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How U.S. Citizens Can Legally Marry Abroad
Picture this: instead of starting your married life in "Chateau Romantique," a cozy little reception hall just off the interstate at exit 56, you begin it with your toes sinking into the softest sand you've ever felt. Having just stepped off your cruise ship, you might consider this beachside wedding a dream.

Fantasy? It doesn't have to be. More and more U.S. citizens are discovering the delights of taking their vows in another country. If you're adventurous and not afraid of doing a little research, you too can plan an overseas wedding.

You might think "endless red tape," but marrying abroad doesn't have to be a burden. If you find out and follow the marriage requirements in the country of your choice (leaving yourself time to jump through the necessary hoops), your marriage will be valid. Proper overseas marriages are considered valid, and the U.S. government is not interested in "undoing" marriages of its residents after they return from the honeymoon.
Example: Suppose you want to get married in the Cayman Islands, just south of Cuba. It's warm, romantic and convenient. According to the Cayman Islands' official website, visitors can marry on the day they arrive, including passengers arriving on cruise ships, as long they do the following:
  • Arrange for a Cayman Island Marriage Officer before applying for a license.
  • Get a special license for nonresident couples from the Governor.
  • Pay the fee of approximately US$200.
  • Bring documentation proving citizenship, age and marital status (this could include copies of divorce decrees or death certificates). You'll also need an immigration pink slip showing legal entry into the Caymans or documentation showing that you're part of a cruise. Both romantics must be at least 18 years old.
Following these steps will make your marriage just as valid as one in your home state.
The validity of overseas marriages in the United States
By finding out and following the rules in the foreign country in which you want to get married, the marriage will be considered valid in the United States. A marriage that is valid in the country that it is entered into is presumed valid everywhere unless there's definite proof that it is invalid. This comes from a legal principal called "full faith and credit." If an event is recognized as valid in one jurisdiction/place, it will generally be treated as valid elsewhere, even though the other state/country might have different rules.

Although most overseas marriages are recognized as valid in the United States, it helps to have some general information on foreign marriages, courtesy of the U.S. State Department:
  • Americans might assume they should head straight for the U.S. Embassy with their bouquets, but American diplomatic and consular officers are not permitted to perform marriages. They will, however, prepare needed affidavits and authenticate foreign marriage documents.

  • If you're worried about presenting foreign documents in the United States, you can have a consular officer authenticate foreign marriage documents, at a fee of about $32.00.

  • Many countries require proof of legal capacity to enter in a marriage contract. A competent authority must certify that no impediment to the marriage exists. Such an "affidavit of eligibility to marry" can be obtained at an American Consulate for a fee of about $55.00.

  • Prospective brides and grooms may have to live in their chosen country for a certain amount of time before they're eligible to marry there. Some, like the Caymans, have no residency requirement; most countries are more stringent.
What are the requirements of overseas marriages?
Although there are some general rules (such as American diplomats being ineligible to perform foreign marriages), most of the requirements for a valid overseas marriage will be set out in the law of the country in which you choose to marry. There's no "one size fits all" solution for overseas marriages. Unless you're a lawyer yourself and bilingual besides, you'll need help in figuring out just what the rules are.

You can find out the requirements through the embassy or tourist information bureau of the country in which the marriage will be performed. Some general information for a limited number of countries can also be ordered from the Department of State, Overseas Citizens Services, Room 4811, Washington, D.C. 20520. (Link directly to the State Department through the Around the Web box to your right.)

Here are some factors to consider in planning your wedding:
  • Residency requirements. Some countries have none; for others, your trip will have to be longer than a week or so. For example, although Scotland has no formal residency requirement, you must file all documentation with the registrar no later than 15 days before the wedding.

  • Age requirements. In most countries, both parties must be at least 18 to marry without parental consent. It would be difficult for a couple under 18 to marry without having parents/guardians physically present.

  • Paperwork requirements. Virtually every country will want a birth certificate and passport, both of which are easy to obtain. You'll have to research and be careful of other rules that may be specific to your chosen country.

    For example, if you marry in Spain and were previously married, you must present a divorce decree, annulment certificate or death certificate. There's more: these documents must be original, bear the official seal of the Hague and be translated into Spanish (with the translation authenticated).

  • Fees. Payment will be required for a license, blood test, wedding official and other certificates or documents specific to your chosen country. As part of your research, you need to get an idea of the total ahead of time.

  • Blood tests. As in the United States, some countries require blood tests before issuing a marriage license and some do not. The country's embassy or tourist information bureau can tell you if a blood test is needed.
There's probably some extra work involved to make your dream of marrying on a Caribbean sand dune or in St. Paul's Cathedral come true. But with both you and your intended doing some of the legwork, it can happen.

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Marriage: Legal Overview
Prenuptial Agreements
Eligibility For Marriage In The United States
State Requirements For Marriage Licenses And Ceremonies
Benefits And Responsibilities Of Marriage

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