Getting your non-EU spouse into the UK

I’ve had a lot of people ask me this, so I thought it was about time I just wrote a blog post that I could easily link them to.

For those of you who don’t know, my husband is from the USA. He lives with me in the UK where he is able to work, study, use the NHS, and do all those other things that British people can do. People who have looked at the documentation about spouse visas and felt themselves die inside turn to us, wide-eyed, and ask “How did you do it?”

If you’re a British or other European person who wants to live in the UK with your dirty immigrant spouse, then this is how we did it. 😉

Well, we certainly didn’t go down the Spouse Visa route, I’ll tell you that. The Spouse Visa costs around £890 ($1380) just to apply for it, and in order to prove that you (the EU person) can support your non-EU spouse, you need to already have a job in the UK that pays at least £18,000 a year. This probably has to be a permanent contract, not one of these temporary 1 year contracts or something with a probationary 6 months, which rules out 90% of jobs these days. If you don’t fancy the pain in the arse of applying for jobs from wherever you currently live, you need to come over to the UK with £18,000 already in the bank.

Yeah, because I just know so many people who had 18 grand lying around in their bank accounts! Think you can borrow the money from a rich, kindly relative? Think again! The money must have been in your account for 6 months prior to application and can’t be a loan or a “gift”! On top of this disgusting, classist system, you may also have to go out of your way to prove that your relationship is genuine. My friend described showing the Home Office chat transcripts, email records etc. Creepy.

So, basically, the Spouse Visa was a definite no-no. I thought I would be forever unable to live in my home country again, as it would mean spending months apart from the man I want to spend my life with. You know – a well-educated, hard-working, intelligent American man – gosh, how could we possibly make it easy for someone like him to live in our country?

Anyway, we had a look to see if there was an alternative, and there was. It’s called the EEA Family Permit.

The rules go like this:

Any citizen of a EEA (European Economic Area) country has the right to live and work in any other EEA country. If they exercise this treaty right, any family member who has lived with them in another EEA country has the right to come with them to another EEA country. This family member then has the right to live AND work in this next EEA country.

The EEA is the EU as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The permit deal also applies with Switzerland, although technically not part of the EEA.

In other words, because we had lived together in the Czech Republic (an EU country) and because I, as an EEA citizen, had exercised my treaty right by working there, I was now able to bring Jeff with me to live and work in any other EEA country.

The UK is not happy about this, of course. They tried to argue that a British person could not come back to Britain with their non-EU spouse, even if they had worked/lived in another EEA country, because it had to be a DIFFERENT EEA country from your own. This was overturned in court and is now known as the Surinder Singh ruling/route.

So, if you are British, you moved to another EEA country, and you were able to work there while living with a family member (including a spouse), you can apply. All you need is proof. We had my business license and invoices, and a housing contract with both our names on it.

An EEA family permit is FREE.

You technically don’t need one to enter the UK if you’re normally allowed through other routes, e.g. being from the US you can enter for 6 months as a tourist. For people who wouldn’t normally be allowed into the UK, this permit will allow you in for 6 months initially. You need to apply from your country’s British embassy, or if you have all the necessary paperwork you can apply once you enter the UK.

Your EEA family member rights exist whether or not you have a permit or a residence card, but it’s better to get either a permit (to let you in to the country) and/or a residence card to show prospective employers etc – it’s good as most people have no idea what an EEA family permit is!! You can apply for a residence card once you’re in the UK. They last up to 5 years at a time and it’s £55 to apply.

So, make it simple. Are you normally allowed into the UK (as a tourist etc)?

If no, apply for an EEA Family Permit first. 

If yes, you could come over, and once you’re here apply for a residence card. The “card” is actually a flimsy piece of paper called “UK Immigration Document” but at least it wasn’t stapled into his passport.

We applied for a residence card in September 2013, sending over our passports, proof that I worked in the Czech Republic, our lease for where we lived, and maybe some other things. Once they had acknowledged our application, we were able to write back and request our passports back, which we got within a week. It then took perhaps 3 months for the document to arrive.

Nothing states how long you need to have lived and worked in another EEA country. It could, in theory, be a week. You also need to pick an EEA country that will allow your spouse to live there and to have their name on a rental contract with you. I can’t speak for other countries, but the Czech Republic is pretty awesome. As an American, Jeff was able to live there for 3 months before he needed a work visa or any other kind of visa, and because he was able to find a job teaching English, his school sponsored his visa. However, I don’t think our landlord even asked about our legal status in the country – it’s MUCH easier than renting in the UK at the moment (where they want to run credit checks, references, background checks etc). Plus, if you get to spend even a little bit of time living in Prague, you might realise that it’s far better than the UK anyway ;).

*Note: I have now looked at the new form that came into effect on the 30th of January 2015. Our form was 37 pages long  – the new one is 129. It’s ridiculously long, complicated and asks a lot of completely irrelevant questions – your EEA freedom of movement remains unchanged, but no doubt the UK will use every possible trick up its sleeve to restrict ANYONE from coming here! This interesting article about how the UK is “blatantly obstructing EU freedom of movement rights” may be worth reading.

If, after all this, you still want to live here…. well, good luck to you. Grit, perseverance and a strong soul will win the day. Alternatively, maybe it’s time to find a country with good weather, working public transport, affordable housing, decent jobs, free/cheap higher education, a healthcare system that isn’t being sold off to its government’s mates, something approaching socioeconomic equality, and a government that doesn’t go out of its way to circumvent EU regulations and make life as hard as possible for people wanting to live here (any suggestions?). 😉


EEA family permit:

Residence card:

So. That’s all. Questions below! 🙂

8 thoughts on “Getting your non-EU spouse into the UK

  1. although one amendment needs to be made above – if you are coming from abroad with no job you need 62500 in savings, not 18600… it is 18600 x 2.5 + a random figure of 16000 which the government threw in for good measure!

  2. Hello, I would just like to know if I could send you a private email with some specific questions that I have. I am an American citizen with permanent residency in Spain, where I live with my British partner, although he’s had to go back to the U.K. for a few months on and off for family related issues. Once he’s back in Spain and legally working again, how long do you think it would be necessary to stay here before applying for a U.K. residence card, and did you apply for it from outside the U.K. (I think that’s what I understood in your blog), and if so, how and where did you apply? Did you skip the EEA Family Permit and apply directly for the residence card? Do you think it’s better to apply from outside the U.K. or more or less, is it a sure thing to do it from the U.K. once we dedcide that we have enough evidence that he is exercising his Treaty Rights? We have been together for over 7 years in Spain and planned on getting married soon anyway, maybe in the U.S. Thank you so much for your time and any input or more information would be gladly appreciated.

  3. I am battling this out right now. Thanks for sharing this information. Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. UK employers just don’t even know what a family permit is. On top of that, the UK border control EEA FM stamp conveniently doesn’t state family permit. *sigh*

    1. Yes, unfortunately we had a hard time with employers until my husband had the actual permit in hand as most employers have never heard of it. Worse is that some don’t even bother contacting you because they assume you’re foreign and they don’t want to deal with paperwork. Email me at if you want to chat about it!

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