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How to get married in Tenerife
How to get married in Tenerife
Picture the scene; white flowing dresses, tropical flora and swaying palm trees in the background, a big blue Canarian sky overhead. Could there be any better way to celebrate your big day?
More and more couples are forsaking the unpredictable weather of Britain and choosing to take their wedding entourage somewhere less cold and damp. But should you organise it yourself of leave the details to an overseas wedding coordinator?
It seems that Tenerife is one of the more difficult places to get married if you aren't both Spanish residents. However, that doesn't mean it's impossible. For many, jumping through the bureaucratic hoops is worth it for the glamorous setting.
Although the actual number of couples choosing to get married has fallen in recent years, those that do elect to tie the knot are increasingly favouring a wedding abroad. Around one in ten couples now choose to celebrate their big day overseas and it's not only a picture-perfect setting that provides the attraction - although obviously, vivid blue overhead is more preferential to two-tone grey unleashing buckets of water onto expensively-coiffured heads.
There are other reasons why last year around 35,000 couples took the plunge somewhere more exotic than Berwick-on-Tweed. Simplicity for one. Most overseas weddings are packaged, with everything from the flowers and cake to the licences and witness being organised by the tour operator. Not only that, but with all of the fine details being looked after by someone else, the couple can relax and begin their honeymoon even before the big event.
Cost is another reason as to why this type of wedding is so popular. It's estimated that the average cost of a white wedding in the UK works out at around £16,000. Compare that with £4,000, the average spent on an overseas wedding. Plus, the relatively small guest list minimises the danger of a drunken Aunt Jilly coming to blows with an alcohol-fuelled second cousin twice removed. For some, celebrating with just the closest of family and friends is a major bonus of taking the vows far from home.
However, although for some the further away the better, several short-haul destinations such as Cyprus and Rhodes are now competing with the traditional favourites of the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean. Noticeable by its absence from any major wedding package operator is one destination that has consistently been the favourite destination for UK holidaymakers - Tenerife.
Still a relatively pious culture, the lengthy bureaucracy that is necessary to enable non-resident couples to simply jump on a plane and get married in any part of Spain like they can in the Caribbean means that Tenerife is missing out on a potentially lucrative tourism market.
Ruth Paul, owner of online wedding dress suppliers, 1st Call For Weddings, says, "Most brides choose Caribbean destinations because the ‘package' is arranged by the hotel. All the legalities are taken care of as well as flowers, cake, reception, accommodation and photographs etc. However, it often causes heartache in the families because not all relatives can afford to join them. More affordable European locations such as Tenerife would be much more popular."
As the average age for first marriages is now around 32 for men and 29 for women, the wedding costs are increasingly being borne by the bride and groom, both of whom are probably working and thus time and money are major issues. For this reason, short haul destinations with almost guaranteed sunshine like Tenerife could very easily become a tourism wedding hotspot, given the right administrative encouragement.
However, although it is notoriously hard for non-residents to marry in Tenerife, for the ever-increasing number of expats choosing to live in this part of the world, the task is a whole lot easier - just do be prepared for an inordinate amount of paperwork. UK citizens can normally arrange a civil marriage ceremony through one of the Spanish Courts of Justice, providing that at least one of the couple can prove a minimum of two years residence in Spain.
The exact laws can vary from region to region so before sending out those invitations check with the local town hall first.
Documents that may be required include the following:
- Original (long) birth certificate
- Certificate of residence (empadronamiento - or local electoral register)
- Certificate of no impediment to marriage - available from a British Consulate after notice of marriage has been posted on the consular notice board for a minimum of 21 days (traditionally covering three Sundays, or holy days).
- Proof that both parties are single - a form is available from a Civil Registry in the UK
- Original divorce certificate (if applicable)
- Original death certificate of deceased partner (if applicable)
- Marriage application form - available from the Civil Registry or the District Court
- Certificate of consular inscription - a letter verifying personal data, available from the British Embassy or Consulate
- Baptismal certificate (if you want a Catholic marriage)
All the documents that originated from the UK have to be ‘legalised' with a ‘Hague apostille certification', available through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. If you go in person the papers can usually be processed in two or three days. If you send the documents by post, expect to wait at least two weeks. Each document needing certification costs £12.
This bundle of documents must then be translated into Spanish using an official Spanish translator and presented at the town hall in the vicinity where you intend to marry, at least three months before the intended big day.
For a Catholic marriage in Tenerife involving a foreigner, you have to first request permission from the Bishop, which can take from one to three weeks. All the aforementioned documents must then be shown to the priest who is conducting the ceremony. Additional documents that may be required include an official statement from the parents, witnessed and stamped by their own bishop confirming that their son or daughter is eligible to marry.
For a non-Catholic service, you have to obtain authorisation from the local civil and church authorities and perform a civil ceremony before the church blessing.
An easier alternative
By far the easiest way to get married anywhere in Spain is to go to Gibraltar. Here, the process is very straightforward and the ceremony takes place in English. The registrar can be booked over the phone and a special licence for non-residents can be obtained anytime from three months before the wedding to literally the day before.
Angie Bagge said ‘si' to Alan McClean back in June, 2001. The engagement has been a long one. They're planning on a September blessing this year at a non-denominational church in Tenerife, following a civil wedding.
"We've had other priorities," says Angie. "Alan has been establishing his business, we've bought a house, and we've given birth to our first daughter, Sophie."
The ceremony is going to be traditional, but not in the local-style. "We're having a totally British-style wedding," says Angie. "Our Canarian friends will be coming though." Apart from the bridesmaid's dresses, all of the bridal wear and accessories are being bought in Tenerife.
Both are Spanish residents and both agreed on a ceremony away from the UK. "It'll help filter out those who really want to come," says Alan. "The vicar was surprised that we were getting married over here. He told us most expats go back to the UK."
After battling with the bureaucracy, the couple can see why. In retrospect they would probably steer others towards getting married in Gibraltar. "You can arrange everything by phone or email," says Alan. "It would certainly be cheaper and easier."
"The biggest problem has undoubtedly been the paperwork," says Angie. The best advice they would give to others thinking of a similar arrangement is to contact the consulate straight away. "They have been very helpful in telling us exactly what we need to do," says Angie.
Lee Bullen had a slightly different experience when he got married in Tenerife. Lee, already a Spanish resident, married his Canarian girlfriend Irma Guanche in a traditional Catholic ceremony.
"It was all quite smooth compared to other stories I've heard," says Lee. "Mine was more a Canarian wedding, organised by the Canarian bride who just so happened to be marrying one of those extranjero people! The only troublesome part really, was organising 50 guests from UK to come out. But only from a logistical point of view."
Spain's parliament has recently opened the doors for gay marriages to become legalised in Spain. The bill still needs Senate approval but it is widely anticipated that it will become law in the near future.
During the Franco years, homosexuality was illegal but since the dictator's death in 1975, Spain has become one of the most liberal-minded countries within Europe. A recent survey showed almost three quarters of the country supported gay marriage.
Spanish wedding traditions
A typical Spanish custom is for the groom to give the bride 13 coins before the ceremony to signify his commitment to support and care for his wife-to-be. During the ceremony, the bride carries the coins in a small purse or they're given to a small girl who carries them in a handkerchief or on a pillow.
Did you know?
In northern Europe it used to be customary for the bride and groom to drink Mead, a honeyed wine, for a full lunar month (30 days) after their wedding. This is how the term ‘honeymoon' came about.