because I was only absent for 10 weeks total, which is nowhere close to 30 months.

But what if I’m cutting it close to 30 months? You see why the officer would like more exact dates?

So, what did we learn today? Today’s lesson is that when you’re preparing your N-400, there’s no need to panic if you forgot the exact dates of your travels outside of the US. The officer will almost always accept your good faith estimates of the dates. If the officer needs more exact dates because your estimated absences raise the possibility of ineligibility, then the officer will ask you for more exact dates, and you’d better have them. Lastly, if you’re using estimated dates, please include a short statement declaring so.