Wedding Legals and Ceremony options in Spain
I receive quite a lot of questions, surrounding the wedding legals, from brides and grooms dreaming of a destination wedding in Spain
…what ceremony options are available, what the differences are and are they legally binding?!
I can totally understand the confusion!
There is quite a lot of conflicting information around so to cut through the noise and make things as simple as possible (hopefully!)
I have written this blog with all the need to know information regarding wedding ceremonies in Spain for both legal and symbolic ceremony options.
How to get legally married in Spain
As a non-national, there are two ways you can be legally married in Spain.
- Catholic Church Weddings.
The basic requirements for this are straightforward.
- At least one partner in the couple has to be Catholic
- Neither can be divorced.
Other religious marriages such as Protestant, Jewish and Muslim marriages may be celebrated in Spain without requiring a second civil marriage. Provided the celebrant is legally allowed to officiate at weddings and previous authorisation from the Civil Authorities is obtained.
Another option would be to opt to do the legal ceremony in your home country and have a blessing in the place of worship of your faith in Spain. This does, however, require special permission though and not everywhere allows it. Most churches also require in-person visits for enquiries and bookings so I would strongly recommend having someone on the ground locally to assist.
If a Catholic church wedding in Spain is exactly what you are looking for you can skip down further in the blog post where I explain the steps you need to take to have a legal church wedding in Spain.
Spain is a predominantly Catholic country and some of Spain’s churches are among the best in the world so you are sure to find one just right for your special day!
- You or your fiancé have been a Spanish resident for at least 2 years.
If either you or your fiance has been a Spanish resident for more than two years, you can have a religious or civil ceremony in Spain the same as a Spanish national.
- Yes, I did say there were only 2 but it is also important to mention the option of marrying in Gibraltar due to its proximity to Spain.
It is possible to have a legal binding religious or civil ceremony in the bordering country of Gibraltar.
Yes, Gibraltar is actually part of the UK .……
BUT it lies on the Spanish border and is just over an hour drive away from Marbella.
So it is absolutely possible to have your legal wedding ceremony in Gibraltar and then have the Spanish wedding of your dreams, just a short distance away, in Estepona or Marbella!
If you think Gibraltar might be just the alternative you are looking for, take a look below where I explain the steps to take to have a legal wedding ceremony in Gibraltar.
Ok…. So what are my options if….
- I am not Catholic
- I have never lived in Spain for at least 2 years
- Gibraltar is just too much hassle?!
There are hundreds of people who chose to celebrate their wedding in Spain every year even though they don’t fit into the above mentioned categories.
They do so by having a symbolic ceremony.
More and more couples are opting for a symbolic ceremony (also referred to as a blessing), as it gives them the flexibility to celebrate their wedding exactly where and how they want to.
So what is the difference between a civil ceremony and a symbolic ceremony?
A civil ceremony is legal, in that the marriage is officially recognised by the government.
A symbolic ceremony is NOT a legally recognised marriage. Instead, it’s essentially a promise of love between two people. It is the exact same as a regular wedding ceremony, including the exchange of vows and exchange of rings.
The only difference is that it is not legally binding.
You can opt to get legally married in your home country and then have a symbolic ceremony, together with your loved ones, anywhere in Spain.
The blessing/symbolic ceremony looks exactly like a regular ceremony including exchanging of the rings etc. and honestly ………
your guests would never even know the difference, that is if you don’t want them to of course!
Your legal ceremony back home can take place either before or after your symbolic ceremony, whichever you prefer!
As I mentioned previously millennials are opting more and more in favour of a symbolic ceremony and not only as a way around the legals!
…….. BUT because it allows them to have a very customised ceremony just about anywhere you can imagine!
Couples are forgoing traditions and really making their wedding day their own and the ceremony is no exception!
So what are the advantages of a SYMBOLIC Ceremony?
- There are a greater choice and variety of ceremony venues, dates and times available.
Civil and religious ceremonies must be carried out in a legally approved venue or church. However, with a symbolic ceremony, the possibilities are endless! You can say I do on the beach, overlooking the mountains or in a hot air balloon if you like! It also means you have the comfort of making it a relaxed ceremony on site where the reception will take place so no need for anyone to travel from one location to another giving everyone, including you and your fiancé, more time to enjoy the day!
- There is no need to travel to Spain before the day of your wedding to arrange any documents etc.
All documents for your legal marriage will be done in your home country which means no translation required. Also, your marriage will be registered at home so no hassle after the honeymoon to deal with legals, yay!
- The ceremony is completely customisable!
Perhaps one of the greatest advantages is that you can completely customise it to reflect you and your partner. You can even make it as short or as long as you like. So why not Include more of what’s important to you both and simply leave out what is not!
- If you get married in a civil ceremony at home first, then you can arrange to have a religious blessing in the place of worship of your faith in Spain.
These are just some of the advances and reasons why couples choose to have a symbolic ceremony in Spain over a traditional civil or church ceremony back home.
Requirements for a Catholic Wedding in Spain
There are several things to note in the preparation of a Catholic wedding in Spain and the process needs to be started 6 months before the date to ensure all documents are received on time and that the date is secured with the church in Spain.
Paperwork must be prepared in your home country and Official Documentation such as birth certificates may need to be translated by an Official Certified Translator and bear an Apostille Stamp. This will depend on the region and diocese in Spain you will marry in and some no longer require documents to be translated (if in English) so it is best to check with them first.
- Pre-nuptial enquiry
Your local parish will provide you with this and it is required for both of you.
- Baptismal, Communion and Confirmation Certificates issued by your parish church within the last 6 months. (May need to be translated)
- Declaration Letter from your Parish.
This is a formal letter from your parish priest that states that you have fulfilled your Pre-Marital course requirements. This letter should also include permission for the priest that you are free to marry in a Catholic Church elsewhere.
The priest will forward this on to the local Archbishop who will prepare a cover letter. Along with the rest of the items listed below, your priest or Archbishop will forward these documents on to the local bishop in Spain (see next point) who in turn will let the church you are to be married in, know that everything is in order.
- Fe de Solteria y Vida | Letter of Freedom to Marry:
- Bishop’s Special Permission
Non-nationals need to have their documents sent to the Bishop of the diocese in which they intend to marry to receive special permission.
This can take up to four weeks and should be sent by your local Archbishop or priest.
- Other Documents
Along with the documents above, the Archbishop will also need to send on certificates that might be appropriate such as Death Certificate, a Decree of Nullity, or a dispensation letter if one half of the couple is not Catholic.
Important to note:
- Wedding dates need to be organised directly with the church in Spain. In a lot of churches in Spain, they will not take a booking more than a year in advance and most churches require in-person visits to secure bookings (sometimes several visits may be required)
- Even if a wedding planner or a friend is helping you organise everything, you may still be required to meet the priest in the church several days before your wedding day.
- Documents should reach the church you wish to be married in at least 2 months before the wedding date.
- If documents need to be translated then they must be officially translated and bare an Apostille Stamp
- Documents sent to the church must be no older than 6 months old, which means it is not possible to get the paperwork more than 6 months before your wedding date (some civil ducuments may need to be no older than 4 months old).
- After the marriage itself, you or your wedding planner must deliver the marriage papers to the local Spanish Civil Registry to legalise them.
Requirements for a Civil Ceremony in Gibraltar
In order to get married at the Marriage Registry in Gibraltar, you must obtain a Special Licence
Non-residents wishing to get married in Gibraltar must provide the Registrar with documentary evidence that they will be staying in Gibraltar, for at least one night, immediately prior to or, immediately following the ceremony.
Licenses are valid for a period of three months from the date of issue and the documentation required to complete the process must be in English or accompanied by their English translations and are as follows:
- Valid Passports
- The official, long form, signed Birth Certificates.
- Certificate of No Impediment or equivalent (This is a certificate that states that you are free to marry and is usually issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ). If applying from Ireland see the steps to take here.
- Divorce or Death Certificate (if appropriate)
- Members of the Armed Forces will need to produce a letter of consent from your Commanding Officer
- Change of Name Deed Poll if applicable. If you have changed your name by deed poll or some other way, you should submit your original change of name deed.
- Proof of Residency (evidence that you are a legal resident in your respective country)
- You will need to make an appointment with the registry office either by phone, mail or in person to book your wedding date.Typically you cannot book your wedding date more than a year in advance and they will also need to know whether you plan on having your wedding at the registry office or in one of the following approved locations:
- The Caleta Hotel.
- The O’Callaghan Eliott Hotel.
- The Rock Hotel.
- The Dell – Alameda Botanic Gardens (between 1 – April and 30 October weather permitting).
- Top of the Rock – Mons Calpe Suite, Cable Car Station.
- Sunborn Yacht Hotel.
- La Sala.
- Waterfront – Waterfront Restaurant.
- St Michael’s Cave. Marriages held at St Michaels Cave will only take place in the evenings, ie, 1900hrs from April to October and 1800hrs from November to March.
- Garrison’s Library.
- Rendezvous Chargrill.
- On board a passenger ship registered in Gibraltar, carrying more than twelve passengers.
The above documents will need to be faxed or emailed for approval along with the appropriate fee to secure your booking.
Once in Gibraltar, you will need to present your original documents to the Registry Office in person.
This can be done from 3 months before up until 10,30 am on a working day before your wedding.
You will also be asked to sign affidavits before a Commissioner of Oaths. (there is a charge for this service) and then you will need to make arrangements to have your marriage certificate legalised and posted (while at the registry office).
Important to note:
If you are holding your wedding reception outside of the registry office, then you will need to make arrangements to transport the registrar.
Before the ceremony commences, you will be asked for identification (ie your passport, national identity card or any other identification document).
You will also need to provide two witnesses for the Marriage. Your witnesses may be related to either of you and/or to each other. They may be friends or colleagues but they must be able to speak and understand English and be over the age of 18 and acceptable to the Registrar.
If you do not reside in Gibraltar and you are not an EEA national you may require a visa to enter Gibraltar. If you do require a visa, you will need to apply for one at the UK Visa Application Centres in your country of normal residence.
Find more information on visas for Gibraltar here
So if getting married in Spain is what you dream of then I definitely believe you shouldn’t compromise! Any of the above options can work perfectly meaning you can have the day you always dreamed of! Still got questions regarding your ceremony (legal or other) in Spain? Send me an email and I will be happy to help you as best I can!
Important to remember that regulations and law requirements may change and so it and it is important to seek individual advise and information on a case to case basis.