Everything You Want to Know About an International Marriage

Part 1:  Logistics of Getting Married

Remember when getting married was as simple as stopping by the county clerk’s office during your lunch break, to grab a marriage license?  Planning for the big day aside, for most people the only official government documentation required is the marriage license.  You can even sign it yourself in most states these days, no judge required.  However, marriage to anyone outside of North America is infinitely more complicated. 

I fell in love with a foreign citizen, a dreamy Italian man with great shoes and a completely adorable accent.  We knew almost immediately that we wanted to get married and live in the US, and filled with expectation, we began planning our future as husband and wife.  I imagined it would be full of romantic international travel and adventures to new destinations.  But before we could even think about setting a date, we were suddenly faced with mountains of immigration paperwork with agonizingly slow response times.

The first step was the Petition for Fiancé Visa, which included background checks on everyone we know, birth certificates, passports, and biographical data sheets.  Suddenly my enthusiasm sank while thinking that our future together  would be decided by some guy in sitting an immigration office in Nebraska, and 6-9 months later, by someone else in an immigration office in Naples.  While we waited, I was in Colorado and my dreamy Italian man had to stay in Italy.  We did our best to travel back and forth, and luckily Europe and America participate in the visa waiver program.  But with $1500 airline tickets and depleted vacation days, this wasn’t easy.  Instead, we became addicted to Skype and video and email, and I quit eating lunch out every day so I could pay my international roaming charges.

During a later trip to Colorado, we met with an immigration lawyer and learned two pieces of key information.   First, do not ever try to get married while traveling under the visa waiver program .  Considered defrauding the system, it’s the quickest way to invite more headaches into your life than you could ever possibly imagine.  Second, you are authorized to get married while on a student visa, then legally change your status from student to resident.

Well geez, too bad we had both been out of university for years at that point…but hey, you can always use an MBA to help your career, right?  That was a much more attractive solution than waiting indefinitely, plus he would now be in the US.  So my dreamy Italian man enrolled in an 11-month MBA program in Colorado, and we got married towards the end of his third semester.  The wedding was exactly what we had wanted, a small private ceremony with only two guests, the bride and the groom.  But even our tiny ceremony had a hefty price tag.  Instead of paying $30,000 for the average American wedding, we were paying $30,000 for legal fees, an MBA, and hopefully in the end, a green card.

Then following 6 additional months of immigration forms, tax history, and proof of merged property and assets, we finally had our joint interview with our randomly assigned immigration official.  This person would judge our marriage as legitimate or not, after asking us approximately 4 questions.   In all, it took more than one year to complete the entire process.  We passed by the way, but not without a year’s worth of apprehension and worry.  I suppose I understand the reasons this process so drawn-out, but to have your future happiness in the hands of random government employees, is something I’m still too scared to think about.

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