South Africans looking to marry British nationals.

The union of these two nationalities (South African and British) takes place quite often. Especially when you deal with South Africans emigrating to the UK as a daily profession – as is the case with myself (Ryan Rennison).

I have been in the UK immigration industry for close to 10 years now and I have helped many relationships navigate UK visa hurdles (hidden and not hidden ones).

The purpose of this article serves to publicly help clarify frequent misconceptions (from a visa perspective) that engaged couples face. I have addressed 5 misconceptions below which couples tend to have. I have also given a comparison in step by step processes to further help explain my experience.

Before I proceed any further, let me take this opportunity to congratulate you on your engagement. Exciting times lay ahead.

Move Up has put together a very useful page (industry changing) that explains why the UK Ancestry visa is better than the UK’s “spousal” visa. So, if you are a South African, looking to marry a British national (and you have a UK born grandparent), this article is not for you.

South Africans with UK born grandparents can consider the UK’s Ancestry work visa is their best option (and Move Up can help access the birth certificates to get that ball rolling).

Further to this, South Africans that are already married to British nationals, please take a look at our marriage rights page.

This article is for South Africans without UK born grandparents that are engaged to a British national (looking to get married).

Couples often contact us and say they are now ready to further their careers in the UK. This tells me that the South African passport holder requires a visa to enter the UK (with permitted working rights).

I am operating under the assumption that the couple in question has not lived together (independently) in a married like relationship for the most recent 2 years or more.

I also need to clarify that being engaged to wed is not a legally recognized marital status.

“Why is this assumption important?” you might ask. By default Move Up first has to assess the couples relationship status and its legal recognition. If the couple have a legally recognized relationship, they can consider applying directly for the UK settlement visa and this content does not necessarily (completely) apply.

The applicant (South African passport holder without UK birth ties but engaged to a British national) has to demonstrate that their relationship is legally akin to a married couple in order to qualify for marriage rights.

Fortunately the UK government acknowledges unmarried couples, that have lived together for the most recent 2 years (or more) in an independent married like relationship.

Couples that live with parents (or friends) are not able to meet this requirement.

The applicant has to be able to present evidence that they have shared living costs like a married couple does.

We often get long distance relationships that visit each other often. Staying with a partner (with visitor status) is not seen as married like cohabitation (from a visa perspective).

Further details about relationship statuses and their legal recognition can be found on our married like relationship page.


Moving forward, the above assumption confirms that this content applies to cases where the applicant can say yes to all three points raised below:

  • The applicant only holds South African nationality (South African passport holder).
  • The applicant does not have a UK born grandparent.
  • The applicant has not lived together with their partner for the most recent 2 years in an independent married like relationship.

Now that the formalities are done, there are 5 frequent misconceptions I need to address.

Nearly every couple in this position, especially with British brides, follow this thought process.

The logic is that the UK is a first world country, so things should work better.

The truth though is completely the opposite.

  • It is much easier to marry in SA. Actually South Africans find it is difficult to get permission to marry in the UK.
  • The UK visa process is far easier in cases where marriages are registered in SA than in the UK.

The strongest motivating fact in the debate of SA marriage versus UK marriage, besides easier visa process, is cost.

Google confirms that the average cost of a 2017 wedding in the UK is £30 000 (approximately R525 000). Confirmation can be found here: source 1. Source 2.

Whereas Google confirms that the average cost of a 2016 wedding in SA is £15 000 (approximately R260 000). Confirmation can be found here: source 3:

Google has just confirmed that marriages in SA cost half as much as they do in the UK.

Also, family in the UK (usually the ones that make the financial commitment to make the wedding happen), tend to forget about the fact that it is inconsiderate to ask a third world country to fly to a first world countries wedding (when the two countries are joining in marital union).

This is only possible in cases where the UK settlement visas qualifying requirements can be met. Details of the qualifying factors can be found on our settlement visa page.

As you can see, the first qualifying factor is the need to present a legally recognized relationship.

In cases where couples have not lived together, independently, for the most recent 2 years and shared living costs like married couples do, the applicant will not qualify for this settlement visa.

Therefore, marriage is needed to happen before the applicant can qualify for the settlement visa.

This option therefore is not available to applicants who are not able to evidence 2 years of married like cohabitation.

This assumption is incorrect.

  • Marriages in SA are equally recognized. Legally equivalent to UK marriages.

Therefore, the UK government acknowledge South African registered marriages as equivalent to UK registered marriages.

There is absolutely no benefit in registering a marriage in the UK, when compared to registering one in SA.

The UK’s prospective marriage (fiancé) visitor visa is the visa the applicant needs if they are looking to register their marriage in the UK.

This special concession grants the applicant visitor status. That means that the applicant is permitted a maximum stay of 180 days per annum in the UK. Further to this, the applicant is restricted from any form of UK work (paid or unpaid).

This special visitor visa is designed to facilitate marriages that are registered in the UK.

The complication, which most applicants do not recognize, is that after marriage, the applicant has to return to SA to apply for the settlement visa. The applicant is not permitted to change from visitor status to settlement status whilst in the UK.

The applicant can only claim settlement status in their country of residence.

The UK government realised a long time ago that questionable characters were flying over to the UK, marrying the first Brit they met, so that they could stay and work in the UK.

To stop this, the UK government have implemented strict restrictions prohibiting the change of status whilst in the UK. This is the best means to stop marriages of convenience.

Let me elaborate further here. In cases where couples have been married for more than 10 years and they are presenting a marriage certificate (with evidence of intent to travel together) is sufficient.

On the other hand, a case where a recent marriage is registered and partners have been living in separate countries, the ECO has grounds to refuse a case based on “marriages of convenience”.

Therefore some reasoning and further consideration is applied in a case by case basis.

Couples, looking to simply register a marriage (with Home Affairs) with intent to apply for visas shortly thereafter need to present evidence that this is not a marriage of convenience.

In recent marriage cases, ECO’s need to see evidence of a wedding ceremony and reception. This is the best way to address their concerns about marriages of convenience.

This insight hopefully clarifies that a marriage certificate, recently issued, alone is not sufficient for settlement visa purposes.

I know. This information goes against natural thought and therefore can be a struggle to accept.

To simplify content and conclude this, there are 3 visas available to the applicant in this situation.

I have linked this visas directly to the UK governments site to help specifically address the visas available.

A step by step breakdown for cases that insist upon registering a marriage in the UK, regardless of cost, consideration and visa challenges, can be viewed as followed:

Step 1: Applicant and British partner decide to marry in UK

Step 2: Couple need to decide on venue and date first

Step 3: 28 days before marriage, couple needs to give notice at local UK register office

https://www.gov.uk/register-offices

Step 4: With letter from register office, confirming permission to marry, applicant applies for prospective marriage (fiancé) visitor visa in SA.

Step 5: Visa processing time takes 3 weeks (21 days) to process- subject to workload. Adds quite a bit of stress in these applications.

Step 6: Applicant flies to the UK from SA (flight 1) – so too does their SA friends and family (for an expensive holiday in SA terms).

Step 7: Applicant marries in the UK

Step 8: Applicant flies back to SA (flight 2)

Step 9: Applicant applies for the UK Settlement visa in SA

Step 10: Visa takes 3 month (standard) or 3 weeks (expedited at extra cost) to process

Step 11: Applies flies back to the UK (flight 3)

Based on our experience and expertise though, where we encourage applicants to marry in SA, a step by step process can be viewed as:

Step 1: Applicant and British partner decide to marry in SA

Step 2: British partner flies to SA (flight 1) – so too does their UK friends and family (for a cheap holiday in UK terms).

Step 3: Applicant marries in SA

Step 4: Applicant applies for the UK Settlement visa in SA

Step 5: Visa takes 3 month (standard) or 3 weeks (expedited at extra cost) to process

Step 6: British partner flies back to UK (flight 2)

Step 7: Applies flies to the UK (flight 3)

Hopefully this step by step breakdown helps applicants to see the visa hurdles clearly.

This content serves to confirm that Move Up is best able to help applicants in getting their visas awarded, first time round.

Another interesting perspective relates to our previous article, which details the implication of getting the Settlement visa refused (aspect of consideration that not many know until it’s too late).

For a free visa assessment, please email info@moveup.co.za

Move Up Admin

Ryan Rennison is a self proclaimed UK immigration SA emigration expert. Ryan is one of the few South Africans in South Africa that is able to represent any kind of UK entry clearance visa application. Passionate about helping South Africans get permission to pass through the UK border, Ryan services South Africans nationally and internationally. With constant online presence, Ryan brings immigration expertise in a very efficient and reliable manner.