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Getting Married in Spain as an Expat

Martha Lott

Written by

25th May 2023 (Last updated on 31st Jul 2023) 8 minute read

There are few things more emblematic of Spanish culture than a wedding. If you’re thinking of moving to Spain to be with your significant other, you’ll love the country’s picturesque setting as a backdrop to your union. That being said, it’s always good to research it if you’re a UK National considering tying the knot abroad.

In this guide, we’ll outline the different types of marriages available in Spain and the associated processes, costs and traditions.

  1. Can UK Citizens Legally Marry in Spain?
  2. What Paperwork Do I Need to Get Married in Spain?
  3. Legal Requirements
  4. Types of Marriage in Spain
  5. Wedding Costs
  6. How Does the Marriage Process Work?
  7. Spanish Attitude to Marriage
  8. Spanish Wedding Traditions
  9. Moving to Spain From the UK

Can UK Citizens Legally Marry in Spain?

Suppose you’re a UK citizen seeking a civil marriage in Spain. In that case, either you or your partner will have had to be an official resident of Spain for a minimum of 2 years. The 2-year residence must be confirmed by the individual’s certificate of residence (Certificado de Empadronamiento/“Padrón”). You can get married under this timeframe if your significant other is a Spanish citizen.

Alternatively, UK citizens seeking a religious marriage can forego the residency requirement. However, both parties will need to prove their religious affiliation and suitability to marry.

What Paperwork Do I Need to Get Married in Spain?

Civil ceremonies will require a set series of documents. Religious ceremonies require much of the same, plus official declarations from their own parishes back home.

Before a civil ceremony can be arranged, an appointment must be made at the local Civil Registrar. Here documents will be presented and the marriage process put in motion.

Though there may be slight differences at the regional level, civil ceremonies usually require the following legal documents to go ahead:

  • The birth certificate of both individuals.
  • Valid passports with a minimum validity of 12 months remaining before expiration. Plus 4 copies to use for your Empadronmiento, Residencia and when you file for marriage.
  • A Certificate of No Impediment (Certificado de No Impedimento) confirms your marriage suitability. This needs to be acquired from your home country’s embassy/consulate if you’re not Spanish.
  • Certificate of Marital Status (Certificado de Estado Civil).
  • Certificate of Residence (Certificado de Empadronamiento for expats, Certificado de Residencia for Spaniards).
  • Widows/widowers will need to bring a death certificate for their previous spouse.
  • A divorce or annulment certificate if either party was previously married.

Each document will require a Spanish translation (una traducción jurada) as well as an original. Translations can be obtained with the help of online platforms like Gengo and Lingoking. The document must also be stamped with an apostille (apostilla de la Haya), which authenticates it as official and true.

Expats seeking a religious ceremony will need the above as well as these extra documents:

  • Baptismal, Communion and Confirmation certificates issued by your parish church.
  • A pre-nuptial enquiry.
  • Letter of Freedom to Marry from your parish priest, certifying that you fulfil all premarital requirements.
  • A Letter of Freedom to Marry from your local priest.
  • In applicable circumstances, a Decree of Nullity for a previous marriage or a dispensation marriage for a marriage that is ‘void’.

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Legal Requirements

Marriages in Spain are only allowed for individuals aged 18 or over. Please ensure that the chosen venue and the officiator for your wedding are legally entitled to conduct weddings. Selected venues will advertise for blessings - which do not count as official weddings.

In order for any documentation to be treated as legitimate in a civil ceremony, it must be issued no longer than 6 months before the date of the ceremony.

Types of Marriage in Spain

There are two types of officially recognised marriages in Spain - civil and religious. Civil partnerships are also recognised in most of Spain’s autonomous communities.

Gay marriage was also made legal in Spain in 2005 - despite its Catholic heritage - featuring all the prerequisites for a civil marriage.

Civil Marriage

The most frequent form of marriage in Spain. Civil marriages typically occur at the Civil Registry Office (Registro Civil), District Court (Juzgado) or town hall in the region in which you reside.

Religious Marriage

Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish weddings are all officially acknowledged in Spain and do not require a separate civil marriage ceremony. Being a predominantly Catholic country, Catholic marriages are the most common religious marriage in Spain. A licenced marriage officiator is required for religious marriages to be made official.

Civil Partnership

Also known as civil unions (Pareja de Hecho), civil partnerships are recognised as official unions between individuals who live and share lives together. These are not marriages and tend to require far less paperwork, being managed at the regional level. Civil partnerships still establish inheritance and property rights for the two parties involved.

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Wedding Costs

According to Statistica, the average cost of a Spanish wedding in 2022 was €22,000, though the price range can differ dramatically depending on the scale of the event, the chosen venue etc. Depending on whether you're aiming for a budget or luxury wedding, prices can range anywhere from €12,000 to €32,000.

How Does the Marriage Process Work?

In order to stay calm and avoid unexpected delays, we recommend following a strict timeline of events when getting married in Spain.

Civil Ceremonies

Before planning the arrangements for the wedding itself, you must first go through the following legal process.

Apply For Licence

Whatever ceremony you’re having, you’ll always need to apply for a certificate granting permission to marry (Certificado de Capacidad Matrimonial) at the local Civil Registry Office. Non-residents of Spain can instead obtain this from their home country’s Embassy or Consulate.

Ensure you bring all the documents mentioned when you request an interview (translations as well). You’ll also need to bring 1 of your 2 witnesses - who must also bring their passport for identification. As soon as your interview request is submitted, your intent to marry will be advertised on a public notice board in their offices for 21 days. Provided no objections are made to the union, you can request an interview date.

Once you request an interview, it can take anywhere from 1-4 months before the scheduled date is available. This can be further affected by the bureaucracy in your particular region. With this in mind, we recommend beginning this process several months in advance.

Attend Interview

Both parties must now attend separate interviews at their local town hall, where they’ll answer an array of questions for officials to ascertain the validity of the marriage.

Should you be given the thumbs-up, your application will be registered with the central registry in Spain or at the corresponding Spanish consulate in a non-citizens country. Once done, the wedding can officially go ahead.

Catholic Weddings

Besides conducting the steps listed for a civil ceremony, a Catholic ceremony will also require you to do the following.

Visit Your Chosen Church

Most Catholic ceremonies will require you to meet with the bishop or priest of your church several times before the big day. This is to go over the documents you’ll need, as well as details for the day itself - such as the timeline and seating. Certain churches will insist on meeting the couple at least a week before the wedding to finalise the arrangements.

We recommend meeting with your church official before arranging to get your marriage licence. Certain church administrators might wish to handle the application process on your behalf. Also, be aware that it can take 4 weeks or longer for the church to process your documents. To avoid disruption, we advise submitting all documents at least 2 months before the wedding date.

Register Certificate

Unlike a civil wedding where the officiator will register your marriage immediately, Catholic weddings require the recently wedded to submit their own wedding certificate at the Civil Registry Office within 7 days. With this in mind, it’s best to leave a brief gap between the wedding and honeymoon in order to cover this essential step.

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Spanish Attitude to Marriage

The attitude towards marriage has seen a steady decline in importance in Spanish society in recent years. This can be seen in a gradual decrease in marriages throughout the country, with 2021 records showing 3.12 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants. This is a drastic difference from the 1977 rate of 7.14.

What’s more, Spanish citizens are waiting longer to get married. In 2021, the average age for marrying in Spain was 39.5 and 36.7 years for men and women respectively. Numerous factors have been studied as possible factors behind this increase:

  • A difficult economic climate & high unemployment
  • A drift away from traditional family values to more secular lifestyles
  • Gradual urbanisation of Spain
  • Decreased social pressure to marry young
  • Stronger emphasis on building careers and suitable savings

Spanish Wedding Traditions

If you’re an expat getting married in Spain, expect differing traditions to those you’d typically find in a UK wedding. Typical examples include:

Orange Blossoms - Spain’s national flower, often featured in the decorations or bridal bouquets at an Iberian wedding.

Gold Coins - It is customary for a groom to present the bride with 13 gold coins (arras) in an ornate box for good luck, representing Jesus and his 12 disciples.

Wedding Rings - Whilst the engagement ring is worn on the left hand like in the UK, both the bride and groom wear their wedding ring on the right hand in Spain.

Mantilla - This is a particular kind of bridal veil associated with Spanish and Italian weddings. It is commonly very long but can be shorter for more contemporary weddings.

Wedding Favours - It’s common for the bride and groom to hand out small wedding favours to guests during the reception.

Dancing, Bidding and Tie-cutting - During the traditional Sequidillas Manchegas bridal dance, guests actually pay the bride to dance. What’s more, the groom’s friends normally cut up the groom’s tie and auction pieces for good luck. The proceeds from both go towards the couple’s future.

No Bridesmaids or Groomsmen - Being a family-focused country, bridesmaids and groomsmen are less of a feature in Spanish weddings.

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Martha Lott

Written by Martha Lott

Having guest authored for many property websites, Martha now researches and writes articles for everything moving house related, from remortgages to conveyancing costs.