1) "Does the green card process (and, therefore, the citizenship path)
only start once the couple is living in the United States..."
2) "...or can this whole process -- all the way to getting full
citizenship -- be done totally aborad, hrough America's embassies in
A marriage to a U.S. citizen abroad does not a new U.S. citizen make
without first obtaining a visa and meeting residency requirements (3
years for a spouse).
Immigration Through a Family Member
A lawful permanent resident is a foreign national who has been granted
the privilege of permanently living and working in the United States.
If you want to become a lawful permanent resident based on the fact
that you have a relative who is a citizen of the United States or a
relative who is a lawful permanent resident, you must go through a
* First, the USCIS must approve an immigrant visa petition, I-130
Petition for Alien Relative for you. This petition is filed by your
relative (sponsor) and must be accompanied by proof of your
relationship to the requesting relative.
* Second, the Department of State must determine if an immigrant
visa number is immediately available to you, the foreign national,
even if you are already in the United States. When an immigrant visa
number becomes immediately available to you, it means that you can
apply to have one of the immigrant visa numbers assigned to you. You
can check the status of a visa number in the Department of State's
* Third, if you are already in the United States, you may apply to
change your status to that of a lawful permanent resident after a visa
number becomes available for you. This is one way you can apply to
secure an immigrant visa number. Click here for application procedures
for becoming a lawful permanent resident while in the United States.
If you are outside the United States when an immigrant visa number
becomes available for you, you must then go to the U.S. consulate
servicing the area in which you reside to complete your processing.
This is the other way in which you can apply to secure an immigrant
* Note: Information concerning the new K (advance admission for
the spouse and children of a U.S. citizen) and new V (advance
admission for the spouse and the minor children of a lawful permanent
resident) nonimmigrant categories is available but not yet
incorporated here. For updates on the Legal Immigration Family Equity
(LIFE) Act, please click here.
>>> Residency Requirements
A GUIDE TO NATURALIZATION
PAGE 18: TABLE OF REQUIREMENTS:
*If You Have Been Married to a U.S. Citizen for at Least 3 Years:
3 years as a Permanent Resident without leaving the United States for
trips of 6 months or longer
PAGE 19: CONTINUOUS RESIDENCE:
"'Continuous residence' means that you have not left the United States
for a long period of time. If you leave the UnitedStates for too long,
you may interrupt your 'continuous residence.'"
*What if I was outside the United States for between 6 and 12 months?
"If you leave the United States for more than 6 months, but less than
1 year, you have broken or disrupted your ?continuous residence?
unless you can prove otherwise. Read the ?Document Checklist? in the
back pocket of the Guide to find out what information you must give to
us to prove you did not break your 'continuous residence.'"
"If you are applying based on 5 years as a Permanent Resident or 3
years as a Permanent Resident married to a U.S. citizen, you may file
for naturalization up to 90 days before you meet the ?continuous
>>> Eligibility Worksheet
What is the purpose of this worksheet?
"The Eligibility Worksheet will help you decide if you are eligible to
apply for naturalization."
>>> Additional Links of Interest
1) File a Petition for Alien Relative
FORM I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
FORM I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiance(e)
2) Apply for Visa
A Spouse of a U.S. Citizen (K-3) Is Also an Immigrant
FORM DS-156 Nonimmigrant Visa Applications::
3) Register for Legal Permanent Residency (LPR)
Becoming a Permanent Resident While in the United States
Permanent Residency (Green Card)
FORM I-485; FORM I-864; FORM I-693; package:
4) Apply for Naturalization
Nonimmigrant Visa for a Spouse (K-3)
I hope this helps you to see your way through the immigration maze a
bit. If you have any questions, please post a clarification request
and wait for me to respond before closing/rating my answer.