With its mild weather and natural beauty, South Africa is a popular wedding destination for couples.
Before you are allowed to get married in South Africa, however, you must prove you are legally eligible to marry in the country. Couples that are not residents of the country are entitled to a South African marriage licence, provided the correct procedures have been followed.
Marriage in South Africa is a legally binding contract. The regulations are governed by the South African Marriage Act of 1961 and the Civil Union Act of 2006, both of which outline the regulations regarding how a marriage is performed, and who may marry one another — thanks to the latter act, gay marriage in South Africa is legal —, as well as where and how the wedding may be conducted and by whom. If you fail to comply with the regulations, your marriage could 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 get married in South Africa is obligated to follow the outlined procedures.
Who can get married in South Africa?
Before deciding to get married in South Africa, you must ensure you 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 are prohibited from getting married 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 are permitted to get married in South Africa provided they meet the Home Affairs marriage requirements. They must also present Home Affairs with a valid asylum seeker/refugee permit, along with a declaration from the police confirming their marital status.
Apply for a marriage certificate in South Africa
To begin 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 your intended wedding date.
Home affairs marriage forms are available on request and should be submitted with the relevant supporting documentation as follows:
- 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 are legally allowed to 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, written consent from the Minister of Home Affairs is also required
- 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 be presented with a marriage certificate immediately after the ceremony. The type of marriage certificate, which must be signed by two witnesses and the marriage officer, depends on the status of your nationality.
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, enable you to register your marriage in your country of residence.
How to get married in South Africa
Marriage ceremonies may only be conducted by a licenced marriage officer, such as a religious minister, magistrate or Home Affairs marriage officer.
Weddings in South Africa must take place in a church or religious building, a public office (such as a magistrate’s court) or private dwelling. If there is a serious illness, a wedding may take place in a hospital or other such medical facility.
The service must be conducted in the presence of two witnesses.
If you plan to marry in a private or public garden or on the beach, you may need to repeat the legal aspect of the service in one of the legal locations. 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.
Getting married at Home Affairs or court
Couples that intend to get married, but are not interested in a ceremony at church or other public location may hold their ceremony at any Home Affairs office. Marriage ceremonies at a Home Office are free of charge and entitled under the Civil Union Act 2006 for both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
Complete the marriage interview
Before a marriage is declared legal in South Africa, couples are required to 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 fail to attend an interview, the marriage certificate will not be registered and the marriage will be declared null and void.
Pre-nuptial agreements in South Africa
Marriages in South Africa are automatically ‘in community of property’, meaning that assets from both partners are joined. If you intend to get married ‘out of community of property’ in South Africa — meaning that you keep your assets separate — , you should consult a lawyer beforehand to draw up a contract designating the division of property, 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 getting married, you are required to present any prenuptial agreements to the marriage officer with a letter from your lawyer confirming the agreement was mutual.