If you are engaged to be married to a U.S. citizen, and wish to hold your wedding in the United States, the most obvious visa option for you to pursue is the K-1 fiancé visa. This visa allows you to enter the United States, marry within 90 days, and apply for your green card if you wish. Your unmarried children under age 21 are eligible to accompany you.
But first -- particularly if you are opn to the idea of holding your wedding overseas before you travel -- let’s look at some of your other options, and whether one of these might make more sense for you.
A fiancé visa gives you no choice but to hold your marriage ceremony in the United States. In fact, you’ll have to get married fairly quickly if you plan to go on to apply for a U.S. green card (which you would do using a procedure called adjustment of status). Although technically you have 90 days in which to get married, waiting until the latter part of that time period is risky, because it may take weeks to get the all-important marriage certificate that you’ll need to apply for your green card.
Couples often ask whether their overseas marriage really counts, or wonder why they can’t just get married for a second time after entering on a fiancé visa. Unfortunately, once you’re legally married, no matter where the marriage took place, you no longer qualify for a traditional, K-1 fiancé visa. But wedding ceremonies that don’t result in legally binding marriages won’t stand in your way, such as some religious ceremonies.
Once you have married and file your application for adjustment of status, you are legally authorized to stay in the U.S. while the government makes a decision on the application. This application procedure involves even more paperwork than the fiancé visa and often takes several months before your interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
A second option is for you to start by getting married outside of the United States. You would then be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa as the immediate relative of your U.S. citizen spouse. You would use your immigrant visa to enter the United States and become a U.S. resident immediately – with no more applications to worry about for the moment. And remember, there's nothing to stop you from holding another ceremony in honor of your wedding.
At one time, a nonimmigrant visa called a K-3 (a hybrid version of the fiancé and immigrant visa) looked to be a timesaver for married couples. The idea was to obtain the nonimmigrant, K-3 visa and use it to enter the United States, then complete the application process by applying for adjustment of status in the United States after entry. However, it typically doesn't always work as intended, because of USCIS timing issues. The bottom line is that, as of 2016, this option is unlikely to be useful to most applicants.
A third option is available to fiancés who want to hold their marriage ceremony in the United States but do not wish to live there after the ceremony. They can apply for a tourist visa at a local U.S. consulate. A tourist visa usually takes between a few days and ten weeks to obtain. However, using a tourist visa carries certain risks, primarily the possibility of being denied entry at the U.S. border by officials who don't believe you won't apply for a green card after all.
And if you actually change your mind and do apply for a green card after the wedding, you could be accused of having fraudulently misused the tourist visa for U.S. entry – and denied the green card as a result. If you choose this option, you'll want to prepare LOADS of documentation about your intended return to your home country.
Here are some considerations when choosing the type of visa to apply for.