08 November 2021

How to Change Your Last Name in the UK as an American

Changing your American Surname in the UK

I swore I'd never get married again, and yet here we are. Life had other plans, American girl randomly meets British boy while on a self-empowerment sabbatical adventure in the UK, they fall in love on a soulmate kind of level right before the onset of a global pandemic, and she can't wait to become the future Mrs B to her Mr B. Little did she know what a laborious quest it would be to be together or that she would have to wait 7 months after their legal marriage ceremony to finally become Mrs B.

Spoiler Alert: I'm now legally Mrs B.

Did you know that there are between 100,000 – 200,000 American UK residents according to the UK Office of National Statistics? So changing identity information abroad is definitely not a new thing -- many have come before us! Because of this, good news is that changing a last name outside of the U.S. is a relatively straight-forward process unlike a lot of other things you have to do when permanently moving to another country. Once you have your marriage certificate in hand, you can start the surname evolution! (And if you decide to not change your name, even better, you've got nothing to update except your tax filing status to "married" next year.)

Since I was getting a lot of questions about changing my last name (as those close to me know it's been a ridiculously long decade of a year for me as it relates to immigration), this post has been in the making for awhile, but I wanted to make sure I was through the name changing process myself before sharing. So for those fellow newly married American immigrants to the UK who are looking to legally change their surname to their partner's surname, this one is for you.

Disclaimer: Like anything else on the internet, please do your research in case prices or processes have altered. As of writing this, this information from various relevant government websites was accurate, but if you learn anything with immigrating to the UK, it's that things can and will change. For example, when I renewed my passport in January 2021, literally two days later, the Embassy lowered the price by almost £10 for passport renewals! You can imagine my frugal forehead greeting my desk when I saw that. Prices almost always go up, not down. Welcome to the endless anomalies you'll encounter.

Applying for Name Changes in the United Kingdom versus United States

Changing your name overseas is slightly different than if you would change your name Stateside. Where you would normally go to a local Social Security office first and DMV next in your home state, that's not an option in the UK. Via the U.S. Embassy in London, you can't even change your Social Security records until you have an updated passport, so your U.S. passport becomes the key to unlocking everything else in the UK.

When I changed my last name from my birth surname the first time around in 2009, it was a really quick process that took less than a month to receive all my new IDs and documents within the state of Virginia. But in the UK, you'll want to factor in much more time as many things require waiting for another document to change before you can proceed in addition to shipping times and current processing delays (hello, pandemic-ridden DVLA).

While some will ask, do I even need to change the name on my Social Security card? Well, technically not right away like you would have had to from within the U.S., but changing your Social Security will also update your information with the IRS which is especially helpful around tax time. (Unsolicited reminder: Just in case you've stumbled upon this from the ether, as a U.S. citizen, you will forever have to file your U.S. taxes no matter what country you live in unless you renounce your citizenship. That frustration is for another day though.)

Changing your American Surname in the UK

How do I legally change my last name in the UK?

The biggest misconception is that changing your name is some complicated legal mess. Guess what? This is one molehill you don't need to turn into a mountain! To make your new name legal, you literally only have to update your name on your government-issued IDs and documents by way of showing government-issued evidence to make that change (e.g., marriage certificate or deed poll). No faff, no courts, no formal application to a random government department. You can decide to legally change your name today if you had the proper documentation to get started. It's literally that easy (and certainly will make you question why it's not harder to give yourself a new moniker given all the other immigration hurdles you've leaped across).

Before Getting Started . . .

Whether in Excel or Google Docs, I recommend creating a spreadsheet and listing out everything you need to change for your situation, the date you requested the change, and how to apply for the change (e.g., website link/online, by mail, etc). You may have some following up to do, and you won't want to waste your time, so this spreadsheet is a very helpful personal resource.

And remember, when you go to reapply for your next UK visa, your evidence and other documents need to match whatever name you put on your application, so the sooner you get this sorted, the sooner you have one less thing to think about.

Most all non-passport/BRP name changes can easily be done online through your account or dedicated company websites. If you're having a hard time finding a company's name change policy in their FAQs, go to Google and search for "name change [insert company name here]." I had to do this for most of my accounts.

You will also find some of your U.S.-based accounts won't let you submit your name change documentation online, and you'll have to wait until you're in the States again to make the change. This was the case with my Capital One bank account and my student loan account. They both require snail mailing or faxing, and for me, it was not worth the postage expense or anxiety if the mail would get delivered to change these two accounts right now. 

Going forward, because literally everyone's needs and situation are different, I'm only going to expound upon the details for the passport and the BRP procedures -- which are the two most important IDs you need to update right away.

Changing your American Surname in the UK

STEP 1: Change your U.S. Passport

The passport is the key to everything, so this needs to be changed first. You can renew your passport through the U.S. Embassy in London, the U.S. Consulate General in Edinburgh, or the Consulate General in Belfast. (At the time of writing, due to the pandemic, the Northern Ireland and Scotland offices are instructing you go through the London Embassy, but the individual links will give you the most up-to-date information.)

Passport renewal is most always done via a mail-in application. In-person appointments aren't typical for a standard renewal or name change.

I had to personally renew my passport from within the UK before Mr B and I married, so because I applied for my name change with 12 months of my renewal, I did not have to pay again for a new passport. If your renewal falls outside of the 12 months' grace period, the standard passport renewal process is the route you'll take, and you will need to budget for £84 for a new passport (as listed on their website).

What you must submit for a marriage- or civil partnership-related name change:

- Your completed DS-82 renewal application form

- Your current U.S. passport

- Your original marriage certificate or deed poll

- A recent 2x2 U.S. passport-sized photo taken within the past 6 months

- A pre-paid Royal Mail Special Delivery envelope (addressed to you for your passport return)

(For other reasons for a name change and their applicable documents, go to the U.S. Embassy website to see what process best applies to you.)

Personal Experience: When I did pay for my renewal prior to name change, I learned you must obtain a postal money order through the Royal Mail Post Office (or a bank draft) much like the Stateside procedures. When going to the UK Post Office, however, you will need £84 in cash -- no card or personal check accepted -- to purchase this money order. (UPDATE March 31, 2022: You can now also pay online via the government's payment portal.)

If time is of the essence, I do not recommend the Embassy's courier service, DX Delivery, for passport delivery. I had a very challenging time as DX customer service is practically non-existent, and I ended up having to contact the Embassy directly to get the courier to properly deliver my passport. Once I connected with the Embassy's DX contact, he immediately took care of the situation, and my passport was finally delivered the next day before 12pm.  Thinking the Embassy's courier would be the quickest, in hindsight, I wish I would have done the usual Royal Mail Special Delivery route.

STEP 2: Change your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)

Because there is a time limit of 3 months wherein you must notify UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) of any changes of circumstance (e.g., name change), you need to update your BRP card next. This is a common, but costly process as you need to apply for this change and book another biometrics appointment to have your fingerprints and photo taken again... even if your BRP is months old like mine was.

I paid £180.20 for this new BRP card, and I managed to find a free biometrics appointment scheduled for one month after applying. If you cannot find a free available appointment or are running close to the 3 months' deadline, then budget for an additional £112-£200 for your biometrics at an available UKVCAS service point. (Important Note: You have to apply and pay for your name change application before getting access to scheduling a biometrics appointment.)

While your new BRP will help assist in changing your name on other accounts, your U.S. passport will serve the same purpose if there are government delays in getting your BRP card with your updated name on it. Once you get your new passport, keep on going with the name changing with the general checklist below!

Changing your American Surname in the UK

Take What You Need: A General Checklist for Accounts to Update

• Passport

• Biometric Residence Permit

• U.S. & UK Banking/Financial/Retirement Accounts

• Social Security

• GP/Doctor Offices (** when you notify your GP, your NHS account will also be updated)

• Your Employer 

• HMRC (** your National Insurance information will then be updated through this)

• U.S. & UK Credit Cards

• UK Driving License

• Car Insurance and Registration

• Utilities (e.g., phone, water, gas/electric)

• Travel-Related Accounts (e.g., airline booking/loyalty programs, AirBnb, taxi apps, etc)

• Online Retail Accounts (e.g., Amazon, Netflix, Etsy, etc)

• Online Payment Accounts (e.g., PayPal, Venmo, etc)

• Local Services (e.g., library, council tax, etc)

• Student Loans

• Vet Office and Your Pet's Microchip

• Rental/Letting or Mortgage Accounts

• U.S. Voter Registration and UK Electoral Roll (if dual citizen/Scotland/Wales applicable)

• Your Will or Living Trust

After Your Name Change Success

Enjoy, practice that shiny new signature, update your email settings/social media accounts if you haven't done so already, and start building a presence in the UK with your new legal name. Now onto more important things: buy a souvenir plot of Scottish land and see if you can convince your American folks that you are really indeed a Lord/Lady... because you're living your best British life now, obviously.

Photography from our non-legal wedding day with British family: Kelsie Scully Photography

If You Wish to Donate a Thank You

I wrote this guide because immigration is complicated enough without adding onto the whole marriage or name changing element. Every little helping hand can be a breath of fresh air -- I know I wish I had it! 

It took quite some time to put all of this information together, so if you're able and found this guide helpful for your own journey, treating me to a fizzy carbonated beverage certainly won't be turned away and would be greatly appreciated!