A probabilistic model is presented to compute the probability density function (PDF) of the ultimate bearing capacity of a strip footing resting on a spatially varying soil. The soil cohesion and friction angle were considered as two anisotropic cross-correlated non-Gaussian random fields. The deterministic model was based on numerical simulations. An efficient uncertainty propagation methodology that makes use of a non-intrusive approach to build up a sparse polynomial chaos expansion for the system response was employed. The probabilistic numerical results were presented in the case of a weightless soil. Sobol indices have shown that the variability of the ultimate bearing capacity is mainly due to the soil cohesion. An increase in the coefficient of variation of a soil parameter (c or φ) increases its Sobol index, this increase being more significant for the friction angle. The negative correlation between the soil shear strength parameters decreases the response variability. The variability of the ultimate bearing capacity increases with the increase in the coefficients of variation of the random fields, the increase being more significant for the cohesion parameter. The decrease in the autocorrelation distances may lead to a smaller variability of the ultimate bearing capacity. Finally, the probabilistic mean value of the ultimate bearing capacity presents a minimum. This minimum is obtained in the isotropic case when the autocorrelation distance is nearly equal to the footing breadth. However, for the anisotropic case, this minimum is obtained at a given value of the ratio between the horizontal and vertical autocorrelation distances. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.