A fiancé visa (K-1) will get you into the United States to get married and if you like, to eventually apply for lawful permanent residence (a green card). This visa is truly only useful to people living overseas; it's not available to people already in the United States; in other words changing one's status to "fiancé" is impossible.
To be eligible for a fiancé visa, the law requires that you:
We'll discuss all of these topics in more detail below. And when you're ready to apply, be sure to see Steps to Applying for a K-1 Fiancé Visa.
The requirement that you intend to marry might seem obvious—you wouldn't be applying for a fiancé visa if your plan was not to get married in the United States. But the U.S. government wants more than your assurance that a marriage is somewhere in your future. It will want proof that you've made actual plans, such as a place, a type of ceremony or proceedings (even if the proceedings are only in front of a judge), and more.
If possible, make your wedding plans flexible. You can't know exactly how long it will take to get the fiancé visa, but you'll have to hold your wedding within 90 days of entering the United States. Before you sign any contracts for catering, photographic, or other services, discuss the situation with the service providers and build some flexibility into your contracts or agreements in case the date needs to change.
For you to be eligible for a fiancé visa, the person that you plan to marry must be a U.S. citizen, not a permanent resident (a green card holder). A U.S. citizen is someone who either was:
Unlike some other countries, the U.S. does not require that its citizens carry any sort of national identity card. People who are U.S. citizens may have different types of documents that prove their status, such as a birth certificate, a U.S. passport, or a naturalization certificate.
A fiancé who is only a U.S. permanent resident can petition to obtain permanent residency for you only after your marriage has taken place. A fiancé visa is not available to you at this time.
To protect against sham marriages, U.S. immigration law requires that fiancé visa applicants have met in person within the two years preceding the date the initial fiancé visa petition is filed. Given how many couples fall in love over the Internet or through arranged marriages, such a meeting may not always have happened between fiancés. Couples who have not yet met, however, will need to make sure they do so at least once in the two years before applying for the fiancé visa. Even a brief meeting can be sufficient.
In some countries, prospective husbands and wives customarily do not meet before their wedding. If one or both of you come from a country where such a meeting would not be acceptable, you may find the meeting requirement a bit of a hurdle. Fortunately, if you provide documentation of the prevailing customs in your country, USCIS may overlook this requirement. There is also an exception for people who cannot travel to be together, for medical reasons.
Last but not least, there must not be any legal barrier to your getting married. You may not have to provide anything at all to satisfy this requirement if you are an adult who has never been married before and you are not a blood relative of your fiancé. This requirement is mostly directed at couples where:
If one of you is under the age of 18, you are likely to be considered underage in the United States. Your legal ability to marry will depend on the laws of the state where you plan to get married. Each of the 50 U.S. states sets its own rules, and you will need to research them. For example, you may find that in one state you must be 18 years of age to marry, while in another you can marry younger if you can show the consent of your parents.
If you or your U.S. fiancé have been previously married, you will not be given a K-1 fiancé visa until you prove that that marriage was legally ended, perhaps by death, divorce, or annulment. This is usually easy to prove, by obtaining copies of records from the court or local civic records office. If your divorce or annulment took place overseas, the U.S. government will recognize it as long as it is recognized in the country where it took place, and as long as at least one of the divorcing parties had a residence in the place where the divorce took place.
If you and your fiancé are blood relations, your legal ability to marry will depend on the laws of the U.S. state where you plan to get married. You will need to research these rules. You'll find that all states prohibit marrying your sister or brother (sibling), half sibling, parent, grandparent, great grandparent, child, grandchild, great grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew. But some states have additional prohibitions, such as against marrying your first cousin.
A civil union or domestic partnership will not count as a "marriage" to fulfill the requirement that those entering the U.S. on a fiancé visa must marry within 90 days.
Need help researching marriage laws in the United States? See Marriage Requirements, Licenses, and Ceremonies FAQ.
To be eligible for a K-1 fiancé visa, you do not have to intend to live permanently in the United States after your marriage. Whether you decide to stay in the U.S. and apply for a green card is up to you.
In fact, if you know in advance that you won't be staying in the United States after your wedding, you could apply for a tourist visa instead, or use your privileges as a citizen of a country on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). If you were to change your mind and decide to apply for a green card right after getting married, however, it could cause problems. If you entered on a B-2 visitor visa, you could be accused of having misused the tourist visa. You would then be denied the green card as a result. If you entered on the VWP, the result would be similar.
Every immigration process can be handled more smoothly by an experienced immigration attorney. The attorney can analyze the facts of your case and spot any potential problems, prepare the paperwork, and monitor the progress toward approval.
Need a lawyer? Start here.