The United States offers two types of marriage visas for foreign citizens, the K1 and K3 visas which allow you to bring your loved ones to the U.S. Both are immigrant visas with a path to permanent resident status.

But to qualify for either the fiance visa or spousal visa, a foreign citizen must have a sponsoring U.S. citizen. Still, depending on your relationship status, there’s a significant difference between the K1 and K3 visas.

The K1 visa

The K1 visa, also the fiance visa, is issued to a foreign citizen engaged to get married to a U.S. citizen. After marrying, the K1 visa holder may apply for an adjustment of status to permanent residence through a green card.

The fiance visa has the following requirements:

  • Parties must demonstrate the desire to marry within 90 days of K1 visa classification by the United States Citizenship and immigration services.
  • Petitioners must have met in person at least once within the two years before filing the K1 visa application.
  • Both parties must be legally free to marry. i.e., No prior marriages.

K1 Visa Application Process

  • The citizen spouse files Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé, on the foreign citizen’s behalf.
  • After National Visa Center clearance, fill out and submit Form DS-160 with other required documentation, including but not limited to two passport style photographs, medical examination, and additional relevant information.
  • Attend the visa interview at a consulate or U.S. embassy

After passing the interview with a consular officer, you’ll be given a visa stamp with K1 classification.

The K3 visa

The K3 visa, also the spouse visa or marriage visa, allows a foreign spouse of an American citizen to enter the U.S. temporarily while waiting for green card processing. This visa applies to couples that are legally married outside the U.S.

K3 visas have the following eligibility requirements:

  • You must be legally married to a U.S. citizen. The foreign spouse must reside outside the U.S.
  • The sponsoring spouse must meet certain income requirements that indicate they can financially support their partner.
  • You must fill and submit Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

K3 visa application process

To apply for the K3:

  • The sponsoring spouse must file Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé, accompanied by all the necessary documentation.
  • Fill and submit Form DS-160
  • Attend the visa interview

Similarities between K1 and K3 visas

  • Both visas have complicated and tedious application processes that may necessitate an immigration lawyer.
  • Both K1 and K3 visas help bring your loved one to the United States.
  • Both K1 and K3 visas fall under the non-immigrant visa classification. However, after the USCIS classification, visa holders are referred to as immigrants.
  • After moving to the U.S., both K1 and K3 visa holders can adjust their status to become a legal permanent resident
  • You can bring your children to the U.S. on both visas
  • To apply for both visas, the visa applicant must file Form I-129F
  • Under both visas, you can receive conditional green cards
  • You can work and travel with a dual visa with valid USCIS documentation

Differences between K1 and K3 visas

The significant difference between K1 and K3 visas is that while the K1 is issued for fiances, the K3 applies to couples who have already entered legal marriage outside the U.S.

Additionally, there are other differences between these visas:

Differences in Eligibility Criteria

  • While couples in the K1 one must be engaged to a U.S. citizen, the K3 requires that the U.S. citizen and foreign citizen are legally married.
  • While couples in K1 must marry within 90 days of entering the U.S., the K3 requires the U.S. spouse to file Form I-130 from a foreign nation.
  • While couples in K1 must provide proof of a bonafide relationship, the K3 requires proof of marriage through a marriage certificate.
  • While the K1 is a one-entry visa, the K3 allows multiple entries.

Differences in Fees

While K1 visa applicants pay a USCIS service center application fee of $265, K3 visa applicants pay $325.

However, both classifications have a standard USCIS filing fee of $535. They also come with a routine medical exam fee of $200.

Both visas also require that you submit an affidavit of support worth $120 upon entering the U.S. Also, your fees might reach up to $2500 if you hire an experienced immigration attorney.

Differences in Working with the K1 and K3

While a K1 visa holder’s employment authorization is valid for only 90 days, K3 visa holders are automatically eligible for employment and can apply for employment authorization to begin working in the U.S.

Also, K1 visa holders must file Form I-765 for Employment Authorization before working in the U.S.

Differences in Getting a Green Card

After entering the U.S. under the K1 classification, the foreign citizen can apply to be a permanent resident through a green card. However, with a marriage visa, the spouse automatically qualifies for a green card. All they have to do is apply with USCIS.

Difference in Processing Time

While the K1 takes about seven months to process, the K3 will take about 10 to 13 processing months.

How do I Choose Between the K1 and K3 Visa?

Choosing between a K1 and K3 visa is reliant on several factors.

The K1 visa is great for couples who:

  • Want to start their lives immediately in the U.S. The K1 typically takes a shorter time to process.
  • Want to exchange vows in the U.S.
  • Have difficulties getting married in other countries. This mostly applies in same-sex marriages where one partner’s country doesn’t allow it.

On the other hand, you might opt for the K3 when:

  • You have less operating budgets. Regarding fees, the K3 visa lets you save over $800 compared to the K1.
  • The foreign partner wants permanent residence soon after arriving in the U.S.
  • You have the intention to marry outside the U.S.


In a nutshell, the K3 is becoming less popular with time due to the complexity of the procedure and waiting time.

However, should you want to proceed with the K3, you must look for an experienced immigration attorney to hold your hand through the process.

How the Herman Legal Group Can Help

Need help navigating complex immigration laws and procedures? We can help.

Let us put our skills to work for you. We can analyze your case, identify the available options, and help you decide the safest, most cost-effective, and quickest route to success.

Contact the Herman Legal Group, a U.S. immigration law firm with over 26 years of experience representing individuals, families, and companies in all aspects of immigration law, in all 50 states and around the world.

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