In the excitement of agreeing to get hitched, you may not yet have had time to contemplate how you go about making this legal, in other words, how you officially get married in the UK.
The following guide on “How to get married in UK” looks at the legal process of getting married in a few simple steps, from checking you can legally marry to giving notice.
Importantly, the process of getting married is the same, regardless of whether it will be a heterosexual or same-sex wedding, although there are some subtle procedural differences between getting married and entering into a civil partnership in the UK.
1. Check you can legally marry or form a civil partnership
A marriage proposal marks the start of the process of getting married, and it is important to take the time to enjoy this moment, although there is lots of planning that will need to take place before you can get legally married or form a civil partnership. As such, having celebrated your engagement, first and foremost, you should check that you are legally allowed to get married or enter into a civil partnership in the UK. In England and Wales, there are specific rules and strict legalities around who can do this, where you can only get married or form a civil partnership if you meet all of the following requirements:
- You and your fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner are both aged 18 years or over
- You are not already married or in a civil partnership
- You are not closely related where, for example, siblings or half siblings cannot marry
- You are a British or Irish citizen, have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, or you have either settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)
- You are capable of understanding what marriage means and consenting to marriage.
Since February 2023, the legal age of marriage has been raised to 18 by law.
2. Getting a visa to marry or form a civil partnership
If you and/or your fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner are an overseas national, and do not have the automatic right to wed or form a civil partnership in the UK, you will need a Marriage Visitor visa. If you would both also like to settle permanently in the UK after your wedding or civil partnership ceremony, you will instead need a Family visa or Family permit for which expert advice from an immigration specialist should always be sought.
To be eligible for a Marriage Visitor visa, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be aged 18 years or over
- Be free to give notice of marriage, and to either marry or enter into a civil partnership, within 6 months of your arrival in the UK
- Be in a genuine relationship with your fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner
- Be visiting the UK for less than 6 months and intend to depart at the end of your stay
- Be able to support yourself during your stay, and pay for your return or onward journey.
An application for a Marriage Visitor visa must be made online. As part of your visa application, you will need to schedule an appointment at a visa application centre to prove your identity by way of a valid passport or other travel document, and to provide your documentation. This should include details and proof of your proposed marriage or civil partnership in the UK. If you have previously been married or in a civil partnership, you will also need to provide a decree absolute or final order, or death certificate for your former partner, to show that you are free to remarry or enter into a new civil partnership.
The cost to apply for a Marriage Visitor visa will be £100. The earliest that you can apply for a visa is 3 months before you travel and it can take around 3 weeks for a decision to be made. Provided UKVI approves your application, you will be permitted to come to the UK to either marry or form a civil partnership within 6 months of your arrival, although you must use a venue licensed for this purpose in order to comply with your conditions of stay.
Importantly, if you are already in the UK on a visa lasting for more than 6 months, you may not need to apply for a Marriage Visitor visa, but you might still need to tell UKVI that you have got married or formed a civil partnership as a notifiable change of circumstances.
3. Planning the wedding or civil partnership ceremony
Before giving notice of your proposed marriage or civil partnership, you must decide whether you want to marry or form a civil partnership, where both options are now available for opposite and same-sex couples. Having made this decision, you must also decide where to hold the ceremony. This is because, to give notice, you will be required to sign a legal statement saying that you intend to get married or form a civil partnership, including details of the venue. When getting married, you can choose either a religious or civil ceremony, but you cannot have a religious ceremony when forming a civil partnership.
A religious wedding ceremony is one that takes place within a registered religious building. As a same-sex couple, you can get married in a religious building that has been registered for this type of marriage, although you cannot get married in an Anglican church.
For a marriage to be valid, you and your betrothed will be required to exchange a set of legally-approved vows containing both declaratory and contracting words. An authorised person, such as a religious minister, will also be required to attend the ceremony. You will need to check with the religious venue in question if there is an authorised person to marry you. If not, you will need to book a registrar at a cost of £86 to conduct the service.
You will no longer be required to sign a marriage register, nor will you be given a marriage certificate during the ceremony, where instead you will sign a document called a marriage schedule. This is a one-page document containing a couple’s details which are needed to register a marriage. After your ceremony, the signed schedule will be returned to the register office for these details to be added onto the electronic register as soon as possible. Your certificate will then be posted out or you can arrange to collect it within 7 days. There may also be an additional fee for the marriage certificate, usually set at around £11.
A civil wedding ceremony can take place at either a registry office or a venue approved by the local council, such as a hotel or stately home. You must again exchange vows and have at least two witnesses present. A registrar must also carry out, or be present at, your civil ceremony, and sign the marriage schedule. The cost of a registrar is £46 at a register office, although these costs are significantly higher at other approved premises, where you should check on the local council’s website.
For those of you who would prefer a humanist or celebrant-led ceremony, you will still need to marry at a registry office first before going ahead with your chosen-style ceremony. This is because independent celebrants cannot perform legal marriages in England or Wales.
For civil partnerships, there is no need for any ceremony, nor for any words to be spoken, although many couples like saying vows anyway, or replacing or adding to these with their own personal vows. As with the marriage schedule, the civil partnership schedule must be signed by the couple, together with two witnesses and the registrar, in this way creating a legal relationship which affords civil partners the same rights as married couples.
4. Booking the marriage or civil partnership venue and registrar
If you are having a civil ceremony, you will need to make sure that the venue and registrar are both available on the same day. It is usually best to identify availability for your chosen venue and reserve a date, but without parting with any money at this stage. You should then call your register office to book the registrar for that day. You cannot book the registrar without the date or venue name, so it is essential to have both of these ready in advance.
Once the registrar has been confirmed, you can confirm the venue and pay any upfront costs. You can book the registrar yourself or the venue staff may do this on your behalf.
5. Giving notice to get married or form a civil partnership
When giving notice to get married or form a civil partnership, you will be required to sign a legal statement at your local register office stating your intentions and specifying the venue for your ceremony. There is a statutory charge of £35 per person for this service.
You must give notice at least 29 days prior to your marriage or civil ceremony. You must also hold your ceremony within 12 months of giving notice. However, the process of giving notice is often different for Anglican weddings, where many churches will instead read out a notice of proposed marriage, or banns, requiring you to attend church for 3 Sundays before the ceremony. You should check with your church about any banns procedure.
You will usually need to schedule an appointment to give notice at your local register office, where you must have lived in that registration district for the past 7 days. If you and your fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner live in different registration districts, you will need to give notice separately, although this can be done on different days. However, if one of you is from outside the UK, you must give notice together, unless you both have British or Irish citizenship, or settled or pre-settled status under the EUSS. You must also give notice together at an office in the district where at least one of you lives.
Importantly, if you and/or your fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner are an overseas national, and do not have the automatic right to wed or form a civil partnership in the UK, you will also need a Marriage Visitor visa to be able to legally give notice of your marriage or civil partnership. You cannot give notice on a Standard Visitor visa.
When giving notice, there are various documents that you will need to produce at your appointment, which must be originals and not copies, including:
- details of the venue for the ceremony
- a valid passport or UK birth certificate if born before 1 January 1983
- proof of your home address, such as your driving licence or recent utility bill, or proof of a UK contact if your address is outside the UK
- proof of any name changes, for example, a deed poll.
If you have previously been married or in a civil partnership, you will also need to bring a decree absolute or final order, or your former spouse or civil partner’s death certificate. There will be an additional fee to have these documents checked by the local register office. If you and/or your fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner are from outside the UK, you will also need to bring proof of your immigration status, for example, your visa, together with a passport-sized photo for each of you, even if only one of you is from overseas.
Having successfully given notice, you are now legally free to go ahead and get married or enter into a civil partnership in England or Wales during the course of the next 12 months, or within the next 6 months if getting married on a Marriage Visitor visa.
How to get married in the UK FAQs
How do you officially get married in the UK?
To officially get married in the UK, you must provide your local register office a minimum notice period of 29 days before your wedding ceremony. You must also hold your ceremony within 12 months of giving notice.
What is the quickest way to get married in UK?
The quickest way to get married in the UK is typically at a registry office, although you must first provide at least 29 days notice. For example, for notice given on 1 April, you cannot get married before 30 April.
What documents do I need to get married in UK?
To be able to register your intention to marry, a legal requirement before any wedding ceremony in the UK, you must provide proof of your identity and home address, and that any previous marriage or civil partnership has officially ended.
How much does it cost to get legally married in the UK?
The cost of getting married in the UK will depend on the type of ceremony that you choose, either religious or civil, and your chosen venue. UK weddings can potentially range from a few hundred pounds to several thousand pounds.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.