Apply Spouse Visa Outside USA

Must Expat return to US in order to apply for spouse visa?

Today we are going to answer the question “If I am living outside the USA, can I apply for a spouse visa, or must I return to USA then apply?”

If you are an ex pat, living and working outside the USA this is important because before you turn your life upside down, and set up separate households and start a long separation from your spouse and maybe children, you should know whether it is necessary or not.


Perhaps you’ve been living outside the USA, fell in love and got married. And now it’s time to return to the USA and bring your spouse back home with you. You can leave your spouse behind, go ahead of her or him to the USA alone, prepare the house where you both will live, get a job, and a wait for your spouse to eventually join you.

However this is not necessary, you can stay right where you are and can apply while you are living outside the USA, you can remain with your spouse up until the visa is granted, and then both of you can fly together, hand in hand to set up your new household and lives in the USA.


Two issues when doing this come up. First you must prove to the immigration officers that you REALLY are planning to return to the USA.

Some ex-pats (this means ex-patriots, Americans living outside the USA) apply for a spouse visa ONLY for the purpose that their spouses could have a green card to enable her or him to visit the USA occasionally.

Usually this is once a year for your regular home leave. Sorry but this is not really what US immigration finds acceptable when processing your request for a spouse visa.

They must be convinced and it must be abundantly clear that your spouse is moving permanently to the USA, and that as you are the sponsor, you are coming along too. We demonstrate your plans, and provide evidences you plan to relocate to the USA as part of your original front loaded application.

US State Department has a simple policy. If a visa exists for the purpose of your travel, then it is the ONLY visa you are eligible for. So if you want your spouse to come to the USA for the occasional trip to USA for sightseeing, shopping visiting family, the B2 visitor visa is the correct visa to apply for. I have successfully helped many expat couples get these for their foreign spouse.

The second issue is financial eligibility. As the American sponsor you must demonstrate that your new family when established in the USA will have enough income to be self-sufficient and not require any welfare or other public benefits. If your income is based in the USA or your assets are based in the USA than proving your income eligibility should not be a problem.

However if your income is generated from the job you have that requires you to be living outside the USA, and that job will be abandoned once you move back to the USA, you will need to prove financial eligibility either by cash assets or home-equity or failing those, enlist the help of a co-sponsor. The good news is that while some US consulate’s do not allow a co-sponsor for a fiance visa, all US consulate accept the use of a co-sponsor when considering a spouse visa.

In the past, we’re talking a decade or more ago, an American ex pat could walk into the nearest US Consulate and apply directly there, in person for permission for his spouse to emigrate to the USA. Those days are gone. But not entirely gone. Out of a total of 294 US consulates worldwide, it is still possible at about 23 of them to apply directly. This is called “Direct Consular Filing” or DCF.

I lived outside the USA myself for about 20 years, so I am very familiar with the lifestyle of an ex pat, and the requirements to bring one’s spouse to the USA. I filed a DCF when Joyce and I decided to move from Hong Kong to the USA. So any ex pats listening? Do contact me, I can help, even while you are based out there, and I am based in San Diego.

If you are fortunate to live in a country where DCF is permitted, then your processing time is greatly sped up. Most DCF applications only take about 4 to 6 months to be processed, from submission to visa issuance.

If you are not eligible for DCF than your application is mailed to Chicago. Average processing time then, will be about a year to a year and a half.

I have helped many ex pat couples get their visas. Now with internet and email it is just as simple to work with a couple based outside the USA as in a neighboring city or state.

By Fred Wahl
the VisaCoach