Getting married in South Africa

Getting married in South Africa

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Before getting married in South Africa, there are certain legal requirements that you need to oblige to ensure your marriage will be valid in the eyes of the law.

Before getting married, there are certain legal requirements that you need to attend to in order to ensure that your marriage will be valid in the eyes of the law. This is particularly important when marrying in a foreign country. Marriage is a binding contract; taking this important step changes your status and once you have entered into the contract, it involves a costly procedure to change its basis.

The South African Marriage Act lays down all the rules regulating how a marriage should be solemnised, who may marry one another, where and how the wedding may be conducted, and by whom. If you fail to comply with the regulations set out in this Act, your marriage could be declared null and void.

Documents required 

  • A clear copy of your ID (if you are South African) and passport if you are not South African.
  • 3 x colour passport photos of each of you
  • A clear copy of your divorce decree if this is applicable.  Please note it MUST state “Final Divorce Order” on the top, must be stamped by the court and dated clearly.
  • A clear copy of a death certificate if you have been widowed.
  • A clear copy of 2 witnesses' IDs if they are South African or passports if they are not. 
  • A Letter of non-impediment from your Embassy – this is a letter stating you are free to marry.


If the couple are getting married Out of Community of Property, they need to draw up their contract with a lawyer who will give them a letter stating that such a contract has been entered into. The marriage officer needs a copy of this letter.

The marriage officer will present you with your original Abridged marriage certificate immediately after the ceremony and the marriage officer will register your marriage with the Department of Home Affairs.

An Abridged Marriage Certificate will be issued to you immediately after the ceremony. The Marriage Officer will register your marriage with the Department of Home Affairs and apply for your Unabridged Marriage Certificate, which you can use to register your marriage back in your home country. The Unabridged certificate will be stamped "Apostille" by the High Court in Cape Town. The issue of this certificate will take approximately 3 working days.

The non-South African party must complete the "Declaration for the Purpose of Marriage" (Form BI31) in the presence of the marriage officer prior to the wedding ceremony.

Abridged marriage certificate
These are issued by default to all couples married in South Africa. They are presented to the couple immediately after the ceremony. For couples living in South Africa, this is the only certificate they require.

Unabridged marriage certificate

These are issued to all non-South African couples or couples where one party is Non-South African. These are only issued if the couple are not living in South Africa or by special request due to plans to travel extensively or emigrate in the fore-seeable future.

Unabridged marriage certificates get stamped 'Apostille' at the Cape Town High Court as authentication of certificate and issue. Apostilles are not needed for countries which are part of the Commonwealth, but are issued for all other countries who align with the Hague Convention. Should a country not be aligned with the Hague Convention, then an "Authentication" stamp is affixed to the marriage certificate also by the Cape Town High Court.

Marriage in South Africa

Who may perform a marriage ceremony?
Only a marriage officer may conduct a marriage. Every magistrate, special justice of the peace, and commissioner is a Marriage Officer, as are those ministers of religion (and only those) so designated by the Minister of Home Affairs.

Where can you marry?
According to the Marriage Act, the ceremony must take place in a church or other building used for religious services, or in a public office (such as a magistrate’s court) or private dwelling. During the service, the chosen venue must have ‘open doors’ and the service must be conducted in the presence of the parties themselves and two witnesses. A marriage service conducted without two witnesses is not considered legal.

Can you marry outdoors?
If you plan to marry in a garden or on the beach, it is best to repeat the legal part of the service indoors so as to avoid any doubts about whether you are formally married or not (see 'Where May I Marry?' above). The same applies to marrying in a restaurant or other building not defined by the act. However, as long as your marriage is solemnized by a competent Marriage Officer, the courts are not readily inclined to declare a marriage invalid simply because it was held in the wrong place.


Sally Haines / Expatica

Sally Haines is the owner and senior wedding planner of Weddings Abroad, a dedicated weddings company which specialises in coordinating weddings in South Africa for couples visiting from abroad. She has helped many non-South African couples create tailor-fit dream weddings and you can read more about her services at

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28 Comments To This Article

  • ISABELLE posted:

    on 1st February 2017, 10:15:42 - Reply

    Hello Barbara,
    I am a French citizen and I intend to marry my South African fianc� in SA. Can you tell me how long it takes to get married in SA and the issues you encountered ?


    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]


  • Fred posted:

    on 15th January 2017, 13:21:49 - Reply

    I am a foreigner getting married to a south African citizen. Is it true we must book interview with home affairs, and how long does the whole process takes for me to arrange sufficient time to stay in south Africa. Also can I get copy of my certificate of impediment from my country or have to contact my embassy in south Africa. Cheers!

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Fred posted:

    on 15th January 2017, 13:37:39 - Reply

    I need similar information related to booking interview with home affairs prior to marriages in south Africa. I have concern how long it takes precisely to book and grant this interview. Otherwise any advice for a foreigner coming to south Africa on a visitor visa for our wedding soon.Thanks

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Leejuan posted:

    on 16th November 2016, 12:18:33 - Reply

    Hi there,

    Thank you for the article. I want to know how it works if your partner has permanent residence and the two of us (I am South African) want to get married in South Africa? Does my partner need the same documents as a foreigner would?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

    Thank you!

  • barbara posted:

    on 17th October 2016, 23:51:08 - Reply

    A British citizen here. I married my SA man on June 4th 2016 in Constantia, Cape Town. Although we had no complicated issues (we're both retired); myself having lived in many different countries previously, I was totally amazed at the blooming red tape/Governmental issues presented. Nothing fazes me, yet the intransigent attitude of the Home Affairs Office in Cape Town leaves much to be desired.
    Having perused this site, I would recommend checking up on the SA governmental website for advice, as here they refer you to a forum which doesn't really address issues asked.

    My SA husband is now with me in the UK, but by golly did we have to jump through the hoops with mountains of paperwork to get him here.
  • Sally posted:

    on 19th October 2016, 10:58:36 - Reply

    we have been married for 5 weeks and have decided that its not for us. how would one go about having the marriage voided or would we need to get divorced ?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • jessyca posted:

    on 21st September 2016, 09:24:35 - Reply

    Can someone please help me? I am a Namibian engaged to a South African. We would like to get married in Cape Town. What exactly is the process, how long does it takes and what documents do i need to submit?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • mishelle posted:

    on 12th September 2016, 10:20:25 - Reply

    You have a produce a letter of no impediment before you get married. This letter will tell you if the person is married in his/her country.
  • Carike posted:

    on 10th August 2016, 17:09:17 - Reply

    Hi Helen
    Did you manage to find out any further info with regards to getting married in SA to a non-South African? My wedding is in December to a British National, I've got dual nationality SA and British. Any advice/info would be greatly appreciated!

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our forums]

  • Victor posted:

    on 12th May 2016, 23:29:41 - Reply

    hello.i am originally from Zimbabwe and have been staying in southafrica since 1999,i came with my mum and she later passed away in pretoria.i need to marry my girlfriend and i dont have any document with me.i would like to know which documents do i need to produce in order to get married to my girlfriend.i am getting much pressure from my church to get married coz we been dating for longtime.thank you

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Mary posted:

    on 4th May 2016, 07:52:26 - Reply

    I'm marrying in SA and i'm a USA alien. Is it difficult to marry my Egyptian fiancee' in Cape Town?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Helen posted:

    on 25th April 2016, 06:21:31 - Reply

    I am getting married to an American. We will get married in South Africa. My priest says we should get married a day or so before the wedding (at home affairs) and he will just lead the ceremony on our actual wedding day. I am not keen on this but can't seem to find correct information regarding this. Everything i find seems to contradict itself. very frustrating. Anyone?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Dewald posted:

    on 19th March 2016, 12:16:18 - Reply

    I'm planning of getting married to a US citizen.....Which is less complicated ...getting married in SA or US ?
    Any answers anyone please.
    Thank You

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Kallie posted:

    on 16th March 2016, 15:05:10 - Reply

    Help please!
    When marrying a foreign lady (Thai) what documents will she need ?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • albert posted:

    on 13th March 2016, 11:11:43 - Reply

    what happened to an asylum permit holder to marry in home affairs

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Jane posted:

    on 15th February 2016, 14:41:59 - Reply

    Hi, I am a South African planning to marry a German. We intend to live in SA. What does he need so we can marry in SA.

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Lee posted:

    on 26th January 2016, 12:25:47 - Reply

    How long (on average) before the wedding will the couple have to go for the interview? My fianc� will only arrive in South Africa two weeks before our wedding date.

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Gary posted:

    on 25th January 2016, 09:31:07 - Reply

    Hi Remano, Please could you send me any information regarding the marriage of a SA citizen to a Foreign citizen in SA. Thank you
  • remano posted:

    on 21st January 2016, 09:35:10 - Reply

    Andrew send me your email adress ill send u info
  • Andrew posted:

    on 4th January 2016, 10:50:23 - Reply

    I am a Brit marrying a South African in Stellenbosch at the end of Feb 2016. I have been well aware of the immigration officer's interview and the requirements to be allowed to legally marry.

    The issue is with where can you get the permission from? As we are getting married in Stellenbosch (Western Cape) but live in Johannesburg (Gauteng) we have been told we can't get permission in Johannesburg as we are not getting married here!

    Does anyone know if this is true or not the case, and a Johannesburg marriage permission is valid across the country? To add to the confusion our minister is registered at the Caledon DHA which doesn't offer the immigration interview service! We have 8 weeks until our big day, so any advice will be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Dave posted:

    on 27th November 2015, 14:16:53 - Reply

    Yes, this is what I find myself going through at the moment.. its great DHA dont answer calls let alone emails but expect couples to both be in the country to make an appointment, which no one has any clue about!! - great satisfaction as usual from home affairs...does any one know if getting married in court can bypass this home affairs circus act?
  • Lizzy posted:

    on 16th July 2015, 14:50:13 - Reply

    kirsty who will interview the couple and what will be questioned
  • Kirsty posted:

    on 7th July 2015, 13:37:32 - Reply

    This has now changed somewhat - if a SA citizen is marrying a foreign citizen you have to book an appoinmtent in person apparently to have an interview a month before your wedding! CRAZY! Looks like less people will be getting married in lovely SA.
  • Scata posted:

    on 21st August 2014, 11:02:21 - Reply

    If u are a foreigner n u don't have a valid permit can u still get married or not.
  • vuyo posted:

    on 18th June 2014, 09:48:09 - Reply

    Zandy: if u do your research u can never get into a fake marriage unless the man faked the Letter of non-impediment. the law protectes us....
  • MarriedForeigner posted:

    on 12th May 2014, 23:39:35 - Reply

    Urh.. Zandy.. ergo .. Letter of non -impediment... erh...
  • Zandy posted:

    on 30th April 2014, 13:58:56 - Reply

    I personally feel that foreigners getting married to South Africans need to produce proof from their country's embassy that they are not legally married in their country of origin.This could help in avoiding fake marriages whereby foreigners Mary South Africans just to get citizenship.
  • gabby posted:

    on 10th December 2013, 14:21:23 - Reply

    You also need a police clearance for the foreign national as well as a radiological report and medical certificate