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British citizenship through marriage

Marriage to a British citizen allows a person to potentially qualify for the UK spouse visa. However, old Colonial law also passed on further rights to women (but not men) who were married to British husbands before 1 January 1983 and to the children of women married before 1949.

Let us assess your right to claim British citizenship

We can help out in the following three situations:

  • Married to (or in a relationship with) a British citizen
  • Women married between 1 January 1949 and 31 December 1982
  • Women married before 1 January 1949

You can qualify for a UK spouse visa if you are married to, or in a relationship with, a British citizen.

Women married between 1 January 1949 and 31 December 1982

A woman who married a British citizen (or a man whose father was born in the UK) before 1 January 1983 - and this woman was a Commonwealth citizen on 1 January 1983 - can claim the right of abode.

The right of abode is unique to the United Kingdom. It takes the form of a stamp in a passport and is considered the next best thing to a British passport. The right can never be lost. It allows the holder to live and work in the UK, and counts time towards naturalisation as a British citizen.

Please note the following important anomalies to the above requirements:

  • Commonwealth nationality can come from one of the following:
    1. Birth in a country that remained a Commonwealth country on 1 January 1983 (so this excludes South Africa)
    2. Descent from the father (in most cases, his country of birth)
    So a South African-born woman could qualify if her father was born in Rhodesia (as an example).
  • Previous marriages can also convey the right of abode. So even though a woman may have remarried, divorced or become widowed, she keeps the right of abode from the previous marriage.
  • The man can be British by birth or by descent. So the woman can get the right of abode from her father-in-law.

Read more about this right of abode to the wife of a British husband.

Women married before 1 January 1949

A woman became a British Subject on her wedding day if she married a British man (including a man whose father was born in the UK) before 1 January 1949. Find out more information on this historic right to British nationality through marriage.

Please note the following three important anomalies:

  • Previous marriages also convey this transfer of British nationality. So even though a woman may have remarried, divorced or become widowed, she remained a British subject.
  • Any children born to this woman after 1 January 1949 can claim British nationality.
  • The husband can be British by birth or by descent.

A consequence of this old nationality law occurs where a person born after 1 January 1949 can have a claim to British nationality from a paternal grandfather born in the UK.

A strange consequence could arise if all three of these factors apply: A person born after 1 January 1949 can have a claim to British nationality from the father of his mother’s former husband.

Contact our citizenship team

Phone us (SA): +27 (0) 21 657 2139

Phone us (UK): +44 (0) 20 7759 7581

South Africa

Regent Square
Doncaster Road
Kenilworth 7708
Cape Town
t: +27 (0) 21 657 2120

United Kingdom

Castlewood House
77/91 New Oxford Street
London
WC1A 1DG
t: +44 (0) 20 7759 7514

Australia

Suite 8.06
9 Yarra Street
South Yarra
Melbourne VIC 3141
t: +613 (0) 86 514 500

Hong Kong

Level 1102
The Lee Gardens
33 Hysan Avenue
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
t: +852 3959 8681

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