How to Marry a Croatian in the Republic of Hrvatska (Croatia) for Love and / or Citizenship
Love and Immigration "can" mix!
It is possible to A) Have an adventure: Go to Europe on vacation. Decide to check out beautiful, natural and unspoiled Croatia. B) While there, meet a wonderful person. Oh dear! Unexpectedly, of course, fall in love. This is it, and now what? Can an American citizen marry a Croatian, in the Republic of Hrvatska (Croatia)? The answer is, "Of course."
Before going shopping for a wedding dress or formal attire, you're going to have to take care of the paperwork. As they say, no job is complete without it!
First step is to go to the beautiful, white stonewalled city hall where you want to marry and speak to the Matićar (Mah-ti-char). This person in some ways resembles an American Justice of the Peace, and can perform the wedding for you. (Or you can go to your parish priest, who will also require similar information.) At any rate, the American will be required to show a fair amount of paperwork before either the Matićar or the Priest, (or "Svećenik" in Croatian - pronounced Sve-che-nik) will agree to marry you. It took us about six months, but just the activity of preparing for our wedding and marriage was kind of romantic, like "two of us against the world". The whole town was rooting for us too - "did you get your papers finalized yet?" Another thing I must point out - we were doing this by mail - no internet - and live on an island, so each step required that we go to the mainland. Even so, better to get started right away. You never know what glitches you may run into.
I gave this same advice to another young woman (American) marrying a Croatian man (an adorable couple - they decided to live in the U.S.) and based on my experiences they were able to get it all organized in about three months. So - here's the meat and potatoes to getting married in Croatia!
Operation - Identification
At city hall, your identity must be confirmed (U.S. Passport, Drivers' License, Birth Certificate). Your name must be identical on the passport and birth certificate. The B.C. will probably need to be translated into Croatian, so ask for a Court Appointed Translator from English to Croatian to do the job for you (the Croatian word for this person is "Sudski Tumać", pronounced Soodski Toomach).
The Sudski Tumać will translate your American documents and stamp them for authenticity. Everything must be tip-top. Hopefully this is your first marriage. If not, the divorce decree will also have to be translated into Croatian (sudski tumać again :)) and an additional document called an Apostille, may be required. The Apostille, which many Americans may never have heard of - I hadn't - basically confirms that the accompanying document being submitted is legitimate. This is issued by the secretary of state in the state where you were divorced. This, too, will have to be translated and verified by your soon-to-be good friend the sudski tumać.
The Croatian government tends to be very careful to avoid potential problems before they happen. In Croatia, citizens, like my husband for example, have a special form called an Izvadak (Izz-va-dack), or in American English, "the story of my life". Date of birth, place of birth, parents' names, dates of birth, any former marriage(s), children, divorce(s) are all listed, making bigamy a near impossibility! It might not be a bad idea for the American court system to consider using such a document.
However, since we Americans don't have the Izvadak, we more or less have to create one. The Croatian government, in effect, wanted me to provide something as close as possible to my own Izvadak! This means I had to swear before the Consul at the US embassy that while my first marriage was finalized, it was important that I swear that my current status was truly that of an unmarried woman (no new husbands lurking around anywhere), and so I swore and signed. You gotta do what you gotta do.
Now, it was my husband's turn. In order for him to marry, he was required to sign a document saying that he was marrying for love and not for the purpose of immigration to America or obtaining American citizenship. Although he's not much of a mush-maker, it was kind of romantic in an obtuse kind of way. After many many years, it seems to be that he was telling the absolute truth. He truly loves his wife and children, and - although he (like many Europeans) is enchanted with America, he could really care less about becoming an American citizen.
Love is in the Air!
Finding the US Embassy in Zagreb
Zagreb is a wonderful, interesting town. To date it has 1,000,000 residents which is small by U.S. standards, but it is culturally rich, splendid, and has a special essence. At night when I look at the tops of buildings I can almost imagine Batman jumping around. There are traces of its Austrian days, wonderful public transport, very well dressed women, and a friendly, urban classiness about it.
If you are traveling from Dalmatia, you have several options. There are buses, planes, trains, and private car - Croatia has a wonderful new highway that cuts travel time in half of what it used to be (from 8 hours to 4 hours or less). They are usually very comfortable, warm and roomy, with two generous breaks on the way up (and back). If you ask at the terminal, there are buses which show two movies in each direction. The trip takes about 5 hours from the Dalmatian capital and second largest city in Croatia, Split.
Once in Zagreb, the embassy is fully accessible by bus, which was OK if you are traveling without kids. It is actually located in a building slightly out of town, between the town and the airport, and the building - big beautiful, shiny - reminds me of a fortress not unlike Fort Knox. A taxicab would also be worth considering because it's a bit off the beaten track, unless you don't mind a 20 minute walk from the highway to the front door of the embassy. Your U.S. passport and I.D. information for both you and your betrothed will be required. No cameras, cell phones or weapons can be brought in.
The whole procedure won't take that long - the American embassy is a friendly and nice place to visit once you get in the door, especially for American citizens. Remember - this is where we had to swear and sign. They just want to discourage marrying someone for the wrong reasons, which makes a lot of sense.
If you want to marry in another country besides Hrvatska, the main point is to visit the U.S. Embassy as soon as possible. In general, American authorities worry about false marriages for immigration purposes. Getting a marriage license is definitely possible. If you want to marry your beloved, follow the paper trail and you will soon be as happy as I am - happily married to my Croatian husband. Best of luck. :)
"Do"-ing the Deed
After getting the green light, everything else was easy. The dress was bought in Split at a wonderful shop called "Nostalgia". It's now closed, but there are many others - people are pro-marriage here. My husband's best friend was available as the translator. Our friends decided to host the wedding party at their place, serving traditional beef Rižot and tons of delicious side entries. Some friends and neighbors decided to make Hrustule and Cvite, traditional Croatian wedding cookies (stay tuned for recipes on these two delicacies in the near future.) Some young musicians - the Kopito Band - were on hand to lead the singing. After we married, a bunch of people waiting outside were on hand to throw dried flowers and Croatian pennies which was for me totally unexpected! After that, the entire wedding party walked between the stone houses with red roofs for a short roundabout procession to our reception area.
One thing to note when marrying in Croatia, you can't just marry when you feel like it. Croatia is a predominantly Catholic country. The 40 days between Mardi Gras and Easter are considered blacklisted days, so no one marries until Lent passes. As they say, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do." Another tradition, if there has been a recent death in the immediate family, it is best to postpone the marriage, or to at least have a very modest ceremony.
The Culture here is quite interesting. Generally speaking, everyone HOPES you are pregnant! (I could be wrong, but in the U.S. it seems it's not nice to marry when you are pregnant - that you are forcing the groom to marry you.) In Croatia it's like God, the sudski tumać in the sky, has given you his stamp of approval "Ah, what a nice pair! Now you're pregnant - go on and get married!" I'm not kidding - people were actually disappointed that there was no bun in the oven. But a couple of months later, there was ! :)
Citizenship Options. After marrying, your spouse is free to apply for American citizenship. Of course, the first step is to apply for a green card which requires making two trips to the U.S. within a two-year period. In the end, my husband decided he would rather keep his Croatian citizenship and go with the resident Visa or non-resident Visa status whenever we travel to the States, or eventually decide to live there forever (we haven't gotten to that point as of yet - Croatia is just too darned beautiful and a great place to raise our two kids).
Our kids, on the other hand, have dual citizenship, as do their mom (me). The US government does not recognize any other citizenship besides its own, but having them is entirely possible (Croatia recognizes both, America recognizes only American).