When I moved to Spain in late September 2014, I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be getting married on this very same peninsula 5 years later. And in the small yet very quirky country of Gibraltar to a British man at that!
Life doesn’t go as we plan, does it?
Thankfully there are some things in life that can be planned for like a wedding ceremony and a reception. (Although planning for surprises and last-minute changes is almost a given when it comes to these big events.)
If you are in the exciting phase of life called engagement and you’re looking to get the paperwork out of the way relatively quickly, then this post is for you. I will do my best to answer all the questions you might have about this process but you can also ask me anything I may have forgotten in the comments.
So, let’s get started and tackle the most popular question we got as a couple:
According to Gibraltar law, any person who is free to marry (ie: single, divorced or widowed) can get married to their partner at the Gibraltar Registry Office or at one of their 12 approved outdoor locations around the small country. There are no residency or nationality requirements and a Gibraltar marriage is international, meaning that the certificate is recognized worldwide.
My now-husband Andrew and I live and work in Madrid, Spain (you may already know this if you’ve been following the blog for a while now). I already have work permission and legal residency in Spain for another year so we weren’t in a rush to get married in order to obtain residency for me. After much discussion-and ruling out the United States-, I decided to share my research findings about getting married in Gibraltar with him just before Christmas break 2018.
I presented him with the idea that we could save relatively more money (and time) by doing the legal portion of getting married if we did it in Gibraltar (which is also a U.K. Overseas Territory) with a few friends from Spain and then a blessing/traditional wedding ceremony with long-time friends and family in his church in Northern Ireland (something that was very near and dear to his heart).
So, Gibraltar checked off all the boxes. I didn’t need a visa to enter the country, we didn’t have to be residents and we also didn’t have to translate any of our documents from English into another language, since the official language is English. (Check the official website for a full country list for visas to Gibraltar if your nationality might require one.)
While more of my family and friends would have been able to attend a ceremony in my home country, getting legally married in the U.S. while Andrew would’ve technically been on a tourist visa could cause problems in the future. (It’s technically considered visa fraud if you and your non-American spouse one day plan to settle in the U.S. as residents.)
It was also just way more costly and as a friend of mine pointed out: our lives are in Europe. It made more sense to us as a couple to find a way for us to get married in a year or less here and start our lives together.
There was another option -that we also ruled out- and that was to get legally married in the Republic of Ireland. However, there were two major downsides to that: 1) Andrew doesn’t have any contacts in the country and 2) you would either have to be a resident or stay there for 90 days in order for them to read the marriage banns (which you can learn about here) but neither was feasible for us.
We chose Gibraltar over the mainland (such as his home country of Northern Ireland) because, in order to get legally married in any other part of the U.K, I would need a fiancée visa in order to marry Andrew. Since we didn’t have plans to settle there after marriage (have you heard about Brexit?) and knew that visa was far too expensive for our budget, we decided on Gibraltar.
While we had some difficulties communicating with the Registry Office, it was the perfect spot for us to get legally married in. The major benefit for American citizens is that you don’t need a visa to go into Gibraltar and the border control is quite lax. As long as you have your passport handy (and you don’t attempt to cross the border with a car), you can cross back and forth with ease. Plus, as an added bonus you can present your long-form birth certificate without the need for an apostille. That will save you a few bucks there!
Required Documents & Fees
- Copy of your and your partner’s passports
- Copy of your birth certificates (long-form [US] or certified for EU countries)
- Proof of stay in a hotel in Gibraltar either the night before the marriage ceremony or the night of the ceremony
- If you have been married before (or have been divorced or are a widow(er), you will have to provide additional documents.
- Special License for Marriage fee (£67.50, ~$87)
- Ceremony fees (£40, ~$51 if performed at the Registry Office, £240, ~$309 for outside venues and ceremonies performed outside Registry Office hours, plus the cost of the venue itself)
**All documents must be in English or translated into English.**
For more in-depth information, download and read their Marriage and Civil Partnerships Guidance Notes. (They will reference it to you a lot so it’s best to read up!) **Updated as of October 2020 with price increases on ceremony and certificate fees.**
You can visit the Registry Office starting 3 months before your ceremony date to fill out the extra paperwork (information that will go directly on the marriage certificate itself) or as late as 10:30 am the (last) working day before your scheduled ceremony. Arrange your flights (or ground transportation) and accommodations accordingly as you don’t want to mess this part up.
**Insider tip: The Registry Office is notoriously known for being short-staffed during the year so as long as you are in line before 10:30 am, you will be seen and will be able to fill out and process your paperwork. We were concerned about this but everything turned out just fine!**
We spent the first half of 2019 getting lots of details ironed out for our Irish wedding (and handling a few big personal events as well) as it was the bigger affair of the two ceremonies.
We knew we wanted to get married sometime during the first week of September 2019. So, in late May 2019 (about 3 months before said date) that I sent the first email to the Gibraltar Registry Office, which you can contact from their main government page.
If I had known how slow their office would be in responding to my emails, I would’ve contacted them about 3-4 months in advance (the earliest you can reserve your ceremony date) just to have been able to have gotten all my questions answered well beforehand if only to calm my very full and overstressed bride-to-be’s mind.
Anyway, after I initiated contact, I was then asked to provide copies of our documents (only the first two pages of both our passports and scans of our birth certificates) so that the Registry clerk could check them. Once they were checked and deemed “in order”, she gave us the green light to request and reserve our ceremony date.
In our case, and thanks to an average response time of 10 days via email, it took us until early July to get our ceremony date confirmed! This was due to initially wanting our ceremony to be performed on a weekend as we originally planned for more guests (but decided against this once we learned of the very high cost!) and trying to submit the correct form for payment to be taken.
If you’re on a tight budget and are only viewing this process as paperwork, I would strongly recommend you get married during office hours on a weekday at the Registry Office. It’s inexpensive, quick and practically stress-free! (But not completely so keep reading.)
It took a few weeks more of back and forth correspondence (and a couple of phone calls) before we were basically all set and ready to leave for Gibraltar by late August.
The most annoying thing about the whole process was the response time and how you could not discuss email conversations on the phone with a Registry clerk. I understand there are confidentiality rules but it was our own personal information and they were actually less helpful over the phone. (Which remember, you will incur an international calling fee if calling outside of Gibraltar. More info here.)
The most difficult form to submit was filling out and scanning the Page 1 and Page 2 Payment Forms. Ask for these forms to be sent to you since the forms inside the Gibraltar Marriage Guidance Notes PDF are not the current forms.
Anyway, without further ado, I set off for my journey towards marrying my British/Irish man on August 28th, 2019. I split the trip into two parts and went to Málaga that day, spent the night there and then went to the beach and also did some personal errands the following day. (Wedding related errands such as shopping and waxing.)
Andrew flew that same day from Belfast to Gibraltar via London as there are no direct flights from Northern Ireland to Gibraltar. Since in the end, we decided on Monday, September 2nd, 2019 for our ceremony date, the last possible business day we could go to the Registry Office to submit the original copies of our documents (and finally pay the fees for goodness sake!) in person was by 10:30 am on August 30th, 2019.
(The Guidance Notes indicate that payment must be made no later than 10 business days before the date of the ceremony. And though we tried relentlessly for the Registry Office to charge us-imagine that!-, you can actually pay the fees the same day you present your original documents. So don’t panic!)
Our two witnesses, the lovely ladies pictured above, arrived on the morning of September 2nd after taking an overnight bus from Madrid. A bit last minute but we truly appreciated their sacrifice to be with us. (One was a teacher and wasn’t receiving steady summer pay and the other had an unexpected and costly move to deal with in August).
Your witnesses don’t have to be related to you or each another but they must be able to speak and understand the English language. If you’re planning to elope in Gibraltar, you can also meet and find your own witnesses during your visit. You can also pay for the Registry Office to provide witnesses at the ceremony but I have heard that that is quite expensive. Whatever your situation there, I do hope this part of the process isn’t too stressful to figure out!
The only other extra document we had to pay for was a notarized affidavit stating that we were free to marry each other. We filled this form out at the Registry Office the Friday before and took it to a lawyer’s office (though we were only given a clue about the color of the door, not the exact name) who notarized it for both of us for only £20, ~$25.
*Important Note: Ceremonies in 2020*
As of Monday, May 18th, 2020, the Gibraltar Registry Office has been accepting applications for and performing civil marriage and civil union ceremonies. However, for the foreseeable future, they will be respecting social distancing guidelines and only allowing the couple and their two witnesses inside the ceremony room. (Previously they allowed up to 10-12 people inside the room, which included witnesses and guests.)
Keep these restrictions in mind when making a ceremony booking with their office and how it will affect your own wedding day. They will update the Marriages and Civil Partnerships page with new information as things change.
As I had mentioned above, our friends arrived early in the morning on September 2nd. Andrew and I had been staying in separate rooms in a hostel in La Línea de la Concepción (Spain) from that Wednesday to the following Monday morning, the day of the ceremony.
Since we were going to have to spend extra days closer to Gibraltar, we chose to stay at the inexpensive Hostal Paris which was about 1.5 miles away from Gibraltar’s main square. (It’s quite the trek when you account for the walk back to the hostel). However, we chose the date for our required hotel stay in Gibraltar to be the night of September 2nd. Most places were booked up in early September (and were usually expensive year-round) but we managed to find a room at the Holiday Inn Express Gibraltar, an economical yet luxurious hotel.
The staff at the hotel kindly provided us with our proof of stay letter and we forwarded it to the Registry Office clerk the day we did paperwork. I would recommend doing what we did so you’re not scrambling around and asking for the letter at the last minute. When we made the booking, we put a note in the Special Requests section on the page that we were getting married and if they could kindly date and sign a letter confirming our stay at the hotel. As we saw in the office the day we went, a lot of brides-and-grooms-to -be stay at the Holiday Inn so the hotel staff is very familiar with this request.
We were informed on the day we did the paperwork that the ceremony would only last 10 minutes. Yup. You read that right: 10 minutes. So, it was a good thing we were only viewing this step in our marriage process as paperwork. Besides, while looking back on it, it was simply a business transaction.
Nevertheless, we still had fun getting ready for our first wedding. My friends came to my room and we all got ready together, doing our makeup and chatting about girly things. I also tried on my wedding dress for the Irish wedding for them since both girls wouldn’t be able to attend our traditional wedding. It was fun and we had a memorable time getting ready that day.
I didn’t make a fuss about my appearance for the most part. I did my own makeup, only put a hair mask on my hair the night before (then twisted it into a loose updo) and painted a glittery clear coat of polish on my nails. I didn’t even re-paint my toenails! While we would be taking professional photos that day, it wasn’t the official “big day”, even though we received tons of congratulations and well wishes from our family and friends. In addition to not making a fuss over my accessories and make-up, I had found a very simple dress that cost me €15, (~$16.50), and a pair of sparkly (yet not the exact matching color and brand) espadrilles, only €10 (~$11).
It turns out it was the perfect, casual look that I was going for and my smile, glowing summer skin and a genuine joyful attitude to get married were the only other accessories I truly needed.
Our ceremony time scheduled at 1 pm but we had made a game plan with the photographer, the very talented American and Madrid resident, Aaron Jean, a couple of days before to meet at the border around 11 am.
He beautifully photographed our journey on foot to the Registry Office and captured many beautiful, sweet and funny moments. The shots were natural and we felt very comfortable shooting with him – well, as comfortable as we could be in 80-degree weather, 89% humidity and in fancy clothes. (Poor Andrew was melting in his suit by the end of it.)
The most ironic thing about the entire day for me was that because we had arrived about 15-20 minutes before our scheduled time, we could be seen earlier. If you know me personally, I’m nearly always late for everything! But, on the day of my civil ceremony, not only was I early, but I got married BEFORE the scheduled time!
(Suppose this will be my life now that I’m married to a British man…)
The ceremony itself was very straightforward yet entertaining at the same time. Our marriage officiant made several jokes and also asked genuine questions about us to help us feel more comfortable. He wondered how a Northern Irish man and an American woman (though he didn’t realize I was American in the beginning) met and now live in Madrid, Spain. He was also telling us he had lots of Instagram followers and even follows back.
As hilarious as the officiant was at times, the words and looks Andrew and I shared with each other were very touching and special. As much as I said that this portion of our journey to get married “didn’t count,” I couldn’t help but get a wee bit emotional the moment I said my legal vows to my husband and love of my life. We didn’t exchange rings -as we didn’t have any yet- but it didn’t matter. The important thing I learned in those few moments was the two of us and the love we shared for each other.
And that was all we had to do!
We took some more photos afterwards, parted ways with the photographer to grab a pub lunch with our friends and wedding cupcakes for dessert and then checked into the hotel. We had a brief lie-down in the hotel (I took the liberty to iron my dress and repaint my toenails, haha) and then we went back out for one more photo session.
Gibraltar was the perfect place for us to not only get our marriage paperwork checked off the list but it was also our perfect place.
It described our relationship and the way we complement each other perfectly.
We love weird, quirky places with funny literal translations, the beach, mixing Spanish and English in conversation (which interestingly enough is called llanito in Gib) and the opportunity to explore somewhere new.
That’s also the beautiful thing about getting married: you can decide however you want to do it and tailor it just for you and your partner. Whatever that looks like!
Do you have an interesting wedding story? If you’re in an intercultural couple, how did you and your partner meet? Tell me about it in the comments!
And if you have any questions or want advice on how to get married in Gibraltar, please don’t hesitate to ask. I will be adding to and updating this article as time goes on.