Marriage in Spain

Marriage is still a major part of our culture - and where better to do it than a vibrant country with, generally, good weather. This guides explains who can marry in Spain and the formalities involved.

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This guide covers…

This guide covers the steps needed when getting married in Spain and some of the cultural and practical considerations that need to be taken into account when doing so.

It describes, in particular, the process of marriage in the area of Andalusia/Andalucía – which contains the Costa del Sol. See a map here. Please note that certain aspects of the law in Spain vary from one “autonomous community” (comunidad autónomalightbulb image - click here for more information on this subject to another.

Introduction

The formalities of marriage in Spain are not too complicated, but organising the wedding can be time consuming.

Although statistics show a significant decrease in marriages for the last decade – about a 25% drop in civil marriages and 52% in religious ceremonies – this is mostly due to changes in customs and lifestyle rather than a result of legal or bureaucratic difficulties. Many couples simply live together, and some others register as de facto couples (parejas de hecho) in order to increase their security and rights without the formality of a marriage: especially when they have children.

Even so, marriages are not in danger of disappearing, and a large number of couples marry every year in Spain.

In 2013, the average age of marriage in the Catalonia region of Spain was 33.6. Ages in other regions are less clear.

Same-sex marriage has also been legal in Spain since 2005 and, although the law was very controversial at the time, it is normal practice nowadays and same-sex couples have the same rights and obligations as any other married couple. See our Guide to Sex and Sexuality in Spain for more details.

Video guide to marriage in Spain

You can get a quick overview of  marriage in Spain by watching this video interview (below) with Spanish lawyer Antonio Manzanares. Learn more by scrolling down and reading the detailed guide he has written with us.

Can a foreigner marry in Spain?

Yes… and no.

If either of the parties to the marriage has been a Spanish resident for more than two years, you can have a religious or civil ceremony in Spain in exactly the the same way as a Spanish national.

If at least one partner in the couple is Catholic and neither has been divorced, you can – even as a non-resident – marry via the Catholic Church.

Otherwise, it is not possible.

The system of marriage in Spain

The minimum age for marriage in Spain is 16. However, a 16-year-old wanting to marry can only do so with parental permission.  Others must wait until they are 18. There is no maximum age!

Until 2015 boys and girls could marry at the age of 14 with the permission of a judge. Latterly, this was rare. According to El Pais (in Spanish), only 365 marriages involving under-16s took place in Spain between 2000 and 2014 – and only five in 2014. In the 1990s, however, there were 2,678 marriages involving at least one under-16 – and 12,867 in the 1980s.

The paperwork for the marriage is always submitted to the Civil Registry (Registro Civil) , but the ceremony can be carried out by any of the following authorities:

  • The Judge in charge of the Civil Registry, who can also appoint the “Justice of the Peace” for this task
  • The Mayor or City Councillor of the municipality where the marriage will be celebrated
  • The Court Secretary or any Notary Public freely chosen by the couple, who is based in the jurisdiction where they will celebrate the marriage.
  • If a Spanish person wishes to marry in another country, the civil servant in charge of the Spanish Civil Registry in a that country. Each consular area has a Civil Registration office. The most common procedures that Spanish citizens living abroad carry out in Consular Civil Registers are those relating to births, marriages, deaths and nationality.
  • If you wish to have a religious ceremony in Spain, via the Catholic Church, you can do so, but this must be as well as registration of the marriage with the Civil Registry.

Civil ceremonies in Spain

Documents you will need for a civil wedding in Spain

You will need to present the following documents, in person, to the Civil Registry:

  • A copy of your ID – also bring your original one to show the official
  • Your birth certificate, legalised (see here for information about legalising a document in Spain) and translated
  • An Empadronamiento certificate, which is a document issued by your local Town Hall stating your Spanish address, and is free of charge
  • A certificate showing your marital status, issued by the relevant authority of your own country: in Spain this is issued by the Civil Registry
  • A completed and signed form that the Civil Registry provides
  • If you are divorced, a marriage certificate with registration of the divorce, and divorce decree.If you are an EU citizen, a certificate in accordance with article 39 of regulation 2201/2003 for European sentences issued after 01/03/2001 (issued by the Court that passed the divorce sentence). See an example certificate in English here
  • If you are a widow/er, the certificate of your first marriage and the death certificate of your first husband/wife

The documents above cannot be older than three months; after that they will not be accepted by the authorities and a new copy will have to be obtained, legalised and translated. This can get expensive, so try to organise well!

All documents that are issued by a foreign authority need to be legalised – either by the Apostille of the Hague or through Consular legalisation – and then translated by an official sworn translator registered with the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The list of official sworn translators can be found here.

Legalisation costs and translation costs vary depending on the nature and length of the document.

The average cost for an Apostille is around €30, but Consular legalisation depends on the country and on how many middle steps are required.

A sworn translation for a one page birth certificate can cost between €80 and €100, but a more lengthy document such as a divorce decree can be much more expensive.

Making an appointment for your wedding in Spain

In all cases, before making the appointment you need to go to the Civil Registry and submit your documents for the file to be processed. At this stage, the Civil Registry will do their research and decide whether you can getting married. Once they have finalised and returned the file to you, you can make an appointment for the wedding.

Each municipality, Town Hall, Registry and Notary works in a slightly different way, so be sure to confirm the details in your town or village.

In all cases, you will need two witnesses – they can either be relatives or someone else. They will sign the marriage act, together with the couple, in the presence of the marriage officer. This document includes your personal details and states that you each consent to the marriage.

The marriage act needs to be taken to the Civil Registry for their records, and they will give you the Family Book (libro de familia): a booklet in which the details of the couple are shown. In the future, if you have children, they will also be recorded in this Family Book.

Catholic wedding ceremonies in Spain

Documents needed for a Catholic wedding in Spain

The documentation takes time. Allow at least six months.  

Paperwork must be prepared in your home country and Official Documentation such as birth certificates need to be translated by an Official Certified Translator and bear an Apostille. See above.

Documents required:

  • Pre-nuptial enquiry. Your local (catholic) 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. These need to be translated
  • Fe de Solteria y Vida (Letter of Freedom to Marry). This is a formal letter from your parish priest that states that you have fulfilled your premarital course requirements. This letter should also include permission from your local priest that you are free to marry in a Catholic Church elsewhere
  • Other certificates that might be appropriate in your circumstances, such as Death Certificates, a Decree of Nullity, or a dispensation letter if one half of the couple is not Catholic. These, too, will need to be translated

Documents sent to the church must be no older than six (in some areas, three) months old.

The priest will forward these documents to the local Archbishop in your country, who will prepare a covering letter and send them to the local bishop in Spain for the diocese in which they intend to marry. He will let the church you are to be married in, know that everything is in order.

After the marriage you must deliver the marriage papers to the local Spanish Civil Registry to record them and validate the marriage for Spanish purposes. See below.

Formalities

These marriages are a matter for the local Archbishop. Formalities vary significantly from parish to parish and should be checked well in advance (at least three months, preferable more) with the local priest.

Wedding dates need to be organised directly with the church in Spain. 

Non-Catholic religious ceremonies in Spain

It is quite common for people to want a non-Catholic religious marriage ceremony to bless their marriage – and this is entirely permitted by Spanish law.

In the case of non-Catholic, you must initiate the file with the Civil Registry (as above) and, once that is resolved, you can celebrate the wedding. Afterwards, you also need to submit your marriage act to the Civil Registry within three months.

The arrangements for the religious ceremony are made directly between the parties to the marriage and the church in question.

Having the ceremony somewhere else

In some cases, civil marriage is inconvenient – it is only possible on week days, and maybe the ceremony is too short and full of legal wording for your preferences.

Many couples simply marry in the Town Hall or at Court with their witnesses at the times available – or even in their own country – and then celebrate a ceremony somewhere else, such as in a park or hotel or even on the beach, with family and friends. That ceremony is not a legal marriage but more a celebration of the marriage that has already taken place.

Marriage certificates in Spain

The legal marriage will take place before the marriage officer. However, it is compulsory to register it with the Civil Registry within three months.

The document the Civil Registry issues is the Family Book. If you need a marriage certificate, you can request it in person in the Civil Registry where the marriage is registered, by normal post, or online if you want a digital certificate. This certificate is issued free of charge. If you request it in person, they will let you know when it will be ready; if you request it by post, it can take around 15 days; the online one is issued immediately.

If you wish to use these certificates in another country, you will need to get them legalised and translated. See our individual country guides.

Depending on the country where it will be used, you can get it ‘apostilled’ or you will need Consular legalisation. The process of apostilling a document is a brief legalisation procedure accepted by the signatory countries under the Hague Convention of 1961 and those that joined afterwards. It involves the responsible authority applying a deal to the document confirming that it is a legal document.

In Spain, the authority responsible is the Ministry of Justice, and documents can be apostilled in any of their territorial offices or High Court Government Secretarial offices. The cost is €25 per apostille.

You can request a multilingual certificate if you will need it for any of the signatory countries of the Vienna Convention of 8th of September 1976 . This certificate can be issued in all the languages of the signatory countries (Spain, Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Holland, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia, Poland, Montenegro, Moldavia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria).

At the moment, there is no cost for the marriage certificate, but the Ministry of Justice has been considering charging a small fee for the issuing of certificates by the Civil Registry – between €15 and €20.

The stag (bachelor) and hen (bacherlorette) night in Spain

In Spain it is customary for both the bride and groom to have a celebration with their friends a couple of weeks before the marriage.

This is not compulsory, but it is normally a lot of fun!

In some cases, the bride and groom take the opportunity to make a short trip together with their friends (it all depends on the budget!), and dinner and a party are usually part of the plan. It is the normal practice that all the expenses of bride and groom are paid for by their friends.

The marriage ceremony in Spain

It all depends on where you marry. For example, in the Town Hall the ceremony can take about 15 or 20 minutes. Usually, a time slot of 30 minutes is allocated to the ceremony. Do not be surprised if you arrive and find that you have to wait until the marriage of a preceding couple has been concluded or if there is another couple waiting in the waiting room as your marriage is concluded.

If you are foreigners who do not speak fluent Spanish, you will need the services of an interpreter. The cost will entirely depend on the language you speak – interpreters normally charge an average of €100 per hour.

Marriage receptions in Spain

It is customary for a newly married couple to hold a wedding lunch or dinner immediately following the marriage ceremony.

Hotels and restaurants are very familiar with this, and they will offer you special menu arrangements, table and room decoration, and a separate table for the bride and groom and the “godfather and godmother”, as we call the witnesses in Spain.

The wedding lunch or dinner is normally extended by a big party afterwards, with dancing and drinking until late at night.

Alternatively, there are a number of companies that specialise in arranging weddings so, if you are only going to be in Spain for a short time, they can arrange everything for you in advance, before your arrival. This can be pricey but does save a lot of stress.

Wedding photographs in Spain

Photography is permitted at your marriage, whether it takes place at the Town Hall, at church or elsewhere. There are many photographers who specialise in providing this service, and most of them will also accompany you on your wedding lunch or dinner. You can choose between traditional or modern style, depending on your preferences.

There are websites which specialise in weddings where you can find different choices for all that you may need in your wedding – venues, photographers, clothes, weddings favours, etc – where other couples leave reviews, and you can find suppliers within a specific area.

The honeymoon

It is customary for the newly married couple to go away together for at least a few days on a honeymoon.

If you’re already here in Spain you’re not likely to want to go elsewhere!

Most likely, you will plan your honeymoon before you travel to Spain, and you can contact a travel agency to give you some ideas – or plan the whole thing, so you just need to enjoy your trip.

Things to do after getting married in Spain

After your marriage, there are a number of things that you should do. First of all, you must register your marriage in the relevant Civil Registry. See above.

As a foreigner, you must also notify your consulate and send them a copy of your marriage certificate: this is required by Spanish law.

In Spain, women do not typically change their surname as in some other countries; however, depending upon your nationality, you may want to change the name on the wife’s passport and other official documentation.

If you do change your name, it’s worth spending a few minutes making a list of all of the places where the name is stored and to contact them all at once. Typical examples would be the bank, the mobile phone company, your doctor and dentist, any companies who’ve provided loans to you, any store or credit cards that you use, the residential community of which you are a member, any professional bodies to which you are affiliated and any social groups to which you are affiliated. It is surprising how many will end up on the list.

As your Spanish marriage certificate will only include the wife’s maiden name, you need to check with your Consular authority what steps you need to follow in order to get your name changed in other documents.

Don’t forget to notify your employer. You may be entitled to some additional holiday time – if you’re employed in Spain, you often get two weeks extra!

Conclusion

Thousands of foreigners have now married in Spain.

Some had already moved to Spain but others came here just to get married in a beautiful place with more or less guaranteed good weather for much of the year.

If you’re thinking of getting married here, you have so many possibilities and venues, and there are even wedding planner companies that can do most of the hard work for you!

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