Marriage in France: like la rentrée
The French wedding dream is not all bells and bliss; Geoff Morris shares his tips for handling the French bureaucratic process to get married in France.
Old and young, we all suffer la rentrée nerves throughout life, and this is no different when arranging all the right documents to get married in France.
We all harbour memories of the start of the school year: a sense of anticipation, fear and excitement, looking forward to hooking up with long-lost friends, or worried about spotting last year’s crush with a new girlfriend. The smell of the classroom was always so strangely familiar, the math teacher would have kept the same suit, the canteen the same old menu, and yet your new shoes were never going to feel right. In fact, you bought loads of new stuff – pencil case, eraser, skirt, shoes or blazer – which was surely the point of la rentrée. It was the one time of the year when even your parents agreed new stuff was essential.
Just like preparing for school, there is also a whole lot of buying and finding new things in order to have all the right equipment needed for your big wedding day in France. Below are some words of wisdom on getting hitched in France. If you're looking for information on the application procedure or necessary documents, read our guide to getting married in France.
Marriage in France
In our experience there are three huge hurdles in arranging expat marriages over here:
- Language (obviously) – everything needs to be in French, translated by an approved source and the translation approved by another approved source.
- Timing – it's necessary to get form A after receiving declaration B and before submitting request C etc. and everything seems to have a certain 'sell-by date', for example, some documents cannot be dated more than three months ago, so you have to juggle when to carry out all your applications.
- French bureaucracy – as mentioned at the end of the editorial, they may suddenly request documents that simply don't exist in your country of origin and don't offer any flexibility in finding a solution.
Photocopies are almost never allowed so everything has to be 'original', yet they will be locked forever in their vaults, such as birth certificates specially re-issued at great personal effort back in your home country. Not a fun thing to discover when it's finally presented to the Mairie back in France.
The criteria can also change depending on which employee you've been talking to.
Finally, they may even doubt the authority of the official stamp of the issuing body because it's not French – in our case the foreign ministry of one of the countries of origin. After the French authority suggested we go back and sort it out, we finally appeased them by getting the embassy in Paris to write (and officialise) a letter attesting to the authenticity of the original document and the authenticity of the stamp on the document plus an extra stamp of officialdom for good measure.
To sum it all up: the French system expects everyone to use the French system.
Advice for preparing your French wedding
Start by asking for a list of documents at your local mairie about six months up to a year before you might need to travel to your country of origin or where you will hold the wedding. Find the address of your local mairie online.
Tips for your preparing your French wedding:
- Write to all the authorities you think you need to contact asking about procedures and conditions for each document, work out any extra conditions as these crop up.
- Return to the mairie with a plan including all 'sell-by-dates', extra conditions, etc. paying attention to ask about official stamps and official translations.
- Modify the plan until it meets their approval (and check again with other authorities if necessary).
- Plan your holidays around the 'sell-by-date' conundrum (remember to account for from-application-to-issuing periods).
- At the correct moment launch the countdown to the wedding and embark on the document requesting itself.
Of course it's easy to write all this now; our own French wedding was managed in a chaos of unsent invitations and unbooked venues while trying to beat looming visa expiries, with everything culminating in a (literal) last-minute panic since the mairie forgot to book an interpreter. It pays to be prepared – or at least have lots of extra time for the unexpected.
Geoff Morris / Expatica
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Updated from 2011.
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