Planning a Dutch wedding: Getting married in the Netherlands
If you are planning a Dutch wedding, this guide explains the process and paperwork for getting married in the Netherlands for foreigners, plus details on beautiful Dutch wedding traditions.
If you're planning a Dutch wedding, you'll need to sort out the red tape to get married in the Netherlands before you can say 'I do' among the tulips. It can be difficult to get legally married in the Netherlands as a foreigner if you don't have ties to the country.
This guide explains the conditions for getting married in the Netherlands and what you need to arrange to ensure a smooth Dutch wedding, plus details on historical and modern Dutch wedding traditions – did you know the bridal shower was originally a Dutch wedding tradition?
Dutch wedding traditions
The most notable of Dutch wedding traditions to have spread around the world is the bridal shower. Reportedly the tradition of throwing a bridal shower comes from historical Dutch wedding traditions, when if a father disapproved of a wedding and refused to pay the much-needed dowry, friends would instead gather gifts the bride would need in her married life and help prepare the wedding to go forward.
In traditional Dutch wedding traditions, pines or evergreens were associated with 'eternal love' and would sometimes be used in wedding or party decorations, typically with the couple sitting together under a canopy of leaves while guests wished them happiness.
Lily-of-the-valley plants also represented the 'return of happiness' and newly weds would sometimes plant them around the house as a Dutch wedding tradition. The idea was that the couple could then celebrate and renew their love with every blossom.
Today guests are typically involved in events before and after the wedding, including sometimes a short party before the wedding celebration with snacks and drinks. An old Dutch wedding tradition was to eat bruid suikas (traditional sweetmeat, known as 'bridal sugar') and drink spiced wine – sometimes called 'bridal tears' – at the bride's house; today these are some foods of old Dutch wedding traditions that you'll see in ceremonies, alongside a number of other sweets and heavy dishes.
One of the more common Dutch wedding traditions is to put a 'wish tree' at the wedding ceremony, from which guests can hang short messages or wishes for the couple, instead of having a guest book.
Although today you won't see many clogs worn in the Netherlands, clogs do play a part in Dutch wedding traditions. One story says that young men once carved clogs to leave on the doorsteps of their chosen ladies, and if she wore them the next day it would signal an acceptance of the marriage proposal. In contemporary Dutch wedding traditions, some couples may wear clogs for the wedding day and later display them on the walls of their home with dried flowers.
Tulips and blue-and-white Delft pottery or colour scheme are common themes of Dutch wedding traditions, although modern Dutch wedding incorporate a great variety of colours and traditions.
There are not a lot of Dutch wedding sayings, although 'trouwen is houwen' is one – once you are married it should be for life – or 'zo zijn we niet getrouwd', which means that was not the deal. On the comical side, a common Dutch joke is that only one word rhymes with huwelijk (marriage), which is afschuwelijk (horrendous).
It is not unusual to have two guest lists; one for the receptie (reception) and another for the trouwfeest (wedding party) later on. Sometimes Dutch friends of the wedding party will come up with funny sketches and songs about the married couple.
In the Netherlands, a common Dutch wedding tradition is to celebrate 12.5 years of marriage, which is considered the first main Dutch wedding anniversary.
Dutch wedding or registered partnership?
In 2001, the Netherlands was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage. Both heterosexual and same-sex couples can get married (trouwen) in the Netherlands, as well as enter into a registered partnership (een geregistreerd partnerschap), create a legally binding de facto agreement or simply cohabit without any legal status.
The process is nearly identical, but two main differences are:
- registered partnerships can be dissolved without going to court, as long as there are no minor children affected.
- one or the other might not be recognised and easily understood in your home country. As an example, Britain only has same-sex registered partnerships and heterosexual marriages, while France has same-sex and heterosexual marriages, but no registered partnerships.
A registered partnership can also be turned into a marriage but not the other way.
Only civil ceremonies are legally recognised in the Netherlands. After the civil ceremony at the registry office, couples often have a religious or secular Dutch wedding as part of their celebration. A religious ceremony, however, can never take place before the civil wedding.
In most cases, the procedures and ceremonies are identical for both heterosexual and same-sex Dutch marriages – as well as for marriage and registered partnerships – so unless otherwise stated the information generally applies to all those circumstances.
All Dutch marriages must be registered with the Registrar of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Registered Partnerships (or Dienst Basisinformatie, DBI). This includes marriages conducted abroad, so if you have a destination wedding be sure to visit the municipal authority on your return to register your changed state. If you get married in the Netherlands, the registration is automatic. Dutch nationals abroad can register a marriage with the municipality of The Hague’s Foreign Documents Department.
Conditions for getting married in the Netherlands
To get married in the Netherlands at least one partner must be Dutch or resident in the Netherlands. Both must be over 18 and not already married or in a registered partnership. This is the case for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.
For non-Dutch residents wishing to get married in the Netherlands or enter into a registered partnership, you will need to complete a personal declaration. This declaration can be filled in and signed when you notify the municipality of your intention to marry or register a partnership.
You must give notice of your intention to marry (ondertrouw) at least 14 days before your ceremony. You give notice at the municipal authority (gemeente) or town hall (stadhuis, afdeling huwelijkszaken) where at least one partner lives; since July 2016 it has also been possible to register a marriage or partnership online in some municipalities. It is strongly advised that you give notice one to three months in advance of the wedding, as the paperwork can take more than 14 days, particularly if one or both of you is not Dutch. Once notice has been given, it is valid for 12 months, after which you must reapply.
After your marriage intention has been displayed at the Consulate General for 21 days, and no objection has been made, a certificate of no impediment to marriage will be issued in Dutch.
During the marriage registration process, you can choose on which date and in which municipality you wish to get married.
The immigration authority, the IND, will check your residence status and the foreigner's police may investigate to rule out a sham marriage and ensure the relationship is genuine; such checks are typically carried out when a couple intends to marry or register a partnership for the aim of getting a Dutch residence permit.
Getting married in Amsterdam
The process of getting married in the Netherlands varies slightly between municipalities, but below outlines some conditions for getting married in Amsterdam as an example:
- As of 1 January 2017, free Dutch weddings are offered every Tuesday in all of Amsterdam's city offices, although such spots are in high demand and waiting lists can be up to six months long. The basic ceremony only covers the essential formalities in front of a maximum 20 guests.
- At least one partner must be registered in Amsterdam in order to give notice of your marriage, which must be done in the district where they live. If both partners are Dutch citizens living in the Netherlands, it is possible to register an intention to marry online.
- Applicants can get more information on the city's information number 14 020, as well as make an appointment to register their marriage intention or seek advice.
To find the conditions for your area, do an online search for your local municipality (gemeente) website.
Paperwork for getting married in the Netherlands
The process of getting approval to marry in the Netherlands starts by making an appointment with the registrar (ambtenaar van de burgerlijke stand) in the municipality in which you wish to marry (or enter into partnership). The registrar will tell you which documents you will need to show.
Paperwork may differ depending on the municipality, however, you can expect to have to provide:
- ID (eg. passport)
- Birth certificate ('legalised' and translated, if from abroad); this requirement has been removed for applicants whose details can be found in the Dutch population register.
- Proof of address (eg. rental agreement, recent bills)
- Proof of nationality
- Proof of civil status (eg. a divorce or death certificate too, if you have been married previously).
For those who have lived abroad, the Registrar of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Registered Partnerships may ask for certain documents they need to create your civil status record, for example, proof that you are not in a marriage or registered partnership in another country. In such cases, you can apply for a certificate of unmarried status in your last place of residence.
You may also be exempt from showing your birth certificate; instead you can give your birth details to the Registrar of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Registered Partnerships to see if the information is already available in the Personal Records Database (in Dutch, Basisregistratie personen or BRP). If this option is not possible, you may then be required to show your birth certificate. If you cannot prove your birth in either of these ways, you can write a sworn statement about your birth details.
A notarised translation is typically required for any documents not in Dutch. Foreign documents may also have to be authorised with an Apostille stamp or equivalent, also known as 'Apostillisation' or 'legalisation'. The issuing authority stamps a document with an unique ID, indicating that it is a true and accurate copy to be recognised internationally.
Dutch wedding ceremonies
Dutch civil ceremonies take place at your local town hall, and accommodations vary. In some cases, it is possible to bring a few dozen guests or have a small reception for an additional fee; in others the space is limited. It can be arranged to hold the civil ceremony in a destination of your choice outside of the civil-appointed buildings, although that will cost extra.
You must have two to four witnesses, and they will need to bring ID. The ceremony will be in Dutch, so if you, your partner or your witnesses are not fluent in that language, you should bring a translator. They do not typically need to be a certified professional, but should be competent.
Free wedding ceremonies are typically offered on certain days or hours of the week, although they usually only include a simplified ceremony of a few minutes, no music and limited guests.
For the civil ceremony, couples usually are required to write some personal details to give the registrar to include in their speech, such as how the couple met or an endearing story, otherwise some registrar like to ask questions such as 'why did you decide to marry?'.
Dutch wedding costs
Giving notice that you intend to get married in the Netherlands is typically free of charge, although there may be charges if additional documents are required. In some areas (including Amsterdam) free civil wedding/partnership ceremonies are offered at certain times, otherwise you will be required to pay a fee depending on the locaiton and time of your Dutch wedding ceremony.
The Nationaal Trouwonderzoek reported that the average Dutch wedding costs EUR 15,000, with money being the most popular wedding gift (and, perhaps interestingly, almost half admitted to counting it during the wedding night).
Prenuptial agreements in the Netherlands
The default in the Netherlands is that married couples own all property in common, including inheritance and previous property, and have joint liability for each others' debts. In some cases, it is possible to exclude certain items, such as an inheritance or bequested property but this can only be done by the testator. In addition, a prenuptial agreement, known as a marriage contract (huwelijkse voorwaarden), can be used to exclude certain properties from this state. It must be drawn up and witnessed by a notary.
Unmarried couples may already have a formal cohabitation agreement (samenlevingscontract), drawn up in a similar fashion. This is not an impediment to marriage. It is typically voided by marriage and should be replaced by a marriage contract if you do not wish to follow the legal default.
Once married, it is the responsibility of the civil-law notary to register you in the matrimonial property register. You can check your details in the Dutch marriage property register online.
Legal rights of Dutch marriage
Marrying a Dutch citizen does not automatically grant you Dutch citizenship. The usual application process applies but you are more likely to be granted citizenship. Read how to get Dutch citizenship.
Couples must keep their own names for official documents, such as a Dutch driver's licence or passport. However, couples may use either name or hyphenate both surnames in informal settings. As an example, a passport must continue to read F Surname, while the mail box can read F Surname and J Spouse, F & J Surname-Spouse, F & J Spouse, or other variations. Combining the two surnames into a new, official one is not permitted.
This applies to both heterosexual and same-sex couples, whether they are married or in a registered partnership. A name change typically costs EUR 865.
Once married or in a registered partnership, you will not be obliged to testify against your partner in a court case. The right to decline to give evidence also extends to members of your family and your partner’s family.
Right to inheritance and pensions
Married and registered partners are automatically each other's heir, unless otherwise specified in a Dutch will. In the event of a death, the surviving spouse or registered partner may also be eligible to claim a survivor's pension, depending on the pension provider.
If a child is born to a woman who is married to or in a registered partnership with a man, both are considered lawful parents of that child, even if he is not the biological father. If the couple is not married, are both men or both women, then the birth mother is automatically considered the lawful mother, and other parents must either claim and register their parenthood (biological father) or adopt the child (non-biological parents) to have any legal rights.
In the event of dissolving a Dutch marriage, Dutch law can apply if one partner is still a resident in the Netherlands, although other factors can come into play such as where a child or main property is located. Read more in our guide to divorce in the Netherlands.
See the government guide to marriage, registered partnerships and co-habitation agreements
Click to the top of our guide on planning a Dutch wedding.
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