An expat survival guide to getting married in Germany
Once you’ve been dating in Germany for a while, and have found that somebody special, things might lead oh-so-naturally to the subject of marriage and children. Here I’ll examine the ins and outs of the prospect of getting hitched in Germany.
Germany: As family-friendly as it gets
Germany is an incredibly family-friendly and family orientated country. Whether you’re talking about things like maternity or paternity leave, state subsidies for families, tenancy laws in favour of children, schools, tax breaks for families, or even urban planning - everything is done to make family living in this country as easy as possible, a welcoming thought for expats, I’m sure.
As an “avid expat," I am a member of no fewer than 12 expat groups on Facebook, and actively follow all of the different threads, trying to help where I can - or where I can be bothered.
People post questions about all sorts of topics related to living in Germany. More often than not, the main reason they do that is because they are new to the country, overwhelmed by the German language, rules and regulations, and - most importantly - getting very frustrated at not being able to get a simple answer to what they are looking for, in English. Oftentimes searching for an answer to a question in Germany only turns up more questions - it can get quite depressing indeed.
Nothing is simple in Germany - marriage included
The hard fact I have learned during my time in this country is that nothing is simple. It’s as simple as that (if you’ll excuse the pun). To put it in context, Germans do not like to simplify things; it’s not in their nature. Alas, this complexity applies to every aspect of life in Germany, and, although it does get easier with time, initially it can be quite astounding.
This is what happened when I got engaged in 2018. At first, my fiance and I looked at the possibility of getting hitched in Germany. I called countless municipal offices, citizen’s advice bureaus, and spent hours reading through the official guidelines. It quickly became very clear to us that it was a mammoth task that involved a lot of paperwork. All of our supporting documents had to be legally translated into German, stamped at a municipal office, and in some cases even ratified by a regional court.
And even after you manage to get all of that done, the waiting lists for civil ceremonies can take up to a year and a half in major cities like Hamburg, Munich, Berlin or Cologne. Church services even longer. It’s enough to deter you from getting married full stop.
Getting hitched, Danish-style
Luckily, only a few hours further north, Germany borders Denmark, a small Scandinavian country with a population that barely reaches 5 million, and, unsurprisingly, a very popular destination for foreigners to get married.
After loading up Copenhagen's official council website, I sent an email inquiring about a possible date. This was in mid-October. Within a few weeks, we had a date confirmed at the beginning of February the following year, i.e., in three months’ time. I was shocked at how simple and uncomplicated this seemed - almost too good to be true. So I called them up. The conversation went a bit like this:
Me: Hello, my name is Fadi Gaziri and I’m calling about a case number 12345 regarding the marriage of XY, and the email reply that we received on November 12, 2019.
Thune: Yes, we received your application, and allocated your first choice date of February 2, 2020.
Me (a bit shell-shocked): So you don’t require any more paperwork, translations, or any other supporting documents?!
Thune: Nope, you’re all set, we’ll send you a reminder email a month before with documents you have to bring in original to the wedding ceremony.
Thune: It’s okay, a lot of people from Germany have that reaction, we’re used to it. Have a nice day, and give us a call if you have any other questions.
Me: Ahmmmm, ok, thhhhank you, have a nnnnice day you too.
Good to know
Should you decide to go through the ordeal in Germany, for whatever reason, make sure you start planning at least 18 months ahead of your wedding. Perhaps now that you know how much planning is involved, it might seem more logical to you that somebody would ask “what are your intentions?'' as early as a second date - if you’re going to get the paperwork sorted in time, you’d better get a move on! I’ve included a list of documents required to get married in Germany (both parties):
- A valid passport
- An official birth certificate
- Proof of a minimum of 21 days’ continuous residence in Germany (this can be a Meldebescheinigung)
- Proof of being single (Ledigkeitsbescheinigung)
- Birth certificates of children the couple have together (if applicable)
- The required application and questionnaire from the Standesamt
- Certificate of No Impediment (CNI) (Befreiung vom Ehefähigkeitszeugnis)
- Marriage certificates from previous marriages
- A financial statement
On top of the time it takes to get all these documents sorted, you need to factor in a waiting time of anything between six months and a year and a half, depending on where in Germany you live.