I thought finding the right person to spend the rest of my life together was one of life’s most difficult challenges. After the romantic proposal and announcing the happy news to friends and family, you eventually have to undergo the bureaucratic nightmare to get legally married.
And if you’re living as an expat in Germany like me, you’ll soon realize that Germany is not very accommodating to the modern, globalized generation. Especially, someone like me, whose background hasn’t necessarily been restricted to one nation their whole life.
I was born in Vietnam in 1990 but emigrated in 1993 to the United States as a refugee under the Humanitarian Operations program. It was all thanks to my father, a former South Vietnamese soldier whose suffering under the communist reeducation programs qualified him and his family for this program. When I moved down to Washington, D.C. to start university, I embraced the city’s international vibe, developed multicultural friendships, and traveled and lived abroad. It was no surprise when I chose a love on a different continent! I eventually moved to Germany to be with that special someone.
We are happily engaged but the first test of our lifetime companionship was navigating through the archaic and rigid legal system for marriage in Germany. It wasn’t so fun. Here’s how I would personify the German legal marriage system. Imagine entering an office to request marriage consultation from this old, wrinkly and distraught German grandpa behind a desk but he just smacks down a list of 99 demands. When you cannot meet all requirements, he simply scoffs, “Then try Las Vegas!”
That was basically our experience at the Standesamt in Munich, which is a German civil registration office responsible for recording births, marriages, and deaths. We woke up early at 7am to get a walk in appointment at the Standesamt only to be greeted by this grumpy, middle age bureaucrat. Our consultation with him lasted under a minute. Here’s what happened:
He instructed that in order for us to get married, each person needs:
- A valid passport
- An official birth certificate that is a certified copy issued within the last six months
- Proof of a minimum 21 days of continuous residence in Germany (this can be a Meldebescheinigung issued by the local Anmeldeamt)
- Proof of being single (Ledigkeitsbescheinigung)
- Birth certificates of children (if any) the couple may have had together
- The required application and questionnaire from the Standesamt
Depending on any particular circumstances you have, you may be required to also provide:
- Certificate of No Impediment (CNI) (Befreiung vom Ehefähigkeitszeugnis)
- Marriage certificates from previous marriages
- A financial statement
Although my fiance met all requirements, I couldn’t fulfill requirement #2. Since my birth certificate is from Vietnam, I can’t get it re-certified if I don’t exist in Vietnam as a citizen anymore, especially since my family left on pretty bad terms with the government. It seems the possibility of annulled citizenship of someone’s birth country never crossed any German’s mind. Or maybe it’s a system created for Germans, not foreigners.
When we disclosed the obstacle of my birth certificate, the marriage bureaucrat suggested aloofly, “Then go to Las Vegas!” and looked as he wanted to turn back to his workload. We sat speechless in bewilderment. The German government pays this guy to give “quality” advice that amounts to nothing more than an opinion on a Reddit forum? Either he had a divorce so messy or a mother that didn’t love him enough to pursue something better in life than becoming a misanthrope. I understand that there was probably nothing he could have done, but he could have been more sympathetic and polite. Get some personal skills, Mr. Scrooge!
Forget him. I found another, easier way to get married and it doesn’t take a 12 hour flight to Las Vegas from Munich. Aside from Vegas, Denmark is one of, if not, the easiest place in the world to get married. The Danish law system allows even tourists to get married! Due to less requirements and the low complexity of paperwork, thousands of couples, especially same sex couples, travel to Denmark every year to get married.
Because getting married shouldn’t be that complicated!
While the Germany system finds every pedantic reason to keep two people from marrying, the Danish system is that cool uncle that encourages you to follow all your hopes and dreams! Isn’t that refreshing?
As we were pursuing Denmark as our place of civil marriage, we had two options. First, we could pay a company that specializes in guiding couples through the whole marriage application process in Denmark. That costs from anywhere from 300 euros for consultation in gathering all required documents or up to 800 euros, in which the company processes everything for you in every step of the way. Second, or we could just do everything on our own. After researching everything on the Danish government website, everything seem pretty easy and clear. We decided to do it on our own because then we would only have to pay the application fee of DKK 1650 (220 EUR).
My fiance and I are non-Danish citizens who wished to get married in Copenhagen. Here’s how our application process went:
- What documents are required? We read up all what’s required for our situation on Familieretshuset, which is the Agency of Family Law. We saw a list of several documents at first but most of it wasn’t necessary for us. The documents could be in either English or German, which was perfect for us. (I’m American and my fiance is German)
- How to start the application process. We started on our application to receive the notice of marriage (Ægteskabserklæringen). You’ll need this notice of marriage in order to marry anywhere in Denmark. This application can be started on the Familieretshuset website. If you’re not Danish citizens like us, you’ll have to start the application with an SMS-login service. Simply click on the button that says:Then enter your mobile phone. Familieretshuset will text you the login details where you can start your application that same webpage.
- The application. Enter the basic details of you both and select the municipality in Denmark that you want to wed in. We chose Copenhagen for the convenience of travel. Our best man/maid of honor can easily come via train or airplane since it’s the capital. But since it’s the capital, there’s a longer wait time of course. There exists many other small picturesque villages and towns in Denmark that you should also look into if you’re considering marrying in Denmark!
- My fiance and I uploaded scanned photos of our passports (every page, front and back too!), which served two requirements, (1) personal identification and the (2) documentation of the right to enter and stay in Denmark. He’s an EU citizen and I have my working visa from Germany inside my passport. (Denmark is part of the European Union).
- Although the application stated that it was optional, I went ahead and uploaded anyways a “civil status certificate” for the both of us. I wanted to avoid any chance of our application process being hindered by anything. A civil status certificate basically details your domicile and current marital status. If you are a U.S. citizen or legal resident planning to marry outside of the country, like me, you can submit a single status affidavit. It is a written statement that is sworn to by the individual that they are free to marry. There are free blank single status affidavit forms available online that you can complete and sign yourself–no lawyer needed! This is what I used:
- Lastly, we needed a residence certificate or other documentation if we cohabit outside of Denmark. In Germany we have something called the Anmeldung, which means ‘registration.’ It is the process that every person living in Germany must go through to register themselves at their address and you get this one page Anmeldung document to prove it. And that’s it! No birth certificate or anything.
- Print and sign the application form. Upon submission, you must pay the application fee of DKK 1650 (220 EUR) with a credit card. They can only begin to process the application after your credit card finalizes the payment. Please note that if for any reason the Danish government rejects your application, you will not get the money back!
- On July 27, 2019, we submitted the application and received an email on that same day stating that the expected processing time is 5 working days IF they have received all the information we need to process your application.
- On July 31, 2019, we received another email requesting additional information. First, my fiance’s passport was not clear or legible enough so we had to re-scan (be very careful the first time to avoid delays like us!). Second, they wanted documentation explaining where I live. I had listed my parent’s American address in the address field but provided the Anmeldung (German residence permit) so I probably confused them. But that’s because I am confused myself. I often consider my parent’s American address as my permanent residence while living abroad in 5 different countries. As an expat, do we really have permanent address realistically speaking? THIRD, “Documentation detailing your relationship.” What does that even mean? That’s so abstract. There’s no such thing as official government documentation stating that you’re dating. So I guess it’s up to me to tap into my literary skills to write up my version of the story of us. It wasn’t a roses are red, violets are blue kind of poetic verse of why we love each other and want to get married. My interpretation of this was that they wanted to know this wasn’t some kind of international marriage scam so I wrote it from this angle. I detailed when and where we first met, how often we visited each other during long distance, how many Christmases we spent together (7!), how many countries (8!) and cities (32!) we’ve traveled together, with actual photos of all these moments. A fake couple wouldn’t invest this much time together or money into these trips. I wanted them to feel the power of our determination!
- We needed time to gather these additional documents so we didn’t submit it until…August 17, 2019.
- 1 month passed and we didn’t hear anything. We tried to contact them with all the email addresses we’ve found but no response. We resorted to calling the number provided. They spoke in Danish but did offer a “please press this number for English,” but when pressed for English, they still continued in Danish! Since both of us had no knowledge or any acquaintances who understood Danish, we had no choice but to wait at the mercy of the Danish government.
- Accepted! On Oct 17, 2019 the stress and suspense is over! Exactly two months after submitting the additional documents, we received an email from the Danish government stating that “we meet the criteria for a Certificate of marital status” so we can get married in Denmark! Since we chose the Copenhagen municipality to get married in, Familieretshuset digitally sent the certificate of marital status and other relevant document to the Copenhagen city hall on that same day. The Certificate of marital status is only valid 4 months from the day that it’s issued so make sure you get married within this time frame or else you will have to apply for a new Certificate of marital status and pay a new administration fee!
- Set the date. The email will contain a link to the municipality city hall of your choice to book the civil ceremony date. For Copenhagen, you can select the date here. Every day is available except for Sundays. Please note that you must present your identification (passport) and visa (if Non-EU) at the city hall at least one day before your civil ceremony. So if you choose a Monday, please make sure you visit the city hall latest on that Friday before because it’s only open on weekdays from 9am to 2pm. Overall, it’s a very simple booking form and takes 5 secs. If you’d like to book a registrar or marry in a church, all the info right there for you on this webpage.
Ours will be a simple one where we’ll just show up to get married on the weekend with four of our closest friends. Honestly, this whole journey in navigating both the German and Danish marriage system has been so stressful and tiring that I just want to go straight to the honeymoon.
I hope my lessons learned can help make it easier for other international couples to get married. Because getting married shouldn’t be that complicated!