The complications of a multi-national wedding


When people get married in the movies, there’s never any mention of all the paperwork, and so I naïvely thought that on the day of the wedding you go to the church or government office, sign some papers and that’s it. Unfortunately that’s not the case, especially when it’s a marriage between two people of different nationalities, as in our case!

Someone in my German class told me he and his wife (both Italian) got married in the US, and all they needed were passports. The European version of a Las Vegas style wedding is apparently to go to Denmark as less administration is required there, but even for a wedding in Denmark you do need more paperwork than just passports, so a little bit of advance planning is required. My advice to anyone going into a multi-national marriage is not to set a wedding date until you have your paperwork in order. However this is also tricky, as venues need to be booked in advance and some papers expire (for example, a letter of no impediments is only valid for 6 months).

Our case is more complicated than most, as four countries are involved. I am South African but also have British citizenship, as my mother is British. My fiancé is Czech. We are living in Germany at the moment and we will get married in Czech Republic. As a result, we started with the administrative process for getting married in January, and are still not finished, in August, two weeks before the wedding.

In general, my advice would be this:

  • search the internet very well for any possible documents that may be required, no matter what an administrative official tells you. You can learn from the advice of others online. Rather prepare more documents and have everything in order when you submit them than find out later that you need to apply for new things, delaying the process
  • try not to plan the wedding date before you have obtained the documents that will be most difficult to obtain
  • if you are a dual citizen, try to gather together any documents that it’s mentioned you might need from both countries
  • if you live in a country of which you are not a citizen, try and find out which documents this country might be able to provide (proof of your single status, address, etc.)

In case you are interested in reading why our own process took so long, here are the details. In Czech Republic, an administrative official called a matrika is responsible for giving permission to marry. In the Christmas/New Year holidays we asked at the administrative office what papers would be required. We were told I would need a letter of no impediments and unabridged birth certificate, both apostillated and translated. Apostillation is a process of legalisation for documents so that they are accepted in another country. Another requirement in Czech Republic  is that you provide proof that you are legally allowed to be in the country, which shouldn’t be a problem with a British passport and certificate of citizenship, right? (Wait and see!). My Czech fiancé didn’t need papers since they already have all his records.

I had a birth certificate already, so I applied for the letter of no impediments. In South Africa we have a department called Home Affairs who supplies such documents. In general they are pretty slow (although they are getting better), as most things are sent to Pretoria for processing. So the letter of impediments took about a month to arrive.

The next step was to hire a courier (organized by my mother, since I am in Germany) and send the letter, together with my birth certificate, to another city to have it apostillated (in South  Africa, apostillation is only done at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation  – DIRCO – in Pretoria). DIRCO is quick, at least. But they emailed me back to say that my birth certificate was not the original one. Unfortunately my mother had accidentally sent a copy. So then we had to hire a new courier to deliver the original birth certificate to them. Once they had the original birth certificate, they wrote back to say that they could not apostillate it, as it was too old (like me, obviously). What it doesn’t say anywhere in the instructions on their website is that the birth certificate should be less than a year old to be apostillated.

I don’t remember which courier it was, but one of them took a week to sort out collecting documents. More lost time. Once we were told I’d need a new birth certificate, we knew we had to move our wedding, as it was supposed to be in June but birth certificates can take months to arrive.

So, next step, apply for and wait for the new birth certificate.

And wait, and wait. After 8 weeks my mom started calling them, as originally we were told it would be ready in 6-8 weeks. Then someone told us it would be ready in 12 weeks, and if it wasn’t, to call back, It wasn’t ready in 12 weeks so we called back and the staff member on the phone said he’d try to speed up the process. After that it was ready in about another two weeks. So that was over 3 months waiting for one document. After it arrived, it was back to the courier company to send the documents to Pretoria for apostillation. As the courier company could not send it directly back to Berlin, it then had to go back to Cape Town with a courier and then to Berlin with another courier.  Finally I had the two documents, birth certificate and letter of impediments, apostillated. We took them to Czech Republic to be translated into Czech and then they were submitted to the matrika. She said everything was fine, so we relaxed.

Then, two to three weeks later, they contacted us to say that the person higher up the administrative chain wanted more papers. Apparently they were not satisfied because my letter of no impediments and birth certificate were from South Africa. They wanted proof that I am legally allowed to be in the Czech republic. We thought that having British citizenship would  be proof enough, but were informed that we need a letter from the foreign police as well as papers from Germany saying that I’m not married. Two weeks before the wedding! Luckily the German administration is quite efficient, and although there are long waiting times for some processes such as registration, you can go and obtain an “Erweiterte Meldbescheinigung” that shows your marital status on the same day. For the foreign police, it’s a bit more complicated, we have to go to Czech Republic and show them the passport, which means taking time off from work as they are only open during the week. So on the Monday before our wedding we’ll be in Czech Republic visiting the foreign police so that they can look at my passport and sign a letter saying I’m allowed to be there, then we will drive back to Germany for work and to pick up my parents, and then back to Czech Republic on Thursday for the wedding on Saturday. At least it looks we might scrape everything together, just in time. I’m just glad that they didn’t ask for the British CNI (Certificate of no impediments), since obtaining one of those involves posting notice at the British embassy that you are planning to marry and waiting for 21 days to make sure that no one objects, before you receive your certificate. Luckily because I’ve never lived in the UK, they only wanted Germany to confirm I am not married there.

At this stage, if we don’t get the papers in time, we will still have a ceremony and sort out the paperwork later. We don’t want to postpone the wedding a second time. It is too late now.

I’d be interested to hear the experiences of others who have married someone with different citizenship, or got married in a different country! Do you have a story?

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4 thoughts on “The complications of a multi-national wedding

  1. My husband is Swedish, I’m British and we got married in Denmark where he was living and where I moved to. The process was different to Scotland (don’t know what it is like in England) eg they couldn’t give us an exact time for our ceremony – very hard when inviting guests from abroad!

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