Friday, February 19, 2016

American-Spanish Marriage in Spain

So! You're an American marrying a Spaniard in Spain?

I went through that, once...

You have my most sincere condolences.

International affairs go hand-in-hand with massive headaches, I know. Hopefully, this blog post can help you make some sense of all the madness surrounding international marriages.

Here's the situation:

I'm an American overseas. I've been living in Spain since 1996. After six years with Salva, we decided to take the plunge. We live in Granollers, in the Barcelona area. I'm originally from Los Angeles, California, and I have a permanent Spanish residency. The information I give in this post relates my personal experience, so details are centered around Granollers-Los Angeles and may vary slightly from one location to another.

This is the procedure for a civil wedding.

The documents you need to present to the civil registry in order to be married are basically the same ones any Spanish resident needs. There's no big distinction here, just that your documents are going to be more difficult to process because they're foreign.


Forget about searching for the perfect wedding venue. Forget about invitations, cakes, dates... You'll get to that later.

The first thing you must do is drop by the civil registry of your town of residence or your fiancé's town of residence. At least one of the future spouses must be registered (empadronado) in the town or city where the marriage files will be opened, but, once that is done, you can celebrate your wedding wherever you wish.

Ask for an appointment to open your marriage file: Expediente de Matrimonio. Depending on where you live, they can open your expediente that same day, or, if there's a large population, you might have to wait months. Months.

In our case, we visited the civil registry in Granollers the first week of February 2015. Want to know what date they gave us to actually open the marriage file? July 27, 2015.

The date the civil registry gives you will be the date you must hand in all your paperwork.

HAVE PATIENCE! This will take a while!


Each future spouse will have to present the same documents, but the American spouse (me!) will have to jump through some hurdles...

Let's talk validity for a moment:

1) As a general norm, Spanish documents have a validity of three months--90 days.

2) International documents have the validity which is assigned to them in their country of origin. In the case of a birth certificate from the US, the Barcelona Consulate informed me it has unlimited validity.

So, what documents do you need?

- Certificate of residenceEmpadronamiento - This is a Spanish document which certifies what town/city you live in. It has a validity of 90 days.

- ID or passport or residency card

- Birth Certificate - Logically, you must request this from the city where you were born. Once you request it, you need to add an apostille to it to grant it international validity.

In my case, I had to request my birth certificate in Los Angeles, California. My father still lives there, so fortunately he was able to visit the registry office and request the birth certificate. Once he had it, he had to send it to the Secretary of State in Sacramento to receive the apostille, which gave it international validity. Then he gave it to me here in Spain.

In order to be able to hand it in at the civil registry, I had to request a sworn translation into Spanish of the document. The sworn translation cost me €40 and took just a few days. The sworn translator I contacted is from Mollet, a town near where I live. Bear in mind that the sworn translator will need to see the physical copy of your birth certificate in order to complete the translation, so you should find a sworn translator near you.

- Proof you are free to marry (fe de solterĂ­a). - This document doesn't exist in the US, but the Barcelona Consulate General (with an appointment which costs about $50) can give you a signed document. Careful! You still need to send this document to the Embassy in Madrid to have it ratified before you can use it at the civil registry. This is a Spanish document so don't get it earlier than 90 days prior to handing in the paperwork. But get it early enough to have time to send it to Madrid and get it back. In my case, Madrid returned it to me within two weeks, but I was told it could take about a month.

- Application forms - To request the marriage and also for statistical purposes--the civil registry gives you these.

NOTE: If you're widowed or divorced, you will need the appropriate documents to certify your current situation.


On the date the civil registry gave you to open your marriage file, you and your future spouse must hand in all the paperwork. Another adult must also be present at that time, to act as a witness.

The clerk at the civil registry office will check that everything is valid and...surprise! Because you--oh lucky you!--are foreign, you and your future spouse must have an interview with a judge to make sure you're not part of an arranged marriage.

In our case, we had twice the surprise because the clerk informed us that the civil registry currently did not have a judge. He left or retired, I don't remember. This meant that our marriage was put on hold until a new judge started working with them...


Let's recap for a moment. My husband and I began this process the first week of February, 2015 (I don't remember the exact date, sorry!).

February 2015 - Request to open marriage file.
July 27, 2015 - Marriage file opened.

The civil registry called to inform us we would have the interview with the judge on October 13, 2015.

I have to admit I went to the interview ticked off. I've been living in Spain since 1996 and I have permanent residency, a stable job, my own home... On top of that, it had been eight months since we began this process, and we had already celebrated the ceremony and reception on June 7 (more on that later...). 

And now a judge was about to decide whether my spouse and I had the right to legally marry. I was more than annoyed. The judge interviewed each one of us privately (questions involved how long we'd known each other, and our day-to-day), and then we were free to go. The civil registry clerk said she would call us once the decision had been made.

*Sigh* So we were back to waiting for a phone call...


By the time Salva and I reached this step, we were sick of everything and we just wanted to get this process over with. We had already celebrated the reception on June 7 with all our family and friends, and we had already gone on our honeymoon.

Oh, why did we do that? Well, because when we went to the civil registry all the way back in February 2015, we had already booked the venue for the wedding. The civil registry, how should I put it? Screwed us over by taking so long. When we showed our astonishment at the wait times and told the clerk that we had already arranged the whole wedding, she shrugged apologetically and said, "Yeah... It happens to a lot of people."

So, on with the process. Several weeks after our interview with the judge, we received a phone call saying we had been approved. The clerk said, "Choose a date: February 19 or March 18."

I was at work at the time, so my husband was all alone with this huge decision. He told the clerk he needed to talk to me first. Her response: "No. Tell me now what date you want." He refused to choose a date without consulting me, so he waited until I got home and he went to the civil registry the following day to confirm the date we had chosen.

Now, about the dates... It turns out you can't choose when you legally marry--at least not in Granollers. The clerk merely gives you a couple options and you're stuck with what they offer.

So we chose February 19... 2016.

Let's go over the marriage timeline one more time, shall we?

Request to open marriage file: early February 2015
Open marriage file: July 27, 2015
Interview with the judge: October 13, 2015
Actually get married: February 19, 2016 (that's TODAY!)

This entire process took just over a year--the vast majority of it, of course, consisted of waiting...and waiting...

On the day you finally sign your civil marriage, you must bring along two adult witnesses.

Once this whole procedure is over...



Now you can live happily ever after! That is, if you still have the energy for it! ;-)

1 comment:

  1. Wow! You didn't tell me it took that long! I thought you were done by July 2015.


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