Luckily for expats, there are few restrictions when it comes to tying the knot in Switzerland as a foreigner. In fact, both residents and non-residents in the beautiful alpine country can marry with ease. That said, it does take some preparation to get everything sorted before you can both walk down the aisle.
To help you get the ball rolling, this article explains everything you need to know about getting married in Switzerland, including the following:
- An overview of marriage in Switzerland
- What types of marriage are possible in Switzerland
- The legal requirements to get married in Switzerland
- The best wedding locations in Switzerland
- Wedding traditions and customs in Switzerland
- Useful resources
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An overview of marriage in Switzerland
Despite being a conservative nation, the idea of marriage is gradually losing its appeal in Switzerland. In fact, the number of marriages has been steadily declining over the years. According to figures released by the Federal Statistical Office, a total of 38,200 couples tied the knot in 2019; a decrease of 6.2% compared to 2018. Furthermore, this trend is occurring across all types of marriages, including those between Swiss, foreign, and Swiss and non-Swiss couples. That said, the decline in marriages was highest among the foreign population; falling by 13.1%, in comparison to only 4.6% among Swiss couples and 5.1% among Swiss and non-Swiss pairs.
When looking at the number of marriages among European countries in 2019, Switzerland sits right in the middle, with 38,974 marriages during that year. Considering that three of its neighboring countries, Germany (416,324), France (224,740), and Italy (184,088), tied most of Europe’s marital knots, this might come as somewhat of a surprise. But this largely comes down to shifting attitudes towards marriage, which we will get to later.
Interestingly, Switzerland has also seen a decline in registered partnerships among same-sex partners in recent years. Indeed, only 650 couples made their union official in 2019, a decline of 7.9% on the previous year.
Divorce in Switzerland
While the number of marriages in Switzerland is falling, the number of divorces is also increasing slightly. A total of 16,600 marriages were dissolved in 2019, an increase of 0.4% from the previous year. Interestingly, this rise was largely due to the significantly high divorce rate among foreigners which rose by 10.4% from 3,900 to 4,300. You can read more about this in our Guide to getting a divorce in Switzerland.
Attitudes towards marriage in Switzerland
Switzerland’s declining marriage rate and rising divorce rate suggest that marriage might not necessarily be on the cards for couples across the country. After all, like in many European countries, younger generations of Swiss people are increasingly choosing to move away from traditional ways of living and opt for new living arrangements such as unmarried cohabitation. Furthermore, the Swiss are somewhat famous for doing things their own way and aren’t ones to cave in to societal pressure.
Interestingly, the degree of tolerance towards new living arrangements in Switzerland varies between the different cantons. Central Switzerland and some of the French and Italian-speaking cantons, for instance, tend to maintain more conservative views towards marriage and family.
As a result, they are less open to alternative ways of living such as unmarried cohabitation. This is largely due to Catholicism and anti-etatism (opposition to state intervention) which dominate these areas. The German-speaking areas, on the other hand, seem to be more tolerant. You can read more about religion in Switzerland in our guide.
What types of marriage are possible in Switzerland
Civil marriage in Switzerland
While religious ceremonies are common in Switzerland, the law only recognizes civil marriage among couples. That said, once they have the proper documents, the newlyweds are free to hold a ceremony anywhere they choose, be it a church or elsewhere, but only after the civil ceremony. Because of this, many couples in Switzerland choose to have both a civil and a religious or non-religious ceremony. If this is your preference, you can contact your local church office to find out more information.
Gay marriage in Switzerland
Before 2020, same-sex marriage was not legal in Switzerland, and those who wished to have their cohabitation and status as a couple recognized could only enter a federal registered partnership. This essentially grants the partners the same pension, inheritance, and tax rights and obligations as married couples. But it limits their adoption rights to the children of their partners.
The introduction in 2013 of a bill to allow same-sex marriage marked a significant turning point in Switzerland. The Swiss parliament finally passed the gay marriage law on 18 December 2020, bringing Switzerland in line with other Western European nations with regard to LGBT+ rights.
Despite this promising news, vocal opposition to the new law made it subject to a referendum. However, in September 2021, over 64% of voters confirmed being in favor of giving gay marriages equal status to heterosexual ones in law. Of course, it remains to be seen whether same-sex weddings will boost Switzerland’s overall marriage rate!
The legal requirements to get married in Switzerland
In order to get married in Switzerland, couples must meet the following legal requirements:
- You must both be over the age of 18 and have the capacity to consent;
- If either of you are not Swiss citizens, you must be lawfully resident in Switzerland at the time of marriage.
Conversely, you cannot marry in Switzerland if:
- You are closely related to the other person;
- Either person is already married or in a registered partnership;
- In order to circumvent laws on the admission and residence of foreign nationals.
Necessary paperwork and documentation
If you want to get married in Switzerland, you will have to prove your civil status: i.e., that you have never been married or that you are no longer married or in a civil partnership. You will also need to prove your identity and residential status which means sourcing the original official documents from the country they came from.
Your foreign documents may also need an Apostille stamp in order for Swiss authorities to recognize them. Furthermore, all documents proving marital status (birth certificate, divorce certificate, and so on) must be less than six months old. They must also be original copies from the issuing body in the relevant country. With this in mind, you will want to give yourself plenty of time to gather these documents.
It is important to be aware that a notarized translation is usually necessary for any documents that are not in French, German, or Italian. This is where a translation service such as lingoking can help.
To summarize, in order to marry in Switzerland, you will need to provide the following documents:
- proof of Swiss nationality or proof of residency if neither of you has Swiss nationality
- birth certificate
- proof of marital status (e.g., divorce certificate) plus an affidavit or other documentation from your home country proving that you are free to marry.
Getting married in Switzerland: the procedure
Couples wanting to enter a civil marriage must submit a marriage request form and the aforementioned documents to the local civil registry office (Zivilstandsamt / l’office de l’état civil / l’ufficio dello stato civile). You can find your local civil registry office on the Swiss federal government website.
Additionally, both partners must personally declare before the registrar that they meet all of the requirements to get married in Switzerland. The civil registry office will then review the application and confirm in writing whether they authorize the marriage.
Generally speaking, processing the application takes around five weeks. This is partly because it includes the publication of the bans. This is essentially a formality where your intention to marry is publicly declared. The purpose of this is to allow anyone who might have knowledge of a legal impediment (such as an existing marriage) time to notify the registrar.
If all goes well and the civil registry office approves your marriage application, the ceremony must take place no less than 10 days and no more than three months after you receive the declaration. Notably, the ceremony needs to be in the local language: German, French, or Italian. If either of you doesn’t fully understand this language, you will need to supply a translator. Two adult witnesses must also be present at the ceremony.
The costs of getting married in Switzerland
Generally speaking, the fee for a civil ceremony in Switzerland ranges between CHF 300 and CHF 400 across the country. You may face additional costs if you make special requests; for example, you want to get married on a Saturday or have the ceremony outside the register office venue. Documentation, translation, religious ceremonies, and any other celebrations, including those held at the registry office, will also incur additional costs.
Of course, the venue and the scale of the wedding you choose will dictate a large majority of your remaining costs; such as flowers, catering, entertainment, and so on. That said, according to a study by the Association of Independent Swiss Wedding Planners, Swiss couples spend on average between CHF 30,000 and CHF 40,000 on their wedding. However, this doesn’t include the cost of the dress and suits, rings, or the honeymoon.
To give you more of an idea of what you can expect to spend on your big day in Switzerland, wedding blog Helvetia Weddings has conveniently outlined some general costs associated with Swiss wedding vendors and other costs.
The best wedding locations in Switzerland
With so much rich architecture and stunning alpine scenery on offer, choosing a location in which to tie the knot in Switzerland might actually be your toughest decision. Whether you dream about having a fairy tale wedding in a majestic castle or saying your vows atop a snowy mountain summit, you will certainly have an unforgettable day in the country.
To give you an idea of your many options, here are just a few of the unique locations where couples choose to say “I do” in Switzerland:
Dolder Grand, Zurich
Perched atop the exclusive Zurichberg, this premium location offers stunning views over Zurich, the lake, and the Alps. The spectacular venue is most suitable for large-scale parties, offering guests plenty of room to relax. The venue boasts gallery lounges, garden salons, an oval ballroom, a scenic terrace, and a two-Michelin-star restaurant serving gourmet cuisine.
Tarasp Castle, Grisons
Dating back to the 11th century, this fairy tale castle is one of the best-preserved in Switzerland and offers breathtaking views over the Scuol region.
Newlyweds can host a magical wedding banquet and dance the night away within this beautiful historical landmark. Guests can also arrange to stay at one of the many hotels and apartments located nearby.
Iglu-Dorf Zermatt, Valais
If you prefer to have a – let’s say – unconventional wedding, then fewer venues top Iglu-Dorf Zermatt. Here you can invite guests to join you 2,727 meters above sea level in a romantic icy wonderland. The venue offers a perfect view of the Matterhorn and is home to an arty snow hotel that can accommodate up to 32 people. It also boasts a romantic suite with a private jacuzzi which is ideal for newlyweds. The sun terrace and bar, meanwhile, offer guests the ideal place to kick back and relax. Just bear in mind that this quirky venue is only open for the winter season.
Die-hard Bond fans looking to add a dramatic touch to their wedding day can throw their celebration at the summit of Schilthorn in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland.
Guests can follow the tracks of James Bond by hopping inside a cable car and traveling to the summit which featured in the iconic 1969 movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The venue boasts a skyline bar and a revolving Piz Gloria restaurant that serves traditional Swiss cuisine. Guests can enjoy this while lapping up a 360-degree view of the breathtaking Alpine scenery. Needless to say, this is the perfect place to snap some epic wedding shots.
CERVO Mountain Boutique Resort, Valais
If you love the great outdoors, then this beautiful boutique resort offers newlyweds a very tempting wedding package that includes event preparation, a banquet, a party on the terrace or in the restaurant, and a post-wedding day brunch. Surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, the unique venue is also home to a spa and wellness center where guests can relax and recuperate after a heavy night of partying.
For more inspiring ideas, check out Le Bijou, a tailor-made wedding planner that offers detailed information on 20 luxury wedding venues throughout Switzerland.
Wedding traditions and customs in Switzerland
Like in most countries, there are certain traditions and customs that the bride and groom take part in when getting married in Switzerland.
The wedding shower
On the eve of the wedding, the future bride and groom usually host a wedding shower with their friends and family to celebrate their last night as an unmarried couple.
Interestingly, the guests often bring old porcelain with them which they throw on the floor as they believe that the broken pieces will bring the couple good luck.
The wedding day
The wedding day itself usually consists of an early-afternoon church ceremony followed by an apéritif for guests held in a nearby location. Later on, in the evening, the bride and groom host an elegant dinner with their close friends and family at a restaurant. Many couples also choose a luxury restaurant in a different town or even canton for their wedding celebration.
The wedding ring and other garments
Similar to many Western European countries, the engagement ring is a major component in getting married in Switzerland. This is typically made of gold and symbolizes the financial sacrifice that the groom makes for his bride-to-be. Typically, the bride also wears something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue on her wedding day.
She also wears a traditional crown or wreath on her head which represents her maidenhood and youth. After she and the groom have exchanged their wedding vows, she then removes the wreath and burns it; if it burns quickly, she is regarded as lucky. Later on, at the wedding reception, the bride traditionally gives each of the guests a colored handkerchief in exchange for a coin which represents good luck.
Planting a tree
A lovely Swiss wedding tradition involves the newly married couple planting a pine tree after the wedding ceremony. This symbolizes fertility and is believed to bring the couple luck and many children.
Fun and games
One Swiss wedding tradition that perhaps sets the country apart from others is the program of amateur entertainment which typically takes place between the afternoon’s apéritif and the evening dinner. The best man or maid-of-honor usually arranges this with help from the wedding guests.
The program can include everything from playing fun games to writing poems and songs, and performing amusing skits. Whatever surprises are in store, though, the purpose is to honor the couple while lovingly poking fun at them.
Kidnapping the bride
Kidnapping the bride and forcing the groom to find her is another quirky Swiss wedding tradition. Sometimes, he must also chop a block of wood while she knits a scarf.
Some guests also choose to give a blunt saw to the bridal couple so they can jointly saw through a tree trunk.
Another popular Swiss wedding game is the ‘Spalierstehen‘ or ‘faire la Haie‘, which involves the bride and groom walking the gauntlet between two rows of friends who create a corridor. This symbolizes the challenges awaiting the couple and their journey to overcome them together.