When and why do poor citizens expect the state to respond to their claims, and how do those expectations shape citizenship practice? Drawing on survey and qualitative research in northern India, our study reveals an expectations gap that complicates widely held views of the urban core versus the rural periphery. The urban poor residing in slums are dramatically less likely to believe that they will get a direct response from an official compared to similarly poor rural residents. Slum residents are also significantly more likely than villagers to report the presence of political brokers, who create mediated channels for claim-making. Reflecting on these patterns, we develop a place-based theory to explain sub-national variation in citizen-state engagement. We focus in the northern Indian context on three interrelated factors that shape the local terrain for citizenship practice: the greater visibility of social welfare provision in villages compared to slums; the greater depth of rural decentralization; and the greater strength of urban party organizations. Extending beyond northern India, we propose an analytical framework for the study of citizenship that examines how citizens’ local experiences of state institutions influence sub-national patterns of participation.