Marriage or civil partnership with a British citizen or a settled person in the UK is one of the primary ways you can ‘naturalise’ as a British citizen.
Citizenship is a distinct legal status granted to an individual in recognition that they belong within the national community of a country. Naturalisation is the legal process by which a non-citizen can gain citizenship of that country. This is compared to someone who was born as a citizen of a country.
What is the difference between UK settled status and British citizenship?
To apply for naturalisation of British citizenship, you must first be exempt from UK immigration control by holding settled status or indefinite leave to remain.
With ILR or settled status, you can live in the UK without a time limit on your stay, you can work, start a business, study here and gain access to public funds.
With citizenship, however, you gain access to additional benefits not afforded to those who only possess rights of permanent residence in the UK. These benefits include:
- Requesting a British passport
- Voting in all elections – however, you might be able to do so in some elections depending on your existing nationality
- Standing as a candidate for elections – however, you might be able to do so in some elections depending on your existing nationality
- Leaving the UK more than 2 years at a time without losing residence rights
- Obtaining British citizenship for your children if they were born outside the UK
As the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen or settled person, there are many political, social, economic, and practical benefits of becoming a UK citizen. You may want to apply for British citizenship due to these benefits, or simply because the UK is your home.
In most cases, this will take 5 years of legal residence in the UK. If you are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, you can apply for British citizenship as soon as you have been granted permanent residence status. You must additionally meet a list of important requirements to be granted British citizenship by the UK Home Office.
British citizenship requirements
To qualify for naturalised British citizenship if you meet the following requirements:
- You must be 18 years or over
- You are married to or have formed a civil partnership with someone who is a British citizen or a settled person in the UK
- You have lived within the UK for at least 3 years before the date of your application
- You must have legal permanent residence status through ILR or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme
- You must be able to prove that you were in the UK exactly 3 years before the day the Home Office receives your application
- You must speak English at a proficient level
- You have passed the Life in the UK Test
- You must meet the ‘good character’ requirements
UK residency & absence rules
The residence requirements specify that if you are married to or are a civil partner of a British citizen, you must not have been absent from the UK for more than 270 days in the 3 years before submitting your naturalisation application.
Additionally, you must not have been absent from the UK for more than 90 days in the 12 months immediately before submitting your naturalisation application. Further, you must not have broken any UK immigration laws in the past 3 years, such as living illegally in the UK.
Finally, you must have been physically present in the UK exactly 3 years before the date the Home Office receives your naturalisation application. Your application may be rejected if you cannot prove this information.
Good character requirement
The ‘good character’ requirements specify that an applicant for British citizenship must meet certain moral standards. Though the Home Office does not provide a standard definition of what constitutes ‘good character’, the following key areas will be considered by the caseworker in charge of your citizenship application:
- International crimes, terrorism and other non-conducive activity
- Financial soundness
- Deception and dishonesty
- Immigration-related matters
These requirements are subjective and will be considered at the discretion of the caseworker assigned to your application. If you have any concerns that your application could be refused due to these key areas, you may want to engage a qualified legal professional for specialist immigration advice.
How to apply for British citizenship
To apply for British citizenship, you must follow a series of steps in order to best assure that your application will be accepted by the Home Office. You can submit this application yourself, or you can hire an agent or representative to submit the application on your behalf.
First, you will need to collect all of the relevant supporting documentation. It is strongly advised that you assure receipt of all supporting documentation prior to submission of your application for naturalisation of British citizenship to assure smooth acceptance. If you submit your application prior to collecting all required supporting documentation and realise that you are missing important documents, you may have to cancel (withdraw) your application, request a refund of the application fee, resubmit your application at a later date, and pay the application fee again.
Second, you will submit your application form. You can submit this form online or by post. Due to the necessity of timing your application correctly and due to potential delays via the post, you may want to submit your application online. At the end of application submission, you will need to pay the application fee and book a biometrics appointment at a suitable UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) office.
Your application must be endorsed by two referees. You must have known each of your referees for at least 3 years. One of these individuals must be a British passport-holder, and either a professional person or over the age of 25. The other individual can be of any nationality, but must be deemed an ‘acceptable professional person’, under specified professional designations, which include accountants, chemists, civil servants, director, manager or personnel officer of a VAT registered company, police officers and teachers among others.
Additionally, your referees must not be your legal representative, be related to you or the other referee, be an employee of the Home Office, or have been convicted of an imprisonable offence in the past 10 years for which the conviction is not spent.
Third, you will need to submit your supporting documentation and biometric information. Your supporting documentation can either be submitted digitally to an online portal, or scanned by a UKVCAS employee at your biometrics appointment. At your biometrics appointment, you will meet with a UKVCAS employee to confirm your identify, confirm submission of your application and supporting documentation, and have your photo and fingerprints taken as biometric information. At the end of your appointment, all information will be sent to the Home Office.
Your application will be assigned to a caseworker for the decision-making process to commence. If you are contacted by the Home Office to provide additional supporting information, you should respond promptly in order to avoid delays or refusal of your citizenship application.
Finally, you will receive a decision letter regarding the outcome of your naturalisation of British citizenship application. If you are granted citizenship, you will be invited to attend a citizenship ceremony.
What is the ‘Life in the UK’ Test?
To apply for naturalisation of UK citizenship, you will need to pass the Life in the UK Test. If you passed the Life in the UK Test for evidence with your permanent residence application, you can reuse these test results for your British citizenship naturalisation application.
This Test contains information based on British history, politics, values, and conditions of daily life. The Test is a 45-minute computer-based exam consisting of 24 questions based on the Life in the UK handbook, and it is conducted in the English language. You must score at least 75% on the Test to pass.
You must book your Test online via the approved Home Office website at least 3 days in advance and take the Test at one of 30 testing centres across the UK. Booking the exam costs £50. You can study for the Life in the UK Test via official handbooks and revision materials.
If you pass the Life in the UK Test, you will be issued a ‘unique reference number’ that will be required to provide on your naturalisation of British citizenship application.
If you fail the Life in the UK Test, you will have to wait 7 days to resit the exam but can take it as many times as needed until you pass. You will need to pay the £50 fee every time you resit the exam.
How can I prove my knowledge of English?
To apply for naturalisation of UK citizenship, you must be able to prove that you have an intermediate (B1 of the CEFR – The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) competency in the English language. You can prove this for your application in one of the following ways:
- Provide a valid speaking and listening qualification in English at B1 CEFR or higher – this qualification must be taken at an approved test centre and be on the Home Office’s list of recognised tests
- Provide a degree diploma or certificate taken in the UK
- Provide a degree certificate that was taught or researched in a majority English speaking country and
an Academic Qualification Level Statement (AQUALS) from Ecctis confirming that the degree qualification is equivalent to a British qualification
- Provide a degree certificate that was instructed or researched in a non-majority English speaking country and provide both:
an Academic Qualification Level Statement (AQUALS) from Ecctis confirming the qualification is equivalent to a British qualification
an English Language Proficiency Statement (ELPS) from Ecctis demonstrating that your degree was taught in the English language
- Present proof of nationality of a country on the majority English-speaking country list
Any qualifications that are required as supporting evidence for your citizenship application must be translated into the English language, and valid as of the date of application for naturalisation as a British citizen.
How long does the British citizenship application take?
After submitting your application for British citizenship, you will usually get a decision within 6 months. However, sometimes a decision can take longer than this amount of time if additional information is requested by the Home Office. If you are contacted by the Home Office to provide additional information, respond promptly to avoid impacting your decision timeline.
Please note that applications for naturalised British citizenship could take longer than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How much does British citizenship cost?
The application for British citizenship costs £1,330. You will also pay £19.20 to have your biometric information (fingerprints and a photo) registered with the government.
Can I keep my existing citizenship and become a British citizen?
Dual citizenship, or dual nationality, is allowed under UK law. This means you can be a British citizen and also a citizen of other countries.
However, many other countries do not allow dual citizenship. This means that you may not be allowed to become a British citizen and retain your existing citizenship. If this is the case and you would like to become a British citizen, you may be required to renounce your existing citizenship. Check with the consulate or embassy in the UK of your country of nationality to learn more about its laws on dual nationality.
What is the citizenship ceremony?
Attending a citizenship ceremony is the final, formal step of acquiring full British citizenship. This ceremony grants you the same rights enjoyed by all citizens of the UK.
If your application for naturalisation as a British citizen is approved, the Home Office will invite you to attend a citizenship ceremony in your local area of residence. Normally, you must attend a citizenship ceremony within 3 months of receiving an invitation letter from the government. However, this has been extended to 6 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the citizenship ceremony, you will take an oath or affirmation of allegiance and say a pledge. These statements mean that you promise to respect the laws, rights, and freedoms of the UK. At the end of the ceremony, you will be presented with your British citizenship certificate and a welcome pack. Once you are granted your certificate of British citizenship, you must send your biometrics residence permit (BRP) to the Home Office via post within 5 days.
Please note that invitations for citizenship ceremonies are currently delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
How can I apply for a British passport?
Once you have been granted your British citizenship certificate, you can apply for your first British passport online or by post. It may take longer for the Home Office to process your passport if you submit a paper application by post, so it is recommended to submit your application for your first British passport online if possible. You will need to submit supporting documentation for your application. Your new passport will usually be processed within 10 weeks.
Please note that requests for British passports are currently delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Applying for British citizenship for a child
Your children may have automatic British citizenship if they were born in the UK or if they have a British parent. However, in certain circumstances, you may need to legally register your children for British citizenship for them to be recognised by the government as citizens.
If your children were born outside the UK to a British parent such as your UK citizen spouse, you may be able to register them for British citizenship immediately if they are under the age of 18.
If your children were born inside the UK, you may be able to register them for British citizenship immediately if they are under the age of 18, depending upon the immigration status of their parents.
If your children were born outside the UK without a British citizen parent, you can apply to obtain British citizenship for them if they are under the age of 18 once you have been granted British citizenship. You will need to submit a separate application for each of your children.
What happens if my application for naturalisation of British citizenship is refused?
If your application for naturalisation of British citizenship is refused, you will not be able to become a British citizen at that time. Additionally, you will not be refunded the fees paid for the application. You will not be able to appeal against the decision of the Home Office to refuse naturalisation. However, you can request that the government reviews its decision if you have reason to believe the wrong decision has been made on legal grounds. If you request that the Home Office review its decision, you will be charged an additional fee. You may want to engage a qualified legal professional for specialist immigration advice if this is necessary.
It is important to note that in case of refusal of naturalisation of British citizenship as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen or settled person, you will remain a permanent resident and be permitted to continue living in the UK. You cannot be stripped of your permanent residency status unless you leave the UK for more than 2 years.
Though you can reapply for naturalisation as a UK citizen at any time, you will not be able to become a citizen until you meet all of the requirements as outlined in this document and by the Home Office. Due to the high monetary cost of applying for naturalisation as a UK citizen, you should be certain that you meet all requirements before reapplication.
British citizenship by marriage FAQs
How long does it take to become a British citizen through marriage?
In most cases, it will take you at least five years to become a British citizen through marriage as you must have permanent residence before you can apply for British citizenship. Though there are limited visa categories that allow for more rapid citizenship attainment, this is highly uncommon if you are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen or settled person.
Can I live in the UK if I am married to a British citizen?
Marriage to a British citizen does not grant you the automatic right to live in the UK. However, you can live in the UK if you are married to a British citizen and meet requirements such as demonstrating that your spouse has enough money to support you and that your marriage is genuine. Depending on your specific circumstances, you may need a visa.
How much does it cost to become a British citizen?
The citizenship application will cost you £1,330, plus £19.20 for biometrics enrollment. However, applicants must possess proof of legal permanent residence in the UK before applying for naturalisation of UK citizenship. This process varies in cost depending upon your specific visa route.
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, 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.