Family Law

Getting Married Abroad: What You Need to Know

By Amy Castillo, J.D., University of Minnesota School of Law
Learn about how to make sure your destination wedding is valid.

Destination weddings involve lots of planning—and lots of excitement. In the midst of finding the nicest beach, selecting the most flattering clothing, and booking rooms in a hotel that your guests can afford, it’s easy to overlook the legal formalities. But if you don’t pay attention to the legal requirements, you might fly away from your ceremony with lovely memories of a fabulous getaway and no valid marriage license.

Making a Valid Marriage

According to the U.S. Department of State, marriages that are performed overseas (meaning, outside of the United States) are locally valid marriages provided that they are entered into in accordance with local law. For example, if you marry in Bermuda, your marriage will be legally recognized in Bermuda provided that you met all the marriage prerequisites that are required under Bermuda law. Examples of foreign legal requirements you might run into include:

  • submitting to blood tests
  • satisfaction of the minimum age of consent to marry
  • providing parental consent (for younger partners)
  • providing documents, like death or divorce certificates, that prove all previous relationships have ended and that are translated into the local language and authenticated
  • satisfaction of any residency requirements, and
  • completion of an affidavit of eligibility to marry.

As you can see, many of these legal requirements mirror the sorts of things you’d be asked to do if you wanted to marry in many American states.

The affidavit of eligibility to marry requires a bit more explanation. Many countries require an affidavit (meaning, a sworn written statement) proving that the parties have the ability to enter into a marriage (meaning, they aren’t still married to another living person, they’re old enough to marry, and they aren’t so mentally incapacitated that they can’t marry). There’s no such document in the United States legal system, so you’ll have to go to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for the country in which you plan to marry and request one. The appropriate embassy or consulate will review and sign off on the affidavit for you, but it can’t vouch for your current marital status (for example, whether you’re still married to someone else). For that reason, you have to prepare a separate affidavit establishing that you’re able to marry and you’re not still married to someone else.

The embassy or consulate will sign both affidavits and most countries will accept this signature on both documents. Still, to be safe, you should call the foreign country’s courts or legal offices as soon as possible to make sure that they’ll accept the sworn statements so you don’t run into an ugly surprise when you get there.

Will the United States Recognize My Overseas Marriage?

The answer to this question depends on the law of the foreign country where you plan to be married. For the most part, as long as they didn’t break any American laws, marriages performed outside the United States are recognized in America. But to be safe, before you make any more plans, you need to call around and research the matter to ensure that your foreign marriage will be recognized when you come home to America. The best starting point is the United States Embassy in the country where you plan to marry. The Embassy can give you official guidance on what marriage requirements you can expect to encounter and whether your marriage will be accepted and valid in America.

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