THE BLOG

Prince Charming Is Not American, Now What?

07/31/2012 11:18 am ET | Updated Sep 29, 2012

Congratulations! You have finally met the man of your dreams and are engaged to be married.

Before you start booking the caterer, photographer or band, you better first make sure that your groom-to-be will be able to show up for your fairytale wedding.

What happens if Mr. (or Ms. Right) is not a U.S. citizen? Unless you are planning on moving abroad, you better quickly figure out a way to keep your betrothed in the United States legally.

Follow these 10 tips when preparing for the green card process and you'll have a head start:

1. Pull together some biographical information including the names, dates and places of birth of your parents, your places of residence for the last five years and your employer's address. This information provides a biographical sketch of your life and will be required in the application process.

2. Living together makes a difference. If you live together already, make sure that the lease/deed is in both of your names. If you elect not to live together before the wedding, plan to do so as soon as you are married and again make sure that the lease/deed is in both of your names. Co-habitation shows that you share a life together and that you entered into your marriage in good faith.

3. As soon as you move in together, put all bills into both of your names (cable, gas and electric, water, cell, etc). Doing so garners third party endorsement of your life together and shows a couple's financial collaboration to pay their bills.

4. Once you begin receiving mail that is addressed to you as a couple, set some aside for documentation of your co-habitation and proof of residence.

5. Prepare photo albums of your life together such as dates, vacations, wedding, holidays spent together, etc. This builds a narrative of your life together and supports the notion that you're marrying for love and not strictly to obtain a visa for a friend.

6. Once you are married, it is smart to open joint bank accounts and credit card accounts. Comingling your money is essentially 'putting your money where your mouth is' in the eyes of the government. It is extremely unlikely that two people simply trying to find a shortcut to a visa would take this drastic step.

7. Just like letters of recommendation for applying to schools or jobs, it helps to have close friends or relatives write testimonials that they know you as a couple. Having people vouch for your personal character as well as your life together also helps in ruling out marriage-for-visa scams.

8. Make sure that you have original copies of your and your fiancé's birth certificates, divorce decrees (if either of you were married before), or birth certificates of any children you have together. Original copies are necessary for fraud prevention as copies or scans of official documents can be doctored or fabricated.

9. Make sure you have filed your U.S. taxes for the last three years. Paying your taxes shows that you are a law-abiding citizen. Paying your taxes illustrates genuine residence in the community and that you are publicly known to the government.

10. Being employed makes things much easier. As the U.S. citizen, being gainfully employed precludes you from additional steps, such as obtaining a joint sponsor, which will be done for financial reasons in the absence of employment.

This is just a list to get you started. The immigration service has a tough job to do sorting through all of the marriage applications they receive each year, and approval or denial differs on a case by case basis. Immigration looks at each application to figure out whether the couple got married for "love" or if you are doing your friend a favor to get him a green card (or worse -- you are being paid to get him a green card).