Step by Step Guide: Apply for a Marriage Green Card in the US

Vivien Thuri
04.26.21
8 minute read

Certificates, prenups, new social security cards - marriage involves a lot of paperwork. And if your spouse is a non-US citizen, then you’ll need to apply for a marriage based green card too.

In this article, we break down the application process, making it one step easier for you.

There are some costs involved in this process, and using a cheap international transfer service, such as Wise, could save you up to 7x more compared to standard financial institutions.

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📝 Table of Contents
  • What is a marriage green card?
  • Are you eligible to get a marriage green card?
  • How to apply for a green card through marriage in the USA
  • What documents you need to get a marriage green card
  • Common marriage green card questions
  • What is a marriage green card?

    A marriage green card is a type of visa for the spouse of a US citizen or green card holder. Non-US citizens who are marrying a US citizen or green card holder need this in order to live and work in the US.

    The green card will give the spouse “permanent resident” status and set them on the road to citizenship, for which they are eligible after three years.¹

    Are you eligible to get a marriage green card?

    You might be eligible to get a marriage green card if you at least meet these three basic conditions.

    1. Your marriage is bona fide - you didn’t marry to get a green card
    2. You or your spouse is a US citizen or green card holder ²
    3. The relationship to your spouse still exists - you're married to them during the application ³

    However, there are further requirements for both parties.

    🔎 The Sponsor
    In the marriage green card application process, the US citizen or green card holder is known as the “petitioner” or “sponsor”. You don’t need to be a US citizen, but must at least be a green card holder. Sponsors have extra requirements to be eligible:
    • The sponsor must live in the US and maintain their main residence there. However it’s worth mentioning that in certain circumstances the sponsor could temporarily live overseas while having their main residence in the US. ⁴
    • The sponsor must file an affidavit of support (Form I-864), accepting financial responsibility for their spouse. In simple terms, the sponsor must prove that they are financially capable of supporting both their current household and spouse ⁵
    🔎 The Beneficiary
    The spouse of the sponsor is called the “beneficiary”. Luckily for the beneficiary, there are no specific requirements for the application apart from being lawfully married to the sponsor.

    There are certain circumstances which would make the sponsor and beneficiary ineligible for a marriage based green card.

    When the USCIS decides on the application, they may inspect if the sponsor:

    • Had previous offenses against minors
    • Is dangerous to beneficiary - if the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) think you pose a risk to your spouse ⁶

    In the case of the beneficiary:

    • Criminal history - you can be denied the green card if you have a history of serious crimes.
    • Immigration history - if you have violated US immigration laws, such as overstaying a visa or misrepresenting your intentions with regards to visa applications, this can cause problems
    • “Public charge” reasons - if you have a disability that causes you to seek public benefits
    • Health reasons - if you suffer from substance abuse, mental illnesses associated with violent behaviour or specific transmissible diseases ⁷

    How to apply for a green card through marriage in the USA

    Here are the three steps to get a marriage green card:

    1. Proving your marriage (Form I-130)
    2. Applying for your green card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)
    3. Marriage based green card interview

    Let’s take a look at these steps in more detail.

    untied-states-of-america-permanent-resident-card

    Submit form I-130

    Form I-130 is your first step in the marriage green card process. Its purpose is to prove that your marriage is legally valid and authentic.

    The sponsor files Form I-130. Here’s some additional information it’s good to be familiar with:

    • Since you - the sponsor - submit Form 1-130 for your spouse, you’ll also have to submit Form I-130A.
    • This may sound obvious, but it’s quite important that you fill out all sections of the form - and don’t forget to sign it! USCIS rejects any unsigned form.
    • Including additional proof of your marriage is beneficial. However there are a couple things you can’t send to USCIS. Anything that’s not paper material or contains an electronic chip is a no go - so your USB stick filled with romantic pictures or a musical anniversary card should stay at home.

    The form can be filed by mail or online. If using the online option, you’ll need to create an account with the USCIS.


    In addition to form I-130, you will need to provide certain documents. This is where you need to prove your marriage is authentic through the use of supporting evidence.

    Documents you will need are:

    • Proof of a legally valid marriage - marriage certificate
    • Proof of a bona fide marriage - joint finances and photos together
    • Proof of US citizenship or green card holder status - US birth certificate, US passport, certificate of citizenship or green card
    • Proof of official name change(s) - marriage certificate or other identity documents
    • Proof of beneficiary’s nationality - valid passport or birth certificate ⁸

    Based on advice - not official - articles if you can't provide one of these documents, you’ll have to provide secondary evidence.

    Similarly, if the documents you provide are deemed insufficient, you will receive a Request for Evidence (RFE), normally within 2-3 months of having sent them.

    You may read on the same advice article that after receiving all the necessary documents, the USCIS usually takes between 7-15 months to decide on your application. ⁹

    Although on the official USCIS website you will find that the processing time can vary.

    Apply for the green card

    Once your Form I-130 is approved, step two is proving the spouse’s eligibility for a green card. This process differs depending on whether or not the spouse is physically present in the US.

    • If the spouse of the US citizen or green card holder is physically present in the US, then they will fill out the green card application Form I-485.

    • If, on the other hand, the spouse is living abroad, then they must file the green card application Form DS-260 with the National Visa Center (NVC).

    You need to send Form I-485 by mail to the correct USCIS service center.


    In addition to Form I-485, you’ll also have to provide the following in your application package:

    • Affidavit of support from the sponsor
    • A copy of your birth certificate
    • A copy of your ID
    • You might need proof of a medical exam by a USCIS approved doctor
    • Proof of no prior criminal convictions (when applicable) ¹⁰

    If you’re living outside of the US, then you must file your application through the NVC and file Form DS-260 online. ¹¹

    Attend the marriage green card interview

    The last step in the marriage green card process is your marriage green card interview. The purpose of this interview is to confirm that your marriage is actually genuine and not fraudulent.

    If the spouse lives in the US, then both of you will attend the interview together.

    If the spouse lives abroad, then only the spouse will attend the interview, at the US embassy in their country.


    If you’re feeling nervous, here are some tips to help you ace the interview:

    • Go back over all the evidence of your marriage that you submitted
    • Get your story straight - go back over the key moments and dates of your relationship with your spouse
    • Prepare extra evidence - the more the merrier!

    Questions most probably will be about your history, current life and future plans as a couple. The interview has five possible outcomes:

    1. Approved
    2. Denied
    3. Second interview
    4. Additional review
    5. Request for Evidence (RFE)

    The official USCIS website lists only approval, denial and Request for Evidence (RFE) as the outcomes, but other advice articles also include additional review and second interview as possibilities. ¹²

    What documents you need to get a marriage green card

    Document requirements can be different, especially when a Request for Evidence (RFE) is made. However, these are the most common ones:

    • Copy of valid passport
    • Birth certificate
    • Marriage certificate
    • Documentation of adoption
    • Proof of previous marriage termination
    • Police clearance certificate
    • Court and prison records
    • Military records ¹³

    women-fills-out-paper-document

    Common marriage green card questions

    How long does it take to get a marriage green card in the USA?

    The time it’ll take you to get a marriage green card depends on two factors:

    1. Where you live
    2. Whether or not the sponsor is a US citizen or green card holder

    Based on advice articles the process can take as little as 10 months and as long as 38. ¹⁴ It is quickest when the spouse is physically present in the US and the sponsor is a US citizen, and slowest in the reverse situation.

    You should always double check the processing times of USCIS though - better to be safe than sorry.

    If you wish to leave the US during this time, you must apply for a travel document. If you don’t, your application will be cancelled. ¹⁵

    How much does a marriage green card cost?

    The cost of the marriage green card process starts from around $1200. The biggest expenses are the I-130 and I-485.

    Take a look at our chart below for an overview of the costs.

    Marriage green card documentFee in USD
    Form I-130 $535
    Form I-485 $1,140 - may vary
    Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) $120
    Medical exam Variable
    State Department Processing Fee $325
    USCIS Immigrant Fee $220
    Additional costs to consider
  • Shipping
  • Translation services
  • Equivalency evaluation (evaluating equivalent education)
  • Travel
  • Vaccinations
  • Document sourcing
  • If you or your spouse has a non-US bank account, then you’ll save money during the marriage green card process by switching to a cheap international transfer service. Wise is one such service.

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    Sources:

    1. USCIS - I'm married to a US citizen
    2. USCIS - Bringing Spouses to live in the US as permanent residents
    3. USCIS - Green card eligibility
    4. USCIS - I-864, Affidavit of support
    5. Travel.state.gov - Immigrant visa for a spouse of a US citizen
      ; Travel.state.gov - Glossary (see Domicile)
    6. USCIS - Non-Precedent Decision of the Administrative Appeals Office Pdf.
    7. Travel.state.gov - Ineligibilities and Waivers
    8. USCIS - I-130, Petition for Alien relative
    9. Boundless - Marriage green cards explained (see ‘Critical elements of a complete I-130 filing package’)
    10. USCIS - I-485 Checklist
    11. USCIS - non USCIS forms
    12. USCIS - Decision and post-adjudication
      ; Immigrationhelp - what to expect at your green card interview
    13. Travel.state.gov - Civil documents
    14. Boundless - How long does it take to get a marriage green card
    15. USCIS - Travel documents

    All fee related sources:
    16. USCIS - I-130; USCIS - I-485; Travel.state.gov - Fees for Visa services; USCIS - Our fees

    All sources checked 10 May 2021


    This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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