Getting married? Congratulations! But if you‘re a foreign citizen marrying a U.S. citizen and you want to live in the U.S., planning a wedding won’t be the biggest headache you‘ll encounter.

Before you can live in the United States, you‘ll have to get either a fiancé visa or a spouse visa. But which one is right for you?

When choosing the fiancé visa vs. marriage visa, it’s important to decide where you want to get married and what your timeline is. It can be a slow process either way. Knowing the ins and outs of each visa will help you decide which to apply for.

Getting a Fiancé Visa

If you‘re a foreign citizen engaged to a U.S. citizen and want to marry here, there are a wide variety of options for you to consider,  with one being a fiancé visa or K-1 visa .   With the K-1 nonimmigrant visa process , you obtain a visa to eventually marry in the U.S., and after marriage,  go through a process called “adjustment of status” to qualify for a green card.

K-1 Visa Process

Before bringing their fiancé to the USA, the U.S. citizen will have to petition the U.S. government on their fiancé‘s behalf by filing a form I-129F, the “Petition for Alien Fiancé” form. Once the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approves, they’ll schedule a visa interview at the U.S. consulate in your home country.

If approved, you‘ll generally have six months to use your U.S. fiancé visa to enter the country. The visa then allows 90 days for the two of you to marry.

That’s not long to plan a wedding, so your U.S.-based spouse-to-be might have to start the planning without you. Alternatively, you can plan a quick wedding, such as a civil or courthouse ceremony – here in the U.S., then a larger ceremony with friends and family in either country at a later date.

After marrying within that 90-day window, you‘ll take steps as soon as possible to file your application for change of status to get a green card.

Failing to marry within that deadline, can indeed lead to a number of complications with regard to maintaining your lawful status here and obtaining permanent resident status.

It Sounds Simple, but It’s Actually a Collection of Forms with Specific, Essential Supporting Documentation – including:

  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
  • Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
  • Form I-864, Affidavit of Support
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (optional)
  • Form I-131, Application for Travel Document (optional)

They’ll also want you to submit a several documents — such as your marriage license and birth certificates — as well as other paperwork to prove yours is a good-faith marriage.

The whole process can be very confusing. And there’s no guarantee your visa or adjustment of status will be approved. That’s where a qualified immigration lawyer can help, especially if you run into any problems.

After you‘ve successfully filed your adjustment of status application, you can wait in the U.S. for another interview with the USCIS here in the U.S. If and when approved, they’ll mail you your green card – and typically with a 2 year conditional validity.

Getting a Spouse Visa

spouse visa, or marriage visa, is for couples who get married and where the foreign spouse seeks to enter on an immigrant visa processed at a U.S. consular post outside the U.S. There are two types of spouse visas: CR-1 and IR-1.

They work basically the same way, but a CR-1 visa, or conditional resident visa, is a temporary U.S. spouse visa for couples married less than two years and leads to issuance of a 2 year, conditional (permanent resident) green card. About 90 days prior to the conditional green card’s expiration, you‘ll want to apply jointly to remove the conditional status.

The IR-1 visa, or immediate relative visa, leads to issuance of a permanent resident card with 10 year validity, and is unconditional.   This card is issued to an applicant who has been married to their petitioning spouse for more than 2 years.


There are also several differences between a fiancé visa vs. a spouse visa.

CR-1 or IR-1 Visa Process

The U.S. citizen will file a form I-130, or “Petition for Alien Relative.”   In many cases, you must wait outside the U.S. for it to be approved, although there is no set rule prohibiting you from visiting the U.S. while the I-130 is pending.  Once its approved, a process to schedule an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country then must be facilitated.   At the interview, officials will likely ask you a lot of questions about your marriage to make sure it isn’t fraudulent. They’ll also go over the details of your application and take care to ensure you‘re not inadmissible for any reason.

Once approved, you can move to the U.S. as a permanent resident and with your green card eventually mailed to your home in the U.S. after arriving.

Fiancé Visa vs. Marriage Visa: Which Is Right?

If you want to get married in the U.S., you might find it best to opt for the fiancé visa, although alternative options may exist to allow you to achieve your immigration goals.  If you‘re already married or want to marry abroad, the spouse visa may be the best option, but again, other alternatives options may be available.

There’s no one right answer. Everyone’s circumstances are different. A qualified immigration attorney can help you make the decision that’s right for you.

They can also help you with the preparation and filing of all required paperwork and even help if you hit a roadblock.

For help getting to the U.S. to be with your spouse or spouse-to-be, contact the experienced immigration attorneys at the USA Visa Counsel at (312) 357-0033 or email us through our website.