I’m finding that getting married requires a lot of paperwork.
I recently had a most frustrating experience on the Visa4UK helpline. To be fair, it wasn’t the guy’s fault; he was just as constrained by a difficult, bureaucratic system as I was. The phone call ended on a most unsatisfactory note – I was told to withdraw my visa application, hope for a refund of my fee within 28 days, and do the whole process over, or send an email to yet another helpdesk and hope for a different response from the one I was just given. I was also charged £1.37 per minute (on top of my regular phone bill) for the call. (They take your credit card details up front, before you even tell the advisor what your issue is.)
So I withdrew my application and started over, filling 11 pages’ worth of forms again.
I don’t think I have been particularly bullied or unfairly treated in this whole process of trying to get married in the UK as a non-EEA spouse. The people I have come into contact with have tried to be helpful. At the end of the day it is the grappling with the rules, the websites, the confusing mass (mess?) of guidelines, forms and requirements that have been the most stressful and frustrating.
And so, instead of just complaining about it to my friends (which I admit I have already done), I’ve decided to try to compile a guide to getting married in the UK, setting out all the rules and procedures in one place. After all, this is what I wanted and needed the most: one page that tells me what I need, rather than navigating multiple links and PDFs and being directed from one website to another.
DISCLAIMER: What I set out here is based on what I’ve gathered from my own experience, and what I can make out from the Visa4UK and Gov.uk websites. I am getting married in Scotland, so have more direct experience of how it works there (the rules might vary for Wales, England and Northern Ireland – if you have experience in these countries please help improve this post!) I can’t guarantee success, obviously. If you spot anything that is inaccurate, please let me know so that this post can be updated and improved.
Registering your marriage
This has to be done anytime between three months and 15 days before your wedding date. From what I’ve read in the guidelines, though, 15 days might be cutting it too close, so try to get it in earlier if you can. The guidelines suggest that you don’t delay giving notice just because you’re waiting on accompanying documents to come in; it might be better to give notice first then supply your documents to the registrar at a later date.
I haven’t been able to locate the forms for giving notice if you are getting married in England and Wales. You should go to your local register office (assuming you are in the UK). I’ve been told that you can’t give notice at every register office, but they can direct you to the one you should go to. The documents that you need to take with you are listed here.
The GOV.UK website says that if you are a foreign national, you need to go to a ‘designated’ register office. (The ‘designated’ register offices are all in England or Wales, though, so I assume you still have to be in the country?)
The witness forms that you also have to fill (although I don’t think it follows the same deadline) for getting married in Scotland can be found here.
The marriage visitor visa
If you are planning to settle in the UK after marriage, you’re going to need a visa to enter the UK as a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner. Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience of this, which I understand is a complicated, even painful, process. Hopefully one day there will be another post that can go into this process.
If you are not planning to settle in the UK after the wedding, you need the marriage visitor visa. I haven’t found any confirmation of this on the website, but was told that you need this visa even if you can enter the UK under some other permit or visa. For example, I still need to apply for this visa despite the fact that I can technically enter the UK with a tourist visa. (It’s been the subject of a little rant here.)
Applying for the marriage visitor visa
You can start applying for the visa three months before you intend to travel to the UK. The process will take up t0 15 working days. You can fork out money for priority service, but at the time of writing this cost an extra S$218 on top of your visa fees. (I’m not sure if the priority service charge is the same for all countries.)
The visa allows you to stay in the UK for up to six months, and costs £83.
You can apply for this visa at the Visa4UK website. You’ll have to open an account, and through that you can submit an online application (not open to all countries). An online application doesn’t mean that you can do everything from the comfort of your home, though; you still have to print the application in the end and take it to a visa office in your country. (In Singapore, this is VFS Global.)
The form is more tedious than difficult. There used to be an online link to it but it seems to have been changed. But just to give you an idea, I had to fill in questions relating to where I have travelled to in the past 10 years, my monthly income, my monthly expenses, any savings or other forms of income, who I will be staying with and how I will fund my trip/accommodation/food.
It also asks you about the expiry date and number of your previous passport (if you have one), which was awkward for me because I have no idea where my old decommissioned passport is. I told the officer at the visa office that and she didn’t seem to think it mattered.
Apart from this form you need to supply some documents to back up your application. There is a guide to supporting documents here.
You’ll need bank statements; I was told at least six months’ worth. You also need a passport photo, and obviously, your actual passport. Be careful if you’re planning to travel anytime soon, because they will hold your passport while your application is being processed, and as I said, that can take up to 15 working days.
I was asked for a letter certifying that I’m allowed to take leave from my employer/company. I’m a freelancer, so I don’t actually have that and am writing a letter explaining that I’m self-employed and don’t need to apply for leave from a company. (It’s also a handy time to explain how my income fluctuates because of my “no pay, no work, sometimes work, but still no pay” freelancing life.)
Details of your itinerary are optional; it doesn’t really make sense to be able to provide a confirmed itinerary if they also advise you not to confirm any bookings or make any payments for flights and accommodation until your visa is approved.
The rest of these documents are optional, but were suggested by the lady at the visa office who thought it might strengthen my application: some sort of proof that a wedding/marriage ceremony is being planned and a letter from my fiancé supporting my claim that I am getting married. None of this is specified on the website but were just ideas that she was throwing out that she thought might help.
I ended up bringing: bank statements (six months), a cover letter explaining my freelance status, proof from Singapore’s Registry of Marriages that there is no impediment to my getting married, correspondence with the wedding photographer to prove that I’m planning a wedding. For good measure I gave them a wedding invite. I will update this post to let you know if they show up for the wedding.
Right now I’m waiting for my passport to get back to me. I don’t really anticipate any problems, but you never know, so fingers crossed!
I also got a bill of S$41 for my phone call with the UK Visa helpline. Poo.