Turkey still has one of the highest rates of marriage in the world: about 7.75 women out of every thousand in the population get married each year. We’re also blessed with a low – but growing – divorce rate (20%).
The number of foreign grooms in 2015 was 3,566 and they comprised of 0.6% of total grooms. When foreign grooms were analysed by citizenship, Germans with 38.4% (1,368) took first place. They were followed by Austrians with 7.9% (282) and Syrians with 6.8% (241 persons).
Under Turkish law, two foreigners of the same nationality can marry either in the offices of their own country’s Embassy or Consulate, or in front of the Turkish authorities. This book only deals with marriage using the Turkish system.
Video guide to getting married in Turkey
You can get a quick overview of marriage in Turkey by watching this video interview (below) with Turkish lawyer Başak Yıldız Orkun. Learn more by scrolling down and reading the detailed guide she has written with us.
The system of marriage in Turkey
Marriage is only permitted between a man and a woman.
Polygamy is not accepted; monogamy is an essential principle of Turkish family law and anyone currently married may not be married again in Turkey.
Normally, you must be at least 18 years of age to marry but, if they are judged to understand the proceedings, a person 17 years of age may be married with their parent’s or guardian’s consent. For a person to get married at age of 16, a court order is required. There is no maximum age for marriage.
You need to have mental capacity and there are the usual prohibitions on marriage between close relatives.
In Turkey, all marriages take place in the presence of an authorized official from the local town hall: at the town hall or in a place chosen by the couple. There is no restriction on the place where you can marry.
The ceremony is carried out either in person by the mayor of that municipality (if you are important), or – more likely in most cases – by an official appointed by the mayor.
Each town hall has a marriage officer appointed to deal with all the administrative steps necessary before a marriage. In smaller municipalities, the marriage officer is often also the person who conducts the marriages but in larger towns it is a separate person: a clerical officer.
If you wish to have a religious ceremony in Turkey you can do so, but this can only be carried out after you’ve been through the civil ceremony. It is not a requirement to have a religious ceremony.
As this guide was completed, the Turkish government announced plans to allow Muftü (Islamic scholars) to conduct marriages in Turkey.
It will only be state-registered Muftü who are authorized to do this and they will be only conduct state marriages, not religious marriages.
The announcement has caused some concern amongst Turkish lawyers and women’s groups who fear that it is another step towards the loss of Turkey’s secular society.
Concern has also been expressed about whether some Muftis might turn a blind eye to the minimum age for marriage, and permit the taking of multiple wives.
Documents you will need to get married in Turkey
You will need to present the following documents, in person, to the marriage officer at the town hall:
- Your passports, with official translation
- A Certificate of No Impediment/Certificate of Capacity to Marry/Certificate of Celibacy/Affidavit of Eligibility to Marry. This is known by different names in different countries but certifies that a person is legally free to be married. Where you get this from depends on which country you come from.
- A valid entry visa. This could be a tourist visa. You do not need to have been in the country for any specific period, though arranging things does take some time, so you will need to be there for some days. See below.
- Your birth certificates, with an official translation
- A health certificate. This confirms your mental capacity and shows the results of blood tests for HIV and certain other conditions
- Four photographs of each person
- If you are divorced, your decree absolute or final certificate of divorce
- If you are widowed, your former spouse’s death certificate and your previous marriage certificate
- If your birth name has been officially changed, the document changing your name
- If you are adopted, your adoption certificate
- If you are under 18 and judged fit to marry, a letter of consent from a parent or guardian
- An accommodation document: foreign couples not resident in Turkey must provide a letter written by the hotel (or other place where they are staying) stating the duration of their stay and their proposed departure date
- If any of your documents are not written in the Turkish language, an official translation is required. This will be a notarised document prepared in Turkey or you can have the document translated and notarised back home – where the cost will probably be several times higher
Making an appointment at the town hall
Once you have all your documents, you need to attend the town hall where you are to be married and submit them to the marriage officer. If you are lucky, you will be able to see the marriage officer immediately but if this isn’t possible you can make an appointment to see them, usually within a couple of days.
Note that you cannot submit these documents by post. Nor can you apply for an appointment to see the marriage officer until you have arrived in Turkey.
Your appointment with the marriage officer
During your meeting, you will complete, and sign in duplicate, a marriage declaration (Evlenme Beyannamesi).
If the office is satisfied with the application, a district alderman (muhtar), or a marriage officer – subject to couples applying together, in person, notarises and an authorised officer certifies the documents. The stamped and dated marriage declaration gives you permission to marry. This is valid for six months; the marriage can take place within 48 hours of this licence being issued.
The marriage officer will suggest some dates. These are usually several months in the future. A wedding within a couple of weeks can be difficult but not impossible to arrange. In Turkey, quick marriages are usually as a result of pregnancy.
Once you have chosen the date, you will be required to pay an administration fee to the municipality. This is currently (2017) about TRY100 (£22/€25/US$28), if you are not using their venue. If you want to use their venue, the charge is usually in the range of TRY100-TRY450 (£99/€113/US$127), depending upon the place and the day of the week. Weekends are more expensive. There is currently no fee for carrying out the ceremony but it is customary to give the officer a present. This is not corruption!
Pre- (and post-)nuptial agreements in Turkey
There are two different systems that usually govern what happens to marital property under Turkish law.
The basic (and default) matrimonial property regime is the “participation in acquired assets” which means that the spouses will benefit equally from all assets acquired during the marriage.
If the spouses do not want to be subject to these arrangements, they can choose an alternative arrangement: a separate property regime, a shared separate property regime or a communal property regime.
Under the Turkish Civil Code, spouses are able to make agreements about marital property, before, at the time of, or after the marriage.
There are two different forms of pre-nuptial agreement. Under the first, the pre-nuptial agreement can be completed at the office of a notary public. Under the second, the couple can declare to the marriage officer the regime that they want to use when they apply for the marriage.
If the spouses decide to choose a marital property regime during the marriage application, they must inform the marriage registrar in writing.
You should note that, as the institution of marriage is so important to public policy, in the course of matrimonial proceedings a judge has absolute discretion as to how to apply any terms in a pre-nuptial agreement. In reality, this means that your chosen arrangement could be modified or overruled.
The stag (bachelor) and hen(na) nights in Turkey
In Turkey, it is becoming customary for both the bride and groom to have a celebration with their friends the night before the marriage. These days it is increasingly common for it to take place a week or two before the marriage.
For brides, the traditional form of this is the henna night. The bride and her friends get together and paint henna on each other’s hands. This is not compulsory.
I understand that in some countries such parties tend to involve considerable public drunkenness. This is not the case in Turkey. These events are an unofficial but important part of the marriage process and drunkenness would be thought totally inappropriate.
A marriage ceremony in Turkey
The marriage ceremony will, typically, take about 15 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.
Most marriages take place in the evening.
In the case of foreigners (who do not speak fluent Turkish), most town halls extend the period reserved for the marriage to one hour. There is no extra fee for this.
This extra time is because, by law, the ceremony must take place in Turkish: it must be open to any member of the public to attend. For this reason, if the parties do not each speak good Turkish, the marriage officer will arrange for an interpreter to be present at the marriage and the whole proceeding will be translated into the language of the parties. The parties will have to pay the fee of the interpreter. For most languages, this will be about TRY200 (£44/€50/US$56), although for unusual languages, where the interpreter may have to travel some distance, it can be much higher.
We have, on occasions, had to deal with a marriage where we needed two interpreters because neither of the parties spoke the language of the other very well. It made me wonder why they were getting married!
The ceremony itself is in a standard form. The marriage officer will supply you with a script when you book the wedding. The marriage officer asks each of the couple if they agree to marry the other; after a positive response from both, the marriage is declared made in accordance with the law.
Two witnesses (other than immediate family members and the translator) are required for the procedure. These can be friends or hotel staff.
Photography (including video photography) is permitted at your marriage, whether it takes place at the town hall or elsewhere. If you want professionally taken photographs, there will be several local photographers who specialise in providing this service.
Marriage certificates in Turkey
Immediately after the marriage you will be issued with a certificate of marriage.
If you require further copies of this certificate they can be supplied, at the time or later, for a modest cost. People often want extra copies to supply to their bank and other institutions, so that the details of their accounts can be changed and so that they can change the legal ownership of their property into their joint names.
If you wish to use these certificates in another country then, technically speaking, they should be ‘apostilled’. They may also need to be translated. The process of apostilling a document is an internationally recognised procedure established under The Hague Convention of 1961. It involves the responsible authority in Turkey applying a seal to the document confirming that it appears to be valid. In Turkey, the authority responsible is the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the apostille is done by the governor’s office of that province/town. There is no charge for the apostille. It usually takes two days to receive the document back.
Note that if either of the parties to a marriage is not a Turkish national, the law requires them to supply an official copy of their new Turkish marriage certificate to the embassy or consulate in Turkey of their own country.
Validity of your Turkish marriage
Under international law, a marriage in Turkey is legally recognised and binding in most countries. It is worth confirming that it will be valid in your country. Ask a lawyer or the office than conducts marriages in your country.
To make your life easier, it is recommended that you translate and legalise the marriage certificate for use in your own country.
Religious marriage ceremonies in Turkey
It is commonplace for people to also want a religious ceremony, and this is entirely permitted by Turkish law.
The ceremony may be of religious importance but it has no legal effect. The arrangements for the religious ceremony are made directly between the parties to the marriage and the church or mosque in question.
The ceremony must take place after the civil ceremony. It is a criminal offence to do otherwise. This is despite the fact that, in some traditional rural areas, people have lived together for years and raised families when they have had only a religious ceremony.
It is customary for the newly married couple to go away together for at least a few days by way of a honeymoon. If you’re already here in Turkey, you might not want to go elsewhere!
There are usually local companies who specialise in providing honeymoon packages, in Turkey or elsewhere.
Things to do after the marriage
After your marriage – ideally within about four weeks, but this is not compulsory – there are several things that you should do. For a foreigner, the most important is to notify your consulate about your marriage and send them a copy of your marriage certificate. See above.
You are likely to want to change the name on the wife’s passport and other official documentation. It’s worth spending a few minutes making a list of all the places where the name is stored and to contact them all at once.
Typical examples of people you will need to know about your marriage are your bank, your 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 belong. It is surprising how many will end up on the list!
Next you need to decide which of these will require formal notification, including a copy of the (translated and apostilled) marriage certificate. There tend to be very few of these. For most of the people on your list, a simple photocopy of your marriage certificate and translation or even just a letter of notification will suffice.
Don’t forget to notify your tax office. You may be entitled to some tax breaks!