If you and your partner are planning on getting married in the UK, this guide will help you with arranging your big day. It explains the process and paperwork for a British wedding, plus details on British wedding traditions.
Congratulations on your decision on getting married in the UK! There are many things you’ll need to arrange for your big day. To give you a hand we’ve put together some advice on topics such as British wedding traditions, the prenuptial agreement in the UK, and civil partnership in the UK.
UK wedding traditions
There are various traditions involved in an English wedding, but most of them are optional, so there’s a lot of freedom to conduct your wedding how you feel.
Ahead of the wedding, many of the traditions involve the bride. It’s considered bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her dress before the wedding day, and the bride will often collect symbols of good luck – known as ‘something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue’ – to wear on the day. These trinkets usually come in the form of gifts from family or friends.
On the day itself, the bride usually enters alongside her father and walks down the aisle followed by her bridesmaids, before meet the groom and best man, who will already be waiting at the altar.At a church service, hymns, readings, prayers and the exchanging of vows usually follow, before the couple signs the marriage register.
Afterwards, there is a meal and speeches from the father of the bride, the groom and the best man, who sit at the top table with the couple’s parents. Finally, the couple will cut the wedding cake and have their first dance, as the evening celebrations begin.
Rules for a UK marriage
To get married in the UK, you need to be aged over 16. If you’re under the age of 18 (in England, Wales or Northern Ireland) you’ll need to get permission from your parents or legal guardian.
English weddings usually take place in a registry office or a church, but can in theory happen in any location that has been approved to carry them out. You will need to ensure that your location of choice has a UK marriage license.
Whether you’re having a civil or religious ceremony, you’ll have to exchange some formal wording as part of the service, but you can have your own readings and music. Vows aren’t necessary for a civil partnership UK, but many people choose to have them anyway, and at the end of the ceremony, both partners and two designated witnesses must sign the marriage register.
If the wedding is between a same-sex couple, they can only have a religious ceremony at an organization that has agreed to carry out same-sex weddings, as religious venues and ministers can choose not to carry out such ceremonies if they wish.
A marriage performed in the UK is recognized in most other countries, but you should still seek confirmation of this from the embassy of your home country.
Getting married in the UK: Giving notice
If you’re planning on getting married in the UK, you need to give at least 28 days’ notice at a registry office, and must have lived in the country for at least 7 days. This notice period can be extended to 70 days if one of the partners is from outside the EEA or Switzerland or doesn’t provide enough evidence of their immigration status. In some cases, the UK Home Office can investigate the couple to ensure the proposed UK marriage is genuine.
The cost of an English wedding
In addition to the costs of the ceremony and reception, you’ll need to pay some other fees when getting married in the UK. If you’re a EU or EEA citizen or have indefinite right to live in the UK, you’ll need to pay a notice fee of £35 before the wedding, or £47 if you don’t have sufficient proof of this.
Additionally, it costs £46 to register a UK marriage or civil partnership UK at a register office. Your marriage certificate usually costs £4 on the day or £10 after, and it’s useful to keep a copy safe, as you may need to use it as an official document in the future.
Pre-nuptial agreements outline how finances and property will be split if the couple gets divorced in the future.
If you’re thinking of drawing up a pre-nuptial agreement before your English wedding, it’s best to take legal advice before drawing this up. The reason for this is that pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements are considered legally binding unless they’re demonstrated to be unfair in court.
Civil partnerships UK are only open to same-sex couples. Same-sex couples are allowed to get a civil partnership across the UK, and have been since the Civil Partnership Act was passed in 2004. In most ways, civil partnerships offer the same rights as a heterosexual marriage.
Same-sex marriages came much later in the UK, with England, Wales and Scotland legalising them in 2015. At time of writing, same sex marriage in Northern Ireland remains illegal.
English wedding traditions: Changing your name
Traditionally, when couples get married in the UK, the female changes her surname to that of her husband. This isn’t a legal necessity, and the choice of whether you do this or keep your own name (or take on a double-barrelled surname etc) is entirely up to you.
Changing your surname to that of your husband doesn’t need to be done by Deed Poll, unlike most other name changes. Instead, you can send off your marriage certificate with a cover letter requesting that your details are updated. Some official departments, such as the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) may insist on seeing your marriage certificate before agreeing to change your name on their records.
Getting married in the UK: Your legal rights
Getting married in the UK as a foreign national
If you’re married to a British Citizen or are the civil partner of one, you can apply for British citizenship, although you’ll need to meet a range of requirements and pass a life in the UK test. You’ll need to have been granted indefinite leave to stay in the UK or have permanent residence (if you’re an EEA national).
To gain citizenship, you’ll usually need to have lived in the UK for at least 3 years before you apply. The UK government provides a booklet detailing the full requirements.
Getting married in the UK when you live abroad: Marriage visitor visas
If you’re a non-EU or EEA national, you can get married in the UK, as long as you plan to leave within six months. You can apply from three months before you intend to travel to the UK, and your application should be considered within three weeks of submission. The marriage visitor visa allows you to stay in the UK for up to six months, and costs £87. For full details on how the process works, you can check out the UK government guide.