Being a citizen of a nation provides a person with both rights and responsibilities. However, citizens who are too young to vote or serve in the military can still exercise civic responsibility through other means of service.


5 - 12


Social Studies, Civics


English Jury Summons Letter

Serving on a jury to pass judgment on an accused person is a common responsibility for citizens. Those asked to serve on a jury often receive a summons letter, like this form from England, United Kingdom.

Photograph by Chris Harris/Alamy stock photo
Serving on a jury to pass judgment on an accused person is a common responsibility for citizens. Those asked to serve on a jury often receive a summons letter, like this form from England, United Kingdom.
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Being a citizen means that a person belongs to a nation. Most people are citizens of a nation, and sometimes to more than one nation. Every minute that passes, four new people become citizens in the United States. A person can become a U.S. citizen through birth or through the law. All citizens have rights and responsibilities. Which ones they have depends on where they live.

Rights of a Citizen

The Bill of Rights is a paper that lists many of the rights that Americans have. Citizens of the United States have the right to speak and express themselves and to freely practice their faith. If a person is charged with breaking the law, they have the right to a fair trial.

The voting age for Americans is 18 years old. Those who move to the United States can also become a citizen with these rights. First, they must take a test and then pledge to be loyal to the country.

Responsibilities of a Citizen

U.S. citizens have certain duties they must carry out for their country. Paying taxes is one of the most important duties to take part in. Without taxes, the nation would not be able to run properly. Many important things like roads, schools, and hospitals are made possible because of taxes. The first power in the Constitution is the power to collect taxes. This shows how important it is.

One duty of a U.S. citizen is to serve on a jury. A jury is a group of people who decide in court if someone has broken the law. U.S. citizens are expected to stay loyal to the country. When immigrants become citizens, they make a promise to obey the law and defend the country in times of need.

It is possible to be a citizen of two different countries. For example, a child who has an American mother and a Brazilian father can be a citizen of both countries. Getting married to someone from a different country can also make you a citizen of that place. If an American man married a Canadian woman, he could move to Canada with her. It is possible for him to become a Canadian citizen and still be an American citizen.

Citizenship Under 18

Although the voting age in the United States is 18, it is never too early to become a part of your community as a citizen. There are many opportunities to volunteer and help out. In one town in the U.S. state of Maryland, middle schoolers can serve as the mayor and council for a short time. In New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, a high school was opened in 2018 that focuses on getting students involved with community service. Students can also help with problems that affect the planet. By cleaning up garbage, the world is being helped.

Citizenship Outside of the United States

In some countries, citizens must spend time carrying out acts of service for their country. In Israel, a country in the Middle East, everyone must spend two to three years in the military. In the Asian country of South Korea, men must spend time in the military, but recently, some people have been excused from the service.

In some nations, the services are not related to the military. For example, in Nigeria, a country in West Africa, college students spend one year in the National Youth Service Corps. It is usually done in a part of the country the students are not familiar with. This way, they can learn about a place that is different from their own.

Ceasing to Be a Citizen

It is possible to stop being a citizen of a nation. This might happen if a U.S. citizen swears to be loyal to a different government, especially through the military. It can also happen if someone goes against their country or runs for office in a different country. Giving up your citizenship can be a choice. It is possible to stop being a U.S. citizen and instead become a citizen of another country.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Roza Kavak
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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