With its mild weather and natural beauty, getting married in South Africa is a popular choice for couples.
Before you can get married in South Africa, however, you must prove you are legally eligible to marry. Non-resident couples may get a South African marriage license if they follow the procedures.
Marriage in South Africa is a legally binding contract. The South African Marriage Act of 1961 and the Civil Union Act of 2006 govern marriages in the country. Both outline the rules regarding the process of marriage, and who may marry one another, as well as where and how the wedding occurs. If you fail to comply with the regulations, your marriage may be declared null and void.
Whether you are a foreigner marrying a South Africa citizen, a South African marrying a foreigner, or you are both foreigners, every couple planning to marry in South Africa must follow the rules.
Who can get married in South Africa?
Before getting married in South Africa, you must meet the Department of Home Affairs’ marriage requirements. In most cases, this shouldn’t pose a problem. Under South African marriage laws, the following persons cannot marry in South Africa:
- Those who are already married: If you have previously been married, you must provide evidence the marriage has been legally dissolved.
- Minors (i.e., those under the age of 18), unless they present written consent from parents, legal guardian or the court, depending on the situation
- Persons suffering from severe mental disorders that prevent them from understanding the nature of marriage or make decisions
Asylum seekers and refugees may marry in South Africa if they meet the Home Affairs marriage requirements. They must also present Home Affairs with a valid asylum seeker/refugee permit. In addition, they must include a declaration from the police confirming their marital status.
Apply for a marriage certificate in South Africa
To start the process, you must first register an intention to marry with the Department of Home Affairs and apply for a marriage certificate. Couples must apply for a Department of Home Affairs marriage certificate at least three months prior to the wedding date.
Home affairs marriage forms are available on request. Submit the forms along with the relevant supporting documentation:
- Identification documents, such as a South African ID card
- Both passports, if one partner is not South African
- A complete BI-31 form, which declares that you may legally marry
- Minors under the age of 18 must present written consent from both parents, and/or Form DHA-32. For boys under the age of 18 and girls under the age of 15, consent from the Minister of Home Affairs is also necessary.
- Official divorce decree, stamped by the court, if one partner has previously been married
- Death certificate, if one partner has been widowed
Abridged marriage certificates are free of charge for first-time applicants; subsequent copies may require a small fee, such as R75 for unabridged marriage certificates.
Types of marriage certificates in South Africa
Under the South African Marriage Act, couples must receive a marriage certificate immediately after the ceremony. The type of marriage certificate depends on the status of your nationality. Marriage certificates require two witnesses and the marriage officer.
Abridged marriage certificate
All couples married in South Africa receive abridged marriage certificates, which are presented to the couple immediately after the ceremony. If one of you is a South African and living in South Africa, this is the only certificate you require.
Unabridged marriage certificate
Unabridged marriage certificates are issued to non-South African couples, couples in which one partner is not South African, and couples that are not living in South Africa. You should also apply for an unabridged marriage certificate if you plan to be out of the country for an extended period of time shortly after marriage. Unabridged marriage certificates, which receive an apostille at the Cape Town High Court, let you to register your marriage in your country of residence.
The wedding process in South Africa
Marriage ceremonies must have a licensed marriage officer. Examples of this include a religious minister, magistrate, or a Home Affairs marriage officer.
Weddings in South Africa must happen in a religious building, public office, or private house. If there is a serious illness, the wedding can take place inside of a hospital.
The service must occur in the presence of two witnesses.
If you plan to marry in a garden or on a beach, you may need to repeat the legal aspect of the service. The same applies to marrying in a restaurant or other building not defined by the act. However, as long as your marriage is solemnised 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.
Marriages at Home Affairs or court
Couples that intend to marry outside of a religious or public location may hold their ceremony at any Home Affairs office. Marriage ceremonies at a Home Office are free of charge.
Complete the marriage interview
Before legally confirming a marriage in South Africa, couples must attend a Home Affairs marriage interview. The purpose of this procedure is to ensure that both parties are willingly entering into marriage of their own accord and not under duress. If you miss an interview, officials won’t register the marriage certificate. As a result, they will nullify the marriage.
Pre-nuptial agreements in South Africa
Marriages in South Africa are automatically ‘in community of property’, meaning that assets from both partners conjoin. If you plan on marrying out of community of property in South Africa, consult a lawyer beforehand. A lawyer will help draw up a contract designating the division of property; this is called a prenuptial agreement.
Pre-nuptial arrangements protect one party from liability of debts accrued by their spouse and allows you to maintain wealth and property accumulated during the marriage.
Before marrying, you must present any prenuptial agreements to the marriage officer with a letter from your lawyer confirming mutual agreement.