Getting married abroad? Legal requirements to consider

Rubina Vohra
Rubina Vohra

Published: February 15th, 2024

7 min read

After an exciting engagement, couples are keen to make arrangements for the wedding itself.

Due to the current cost of living, many more couples are looking to get married abroad, often seduced by white beaches, good weather and the ability to have a smaller guest list and a lower cost. Often, getting married abroad can combine a smaller, cheaper wedding with the honeymoon.

People also consider getting married abroad if they have a culture and heritage that they want to embrace, either because a fiancé(e) lives abroad or because they choose to go back to their roots and embrace a more cultural wedding.

For those that are getting married abroad, it is important to make sure that the wedding does, in fact, lead to a valid and recognised marriage in the UK.

What is a valid marriage?

In the UK, the marriage must be conducted by or in the presence of a person authorised to register marriages in the district. The marriage must be entered in the marriage schedule and signed by each spouse, two witnesses and the Registrar. Notice needs to be given before the ceremony. If a "wedding" is organised in the UK, it's important to make sure that these conditions have been met. Without that it will be a ceremony, but there will be no valid marriage. It is particularly important for those taking part in a religious ceremony to take this into account as whilst a religious marriage ceremony can be deemed to be valid, in fact it is a recognition of a union under religious practises but not necessarily under UK law itself.

Foreign marriages

In order for a foreign marriage to be recognised as a legal marriage in the UK, the following conditions need to be met:

  • It must be contracted in accordance with the law of the country in which the marriage takes place.

  • Each intended spouse must have the capacity to marry at the time of the marriage. This relates to age, consent and also mental capacity.

  • The parties must be free to marry as per English law, i.e., they must either be single, widowed or divorced.

  • A valid marriage certificate should be provided as evidence of the marriage. If the marriage certificate is in a different language, it must be accompanied with a certified translation.

When returning back to the UK, there is no expectation for the marriage to be registered in any way. As long as these conditions have been met, it will be a recognised and valid marriage.

Pitfalls and tips

Before you make arrangements for the wedding, make sure you check with the foreign local authority what is needed for a recognised marriage in that area. Cross-check against the checklist above so that a mistake is not made.

Do not assume that if a hotel or venue caters for a wedding abroad that they will comply in arranging a recognised marriage. Ask the questions and, again, check with the local authority to make sure that you are in fact getting married and not simply having a wedding celebration.

Finally, if you are getting married and it involves a religious ceremony, again make sure that the ceremony complies with the local laws to lead to a recognised marriage. If not, it may be that a separate civil ceremony is required, alongside the religious ceremony.

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