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How to Get Married and Celebrate Emirati Style
- UAE nationals and Muslims should register their marriage with a Sharia court.
- Expats should contact their respective embassies to find out which legal requirements apply to them getting married in the UAE.
- It can take up to four weeks to process the paper work surrounding an expat wedding.
The UAE, with its expat hubs Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has made a great leap forward in recent decades and is one of the most important global business centers today. Still, at its core the UAE is a conservative country where religious customs and traditions are of great importance. The fact that an unmarried couple is not allowed to live together is surely reason enough for many an expat to get married in the UAE. However, the procedure is anything but simple, especially if one partner is a citizen of the UAE.
In the UAE, marriage is a legal bond between a man and a woman, designed to protect the rights of the couple and their children. It is also the only legal bond between a man and a woman and the only legal way to establish a relationship and have children in the UAE. Even if some of your expat friends don’t abide by these rules, you should be especially careful when following in their footsteps. After all, the punishment for breaking this law can be jail time and deportation.
The Sharia Court: Marriage Requirements for UAE Nationals and Muslims
UAE nationals and Muslim expats should register their marriage with a Sharia court to make sure that it is legally sound. These are the basic requirements for getting married in a Sharia court:
- electronic registration through the court’s website (make sure to hold on to your reference number)
- at least one partner with a valid employment or residence visa (bring your national ID or passport along for proof of identity and residence status)
- both spouses should be at least 18 years of age (younger people need to obtain the approval of the Chief Justice of the Personal Status Court)
- a pre-marital medical certificate which rules out transmittably diseases such as HIV/AIDS
- the presence of two Muslim male witnesses, and the bride’s father or another male guardian of the bride
- payment of the fee (this can vary considerably depending on the exact procedures)
Moreover, newly converted Muslims, widows/widowers, and divorcees have to submit additional paperwork, proving their status and eligibility to get married. Any paperwork which has been issued outside of the UAE needs to be translated and officially ratified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Literally a Sacred Bond: Marriage Requirements for Expats
Before you start planning your wedding, you should be aware that only religious weddings are considered legal in the UAE. Civil unions are not accepted. However, expats sometimes have the option to have a ceremony at their respective embassy or consulate. Unfortunately, some embassies have stopped providing this service altogether while others only perform weddings under special circumstances.
Regardless of whether your embassy performs weddings or not, you should contact them anyways to find out which legal requirements apply to you. If you are not opposed to a religious ceremony, there are also many places of worship, such as St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi or the Holy Trinity Church in Dubai, which are licensed to perform weddings in the UAE. Here, too, you might experience some restrictions: some churches will only marry you if at least one of you has the appropriate denomination.
Ceremonies in Hindi temples are unfortunately not legally recognized. Indian expats are welcome to complete the legal procedures with their embassy instead. Finally, some venues hold a wedding license and are permitted to perform weddings as well.
Keep in mind that things can get particularly complicated if you are a non-Muslim man who plans on marrying a local. This is generally prohibited and you would have to convert to Islam if you intended on getting married nonetheless. Remember that you will then need to be able to provide a “certificate of embracing Islam”. Luckily, if the male spouse is Muslim and the female spouse is not you won’t have to worry about any of this as such a wedding is completely legal.
Battling the Paperwork
On top of the above-mentioned hurdles, getting married in the UAE comes with a lot of paperwork for expats. You should give the authorities at least four weeks to process your documents. Securing the marriage certificate can indeed feel like mastering an obstacle course. If your marriage ceremony was held in English, then your marriage certificate will be, too. You will have to have it translated into Arabic by an official translator, only then will it be valid.
However, the process doesn’t end with the translation. You have to take both versions to the Notary Public at the Dubai courts, for instance, to have them certified. You will have to take this certification to the Ministry of Justice for authentication. This authentication has to then be authenticated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After that, you will have to take the authenticated document to your embassy and have it, once again, authenticated, so that it will be legal in your home country as well. All in all, it’s a rather complicated process.
In addition, you have to provide the following documents when you are getting married:
- birth certificates
- passports (original and photocopies)
- passports of two witnesses (original and photocopies)
- UAE medical fitness certificates and blood test results (from a medical center affiliated with the Ministry of Health)
- sworn affidavit stating that you are eligible to get married
Depending on your nationality, religion, visa status, and personal situation, additional requirements may apply, so make sure to contact your embassy in the UAE first.
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