Meghan Markle - her journey from USA Expat to U.K. Royalty 

While the blushing bride and her princely groom may stand side by side at St. George’s chapel on May 19th without a care in the world, Ms. Markle’s infiltration into British life may not be as uncomplicated. Markle was born Rachael Meghan Markle in 1981 to a caucasian father and African-American mother and grew up in The Valley, Los Angeles at a time when there was civil unrest between black and white Valley citizens. Markle has herself stated that as a child growing up, people automatically assumed her mother was her nanny because of her own fair skin. 

As a child, she grew up with aspirations of following her parents into the entertainment industry. Her father and mother met while working as a lighting director and studio temp on a soap opera in the 70s. Later in life she would live her dream, becoming an actress in a number of movies, but is perhaps best known for her role as Rachel Zane  in US TV series Suits. Modelling and philanthropy followed, but it was through a mutual friend that she met Prince Harry. They subsequently dated before officially agreeing to marry in Windsor later this month.

The young actress may not be the first American to marry a British royal - that honour goes to Wallace Simpson who married Edward VIII following his 1939 abdication - but she is certainly the first to be welcomed into the royal fold with open arms. This in itself would have been considered impossible as recently as 2015 until a change in policy allowed royal members to marry those practising the Catholic faith. Another recent issue may relate to Meghan's previous marriage, but this issue was essentially dealt with when Harry’s father Prince Charles wed the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005, thereby creating a precedent. Camilla had previously been married for 22 years before divorcing in 1995. 

Does Meghan's US nationality hold her back?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the upcoming royal wedding is Ms. Markle’s nationality and immigration status. Kensington Palace stated back in 2017 that she will be treated in the same way as any other citizen embarking upon life in the UK. Prince Harry’s communication secretary, Jason Knauf, confirmed that she intends to become a UK citizen, which will take a number of years to finalise. 

Of course, she may decide to become a dual nationality citizen, which has various possible routes. Only one of these will apply to Meghan. To become a UK citizen she must be married to Prince Harry for a minimum of 3 years or reside in the UK for five years before she can apply for citizenship. Other options would include having a British mother (her mother is a US citizen born in Ohio) or being born in the UK itself. Neither of which apply to Meghan.

Aside from the residential requirement, Meghan must also be of sound mind and good character to be permitted. Her charity work with World Vision UK and United Nations will no doubt come into play here. It is thought that when she moves over here, she will engage in a commonwealth ambassador role alongside her husband, working with young people from a range of backgrounds.

Which visa is Meghan using?

First thing’s first, however, Meghan will need to apply for a family visa to stay in the UK which will be sponsored by Prince Harry. The cost of the visa is between £1,464-£1,583 depending on whether the couple decide upon the basic or premium service. Sponsors must have an income of at least £18,600 per annum or have savings over £16,000, to bring their partner to the UK. 

While this will be unlikely to cause a problem for Prince Harry who has an inheritance from his mother’s death and funds from his father’s estate, it is something which can be restrictive for other UK citizens. Meghan will also forego the need to complete an English speaking test as she comes from a non-EU country where English is the native language. There are 16 countries where the test is not required, including Barbados, Canada and Guyana. 

As part of the application, it is likely that Meghan and Prince Harry will have needed to give proof that their relationship is genuine. There are various ways to do this, including transcripts of their emails, texts and phone records, photos of the couple together during holidays, joint rental or mortgage details. This poses an interesting problem for the couple. Being in the public eye as a high-profile couple, their privacy is at a premium. This will be particularly tough for Prince Harry given the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his mother’s death. It’s natural then, for the couple to be reluctant to give such personal information to others, even if the party receiving the documents is a government department.

As Meghan is currently residing in London with Prince Harry, it is likely that the family visa application has already been processed. This initial visa will last up to two-and-a-half years from the date it is granted before it needs to be renewed. A further visa can be requested after this initial family visa and indefinite leave to remain can be granted after Meghan has resided in the UK for five years with a minimum of 270 days residency in the past three years of her UK stay. 

Dual citizenship

Should Meghan decide upon dual citizenship, she’ll also need to consider the financial implications this brings up for both her and the royal family. All US citizens, whether living in the US or not, are required to file taxes with the IRS every year. Miss Markle is no exception. It’s currently thought that over seven million US citizens live outside the US and are responsible for income tax, estate and gift taxation.

To file the tax return, Meghan will need to complete the same tax form as any other US citizen, adding her US registered social security number to the form. Any payments sent to the IRS will need to be mailed with IRS form 1040-ES as detailed on the IRS website. On her tax return, she will need to list any assets totalling $300,000 or more alongside a statement of foreign financial assets form (form number 8938). This could include foreign trust funds, meaning the royal family’s assets may also come under scrutiny too. She may also need to disclose a credit or debit card linked to Prince Harry’s finances and expensive jewellery gifts given to her by the Queen if their value is particularly high. 

Her income, too, will be taxed by the IRS as long as she remains a US citizen, regardless as to where she earns said income. She may get tax relief on this up to the first $104,100 of earnings from her country of residence if she qualifies for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion program. This, however, does not offer relief on any trusts or investments. Trusts work differently in the US. If Meghan benefits from any family assets held in trust, she may be liable to pay up to 37% tax on the money received from these assets.

Becoming a UK citizen only

Of course, things will change should Meghan choose to become a citizen of the UK and relinquish her US citizenship. She will then be liable for expatriation tax should she earn more than $160,000 or have a net worth of more than $2,000,000 at the time of expatriation. This is an exit tax which Meghan would still be required to pay if she owns stock or property, even if she doesn't plan to sell it. 

While renouncing her US citizenship will help ease her tax situation, it could pose some problems of its own if she ever wishes to gain it back. There is no fast-track option for those who opt out of US citizenship, so Markle would need to apply again for US citizenship in the same manner a non-US citizen would. This is a timely and difficult process, which has no guarantee of a positive outcome. 

Another factor to consider would be any children that may result from her marriage to Prince Harry. They will also either have dual or single citizenship depending on their mother’s nationality. Carrying both passports may confer educational, travel and property acquisition benefits that single passport holders do not have. Clearly, there is a lot to consider here from the soon-to-be-married couple’s standpoint. 

As part of her UK citizenship application, Meghan will need to complete a series of questions on life in the UK. Although, ironically, she may well have an upper hand when it comes to the answers. Previous questions used in the UK lifestyle questionnaire include the relationship between the UK monarch and the government and who is married to the Queen of England. Questionnaire handbooks are available from the Home Office for help with the answers, although we think Meghan may very well get by fine without one.