British Citizenship by Marriage Rules


Marriage to a British citizen does not automatically grant the non-UK spouse British citizenship.

British citizenship is attained by marriage through the process of naturalisation. This requires the non-UK spouse to meet eligibility criteria under the nationality rules and make a citizenship application to the Home Office.

In this guide, we explain the requirements and application to process to make an application for British citizenship by marriage.


When can you apply for British citizenship as a spouse?

As soon as you have been granted UK settlement, you may apply for British Citizenship if you are married to a British citizen. This is different to the rule for those who are not married to a British citizen, who must have held UK ILR or settled status for 12 months before they can apply to naturalise.

You must also meet all of the requirements for British Citizenship through marriage.


Eligibility for British citizenship by marriage

To apply for British citizenship by marriage through the process of naturalisation you must satisfy all of the following criteria:

  • Be aged 18 or over
  • Be married or in a civil partnership with a British citizen
  • Be of sound mind
  • Be of good character
  • Be able to communicate in English and have sufficient knowledge about life in the UK
    Have lived in the UK for a minimum of 3 years before you apply and meet the residence requirements.

As a spouse of a British citizen, you can apply to naturalise as soon as you are granted Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK, a permanent residence card or settled status under the EU settlement scheme.


Indefinite leave to remain status

Holding status as a permanent resident is a mandatory prerequisite for naturalisation. You must have been living in the UK as a permanent resident for at least three continuous years prior to the date of your application in order to be eligible for British citizenship by marriage. This would usually be through holding either one of the following:

One of the supporting documents you will need to submit with your naturalisation application will be proof of your settled status in the UK.


Residency requirements

To satisfy the residence requirements you must not have had more than 270 days outside the UK in the 3-year period, and you must not have had more than 90 days outside the UK in the 12 months immediately preceding the date you submit the application.

Excessive absences are a common ground for citizenship refusals. If you are concerned that you have breached the threshold or may be borderline, take advice to understand the implications on your eligibility.

A further specific requirement is evidencing that you were present in the UK exactly 3 years before the date the Home Office receives your application.

You must also be free from immigration restrictions at the time of making your application, and not have been in breach of the immigration rules during the whole of the residential qualifying period.


The Koll requirement

Applying for British citizenship involves a commitment to respect the laws, values and traditions of the UK. The ability to communicate in English, as well having knowledge of life in the UK, forms an integral part of this commitment. You can satisfy the KoLL requirement by passing the ‘Life in the UK’ test at an approved test centre and proving your English language capability.

You may be fully exempt from the language and life in the UK requirement if you are aged 65 or over, or have a long-term physical or mental condition that prevents you from meeting this requirement.


Life in the UK test

The test includes questions about the legal system, employment conditions, and other aspects of living in the UK. Before applying, you can take the test whenever you like.

If you have already passed the test (for instance, when you applied for indefinite leave to remain), are under the age of 18, or are beyond the age of 65, you do not need to take it again.

The Home Office might agree that those between the ages of 60 and 64 do not have to take the test if they can demonstrate that they are unlikely to pass it before they turn 65. If you have a physical or mental health condition that makes it impossible for you to pass the test, you may be able to opt out. However, your doctor will need to certify that your condition is unlikely to improve and that it prohibits you from passing the test in the first place. For instance, a brain damage or learning handicap that makes it difficult for you to remember things.

The test can be retaken as many times as necessary to pass it, but a cost of £50 must be paid each time. There is an official manual available for £50 as well. You may also practise by downloading an app; look for the TSO’s official Life in the UK Test. There may be a cost for the short courses offered by some universities to aid with test preparation.

To pass, you must receive at least a 75%. There are 24 questions to answer on the 45-minute test. In the UK, there are over 30 test locations, and when you book, you can select the one that is nearest to you.


English language

You will not be required to satisfy the language element where you are a national of a majority English speaking country, for example, America or Australia, but you will still have to pass the Life in the UK test.

If you are not exempt, you have to show proof of having either a UK degree or other academic qualification deemed to be equivalent to a UK qualification taught or researched in English, or that you have passed an approved English speaking and listening qualification. Only Home Office-authorised Secure English Language Test (SELT) qualifications are acceptable.

You will be tested on all four English language skills—reading, writing, hearing, and speaking—during your Secure English Language Test. The format of the test can vary, so what happens depends on the testing body you book with: IELTS SELT Consortium, LanguageCert, Pearson and Trinity College London. IELTS is one of the most popular suppliers. If you select IELTS, you will take three tests on the same day: a 30-minute listening test, a 60-minute reading test, and a 60-minute writing test. A brief speaking test will then be required, which you can do up to a week following the initial assessments. The test lasts for 2 hours and 45 minutes in total. On the IELTS website, you can learn more about what to anticipate during the exam.


Sound mind

You must be of sound mind, such that you understand the step you are taking when applying for British citizenship by marriage. Where an applicant is not of sound mind, the Home Secretary has the discretion to waive this requirement in certain circumstances.

If you are completing an application on behalf of your spouse who is not of sound mind and for whom you are responsible, you will need to explain the applicant’s mental condition, the fact that they are in your care and the reasons why it is in the applicant’s best interests to be granted British citizenship, despite their inability to understand fully what is involved.

You will also need to provide documentary evidence in support of the applicant’s mental condition and their care arrangements.


Good character

To satisfy the good character requirement you must have shown respect for the rights and freedoms of the UK, observed its laws, and fulfilled your obligations as a resident of the UK. This includes not having a recent or serious criminal record.

Here the Home Office will apply a sentence-based threshold. By way of example, an application for British citizenship will normally be refused for any custodial sentence of more than 4 years, or for any non-custodial sentence where the conviction occurred within the last 3 years.

Your application for British citizenship by marriage may also be refused if you have been guilty of an immigration offence in the last 10 years, for example, illegally entering the UK or assisting someone in so doing.


If your spouse is deceased

You will be unable to apply for citizenship as the spouse of a British citizen if your British citizen spouse has died. Take advice on your circumstances as you may qualify under alternative routes.


How much is British citizenship through marriage?

The Home Office fee for a UK naturalisation application is £1,300 per applicant. You will also need to pay £19.20 to submit your biometric information collected.
Additional fees may apply in relation to your application, such as taking professional advice with your application, or having supporting documents translated.


How long does the British citizenship application take?

Naturalisation applications usually take between three to six months to process. It can take longer if there are issues or delays with your application or supporting information.


British citizenship by marriage application form

Most applicants for British citizenship will use Form AN when applying to naturalise in the UK.

Form AN is made up of the following sections:

  • Personal information
    • Applicant contact details
    • Knowledge of language/life in the UK
    • Parents’ details
    • Partner’s details
    • Details of employment since entering UK
  • Residence requirements
    • Details of all absences from the UK in the last 5 years
    • Permanent residence details (for EEA or Swiss nationals)
  • Good character requirement
    • Details of any criminal convictions/cautions
  • Crown service for those in or with partners in Crown service
  • Referees and identity
  • Biometric registration/information
  • Declaration


Who can be a British citizenship referee?

You have to provide two referees for your naturalisation application.

Referees must provide certain information about themselves to the Home Office and sign a declaration.

There are rules on who can act as your referee. Your referees must have known you for at least three years, but they can’t be family members, your agent or lawyer, or someone who works for the Home Office. If a criminal conviction occurred within the previous 10 years, they are likewise ineligible to serve as a referee till a specified amount of time has passed. The referee must have known you for at least three years for both references.

At one should be of “professional standing”. On the website, you can find a comprehensive list of the occupations that the government accepts. Examples of occupations include, but are not limited to, that of an accountant, attorney, chemist, councillor (local or county), dentist, director of a VAT-registered firm, journalist, member of parliament, optician, police officer, social worker, solicitor, or union official. This referee may be of any country and need not be a citizen of the United Kingdom in order to be qualified to serve as your application’s reference.

The standards for the second referee are a little different in that they must be a British citizen and at least 25 years old or a professional.

The Home Office requires applicants to provide suitable referees who meet the requirements. If it transpires that a referee does not meet these criteria, your application is likely to be delayed.


British citizenship by marriage application process

Provided you meet the eligibility criteria, you can proceed to submit your naturalisation application form online.

You should then be asked to make an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point to provide your biometric information, ie; a scan of your fingerprints and a digital photograph of your face.

You will need to provide extensive documentation in support of your application, including your spouse or civil partner’s current passport or naturalisation/registration certificate showing that they are a British citizen, together with your marriage certificate or civil partnership certificate.

Your application must also be endorsed by two referees, whereby one referee must be a person of any nationality who has professional standing, such as a minister of religion, civil servant or a member of a professional body, for example, accountant or solicitor, and the other referee must be the holder of a British citizen passport and either a professional person or over the age of 25.

If you have previously enrolled your biometric details and been issued with a biometric residence permit, you must include this with your application. You will not be issued with a new permit, but your current biometric permit will be returned to you.

You will usually get a decision on your application for British citizenship by marriage within 6 months, although some applications can take longer.

In the event that your application is successful you will have 90 days in which to attend a Home Office citizenship ceremony.

At the ceremony you will be asked to affirm or swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and to pledge your loyalty to the UK. Attending the ceremony is a legal requirement such that if you do not attend, without good reason, your application for British citizenship will be refused and you will need to re-apply.

Following the ceremony you will be presented with your certificate of naturalisation under British citizenship by marriage. Please note, you must send your biometric residence permit back to the Home Office within 5 working days of getting your certificate of British citizenship, otherwise risk a fine of £1,000.


British citizenship by marriage supporting documents

Before you start the application process, it is a good idea to gather all of your required documents. You will have enough time to organise all of your paperwork if you do this.

As a minimum, applicants should provide:

  • Evidence of your Indefinite Leave to Remain, EU SS or EEA PR e.g. biometric residence permit (BRP) or permanent residence card
  • Proof that you meet the knowledge of life and language in the UK requirements ie Life in the UK and IELTS test certificates
  • ID e.g. valid passport, valid travel document or birth certificate
  • Proof of residence in the UK for the relevant period
  • Evidence of previous visas/residency documents
  • All travel documents from the five-year period to show continuous residence
  • Your absences from the UK during your qualifying period, including details


The specific documentation will depend in your personal circumstances. Taking professional advice will ensure you are providing a comprehensive submission that fully supports your application.


If your application is successful

Anyone aged 18 or older who acquires British citizenship must attend a citizenship ceremony to complete their naturalisation.

You have to schedule your ceremony with your local council within three months of receiving the invitation from the Home Office.

Group ceremonies cost £80 to attend, however private events may cost more depending on local council regulations.

You won’t be able to enter the UK with your BRP after you become a citizen of the UK. Until you get your passport, you can use your citizenship certificate.

You can ask for a certificate of entitlement if you don’t want to apply for a British passport.


Applying for your first British passport

You won’t need to apply for a visa to leave and enter the UK once you naturalise as a British citizen. A British passport acts as proof of your nationality.

After receiving proof of your British citizenship, you can apply for your first adult passport.

Adult passports have a ten-year validity period and can be used to prove your British citizenship. Additionally, it is recognised as valid identity when travelling internationally.


Will your children become British if you have naturalised as a British citizen?

Children who are born in the UK and have at least one parent who is a British citizen or a settled person automatically attain British nationality.

To determine whether your children are eligible to get British citizenship in any other way, it is always advisable to seek legal advice.


If your citizenship application is refused

It can be very upsetting to have your application for British citizenship rejected. A naturalisation rejection will prevent you from obtaining a British passport or exercising your right to vote, in addition to adding time and expense to the application process.

The British Nationality Act of 1981 and the regulations enacted in accordance with it do not provide for any legal right to challenge citizenship decisions. However, if your application has been rejected and you feel that the decision was not properly supported by law, policy, or process, you might be able to ask the UK Home Office to reconsider the decision. The reason(s) for your application’s denial should be stated in the letter that informed you of the decision.

In cases when a rejection is the result of an administrative error, the Home Office may on occasion reopen an application. The situations here, however, are restricted, as in the following, for a caseworker:

  • hasn’t decided the application using the proper requirements or necessary criteria.
  • has neglected to consider pertinent facts or documentation they have in their possession.
  • has rejected a request because there was no response to their inquiries, despite the fact that a response had been received but was unrelated to the request.
  • has made a decision without giving enough time for the investigation to be finished.


Taking professional advice will help you to understand your options and the best way forward.


Best practice advice for applicants

The UK Home Office will only decide to grant you naturalisation if you meet the necessary legal requirements. Therefore, it’s crucial to check that you meet all of these standards before applying, or in the event that you do not, to adequately explain why on your application in order to convince the Home Office to exercise its discretion in your favour.

The burden of proof rests squarely with you, the applicant, to show that you meet the legal requirements, any additional requirements, or otherwise qualify for special consideration for British citizenship. It is not the responsibility of the Home Office to establish your non-compliance. This means that you must submit your application together with a strong argument and convincing proof if you want the Home Office to reconsider a decision.

Many applicants meet the residence requirement, having lived for three years as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen, and successfully complete the Life in the UK test, and, if necessary, meet the English requirement. However, the majority of unsuccessful applications are the result of applicants failing to take into account the necessary additional residence criteria. Applicants must show strong ties to and dedication to the UK in order to be approved for naturalisation as a British citizen. Significant evidence for this is provided by the increased residency requirements, which include:

  • Presence in the UK on the first day of the qualifying period: The Home Office has no authority to waive this criteria if you were physically present in the UK on the first day of either the 3-year or 5-year qualifying residential term.
  • Absences from the UK during the qualifying period: If you applied based on your marriage or civil partnership with a British citizen, you typically could not have spent more than 270 days outside the country during the three years prior to your application. Otherwise, during the 5-year qualifying period, your absences should not have totaled more than 450 days.
  • Absences from the UK in the previous year: Regardless of the grounds for your application, under either the 3-year or 5-year route, you generally cannot have spent more than 90 days outside the UK in the 12-month period before the date of your application.
  • Breaches of immigration law during the qualifying period: Prior to submitting your application, you must have resided in the UK lawfully for at least three or five years. This implies that you must have met all conditions to be in the UK and obtained the required approval under UK immigration regulations, for as by not overstaying your visa.
  • Immigration time limits: For the 3-year route, you had to be free of such restrictions on the date of application, ie held UK settled status.

There will be no justification for reconsideration on the grounds that the decision was legally erroneous if a statutory requirement is “unwaivable.” The residence criteria, such as excessive absences from the UK, immigration violations, may be waived in rare cases, provided that you are not subject to those restrictions on the date of application.

If applicants had made sure they satisfied and addressed all relevant conditions in their application, the majority of refusals might have been prevented. You should thus seek expert assistance to help you determine the best possible basis on which to convince the Home Office that its discretion should be exercised in your favour in order to maximise your chances of a good outcome on reconsideration. Your advisor can also determine whether and when a new application for naturalisation is likely to be accepted after having a previous application for British citizenship rejected.


Difference between ILR and citizenship

There are many advantages of becoming a citizen of the UK if you are the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen.

This typically requires three years of lawful residence in the UK being married to a British citizen. As soon as you are given permanent residency status, you may apply for British citizenship if you are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen. The UK Home Office will also need that you fulfil a number of other crucial requirements before granting you British citizenship.

You must first be exempt from UK immigration control by having settled status or indefinite leave to remain in order to apply for naturalisation of British citizenship.

You can reside in the UK without a time limit if you have ILR, which also gives you access to public money and the ability to work, create a business, and study there.

However, when you become a citizen, you are able to take advantage of privileges that are not available to individuals who simply have rights of permanent residence in the UK. These advantages consist of:

  • applying for a British passport
  • voting in every election, yet depending on your current nationality, you might be permitted to do so in some elections.
  • election campaigning; yet, depending on your current nationality, you may be able to do so in some elections.
  • leaving the UK for more than two years without losing one’s right to remain there
  • getting your children, who were born outside the UK, British citizenship


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are UK immigration & nationality specialists. Contact us for expert guidance and support through the naturalisation process to obtain British citizenship by marriage.


British citizenship by Marriage FAQs

Can you get British citizenship by marrying?

If you marry a British citizen, you can apply to naturalise as a British citizen after three years of continuous UK residence.

How long does it take to become a British citizen through marriage?

3 years – you have to have held UK indefinite leave to reman or settled status for three years before you can make an application for British citizenship.

What rights do I have if I marry a British citizen?

You have to apply to become a British citizen by marriage; citizenship is not conferred automatically through marriage.

Can I get citizenship through marriage?

You can apply for British citizenship if you are married to a British citizen after you have held UK settled status for at least three continuous years.

Last updated: 28 August 2022


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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