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'Clunky process': The steps you need to take to get married in Germany

Paul Krantz
Paul Krantz - [email protected]
'Clunky process': The steps you need to take to get married in Germany
A couple seen delivering their vows in front of a beautiful sunset. Photo: by StockSnap | Pixabay

Getting married in Germany is not for the faint of heart. The Local spoke to a foreign national who recently tied the knot to learn more about the process and the challenges. Here's what you should know before you step up to the altar.


Whether to a German or another foreign national, getting married in Germany is not a far-fetched prospect for many foreign residents, especially those who arrive single and decide to settle down for the longer term.

But those who dare to propose (or say yes) are promptly met with an ugly reality. The process to legally marry in Germany is a beast.

In fact, just learning about the requirements to do so is enough to send a fair amount of engaged couples packing – literally, they pack and go to Denmark for their marriage.

“It was like the final boss of German bureaucracy,” Liam Kelley, Berlin resident from Canada, told The Local about his experience preparing to be wed in Germany's capital last year.

But Liam is walking proof that it can be done, and there are certain advantages to marrying within the country that you live – namely not needing to apply to have your foreign marriage recognised in Germany. 

So if you’re recently engaged, or thinking about it, and ready to do battle with the bureaucracy, here’s what you should know about getting married in Germany and the challenges involved:

Start with the paperwork

Before you can apply for a wedding at your local registry office (Standesamt), you’ll need a few documents. Note that some cities require you to first schedule a consultation at the Standesamt, where they’ll explain which documents you’ll need.

Generally the following are required:

  • Birth certificates
  • Valid passports or IDs
  • A registration certificate for your current address in Germany not older than 14 days (Erweiterte Meldebescheinigung). But in some cities the Standesamt can pull this information for you.
  • A certificate of no impediment to marriage (Ehefähigkeitszeugnis). This is usually provided by your home country. Formerly wed and divorced partners can usually present a divorce certificate instead.

Where this all gets a bit complicated is that these documents may need to be translated to German by accredited interpreters, and authenticated or apostilled by official authorities as well.


“The most challenging part was gathering all the documents and having them properly notarised within the various time windows,” Liam told The Local.

As listed above, Liam needed a fresh confirmation of his residence despite already being registered at a Berlin address along with his fiancée. That document needed to be no more than two weeks old.

Simultaneously, Liam needed his birth certificate, notarised by the Canadian government that was no older than six months. The birth certificate also needed to be translated by an accredited interpreter. 

“The process was clunky,” Liam said, “after receiving the birth certificate, I basically had to send it back to get it notarised by the same authorities. All of this by snail mail too, so I was worried about things getting lost in the post.”

Hustle to get an appointment

When you’ve got all of your documents in order, you can make an appointment at the registry office to have your application reviewed, and hopefully collect their approval to be wed. This comes in the form of a certificate, which is only valid for six months. 

Should you fail to perform the ceremony within that time, the document expires and you’d need to start again at the beginning – recollecting some of the documents that would be considered expired by then.

The Standesamt that gave us our certificate didn't have any appointments within that window, so we needed to call around for another Standesamt that could service us,” Liam said.

He called quite a few of Berlin’s registry offices before he found one with an opening within the next six months, but in the end he succeeded in scheduling the wedding.


READ ALSO: How Berlin's immigration office wants to make it easier to get an appointment

In Germany’s bigger cities, registry offices can be fully booked months in advance which can make trying to schedule a wedding within the six month window a challenge. 

Once your marriage certificate has been granted, you are eligible to be wed at any German Standesamt, even in a different city, for example. Smaller towns or other cities may have the advantage of having more availability for weddings, depending where you live. In this case, you will need to make the appointment at the other Standesamt, and then inform the local office where you registered, which sends over the authorisation on your behalf.

Liam and Julie get married

Newlyweds Liam Kelley and Julie Bourgeois pose in front the Berlin registry office where they had just married. Photo provided by Liam Kelley.

A quick and practical ceremony

Note that all legally binding weddings in Germany take place in a registry office. If you are dreaming of a church wedding or an outdoor ceremony, you can do so separately. But the legal marriage must happen in the Standesamt.

On your wedding day, you’ll need to bring your ID or passport to the registry office. In Germany, it is customary for each partner to bring a witness (Trauzeuge), and you can also invite a small group of family or close friends.

If your German is not sufficient, you will need a sworn-in interpreter for the ceremony as well.

You can expect the ceremony to last 15 minutes and to be performed very punctually. 

On the day of Liam’s wedding in Berlin, the registry office’s wedding hall was fully booked, with his wedding being one of four performed that hour. Therefore, it’s important to be on time and well-prepared. He and his fiancée were able to choose a song that was played as they and their guests took their places before the ceremony began.


All's well that ends well

Liam noted one hiccup occurred when the bride’s witness was asked to sign the marriage document, and he asked the officiant in English if he should put his whole name or initials. Suddenly, the officiant got very serious and paused the ceremony to ask the witness several times in German if he understood everything that had happened thus far.

“She (the officiant) freaked out because she was worried that he didn't understand what he was signing, and he just kept responding that he did understand, but in English, exacerbating the situation,” Liam said.

For Liam, despite knowing how challenging it would be, getting married in the country where he lives just made sense: “I plan on living in Germany for some time, pay taxes here, contribute to public health care, and my son will attend school here. It's probably just neurotic, but I am at ease thinking it's all in the same country.”

READ ALSO: Ehegattensplitting - How did Germany's marriage tax law become so controversial?

Also, going out of Germany for the wedding would have added some expense for travel and lodging.

In the end, knowing what they were getting into and doing their best to be proactive about paperwork and appointments, made the challenge manageable for Liam and his partner.

Liam also noted that the Standesamt employees were immensely friendly and helpful throughout the process.

READ ALSO: 10 things you need to know about German weddings




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