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How to Legally Get Married in a Foreign Country

You'll need to do some research first.

Contributing Writer
bride and groom
Photography by: Abby Jiu Photography

Destination weddings are all the rage for many reasons: They're extremely adventurous and romantic, they can help you to significantly cut down your guest list, and they're often less stressful to plan. But despite all of a destination wedding's pros, there is one con, especially if you're planning on saying "I do" in a foreign country—legally getting married abroad is a tricky business. To help sort out the details, we talked to Beth Helmstetter, owner and creative director of Beth Helmstetter Events, who has planned countless celebrations at home and abroad. Here, she outlines everything you need to know about make your union official when you're far from home.

 

Related: Is a Destination Wedding Right for You?

 

Know how to obtain a marriage license.

The trickiest part about getting married outside of the United States is that every other country has its own set of rules and requirements for obtaining a marriage license. When you're first considering a destination wedding abroad, you'll need to fully research the marriage requirements in your country of choice. "Many couples think they can just get married anywhere but every country has its own rules," Helmstetter says.

 

Think about hiring a lawyer.

This one may surprise you, but it's important to understand all the legalities of your foreign marriage license. "If the native language isn't English, couples should be prepared to hire a local lawyer and translator to work with their American lawyer to ensure the paperwork is filed accurately," Helmstetter explains. "Not all countries are this complex but enough of them are that the couple needs to do their due diligence before determining whether they're up for a legal ceremony in another country." You'll want to leave room in your budget for the translator and lawyer—Helmstetter says that these fees can add around $1,000 to the total budget.

 

Get your paperwork in order.

Just as the U.S. requires couples to present certain documents before obtaining a marriage license, other countries do, too. Helmstetter says that brides and grooms will generally need their passports, birth certificates, and divorce decrees (should they have them), but this varies from country to country. This is yet another reason why she stresses the importance of working with a local lawyer and translator to understand the requirements—you'd hate to turn up in the country where you're tying the knot in just a few weeks only to learn you don't have the proper documentations to be legally married. 

 

Determine if there's a residency requirement.

Some countries also require the couple to establish "residency" for a set amount of time—this could be anywhere from two days to six months. "Depending on how long the country of choice requires, it's not always feasible for an American couple to marry abroad," Helmstetter explains. Which means for some, having a symbolic ceremony in your country of choice, and then legally getting married in a courthouse upon return, is the most viable option.

 

Get local help.

If you're feeling overwhelmed Helmstetter suggests reaching out to local planners. They're the best resource and will be well-versed in local laws. "Most will share these details as early as an initial consultation call," the pros says. "They want to avoid any issues down the line should the couple realize they cannot or do not want to comply with the legal requirements."