Special Report

30 of the Most Famous Foreigners Who Became US Citizens

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Can you imagine the airwaves without Eddie Van Halen’s guitar riffs or any actor but Ryan Reynolds playing Deadpool? 

While immigration remains a hot-button topic in the United States, it’s hard to deny some of the country’s best films, music, and books as well as scientific and diplomatic breakthroughs came from people born in other countries who came here and eventually chose to become American citizens. (On the other hand, these are also famous Americans who are no longer U.S. citizens.)

Some of the naturalized Americans on the resulting list found the path to citizenship, or even to obtaining a green card, to be challenging, but they persisted and were eventually successful. (Some maintain dual citizenship.)

Many people on this list are actors who migrated to Hollywood or New York looking for a big break. Others were musicians trying to find a lucrative record deal. A few were visionaries seeking a wider platform for their ideas. Whatever their motivations, many famous people have traveled across a border – or around the globe – to make their mark in America, and as Americans. (See which countries most immigrants in the U.S. are originally from).

Ayn Rand (Feb. 2, 1905-March 6, 1982)
> Country of origin: Russia
> Occupation: Writer

This best-selling author developed her own philosophical system emphasizing self-interest, calling it “Objectivism.” An influential and controversial figure, Ayn Rand is best known for penning “The Fountainhead” in 1943 and “Atlas Shrugged” in 1957, books which have had a strong influence on the conservative movement. Rand was granted a visa to visit relatives in Chicago in 1925, but after living with her family for a few months, the aspiring writer set her eyes on Hollywood. She met her husband, a young actor named Frank O’Connor, while working as a junior screenwriter on “The King of Kings.” After the couple married in 1929, she became a permanent American resident, then an American citizen in 1931.

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John Lydon (Jan. 31, 1956- )
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Occupation: Musician

Before he became Johnny Rotten, John Lydon was a 7-year-old boy in London, fighting spinal meningitis for a year. He would grow up to become the Sex Pistols’ frontman, penning such punk classics as “Anarchy in the U.K.,” “God Save the Queen,” and “Holidays in the Sun.” After the Sex Pistols disbanded in 1978, Lydon founded the post-punk band Public Image Ltd (PiL). The punk icon became an American citizen in 2013, primarily due to his admiration for Obamacare, telling Vice in 2015, “America has the potential to be a nation that actually cares for its afflicted and wounded and ill and disenfranchised.”

Slash (July 23, 1965- )
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Occupation: Musician

Slash, born Saul Hudson, is best known as the lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses. Born in Hampstead, London, Slash moved to Los Angeles with his father when he was 5 years old. Often ranked as one of the best guitarists of all time on various lists, Slash also formed two supergroups: Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver. While he has lived in Los Angeles since 1971, he didn’t become a U.S. citizen until 1996.

Flea (Oct. 16, 1962- )
> Country of origin: Australia
> Occupation: Musician

Known professionally as Flea, the Melbourne-born Michael Peter Balzary is a founding member of and the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Although his family moved to Rye, New York, when he was 4, he split his time between Australia and the United States after his parents divorced, before settling in California. He would become a U.S. citizen as an adult. Along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea has also played bass for such bands as Nirvana, What Is This?, and Jane’s Addiction, along with rock supergroups like Atoms for Peace, Antemasque, and Rocket Juice & the Moon.

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Eddie Van Halen (Jan. 26, 1955-Oct. 6, 2020)
> Country of origin: Netherlands
> Occupation: Musician

Though he would ultimately become an iconic guitarist in a chart-topping American rock band, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen started life in Amsterdam in 1955. His family moved to Pasadena, California, in 1962. The lead guitarist for the band Van Halen – which he founded alongside his brother, Alex – he popularized the tapping guitar solo technique, cementing his place as one of the best rock guitarists of all-time. Van Halen died of a stroke in 2020, after a series of health issues.

Nathan Fillion (March 27, 1971- )
> Country of origin: Canada
> Occupation: Actor

Hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, Nathan Fillion gained cult status as Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds on the sci-fi series “Firefly” and its film continuation, “Serenity.” Fillion moved to New York City in 1994, landing a role on daytime soap “One Life To Live.” He left the show in 1997 – the same year he became a U.S. citizen – and has built up a long list of credits, including such series as “Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Castle,” in which he played the leading role of Richard Castle.

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Cobie Smulders (April 3, 1982- )
> Country of origin: Canada
> Occupation: Actor

Cobie Smulders is best-known for her starring roles as “S.H.I.E.L.D.” agent Maria Hill in Marvel movies and as Robin Scherbatsky on the series “How I Met Your Mother.” Before she hit it big, the Vancouver native worked as a model and considered studying marine biology at the University of Victoria. Ahead of the 2020 election, Smulders announced on Instagram she had become a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, so she could vote for Joe Biden.

Dan Aykroyd (July 1, 1952- )
> Country of origin: Canada
> Occupation: Actor

Dan Aykroyd first gained fame as an original “Saturday Night Live” cast member, but he got his start on a short-lived Canadian sketch comedy series, “The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour with Lorne Michaels,” and was a member of the Second City comedy troupe in both Toronto and Chicago. Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Aykroyd tapped into musical talents to form the Blues Brothers act with the late John Belushi and went onto star in a number of blockbuster films, such as “Ghostbusters” and “Trading Places.”

Tristan Thompson (March 13, 1991- )
> Country of origin: Canada
> Occupation: Athlete

This NBA star left his native Brampton, Ontario, to attend Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, during his sophomore year to hone his skills on the court and become a young superstar. Thompson played one season of college basketball for the Texas Longhorns before he got drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA draft. Thompson won an NBA championship with the Cavs in 2016 and acquired American citizenship in 2020. He is currently a free agent.

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Madeleine Albright (May 15, 1937-March 23, 2022)
> Country of origin: Czechoslovakia
> Occupation: Secretary of State

Madeleine Albright’s family immigrated to Denver, Colorado, from Czechoslovakia when she was 11 years old and became a U.S. citizen in 1957. She would ultimately become the first woman to serve as American Secretary of State, holding the position from 1997 to 2001. This diplomat and political scientist also helped assemble President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council and was appointed United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997.

Kumail Nanjiani (Feb. 21, 1978 – )
> Country of origin: Pakistan
> Occupation: Comedian

This Pakistani-American actor, comedian, and screenwriter scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for the 2017 rom-com “The Big Sick,” which he also starred in. He’s also famous for his role as Dinesh in the HBO comedy series “Silicon Valley.” He moved from Karachi at 18, to attend Grinnell College in Iowa. After graduating with a double major in computer science and philosophy, Nanjiani moved to Chicago and began performing stand-up at open mic events. He told Business Standard immigrating to the United States was no easy feat, and he struggled for 15 years to get his green card. He became a citizen in 2018.

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Cary Grant (Jan. 18, 1904-Nov. 29, 1986)
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Occupation: Actor

One of the quintessential leading men from Hollywood’s golden age, Cary Grant was born and raised in Bristol, England. After a series of successful performances in New York City with the Pender Troupe at age 16, he decided to stay in the country. He ultimately made his way to Hollywood in the early 1930s. Some of his classic films include “The Philadelphia Story,” “Bringing Up Baby,” and “North by Northwest.” He became a U.S. citizen in 1942. The American Film Institute ranked Grant as the second greatest male star of Golden Age Hollywood cinema in 1999 (Humphrey Bogart came in first).

Helen Mirren (July 26, 1945- )
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Occupation: Actor

Helen Mirren is the only performer to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting in both the United States and the United Kingdom, garnering an Academy Award, four British Academy Film Awards, three Golden Globes, four Primetime Emmy Awards, and one Tony Award. The London-born actress has treaded the boards in theaters across the United Kingdom and the United States and has graced the big and small screens in a legendary career. She became a U.S. citizen in 2017, voting in her first U.S. election in 2020.

Neil Young (Nov. 12, 1945- )
> Country of origin: Canada
> Occupation: Musician

A Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, Neil Young first forged a career in his native Canada, before coming to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s – illegally, he would later admit in a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone. He didn’t get his green card until 1970 – and it was another 50 years before he became a U.S. citizen, a step he says he finally took because he wanted to vote against Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Young’s Canadian-American rock band Buffalo Springfield disbanded in 1968. His decades-long solo career has produced a number of critically-acclaimed albums, plus hits like “Ohio” and “Teach Your Children Well” with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

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Anthony Hopkins (Dec. 31, 1937- )
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Occupation: Actor

With two Academy Awards, three British Academy Film Awards, a British Academy Television Award, two Primetime Emmy Awards and a Laurence Olivier Award, Anthony Hopkins has become an international treasure. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993 for his services to the arts. The Welsh actor first appeared onstage at the Swansea Little Theatre in Wales in 1957, where he was spotted by Laurence Olivier, who invited him to join the Royal National Theatre in London. He moved to the United States in the late 1970s to pursue a career in Hollywood, and became a naturalized American citizen in 2000.

Michael J. Fox (June 9, 1961- )
> Country of origin: Canada
> Occupation: Actor

Before he was Marchty McFly in the “Back to the Future” series and Alex on “Family Ties,” a 15-year-old Michael J. Fox starred in a Canadian series, “Leo and Me.” At 18, he moved to Los Angeles to build his acting career, and his work in TV and movies would make him a teen idol in the 1980s. He followed up as the lead character in the hit 1990s series, “Spin City.” He became a citizen in 2000 because, he said, he wanted to be able to vote in American elections. Fox retired from acting in 2020, due to his declining health from Parkinson’s disease.

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Sofía Vergara (July 10, 1972- )
> Country of origin: Columbia
> Occupation: Actor

Hailing from Barranquilla, Colombia, Sofía Vergara was the highest paid actress in American television from 2013 to 2020. After she was discovered by a photographer on a beach, the modeling and acting gigs came rolling in. Vergara’s career took off as the co-host of two shows on the Spanish-language television network Univision in the late 1990s. Her first notable acting job in English was in the film “Chasing Papi” in 2003, and she would go on to star in a number of feature films and the hit TV series “Modern Family.” While she said on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” she aced her 100-question naturalization test, she had to jump through some hoops to be a U.S. citizen in 2014.

Sebastian Stan (Aug. 13, 1982- )
> Country of origin: Romania
> Occupation: Actor

The Winter Soldier of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born in Constanța, Romania, and moved with his mother to Austria before landing in the United States. While attending Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, he had the opportunity to spend a year abroad in the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Stan’s career took off after a role on “Law & Order” in 2003, and his many credits include a recurring role on “Gossip Girl,” a lead role in the series “Kings,” and films like “Black Swan,” and “I, Tonya.” He gained U.S. citizenship in 2002.

Pierce Brosnan (May 16, 1953- )
> Country of origin: Ireland
> Occupation: Actor

While best-known for taking on the James Bond role in four films, this Irish actor and film producer started his career on the London stage. Brosnan moved to Southern California in 1982, rising to fame in the United States playing the title role in the NBC detective series “Remington Steele.” In 1994, he became the fifth actor to portray 007, just one of his many silver screen roles to date. He became a U.S. citizen in 2004.

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Charlize Theron (Aug. 7, 1975- )
> Country of origin: South Africa
> Occupation: Actor

Charlize Theron became an international sensation in the 1990s with leading roles in “The Devil’s Advocate,” “Mighty Joe Young,” and “The Cider House Rules.” Her critically acclaimed portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster” would earn her the Academy Award for Best Actress, making her the first South African to win an Oscar in an acting category. Born in Benoni, Theron started her career as a model in Europe before coming to the United States. She has been a U.S. citizen since 2007.

Nikola Tesla (July 10, 1856-Jan. 7, 1943)
> Country of origin: Austrian Empire (modern-day Croatia)
> Occupation: Inventor

A Serbian-American inventor, Nikola Tesla’s claims to fame include the discovery of alternating-current (AC) electricity and the rotating magnetic field. He emigrated to the United States in 1884, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1891. Tesla set up laboratories and companies in New York, developing a range of electrical and mechanical devices. His AC induction motor and related patents were licensed by Westinghouse Electric in 1888, earning him a large amount of money and cementing his spot as an influential inventor.

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Emily Blunt (Feb. 23, 1983- )
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Occupation: Actor

Emily Blunt has graced both British and American screens since 2003. Her biggest credits include “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Into the Woods,” “The Girl on the Train,” and “A Quiet Place” (directed by husband John Krasinski). The British-born actress became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2015. Her awards include a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award, and in 2020, Forbes ranked her as one of the world’s highest paid actresses.

Liam Neeson (June 7, 1952- )
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Occupation: Actor

Hailing from Northern Ireland, Liam Neeson was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2000. He first rose to prominence with his leading role in Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” going on to star in such blockbusters as Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” “Love Actually,” and “Kinsey.” Also a hit with theater audiences, Neeson earned a Tony Award with his performance in the revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie” and received a Tony nomination for his work in the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Neeson became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2009, following the death of his wife, Natasha Richardson.

Salma Hayek (Sept. 2, 1966- )
> Country of origin: Mexico
> Occupation: Actor

This Mexican and American actress got her start on the telenovela “Teresa” and the romantic drama “El Callejón de los Milagros.” Salma Hayek then made her way to Hollywood, establishing herself in appearances in “Desperado,” “From Dusk till Dawn,” and “Dogma.” She became the first Mexican actress nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for the title role in the Frida Kahlo biopic, “Frida.” The part also earned her a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and British Academy Film Award nominations. She has also won four Emmy Awards nominations for her directing, producing, and acting work. She has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2013.

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Nicole Kidman (June 20, 1967- )
> Country of origin: Australia
> Occupation: Actor

Unlike the other celebs on this list, Kidman has had dual citizenship since birth – she was born in Honolulu while her Australian parents were in the United States temporarily on student visas. With an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, two primetime Emmy awards, and six Golden Globes, it’s safe to say that Kidman’s A-list celebrity status is here to stay.

Jim Carrey (Jan. 17, 1962- )
> Country of origin: Canada
> Occupation: Actor

Jim Carrey had developed a significant following in Toronto as an impressionist and standup comic before he moved to Hollywood in 1983. But superstar status would elude him until the mid-1990s, when he hit it big with comedies like “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “The Mask,” and “Dumb and Dumber.” Over his career, Carey has successfully made audiences laugh and cry with both comedic and dramatic roles, including films like “The Truman Show,” “Man on the Moon,” and “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” He gained U.S. citizenship in 2004.

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Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879-April 18, 1955)
> Country of origin: German
> Occupation: Scientist

Albert Einstein made physics cool. The German-born theoretical physicist is best known for his theory of relativity. Einstein was visiting the United States in 1933, when Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. As a Jew, Einstein objected to the new regime’s ideals, and he decided to stay in the United States and became a citizen in 1940.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (July 30, 1947- )
> Country of origin: Austria
> Occupation: Actor / former governor of California

Actor, film producer, businessman, former bodybuilder, and politicianArnold Schwarzenegger has had quite the career. Since he was 10, the Austrian longed to move to the United States, and realized his dream in 1968 at the age of 21, through his bodybuilding (he had already become the youngest-ever Mr. Universe at age 20). He received his United States citizenship in 1983. After retiring from bodybuilding, he broke out as a Hollywood action star with blockbuster films like “Conan the Barbarian” and the “Terminator” series. Schwarzenegger also served as the 38th governor of California between 2003 and 2011.

Pamela Anderson (July 1, 1967- )
> Country of origin: Canada
> Occupation: Actor / Model

Best known for her modeling in “Playboy” and her role on “Baywatch,” this blonde bombshell was born in Ladysmith, British Columbia. Her modeling career started in 1989, when she was featured wearing a Labatt’s Beer T-shirt on the Jumbotron during a BC Lions Canadian Football League game in Vancouver. The brewing company hired Anderson as a spokesmodel, and she appeared on the cover of “Playboy” that same year. At that time, she moved to Los Angeles to further her career as a model. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2004.

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Ryan Reynolds (Oct. 23, 1976- )
> Country of origin: Canada
> Occupation: Actor

Ryan Reynolds’ 30-year career began with a teen soap opera in his native Canada called “Hillside,” shown on Nickelodeon in the U.S. as “Fifteen.” More TV series followed, along with a range of film roles. Reynolds has seen his biggest commercial successes so far with “Deadpool” and “Deadpool 2.” The superstar has snagged a Critics’ Choice Movie Award, three People’s Choice Awards, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe nomination. He became a U.S. citizen in 2018.

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