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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Every minute of every day, the United States gains roughly four new citizens. Citizenship is belonging to a nation. Most people on Earth hold citizenship in one nation or another. Whether one gains citizenship through birth or through naturalization, all citizens carry a blend of rights and responsibilities.

Rights of a Citizen

Many of the rights U.S. citizens enjoy are listed in the Bill of Rights, which contains the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. A few of these are the right to express oneself, to practice the religion of one's choice, and to have a fair trial before a jury if accused of a crime. When turning 18, a U.S. citizen gains the right to vote. Once immigrants have passed a citizenship test and taken an oath of allegiance, they have the same rights as a person born in the United States.

Responsibilities of a Citizen

Just as citizens can demand rights, they must also carry out certain duties to their nation. One of those duties is to pay taxes. Taxes are essential to keep a nation going. That is why in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, where the powers of Congress are listed, the first power mentioned is the power to collect taxes.

Since every citizen has the right to a trial by jury, serving on a jury is another responsibility of citizenship. Citizens also owe their nation their loyalty. When immigrants become citizens, they swear an oath to support the Constitution, to defend the country if needed, and to obey the law. Although U.S. law does not force people to vote, being a good citizen includes voting and being well-informed.

It is possible to hold dual nationality—that is, to be a citizen of two countries at once. A person may be a dual citizen because they have parents of two different nationalities. For example, a child who is born to an American mother and a father from Brazil may choose to hold citizenship in both countries. One can also marry into dual nationality; for example, someone from the United States who marries a Canadian and goes to live in Canada may take on Canadian citizenship in addition to the nationality they were born with.

Citizenship Under 18

It is not necessary to wait for the voting age to start being an active citizen. Almost every community offers volunteer opportunities for citizens who are not yet adults. One town in the U.S. state of Maryland invites middle school students to serve temporarily as its mayor and council. A New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, high school opened in 2018 with a focus on involving its students in meeting the community's needs. Students can also be citizen-scientists who work on solving problems that affect the entire global community, such as plastic contamination of the oceans.

Citizenship Outside the United States States

Some countries require all their citizens to perform a period of service. All Israeli citizens spend two to three years in the military with a few exceptions. South Korea requires military service by all men, although it has recently allowed a limited exception. Other nations have nonmilitary service requirements. For example, Nigeria's university students must all spend a year in the National Youth Service Corps before graduating. They do volunteer community service, usually in an unfamiliar part of their country, where they learn about the culture of that area.

Ceasing to Be a Citizen

Citizenship can be lost. If a U.S. citizen swears an oath to a foreign government, especially to enter into military service, this might result in the loss of their U.S. citizenship. Running for office in another country and committing treason (betraying one's country to an enemy nation) are other possible ways of losing citizenship. It is also possible to give up one's citizenship. A person who wants to renounce citizenship usually states an intention to stop being a U.S. citizen to 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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