The red tape of getting married

14th August 2003, Comments 0 comments

Getting married in the Netherlands may seem romantic and exotic. Yet before you take the plunge, remove your rose-coloured lenses and get ready for bureaucratic paperwork and a sea of information.


Most city officials and wedding specialists will be able to help you in English. But if you don't speak Dutch there are a few key words you'll need to know and will hear repeatedly throughout the process of your marriage up until the wedding day. These are:

Ambtenaar burgerlijke stand (marriage registrar)
Bruid (bride)
Bruiloft (ceremony)
Gemeente (municipality)
Huwelijk (marriage)
Stadhuis (city hall)
Trouwen (to wed)
Keep in mind these words can be used as search words on the internet when you surf. The most informative index page for all things about wedding in Holland is (however it's in Dutch).

Legal matters Wherever you live, one of the couple must be registered at the stadhuis. Unless either of the couple has an unlimited residence permit (verblijfsvergunning), the foreign police will need to be informed of your marriage plans at some point in the process.

All residents in the Netherlands (Dutch included) need to register the desire to get married (ondertrouw in Dutch) with the local gemeente. One needs to register a minimum two weeks prior to the wedding date and up to a maximum 12 months before. However it is not recommended you wait until the last two weeks to register as you need to give yourself as many months as possible to collect the necessary documentation. If one or both of you has been divorced then proof has to be shown that both parties are unwed at the time of their marriage.

Foreign partners will require a certificate from their home country confirming they are free to marry. Every foreigner needs to present a birth certificate. If you are from the USA or another non-European English speaking country you need to get an apostil (document certification) and this takes time.

For Asia and Latin America double legislation may require the presentation of an apostil plus another document. Contact your home embassy and your local stadhuis in the Netherlands for details. Wedding and ceremony guidelines in Dutch for your region can be found at by first clicking your area code and then under the rubric gemeente.

Types of partnerships Three possibilities exist in the Netherlands: Marriage The crucial element is the civil marriage ceremony, which can be the focal point of the wedding or just a formality. The costs vary from city to city, so call your local gemeente. Don't be put out when you also have to pay for the wedding book that contains your marriage certificate. You can have yourselves pronounced man and wife, man and man or woman and woman, for free in Amsterdam Monday through Thursday mornings before 9.30am. In Rotterdam your window is open on Wednesdays from 9am to 9.20am; in Utrecht on Wednesdays from 8.45am – 9.30am and in The Hague on Mondays at both 9am and 9.30am sharp. A short time before the big day, you have to have a meeting with the official who will conduct your ceremony, trouwambtenaar.

This will give you the chance to agree whether you want the ceremony in (mostly) English or as a bilingual affair. The official will tell you what the marriage entails in the legal sense and he or she will chat to you to learn about your background and how you met your partner. This is not a Homeland Security-type check. It is only to help the official prepare a few words about the happy couple for the assembled audience. Depending on the person's language skills this can be in Dutch or English. If you want your family and friends to understand what is going on, check out that the trouwambtenaar can handle English and that the accent is intelligible.

The official part of the ceremony - the I do's - are in Dutch, but it only takes a few seconds. Consider it as an opportunity to brush up on the language. Registered partnership Both same sex and heterosexual couples can formally register their relationship, without marrying.

Nevertheless, registered partnership and marriage are very similar and the consequences are virtually identical. The real difference comes in relation to children. A man and a woman who are married to each other automatically share parental responsibility for the children born during the marriage.

The male partner in a registered partnership must have acknowledged paternity of the child to be legally recognised as the father. In all cases other than marriage between a man and a woman, the birth of a child creates a family-law relationship only between the mother and the child. Family-law ties between the child and the mother’s partner can be created through acknowledgement or adoption.

A registered partnership can be converted into a marriage and vice versa. Cohabitation contract Just as it implies, many people choose to lay down some ground rules in their relationship among themselves, rather than enter into a formal marriage or registered partnership, which involves a "third party" (the State). A cohabitation agreement is a contract between two people, who decide what to include. This can vary from agreements on financial planning, sharing bank accounts and who pays what bills. You could also decide the roster for cleaning the loo! You can either arrange the agreement yourselves or ask a notary to draw up an official agreement.

An official agreement by a notary is always needed to be eligible for partner's pension rights scheme and other fringe benefits. Witnesses For a marriage or registered partnership, you are required to have 2 witnesses who must supply their identity (passports) and up to a maximum of 4 for a marriage or registered partnership.

Religious ceremonies A religious ceremony is not necessary for marriage and if you want one it must always follow the civil ceremony. It can be held anytime after the official civil marriage, even up to a year later. Communities of all religions exist in The Netherlands therefore ask your priest, minister, rabbi about the type of ceremonies they will conduct. You might find that there is less flexibility about interfaith marriages here, so you might consider inviting someone from abroad to officiate at your religious ceremony if it is important to you.

Don't worry too much if you are not a regular attendee at your community's religious service in the Netherlands. People are used to that here so it won't necessarily bar you from getting married but it doesn't make things any easier. You should contact your local priest, minister or mullah or rabbi as soon as possible to discuss the process, and get him or her on your side. You may also be required to obtain documentation from your parish or church community in your home country.

Wedding planners Expats have special needs, claims Lisa Ross-Marcus, an expat living in Holland for 20 years (who got married here as well) and founder of Dream Weddings - one of the first wedding planning agencies based in Amsterdam.

"Expats need guidance on how to integrate their marriage traditions and expectations for their big day with the reality of living here and what is available.

"In addition, the total organisation of a wedding can be far more complicated than appears for several reasons," she points out.

For example, the Dutch usually ask their sibling or best friend to be Master of Ceremonies who is given the responsibility to plan and organise the wedding, something a wedding planner does and a skill not everyone can boast. An expat may just need the MC to host the reception and introduce guests to the couple.

Ross-Marcus adds, "expats are used to being transported from one venue to another whereas the Dutch normally walk from the city hall to the reception."

"I've had couples who outlined the brand of liquor they wanted and this is far from ordinary in Holland." "The trend today is away from the impersonal civil ceremony and the too-formal religious affair towards a write your own ceremony," she adds.

Locations She notes many couples choose unusual locations to host their special day such as boats, trams, museums, zoos and castles. The following sites may help you decide on your venue:, Her personal favourites in include Amsterdam's Hortis Botanicus, Artis Zoo and West Indisch Huis (where the British bought New York City from the Dutch). Outside the capital, she likes the Pulchri Studio (art gallery and society) in The Hague and the Sterrenwacht (observatory) in Utrecht. Other possibilities include Hotel New York and Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam.

At every town hall has a Huwelijksdata Gids (Marriage Guide), but it is basically an advertiser-filled magazine with little editorial. Tips from Dream Weddings Observe the way you’re treated. Are the venue managers haughty, impatient or arrogant? If so, forget it, that’s how you and you’re wedding guests will be received.

Check how late the wedding can run until and how loud the music can be played. Some hotels require that you rent out the surrounding rooms so that other guests won’t be disturbed by loud music. Get clear information about the hotel’s policy before reserving their banqueting facilities. Many banqueting managers speak English, however have someone translate the fine print as contracts are in Dutch.


Check out for music samples and play lists of bands or ask your wedding planner, friends or venue for tips. Make sure the photographer you hire has wedding experience. Otherwise you may end up with bland images devoid of emotions.

"Beware", warns Ross-Marcus, "of those who show you too many kids pictures. Anyone can photograph children but how's it going to pan out with Auntie Ruth who is 75?"

A good way to avoid the expense of an official photographer is to tell you guests that you will expect copies of the best pictures they take for your album. If you have no leads to start with, the sure way to find a florist is to begin in the local neighbourhood or scan the city as you ride your bike. If you want to rent a tux look in the a-z listings under ‘gelegenheidskleiding’.

For more information in English about the legal issues surrounding marriage and registered partnerships, see

Updated 13 February 2004
Links checked May 2008


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