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Getting Married in the USA: Visa Rules

Getting Married in the USA: Visa Rules

If you and your loved would like to get married overseas before settling into married life back in your home country, and the United States is your dream wedding destination, the following practical advice on getting married in the USA is a good place to start.

Getting married in the USA as a foreign national is generally fairly straightforward. . Most countries around the world also recognise a marriage in the United States as a legal marriage, although overseas couples are encouraged to check with the government of their home country regarding the recognition and legality of marriage in the US, as there are some countries with certain restrictions.

Below we look at some of the rules and requirements around getting married in the USA. We also look at whether you can have your honeymoon in the USA after your wedding ceremony has taken place and provide a useful marriage licence checklist for couples who are thinking about making one of the many US states the perfect host for their big day.

 

Do you need a visa to get married in the USA?

Depending on your nationality, you may be able to get married in the US without needing a visa.

If you’re eligible for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), you can travel to the United States without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP permits citizens of various partner countries to come to the US for the purposes of tourism visa-free. However, given the importance of your plans for getting married in the USA, you must apply for an ESTA well in advance, as any denial will necessitate an application for a visa.

If you’re not eligible for ESTA, you would need a visa to travel to the US. This would typically be the B-2 (tourist) visa, where there is nothing in the regulations that say individuals who are in the United States as visitors cannot get married.

To be eligible for a B-2 visa, you must satisfy the following requirements:

  • The purpose of your trip is to come to the USA temporarily for the purposes of tourism, but this can include getting wed
  • You plan to stay in the USA for a specific limited period only
  • You have evidence of sufficient funds to cover your expenses during the course of your trip in the USA
  • You have a residence outside the USA, plus any other binding ties, that will ensure your departure at the end of your stay.

 

To apply for a visa, you will need to schedule an Embassy or Consulate appointment, where the wait times can vary, depending on where you apply from. For example, the current wait times for an appointment with the Embassy in London is currently 110 calendar days.

The cost to apply for an ESTA is just $21 each, while a visa will cost $185 each.

 

Can you stay in the USA after the wedding for your honeymoon?

If you would like to have your honeymoon in the USA after your wedding ceremony has taken place, you will be able to remain for as long as your authorised stay allows. If you travelled to the United States on a visitor visa, you will be able to stay for up to 6 months. Alternatively, if you travelled under an ESTA, you will be able to stay for up to 90 days.

In certain circumstances you may be able to extend your visa, although it is not possible to extend an ESTA under the VWP, where you must ensure that you depart the USA prior to the end of your authorised stay, otherwise risk being denied entry in the future. Still, 90 days (or 6 months on a visa) will give you and your new spouse plenty of time to have your honeymoon, either enjoying a restful break where you got married or exploring the USA.

Las Vegas is an ideal place to get married where, after the wedding, you and your guests can enjoy shopping, shows, dining, outdoor recreation, gaming and much more. New York also makes for a fab mini-moon, where you can visit many of the iconic movie spots from Times Square to the Empire State Building. Both Los Angeles and Florida offer an equal dose of sun, sea and fun, where the LA coastline has some of the most popular beaches in the world, while Florida is renowned for both its beaches and amusement parks.

 

Getting married in the USA: what you need to know

From Las Vegas to Los Angeles or New York and Florida, it is possible for overseas couples, both of whom are non-US nationals, to travel to the USA with a view to tying the knot in their dream destination before returning back home to start their married life.

However, there are certain county-specific rules that couples must abide by if they want their “lawfully wedded wife/husband” to become their “legal spouse”. In other words, there are strict licensing rules and timeframes that may need to be followed for a marriage to be valid. Importantly, the submitting of a marriage licence application and/or purchasing of a marriage licence does not constitute being legally married. You must participate in a qualified civil or religious ceremony, after which the marriage licence must be completed and returned to the issuing office to be recorded. Typically, city or county clerk offices will only record marriage certificates for licences that were obtained from that office.

The requirements and procedures can vary by state and local jurisdiction, so it is always a good idea to check with the local county clerk’s office or any other designated office for specific requirements and procedures. Below we set out some key examples of wedding destinations and their associated rules, helping to ensure that your “I do’s” are not delayed.

 

Las Vegas

Las Vegas is the most iconic and quickest choice for couples wanting to elope, where it is extremely simple to get married in Las Vegas. You can apply for a marriage licence online, where your application will stay in the system for one year, before hopping on a plane and collecting your licence on arrival. You and your fiancé(e) will both have to attend at the Clark County Marriage License Bureau in-person at the same time to complete the licensing process, although all you will each need is your passport, plus a $102 marriage licence fee.

The Marriage License Bureau does not schedule appointments for licences but it is open from 8 am to midnight, 365 days per year. There is also no waiting period for getting married in Las Vegas, where you can go straight to a walk-in chapel to get married once your licence is in place, even on the same day. If you decide to delay getting married to make wedding arrangements, the marriage licence expires one year from the date of issue.

 

Los Angeles

If you would like to get married in sunny LA, you will first need to complete an online application for a marriage licence, before scheduling and both attending an in-person appointment at the County Clerk’s Office. Appointments can be scheduled up to 3 weeks in advance. This appointment is for the purchase of a marriage licence only, where once you purchase your licence you will be able to schedule a civil ceremony appointment. There are no same-day ceremony appointments, although you may want to get married at another venue in any event. If so, your marriage licence will be valid for a period of 90 days.

To obtain a licence, you must both appear together to complete the application. Your passports will also be required for proof of your names and ages, plus a fee of $91 for a public licence and $85 for a confidential licence. If you have recently been divorced, you must also provide written proof of your divorce if this occurred within the last 2 years.

 

New York

New York is a hugely popular American wedding destination, where you can enjoy a low key celebration in Brooklyn or select one of the many classic Central park spots and more.

You will need to apply for your marriage licence in advance and schedule an appointment at the Office of the City Clerk. This is open for in-person or virtual appointments only, where no walk-in visits are permitted. Before your scheduled appointment, you will need to begin the application process to receive a marriage licence online. You and your fiancé(e) must then complete the application process by appearing for your appointment in-person or virtually, together and at the same time. Proof of name and age will be required from you both. You may also be asked to produce any final divorce decree if previously married.

You will take the marriage licence with you when you leave the office or receive it by digital download in your Cupid account following a virtual appointment. However, you must usually wait a full 24 hours before your marriage ceremony can be performed in New York. The fee for a New York State Marriage licence is just $35 and will be valid for 60 days.

 

Florida

The home of Disney and glorious beaches, Florida has a real holiday vibe and would be the ideal choice for a relaxed, laidback wedding followed by some serious fun.

To get married in Florida, you and your fiancé(e) must visit the nearest County Clerk of the Court to obtain a marriage licence, where licences are issued by counties. Again, proof of both your names and ages will be required. If either of you were previously married, and the divorce or spouse’s death occurred within the last 30 days, a certified copy of the divorce decree or death certificate will be required. The marriage licence fee is $86.

There is a 3-day waiting period after issuance of the licence before you can get married in Florida. However, a Florida marriage licence will allow a couple to get married anywhere in the State, regardless of the county the licence was obtained from. Your licence will be valid for 60 days to allow you plenty of time to prepare for your big day.

 

Checklist for getting married in the USA

In addition to applying for any visitor visa or ESTA prior to travel, couples will need to think carefully about what they will need to do once they get to America, where:

You must have official identification to prove your name and that you are at least 18 to apply for a marriage licence in the USA, where photo and age verification is mandatory, regardless of where you decide to get married. This means that you must attend your marriage licence appointment with your passports or other government-issued ID.

You must have the ability to pay the marriage licence fee, where the fee is usually payable by credit card. In some cases, payment may also be made by debit card, money order or even Apple Pay. You should therefore check the means of payment before applying.

You must ensure that your wedding ceremony takes place within the validity of your marriage licence, where licences typically have a specific validity period after issuance. Once your licence application is approved and the fee has been paid, you will be issued a marriage licence, where the relevant timeframe will run from the date of issue.

You must have your marriage licence signed by the officiant and witnesses at the wedding ceremony, and then return the signed licence to the county clerk’s office or other designated office within the required timeframe to have the marriage officially recorded.

 

Getting married in the USA FAQs

Can British citizens get married in USA?

It is possible for British citizens to get married in the USA, provided they intend to return to the UK or otherwise depart the United States after their wedding ceremony and no later than the end of their authorised stay.

 

Can foreigners get married in USA?

It is possible for foreigners to get married in the USA, although overseas couples are encouraged to check with their home government regarding the recognition and legality of marriage in the USA, as there are some countries with certain restrictions.

 

How quickly can you get married in USA?

In Las Vegas, you can apply for a marriage licence and get married at a walk-in chapel the very same day, where the Clark County Marriage License Bureau is open from 8am to midnight, 365 days per year.

 

Is a US marriage legal in the UK?

Most countries around the world, including the UK, recognise a marriage in the United States as a legal marriage. The majority of states also have few rules, other than having a valid passport for proof of your name and age.

 

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.

Author

Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Nita Nicole Upadhye is the Founder & Principal Attorney at NNU Immigration. A recognized leader in the field of US immigration law, Nita successfully acts for individuals and companies from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications.

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