Thinking about getting married abroad? Having your wedding in a beautiful, meaningful location appeals to many couples, but how easy is it from a legal point of view? Here’s the how, where, and what’s needed to get married abroad legally.
How do I get married abroad legally?
While considering the legal requirements of getting married abroad isn’t the most exciting or romantic aspect, it is arguably the most important part to ensure your marriage is legally recognised both abroad and in the UK.
The first step to getting married abroad legally is you will need to contact the local authorities where you want to get married with plenty of notice. They will be able to advise you on the legal requirements of getting married abroad in their country, the process, and the documents needed. Different countries need different documents legalising if you want to use them abroad. Read on to find out why having the right documentation is important, and what you may need to dig out.
Legal requirements of getting married abroad
Getting married abroad legally is important – if you don’t follow the country’s legal processes, your marriage might not be recognised as legal there, or once you get back to the UK! Legal requirements of getting married abroad can include:
- Having / bringing the correct documents with you
- Ensuring documents are certified, or translated if needed
- Meeting minimum age and same-sex marriage laws
- Ensuring you meet the legal residency requirements
It’s important to understand that your marriage needs to meet the legal requirements of both the country you’re getting married in and your country of residence. For this reason, you should plan your wedding abroad way in advance and many people getting married abroad find it easier to hire a wedding planner in that country.
To be safe, it is also worth contacting the British Embassy in the country you plan to get married in to hear that country’s laws and regulations around marriage from them. If you are particularly concerned about your marriage abroad being recognised legally due to certain circumstances, you may want to work with a solicitor who can advise you further on the legal technicalities and make sure nothing is missed.
Documents needed to get married abroad
If you’re getting married abroad, you will need to bring various important documents with you to meet the legal requirements of that country. These include:
- Your passports – these need to be valid and have at least 6 months left before expiration
- Full birth certificates from both parties (they need to be the originals or certified copies)
- If you are adopted, your adoption certificate
- If divorced, the decree absolute, if widowed, the marriage and previous spouses’ marriage and death certificate
- If you’ve changed your name, you will need deed poll proof of the name change
- Two Certificates of No Impediment (CNIs) from the UK government to get married abroad legally. A CNI costs about £30 each, takes around one month to issue, and expires around 6 months after it is issued. The CNI confirms that there are no reasons why both parties cannot legally marry.
- Single Status Statutory Declaration which is a document to prove those who have never been married can legally marry in that country and these must be apostilled and certified by solicitors in the UK. These documents are only required in certain countries including Kenya, the Seychellers and Bahamas, which is why it’s important to do plenty of research into the legalities before deciding on a wedding destination.
- Medical test – these are only required in certain countries such as the US, Mexico and Turkey.
Often, these documents will need to be originals, however, certified copies may also be acceptable. Many documents need notarisation before being used abroad, and some may need an apostille stamp or further legalisation. This will depend on the country you’re getting married abroad in as countries have different rules on what makes a document ‘authentic’.
It’s also sensible to make photocopies of these documents before you go for your own reference and peace of mind, though these won’t be accepted as part of the process of registering your marriage.
Some countries require the document(s) to also be translated into the language of the country you’re getting married in. Fortunately, many document certification services (including the services offered by MSC Notaries), can offer a streamlined process of document translation and legalisation in one.
How to register your marriage in the UK when getting married abroad
There is currently no action required to register your marriage in the UK if you marry abroad. Providing you get married abroad in accordance with the marriage laws in your chosen country and the UK, your marriage will also be legally recognised in the UK too.
For your marriage abroad to be legally recognised in the UK, there are various conditions that need to be met:
- Your marriage abroad must be recognised legally in the country in which it took place, meaning your marriage must follow all the necessary procedures, for example, having the necessary amount of witnesses.
It’s important to research laws around civil partnerships, same-sex marriage and polygamous relationships before planning a wedding too, as these are not recognised legally in all countries.
Religion is another key factor to consider when planning where to get married as laws around wedding ceremonies being classed as ‘civil’ also differ, and your ceremony must be recognised as ‘civil’ in that country for your marriage to be recognised in the UK. You can use the government tool to identify whether a country allows same-sex marriage and other legalities.
- Any previous marriage of the two parties must be terminated officially in accordance with UK laws and regulations.
- Each party must legally be allowed to marry under UK law at the time, for example, in terms of age and consent.
- You must have official evidence and documentation of your marriage abroad, which will be the original marriage certificate. If your marriage certificate has been issued in a foreign language, you will need to obtain a certified translation for your marriage certificate to be recognised in the UK.
It is important to keep your original foreign marriage certificate in a safe place, should this need to be certified at any point at a later date for other purposes.
Should you need or want to order a marriage certificate for a marriage that was registered abroad, you can order an overseas marriage certificate online via the Government website. This will cost you a small fee which can range from £11 to £42, depending on whether you would like a General Register Office (GRO) index reference supplied, any additional copies, and whether you order online, via phone or post.
How much does it cost to get married abroad?
Aside from the costs that come with planning a wedding in general, legally, there are a few small fees to consider.
There are a few small costs to consider when it comes to the legal requirements for getting married abroad:
- Before getting married abroad, you will need to contact the authorities in that country to give notice of your planned marriage and have their legal procedures outlined to you for your reference.
- Consideration by a Superintendent Registrar of a divorce/civil partnership dissolution obtained outside of the British Isles is £50.00.
- Consideration by the Registrar General of a divorce/civil partnership dissolution obtained outside of the British Isles is £75.00.
What countries can I legally get married in?
Many countries allow UK couples to get married, and the easiest way to find out is to use the GOV.UK tool. Just enter where you want to get married abroad, and it will tell you whether it’s possible and what you will need to do.
Countries that are easy to get married in
If you’re looking for the easiest places to get married abroad legally, here are a few of the most popular countries:
The most popular country for UK couples getting married abroad is Italy. Not only is there a wide range of beautiful destinations, but the legal requirements are relatively easy, and there are no minimum residency requirements. In France and Spain, you need to have lived there for a certain amount of time before you can marry there.
Las Vegas is known as the ‘wedding capital of the world’ and with good reason. It’s easy to get married in Vegas, all you need to do is show your (valid) passports at the courthouse, get a marriage license, and find a venue to get hitched.
New York is easy too – you can get married 24 hours after getting a standard marriage license there. Obviously, you need to take into account any difficulties getting to the USA in the first place, but once you’re in New York or Vegas it’s simple.
Want a beach island wedding? Hawaii requires no residency or waiting times, and many companies offer easy wedding packages. Ensure you leave time to sort a beach permit, and ensure you bring a valid ID and documentation.
Another stunning Mediterranean choice, Cyprus is a popular country for UK residents getting married abroad. The legal requirements are relatively easy, but you will need to apply in person for the marriage beforehand, and you will need to bring all the necessary documentation. Some Cyprus holiday packages incorporate a stay, a wedding, and a honeymoon.
Find out more about getting married in Cyprus at Tie the Knot Cyprus.
Compared to many other countries in the EU to get married abroad, Denmark is relatively straightforward. You will need to apply for a licence online a couple of weeks before you want to get married, but this can be done online from anywhere. Couples only need to be in Denmark a couple of days before the wedding. It’s known as “The Vegas of Europe”. You can even leave the day of your ceremony with your legally recognised marriage certificate.
On the border of Spain, Gibraltar offers a more simple legal process than its neighbouring country. There is no long residency or religious requirements, and you have the option to hold a Spanish wedding reception after you’re married. You can apply to marry in Gibraltar three months to one day prior to your ceremony. One requirement is that you need to provide the Registrar with evidence you are staying in the country the night before or after your ceremony.
New Zealand’s easy legal requirements are nearly as famous as its scenery – you don’t even need to show your ID to get married here. If you have been married before, ensure you bring the relevant documentation. Like many countries, you will need to bring a Notice of Intended Marriage, and arrange for a marriage license and certificate before the ceremony.
Obviously, travel regulations change regularly and you should always double-check the current legal requirements of the country you want to get married abroad in. We can advise whether the above countries need notarisation, an apostille stamp, or more complex consular legalisation.
Countries that are complex to get married in
For wedding ceremonies to be classed as ‘civil’ and legal in Spain, one party must have been a resident of the country for at least two years, so to marry there you would have to move to Spain and become a legal resident before you can consider the ceremony. Alternatively, if you are of the Catholic faith, there is the option to legally marry in a Spanish Catholic Church, which would need to be arranged through your priest in the UK.
Interested in living in Spain long-term? Read our blog about applying for Spanish citizenship.
The process of marrying abroad in Greece is more complicated than in other destinations, including that your wedding notice must be published in your local newspaper or town hall of the location eight days before you can apply for CNIs. In addition, all documents must be professionally translated and submitted in Greek and have an apostille stamp attached.
Mexico can be a favourable place to get married abroad as you can have a civil ceremony outside of registry offices, making for stunning legal wedding destinations. Some more legal technicalities to bear in mind, however, are that all states require you to take a local blood test, and HIV and STD test 5 to 15 days before your wedding ceremony. The blood test/health certificate will also need to be in Spanish. Mexico also requires civil ceremonies to have four witnesses minimum.
Can we help with getting married abroad?
MSC Notaries offer translation, notary services, and document legalisation for a variety of countries. We can help you gather the documents needed to get married abroad, translate if needed, and make sure they’re properly certified for your chosen country.
Countries overseas need different ‘levels’ of legalisation for documents, so while some countries may only need documents to be notarised by a notary, others may need an apostille stamp from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
Some countries, for example outside the Hague Convention, will need an extra level of legalisation on top of this. An apostille stamp certifies the public officer (e.g. notary’s or registrar’s signature) and is followed by consular legalisation that certifies the apostille stamp. MSC Notaries can help to ensure the process is carried out correctly and your documents will still be legal once they’re overseas. It’s often quicker and easier to translate, notarise and legalise documents all in one.