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 an individual belongs to a certain nation. Most people on Earth hold citizenship in one nation, and sometimes more than one. Every minute of every day, the United States gains four new citizens through legal processes. A person can become a citizen either through birth or through the legal process. All citizens have different rights and responsibilities.

Rights of a Citizen

The Bill of Rights lists many of the rights that U.S. citizens enjoy. Two extremely important rights that Americans have is the right to speak and express themselves and to practice religion freely. If a citizen is accused of a crime, they have the right to a fair trial before a jury. The voting age for Americans is 18 years old. Those who immigrate to America can also become citizens and access these rights. For this to happen, first they must take a citizenship test and an oath of allegiance.

Responsibilities of a Citizen

While U.S. citizens have their rights, there are also certain duties that they must carry out for their nation. Paying taxes is one of the most important duties that citizens take part in. Without taxes, the nation would not be able to run properly and many important things would not get done. In Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the first power of Congress is listed as the power to collect taxes.

Since every citizen has the right to a fair trial before a jury, another responsibility of citizens is to serve on a jury. In this way, citizens have a say in deciding the outcome of the trial of others. U.S. citizen are expected to be loyal to the country. When immigrants become citizens, they swear an oath of allegiance. This is a promise to obey the law and defend the country in times of need.

For many different reasons, it is possible to be a citizen of two different countries. For example, if a child is born to an American mother and a Brazilian father, the child may choose to be a citizen of both countries. One can also marry someone from another country and gain a second citizenship. For example, if an American man were to marry a Canadian woman, he could go to live with her in Canada. He could get his Canadian citizenship and still keep his American citizenship.

Citizenship Under 18

Although the voting age is 18, it is never too early to become an active citizen. There are volunteer opportunities to be found for young people within every community. In one town in the U.S. state of Maryland, middle schoolers are invited to serve as the mayor and council for a short time. A high school in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, opened in 2018 that focuses on involving students with community service. There are even tasks young people can focus on that help the entire planet. By cleaning up plastic waste at home, oceans and the world are being helped.

Citizenship in Outside of the United States

Some countries require all of their citizens to perform a period of service to the country. In Israel, all citizens must spend two to three years in the military with a few exceptions. In South Korea, only men must spend time in the military, although recently, some people have been allowed to not take part.

Some nations require services that are not related to the military. For example, in Nigeria, college students spend one year in the National Youth Service Corps. This must be completed before they graduate and it is usually done in a part of the country they are not familiar with. This way, students can learn about the culture of a place that is different from their own.

Ceasing to Be a Citizen

Just as citizenship can be gained, it can also be lost. This might happen if a U.S. citizen swears an oath to a foreign government, especially through military service. It can also happen if a person were to run for office in another country or betray the United States and commit treason. U.S. citizens can also give up their citizenship freely. 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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