Are you dreaming of getting married on a sandy beach in the Caribbean or Mexico? Or perhaps in the south of France or Italy?
Getting married in a foreign country is romantic and exciting! But before you consult a wedding planner, you must brush up on the legal requirements before the big day.
First, check the country's local laws where you plan to have the destination wedding. It is important to ensure your marriage is legal when you return to the States.
Like U.S. marriage laws, foreign marriage laws are different in every country. Most countries need proof of a valid passport, birth certificate, and proof of residency to get married. Some countries also require a blood test or medical test.
For example, France has residency requirements for marriage. But France allows non-residents to get married in their country's consulate. You can have the legal ceremony at the U.S. consulate in France and a wedding ceremony (symbolic ceremony) in another venue. To learn more about marriage laws in different countries, see this article on the top 10 wedding destinations.
It is important to check the marriage laws in the destination wedding location. Some countries require you to complete a marriage application months before the wedding date. Preparing ahead of time will help you avoid any lengthy and costly mistakes. You do not want your marriage invalid shortly after the wedding day.
This article breaks down how U.S. citizens may legally marry in a foreign country.
Validity of Marriages Abroad
Marriages performed legally in other countries are legal marriages in the United States.
Legal marriage in the United States requires couples to get a marriage license and a marriage certificate. The process to get a marriage license requires proof of identification through legal documents, such as a birth certificate, death certificate, and driver's license.
Other countries will also need proof of identification and citizenship. Some countries may require original and certified copies of identification (passport, driver's license, birth certificate, etc.).
If you have questions about getting married abroad, contact the attorney general of your state.
Who May Perform Marriages Abroad
While some countries allow non-citizens to marry in an American embassy, American diplomatic and consular officers cannot perform marriages. Marriages abroad are usually performed by local (foreign) civil or religious officials. Make sure to check the foreign country's marriage laws.
You can still get married in a country that does not have an American embassy or consulate. But you will need to follow the foreign country's marriage laws to make your marriage legal. Make sure to check the country's marriage laws.
Destination Wedding Legal Requirements
The embassy, or a tourist information office, is the best resource to learn about marriage requirements in another country.
Also, American embassies and consulates have information about marriage laws. Below is a list of common destination wedding legal requirements.
- Residency Requirements: Marriages abroad are subject to residency requirements. Note: There is usually a long waiting period. Keep that in mind before booking any travel plans.
- Documentation and Authentication: Most countries require proof of identification and nationality. You will typically need to show the following: a valid U.S. passport, birth certificates, divorce decrees, and death certificates of former spouses. Some countries require documents be authenticated by an apostille in the United States. An apostille is like a notary. But, instead of a notary stamping a document, the Vital Records Division of the U.S. Department of State certifies that the document is a legal U.S. document (click "How to Request an Apostille on your Consular Document"). Make sure to check the destination wedding country's marriage laws. This process is time-consuming and expensive.
- Parental Consent: The age of majority for marriage differs in every country. Persons under 18 must present their parents' written statement of consent before a notary public. Some countries also require parental consent to be authenticated by a consular official of the destination wedding country.
- Affidavit of Eligibility to Marry: All civil law countries require a certificate of celibacy. The certificate proves that a person can legally enter into a marriage contract. The United States does not have certificates of celibacy. American citizens will need an affidavit of eligibility to marry that they sign under oath at an American embassy or consulate. The affidavit will state that they are free to marry. There is a fee for the American consular officer's certification of the affidavit. While the embassy or consulate official may not attest to the marital status of a U.S. citizen, they may witness your signature on an affidavit — which you provide — stating you are free to marry. Some countries also require witnesses to have affidavits stating that the couple is free to marry.
- Other Requirements: Unlike the United States, some countries require blood tests. Countries also require you to translate the documents into the native language of that country. You may have to hire a certified translator in the destination wedding country to translate your documents.
Loss of U.S. Nationality
In some countries, marrying a citizen automatically grants the spouse citizenship. In other countries, marriage allows a non-citizen spouse faster naturalization. Naturalization or dual citizenship will not affect your U.S. citizenship.
Contact an American embassy or consulate for further information if you apply for foreign nationality.
Marriage to a Foreign Spouse
You can find information on getting a visa for a foreign spouse in these offices.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
- Department of Homeland Security
- U.S. embassies and consulates
- Department of State-Visa Office (Washington, D.C.)
You can find general visa information by calling the Visa Office: (202) 663-1225.
Get Legally Married in the U.S. Before the Destination Wedding
Getting legally married outside the United States is complicated, expensive, and time-consuming. Getting legally married at your local courthouse or city hall is easier before you travel to your destination wedding. That way, you do not have to worry about paperwork or endless rules and regulations abroad. You can fully enjoy every moment of your destination wedding!
Planning Your Destination Wedding? Will Your Marriage Be Legal? Consult an Attorney Today
Tying the knot in Jamaica or Cancun may seem like the perfect destination wedding location. Before you call a wedding coordinator, you must ensure that your destination wedding or elopement is legal.
A family law attorney in your area will help you with the necessary paperwork and let you know if you need to file a marriage application months in advance.