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Family, Children & Education

Marriage in the UK

Are you looking forward to celebrating your marriage in the UK? Congratulations! But before you can enjoy your special day, you must take care of the practical issues. Our expat guide explains what to keep in mind: from general requirements, over same-sex partnerships, to spouse visas, and more.

Different traditions concerning marriage in the UK have become popular around the world. For example, brides in various countries now wear “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” on their wedding day.

Marriage in the UK, however, is less of a quaint custom than a legal act that requires some essential preparations. But don’t worry: You still have the opportunity to lend your personal touch to your marriage in the UK, be it with traditional wedding customs or personal innovations.

The Basics: What You Need to Know

As far as the bureaucratic aspect of marriage in the UK is concerned, there are several things to take into account.

Firstly, celebrating your marriage in the UK is dependent on your nationality. If you are a foreigner with immigrant status (aka “subject to immigration control”), you have to jump an extra hurdle or two, e.g. for a UK visa. As a British citizen or a national of an EEA country, you simply have to check if you fulfill all legal requirements for a valid marriage in the UK, decide between a religious ceremony and a secular wedding, and give official notice in advance.

There are minor regional differences for marriage in the UK, with regulations varying between England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. We will try to point out such regional peculiarities below.

Same-Sex Marriage in the UK: A Split Nation

If you are in a same-sex relationship and would like to get hitched in the United Kingdom, same-sex marriage used to be impossible. For this reason, the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 was passed. It applies to the entire UK, allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into a civil partnership. In most aspects, though not in all, a civil partnership is similar to a secular heterosexual marriage in the UK.

A law to allow same-sex marriage across England and Wales was put into effect in March 2014, and Scotland quickly followed suit, legalizing same-sex marriage in December 2014. Since the law was changed in 2014, over 15,000 marriages have taken place. In Northern Ireland, however, same-sex marriage remains illegal, despite numerous legal challenges. Civil partnerships are valid across the whole of the UK, though.

In the Eyes of the Law

If you have British citizenship or are a citizen from a country within the European Economic Area (including Switzerland) who is currently residing in the UK, preparing your wedding is not that difficult. Just take the following steps prior to your civil partnership ceremony or marriage in the UK.

Please make sure that all the legal requirements for a binding marriage in the UK (or a civil partnership) apply to you:

Keeping Them Informed: Giving Notice

Provided that all legal requirements are satisfied, you have to give notice of your impending marriage in the UK at the local register office.

Despite the relatively short notice period of 28 days, you should take care to give notice well ahead of the actual wedding date. In this way, you have got enough leeway in case of unexpected difficulties. You will thus be able to get the permission for your civil partnership or marriage in the UK (the “marriage license”) in time.

At the Register Office

Once you have given notice of your wedding plans, you should contact the register office or any other officially licensed venue where you want to have the ceremony. For the wedding, you need two witnesses aged 16 or older.

While the ceremony for a secular marriage in UK or a civil partnership must not include any religious content, you can talk to the official performing the ceremony beforehand. They will help you and your partner to include personal speeches, individual wedding vows, or other elements unique to your wedding day.

The secular ceremony for marriage in UK also requires paying a fee. It may amount to as little as 46 GBP or as much as 180 GBP, according to the respective region and the day of the week. Sunday weddings in Northern Ireland are apparently the most expensive. For your marriage / civil partnership certificate, you then have to pay another small fee. Now your marriage in the UK will be legal and binding.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

InterNations Expat Magazine