What is the Difference Between the K-1 and K-3 Visa?

Fiancé visas (K-1) are for individuals who have not yet married. Marriage visas (K-3) are for alien spouses of U.S. citizens.

If you are a citizen of the United States, and your spouse or fiancé is not a citizen and not currently in the country, you may be wondering how you can get your partner into the United States.

If you are in this situation, there are two primary options available to you that will allow you to be reunited with your partner in the United States, the K-1 and K-3 visas.

Both of these visa options will allow a non-citizen entry into the United States, but they are appropriate in different situations. Whether a K-1 or K-3 visa is appropriate is heavily dependent upon the facts of your particular case.

This article will explore the primary difference between these two visas, and discuss when each is a preferable option.


Before continuing, it may be useful to attach different terms to the visas, as the K-1 and K-3 names do not give much insight into what each one does.

The K-1 is also known as the Fiancé Visa, as it is used by fiancés of United States citizens. The K-3, on the other hand, is generally known as the Spouse Visa, as it is appropriate for the already-married spouses of citizens.

Understanding these designations make it conceptually easier to discuss the two visas.


K-1 fiancé visas and K-3 spouse visas have in common the fact that they are both used to get the marital partners, whether a fiancé or spouse, of an American citizen into the United States.

Both are non-immigrant visas, meaning they give their holders non-immigrant status, entitling their holders to enter the United States as non-immigrants, and are not required to go through the process of submitting an immigration petition.

The basis for both visas is the visa holder’s marriage to a United States citizen. The difference is the timing of this marriage: for a fiancé visa, the marriage has not yet occurred, while for a marriage visa, the marriage has already taken place.

Process: What’s Involved?

Applying for and obtaining either a K-1 or K-3 visa is a multi-step process, and there are a few differences depending on which type of visa for which you are applying.

K-1 Fiancé Visa Process

  1. The United States citizen fiancé submits a Petition for Visa (Form I-129F) to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
  2. If the Petition is approved, it will be sent to the National Visa Center (NVC), which then sends it to the U.S. consulate or embassy in your non-citizen fiancé’s home country. Your fiancé will be contacted about obtaining the required medical examination and scheduling the required visa interview at the embassy.
  3. At the visa interview, an examining officer will ask your fiancé questions in order to establish that an actual relationship exists between you and your fiancé, and that you intend to marry in the United States.
  4. If the examining officer is satisfied that you and your fiancé have a legitimate relationship, he will issue your fiancé a K-1 visa, that must be used within six months of its issuance.
  5. Within 90 days of entering the United States on the K-1 visa, you and your fiancé must marry, and your fiancé must submit an Application to Adjust Status (Form I-485), in order to obtain a green card and permanent resident status.

K-3 Spouse Visa Process

  1. The United States citizen spouse submits a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) with the USCIS.
  2. Once the USCIS has notified you that it has received your Petition for Alien Relative, you will file a Petition for Alien Fiancé (Form I-129F).
  3. If your Petition for Alien Fiancé is approved by the USCIS, it will be forwarded to the NVC, which will in turn send the Petition to the U.S. embassy or consulate in your spouse’s home country.
  4. Your spouse will be interviewed by an embassy officer. If the officer approves the Petition, the K-3 visa will be issued. Your spouse will have two years during which he or she may enter the United States.
  5. Once in the United States, your spouse will have two options for obtaining permanent resident status and a green card.
    1. The first option is to file an Application to Adjust Status (Form I-485) with the USCIS, similar to how a K-1 visa holder would adjust status.
    2. The second option is available if your spouse’s underlying Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) has been approved by the USCIS. If this has happened, your spouse may return to his or her home country and interview at the United States embassy in order to obtain an IR-1/CR-1 immigrant visa. Your spouse may then re-enter the United States using this new immigrant visa, and this entry will result in his or her status being immediately adjusted to lawful permanent resident.


K-1 fiancé visas and K-3 spouse visas are used in different situations, and give their holders different rights and entitlements.

Timing and Location of the Marriage

The primary factor that will determine which visa is appropriate for you is the timing of your marriage to your non-citizen partner, and where you want the marriage to take place.

The K-1 fiancé visa is used when you have not yet married your fiancé, but you intend to get married in the United States shortly after his or her entry into the United States.

This option should be used when you desire to get married in the United States and stay there, or if your non-citizen spouse cannot legally marry in his or her home country. If you are already married, the fiancé visa is not an option.

In order to get a fiancé visa, you and your fiancé must be legally capable of marrying in the American state in which your marriage will take place. This means that if either of you has been married previously, this prior marriage must have ended through divorce, annulment, or death.

Additionally, once your fiancé has entered the United States on a K-1 visa, you must marry within 90 days of entry, after which time your fiancé must leave the country if no marriage has occurred.

The K-3 spouse visa is used when your marriage has already occurred outside of the United States, and you are attempting to bring your legal spouse into the country on the basis of this foreign marriage.

Here, “spouse” refers to the lawfully married husband or wife of a United States citizen. This means that the non-citizen spouse must be legally capable of marrying in his or her home country.


Typically, the application process for a K-3 spouse visa will be slightly more costly than for a K-1 fiancé visa. This is largely because the K-3 application process involves the submission of two visa petitions rather than one.

With both types of visas, your costs will generally come from the various governmental filing fees, and the costs associated with copying and translating documents, the medical exam, travel expenses for your partner’s visa interview, as well as legal fees should you decide to enlist the assistance of an immigration attorney to help navigate the process.

Of note, there is no government fee to file form I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé for a K-3 visa after you have already filed the I-130 Petition for Alien relative, but it is the duplication of work in submitting two petitions that will likely cause the K-3 process to be more expensive.

Speed of Processing

Typically, a K-1 fiancé visa will be issued more quickly, somewhere in the range of 10-12 months from the date of filing. They are quicker as they only involve the submission of one petition, which is processed by the United States government.

The amount of time you should expect to wait for your visa application to be processed will vary greatly, depending on how backed up the government’s visa services’ offices are.

K-3 spouse visas normally take longer to process. They require the submission and processing of two petitions rather than just one.
Multiple Entries and International Travel

A K-1 fiancé visa is good for a single, one-time entry into the United States, for the purpose of allowing your marriage to take place. If your fiancé enters the United States on a K-1 visa, but has to leave the country for whatever reason before gaining permanent residency, he or she may not then reenter the United States on that K-1 visa.

On the other hand, a K-3 spouse visa may be used for multiple entries into the United States This allows your non-citizen spouse to enter the country, return to his or her home country, and then reenter the United States on the K-3 visa. The limitation is that K-3 visa only lasts for two years.

Ease of Application

It is usually more difficult to navigate the procedural requirements for applying for a K-1 fiancé visa. For one thing, the United States will not issue a K-1 visa unless it is satisfied that you have proved the existence of a valid relationship between you and your non-citizen fiancé. Largely, this is out of a concern over sham marriages.

You will have to provide evidence that you and your fiancé are actually engaged and will be married upon arrival in the United States.

Additionally, the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments were passed by Congress in an effort to discourage the use of illegitimate marriages to obtain entry. Under the Amendments, a two year conditional period will be attached to your fiancé’s permanent residency status. If your marriage ends within this two year period, your spouse’s permanent residency status will be revoked.

In contrast, an advantage of using a K-3 spouse visa is that you will not have to make quite an effort to prove the existence of a valid relationship to the government, as the fact that there has been a lawful marriage is generally proof enough.

Courtship Period

One advantage of using the K-1 fiancé visa is that it allows your non-citizen fiancé to stay in the United States for 90 days before you must get married.

This 90-day “courtship period” is desirable as it allows you and your fiancé to spend time together before the marriage, allowing you a chance to evaluate whether marriage is the best option, and hopefully giving the marriage a stronger foundation.

Additionally, this allows your fiancé to get a feel for living in the United States.

The K-3 spouse visa does not provide for this courtship period, as you must have already been lawfully married before entry.

Meeting Your Partner as a Requirement

In order to qualify for a K-1 fiancé visa, you and your fiancé must have met in person on at least one occasion in the past two years, unless you can demonstrate that such a meeting would be strongly against your religious beliefs. Largely, this requirement is intended to cut down on fraudulent visas.

You may prove that you and your fiancé have met by providing the government with a written statement describing the meeting, copies of airline tickets, passport pages, or anything else that would be evidence of a trip that you or your fiancé took in order to meet each other.

On the other hand, having met your spouse in the past two years is not a prerequisite to getting a K-3 spouse visa. However, such a meeting would be useful when it comes time to prove to the government that you and your spouse are in fact in a valid marital relationship.


Both the K-1 and K-3 visas are useful ways for United States citizens to get their loved ones into the country. Each type of visa is appropriate for particular situations and sets of circumstances.

If you and your spouse have already been lawfully married in your non-citizen spouse’s home country, then a K-3 spouse visa is a good option. If you and your fiancé have not yet married, but wish to get married and stay in the United States, then a K-1 fiancé visa is likely appropriate.

Both types of visas will involve a multi-step process, though the costs, wait times, and procedural details will vary depending on the visa type. These issues will also be largely influenced by the details and particulars of your case.

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