Getting Married Overseas

Some couples dream of a destination wedding on a tropical island or in the romantic countryside of another country. Other couples may want to get married abroad in the country where they were born or have family ties. Some of the common types of overseas marriages that people in the U.S. consider for “tying the knot” include:

  • Legal marriage in another country where both spouses are U.S. citizens.
  • Legal marriage in another country between a U.S. citizen and a citizen of another country.

There are several additional requirements and restrictions when a marriage takes place in another country. Overseas marriages can be even more complicated when they involve spouses of different citizenship. Since COVID-19, there have been consular processing delays in immigration and state department applications and records requests that could further delay a foreign wedding. Before going through a wedding in another country, it is essential to consult a top family law attorney in your state.

Overseas Weddings and Legal Marriages

When getting married in a foreign country, it is vital to ensure that your dream wedding will be legally recognized. Every country has different marriage laws. Marriage laws in other countries may require blood tests, parental consent, medical tests, minimum residency, or attestations to the government. When using overseas documents, including birth certificates or other necessary records, you may need to translate documents into the country’s official language.

If you are a U.S. citizen and want to get legally married in another country, you must also make sure the marriage will legally be recognized when you return to the U.S. This is also important if you marry someone from another country and they seek legal residency or lawful status in the United States. International marriages may require compliance with the foreign country’s marriage laws, your home state’s marriage laws, and U.S. immigration laws.

Is a Wedding in a Foreign Country Legal?

A wedding in a foreign country is legal as long as it complies with local laws. Each country has its own laws determining who is eligible for marriage, requirements for applying for a wedding or marriage certificate, and a marriage ceremony that complies with local laws.

If you have questions about the wedding requirements of another country, you should contact the foreign country or an experienced marriage law attorney in your state for advice.

Will the U.S. Recognize Marriages in Foreign Countries?

A wedding in a foreign country will generally be considered valid by the U.S. as long as it is legal in the country where the marriage occurs. Depending on the country, this may include civil or religious marriages when they comply with the local laws.

However, in some cases, a marriage in another country may not be recognized where it directly conflicts with U.S. marital laws. For example, suppose a resident of another country has multiple legal spouses where polygamy is legal. However, United States citizens cannot have more than one legal spouse, even if they were legally married to multiple spouses in another country. In that case, they will have to designate one legal spouse upon immigration to the U.S. 

What Are the Requirements for Getting Married in Another Country?

The process for qualifying for and conducting an overseas marriage may be complex and expensive. It is essential to understand all the requirements for getting married in another country before setting any wedding dates or specific plans. Some countries may not allow same-sex marriages or marriages of people with different religions. Examples of some of the individual requirements may include:

  • Minimum period of residency before a marriage may be conducted
  • Blood tests or medical tests
  • Health certificates
  • Consent of the spouses’ parents
  • Minimum age requirements
  • Documents of a previous marriage, death, or a divorce certificate that are officially translated into the local language
  • Birth certificate with an official translation
  • Affidavit of eligibility to marry or certificate of marriageability
  • Converting religion for certain faiths
  • Certificate from the home country stating the individual is not already married
  • Filing fees

Residency Requirements for Getting Married in a Country

Some countries have a residence requirement before you can be legally married in that country. In some countries, the residency requirement is very short, as little as 24 hours. This makes the residence requirement a formality that only requires showing when the individuals arrived in the country through their passport stamp or airplane ticket. Other states waive the residency requirement through payment of an additional fee.

However, other countries have longer residency requirements that essentially require temporarily relocating until residency is established. For example:

  • U.S. citizens getting married in Italy or Croatia do not have to meet an official residency requirement.
  • In the Bahamas, a couple must be present in the Bahamas for 24 hours prior to the date of the application for marriage.
  • For a wedding in Spain, if neither person is a Spanish citizen, at least one prospective spouse has to have legal resident status for the previous two years.
  • If two U.S. citizens are getting married in China, one has to become a permanent resident before they can have a wedding.

Do You Need to Register Your Overseas Marriage in the U.S.?

The United States recognizes marriages performed in other countries, just like one state in the U.S. recognizes a legal marriage performed in another state. There is no national marriage registration process in the U.S., and a marriage performed legally in another country generally qualifies as a legal marriage. However, if you are marrying someone and seeking to get your non-citizen spouse legal status in the U.S., you will generally have to apply for residency or citizenship through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

After getting married to a U.S. citizen, the foreign spouse can apply to be a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), also known as getting a “green card.” The process begins with filing a Form I-130 “Petition for Alien Relative.” For an overseas marriage, the foreign spouse may need a medical exam and an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

The USCIS will recognize civil marriage where the couple has a valid marriage certificate issued by local authorities. As part of the process, the couple may need to show they have a valid marriage. Evidence of a good faith marriage may include:

  • Interviews with immigration officials
  • Documents showing the couple is living together
  • Listing the other on insurance policies
  • Documentation of joint property ownership
  • Combined financial resources
  • Birth certificates of the couple’s children
  • Affidavits of 3rd parties who have personal knowledge of the couple’s relationship

How Can I Get a Divorce After an Overseas Marriage?

If you live in the United States and want to get a legal divorce, you have to complete the legal process for a divorce based on your state of residence. Even if your marriage occurred in another country, you could get divorced based on your U.S. state of residence. The divorce and separation requirements vary by state.

In general, only one spouse needs to reside in the state to file for divorce. Divorce requirements may have minimum residency requirements and living separate and apart for a minimum period. It is important to talk to a local divorce attorney in your home state to find out the legal requirements for getting a divorce or the process for foreign divorces.

Is an Online Marriage Legal?

In some states, it may be legal to get married online. Some U.S. states are temporarily recognizing ceremonies that take place online or in multiple locations through streaming video due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states are also temporarily issuing marriage certificates online instead of requiring in-person visits to the county courthouse. States that have allowed limited virtual marriage licenses include:

Online marriages and virtual weddings are evolving areas of the law. Many of the new changes surrounding virtual marriages were issued by executive order and are temporary. These changes were made by state governors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that put into place travel restrictions and limited government office hour access. 

Overseas Marriages for Military Service Members

Many American service members meet their significant other while stationed overseas or through online dating platforms. Requirements for armed forces service members may be slightly different from civilians in the U.S., often because they may not have a standard U.S. state of residence if they are deployed to a base in another country or serving on a vessel in the open seas.

There are no specific restrictions or requirements for military members. Members of the military just have to comply with the state’s marriage requirements where they are a resident. However, when military members want to marry a foreign national, they may need to apply for approval before getting married. This applies to service members stationed overseas or those who are traveling to another country to get married. The foreign spouse may be subject to:

  • Medical certificates and screening
  • Background investigation
  • Marriage counseling
  • Evidence of financial ability to provide for the spouse
  • Parental consent, if necessary

Can You Get Married in Another Country If You Are Already Married in the U.S.?

U.S. law does not recognize multiple marriages or polygamist marriages. An individual in the U.S. can only have one legal spouse. Polygamy can be disqualifying for citizenship for foreign nationals immigrating to the United States. While some religious groups in the U.S. do practice polygamy, it is not recognized legally.

If you are already married to a person in the U.S., what happens overseas may be up to the foreign country where it occurs. If polygamy is recognized in another country, a married individual may be able to get married again. However, if the person returns to the U.S., their additional foreign marriage will generally not be recognized. If you are already married in the U.S., you have to get legally divorced or widowed before you can remarry.

Speak to an Experienced Marriage Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified marriage lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact an attorney in your area from our directory to discuss your specific legal situation.

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