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I'm a British citizen traveling to the USA next month with an ESTA to see my fiancee. I'm traveling there to plan our wedding, talk about a location to get married, and probably finalise a date and a booking with my fiancee (US citizen). This is the primary reason for my trip to the USA. Am I allowed to do this as a tourist? I would like to know for when the CBP officer asks me if this thing is allowed.

Am I allowed to enter the USA, on a separate trip (probably later this year), for the sole purpose of marrying my fiancee, provided I can persuade the CBP officer I intend to leave at the end of my trip? My fiancee and I are moving to the UK next year.

  • Have you made a decision as to whether you are holding the wedding in the UK versus US? – Acccumulation Jun 26 at 16:12
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    It definitely won't be in the UK since she needs a visa to do that and we'd rather avoid the hassle of it. It'll most likely be in Europe or the USA. As of now, we're leaning towards the USA. – LR837 Jun 26 at 22:56
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Yes, all this is fine. Some people have been denied entry to the US when coming to the US even temporarily to marry a US citizen, so you will see advice online (even sometimes from immigration lawyers) saying that you need a fiancee visa for this purpose. But the State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual says that a B-2 visa is appropriate for this purpose:

9 FAM 402.2-4(B)(1) (U) Fiancé(e) of U.S. Citizens or Permanent Resident Aliens

(CT:VISA-778; 05-13-2019)

(U) An alien proceeding to the United States to marry a U.S. citizen petitioner within 90 days of admission is classifiable as a K-1 nonimmigrant under INA 101(a)(15)(K). (See 22 CFR 41.81.) The fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) may, however, be classified as a B-2 visitor if you are satisfied that the fiancé(e) intends to return to a residence abroad soon after the marriage. A B-2 visa may also be issued to an alien coming to the United States:

  • (U) Simply to meet the family of his or her fiancé;

  • (U) To become engaged;

  • (U) To make arrangements for the wedding; or

  • (U) To renew a relationship with the prospective spouse.

None of this mentions the Visa Waiver Program, but the VWP is explicitly applicable to travelers who would otherwise be admissible as B visitors. At 8 USC 1187(a)(1), the requirement is stated thus:

(a) Establishment of program The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State are authorized to establish a program ... under which the requirement [to have a visa] may be waived ... in the case of an alien who meets the following requirements:

(1) Seeking entry as tourist for 90 days or less

The alien is applying for admission during the program as a nonimmigrant visitor (described in section 1101(a)(15)(B) of this title) for a period not exceeding 90 days.

...

The FAM is a document of the Department of State, but the Customs and Border Protection Inspector's Field Manual agrees in section "(2) Classification: B-2 Visitor for pleasure" (page 50):

Special notes:

...

(B) Determining eligibility. If otherwise admissible, admit the following as B-2:

...

(10) An alien coming to marry a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident with the intent to return to a residence abroad soon after the marriage;

The section on the VWP notes that it applies to "visitors for business or pleasure" on pages 115 and 116.

To overcome a possible skeptical immigration officer at the border, you can bring evidence of your intention to return to the UK, as well as evidence of your fiancee's plans to move there after marrying you. But I would not offer this evidence before it becomes apparent that the immigration officer is questioning your intention to leave the US.

  • Oh, I was confused at first but I think I understand now. You are saying that if I was from a country that didn't qualify for the VWP, then I'd need a B2 visa, in which case my planned activities would be acceptable? And since I don't need a visa (such as a B2), the activities I intend to do are therefore authorised on a ESTA? – LR837 Jun 24 at 23:44
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    I plan to bring with me proof of my return ticket, some bank statements and proof of my employment in the UK. – LR837 Jun 24 at 23:45
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    @LR837 that's essentially it, though to be precise with the terminology, the terms of your admission will be governed by the visa waiver program (VWP), not ESTA (which is an electronic authorization system that was added to the VWP some years ago and which -- so far -- is only required for VWP travelers arriving by air). The VWP is specifically limited to B-class visitors; the "B" in 1101(a)(15)(B) is the same B that gives its name to B-1 and B-2 visas. – phoog Jun 25 at 0:38
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    Attempting entry in to the US to marry a citizen is very risky in the sense that this fact, by itself, regardless of anything else, can be used by an officer to deny entry into the country, regardless of what the law might say. Make sure you have a paper printout of that page in the manual at the least. – WBT Jun 25 at 14:13
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    @WBT Then again, the officer need not give a reason, nor surrender to argumentation – Hagen von Eitzen Jun 25 at 14:40
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When traveling under the VWP, the activities planned must be permitted under B visa.

VISITOR VISAS BUSINESS AND PLEASURE Overview

You are allowed to visit the USA for the reasons you outlined (i.e. marriage) under the VWP program. Unlike the UK which requires a marriage visa for the purpose of marrying, the USA does not have a visa type for that purpose.

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    Marriage is not mentioned on the flyer you linked. – Nate Eldredge Jun 24 at 16:10
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    FWIW, phoog's answer above links to laws (policies?) that explicitly allow marriage and making arrangements for the wedding. cc @NateEldredge – Kevin Jun 24 at 22:31
  • @Kevin Okay.....✅✅✅ – user 56513 Jun 24 at 23:07
  • The USA does have a visa type for that purpose; it's called K-1. – WBT Jun 25 at 14:14
  • @WBT The K-1 is an immigrant visa. Different thing. This gentleman is not intending on migrating. In actual fact, the American fiancee will relocate abroad after marriage. It is totally inapplicable in this case. – user 56513 Jun 25 at 14:51
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Regarding your plan to come back to the US later in the year to get married: Did you already file the paperwork for your K1 visa? If so, that could raise some warning flags when trying to enter the country. Having a return ticket and other proof of ties to the UK (current lease agreement, job, ...) might be useful. If you haven't filed the paperwork, getting married this year is a very aggressive timeline. Even if everything goes perfect, you're probably still looking for January or February to be able to enter the US for getting married - March or April is probably more likely.

There is probably a reason why you want to get married in the US before moving to the UK, but getting married in the UK should be the simpler way.

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    There is no need for a K-1 visa in this case. The couple do not plan to settle in the US but in the UK. – phoog Jun 24 at 22:55
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    I have not applied for a K1 visa since I intend to enter on the VWP to marry my fiancee and then leave. – LR837 Jun 24 at 23:38
  • Any particular reason you think Jan 2020 or later is "more likely" for a wedding date? While it doesn't sound like the OP is planning on going to the local court house to perform the wedding, simple ceremonies can be planned with 90 days (or less) notice. Or am I completely misinterpreting your statement? – FreeMan Jun 25 at 11:54
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    Yes I believe he was saying Jan 2020 was a more likely date since he believed I was getting married through the K1 process, and not under the VWP and I believe he was saying that if I have not yet begun the K1 process then it's unlikely it won't come through until at least Jan 2020. But all that is irrelevant since it's a question about the VWP, and not the K1. :) – LR837 Jun 25 at 12:15

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