It takes more than “I Do” to marry in Mexico

articles Cultural Customs Living, Working, Retiring

jennifer j. rose

Tiburcio Wedding
Tiburcio Wedding

Dreaming of that storybook wedding on a scenic cliff above crashing ocean waves, blessed by a Mexican sunset while mariachis croon? Or amid bougainvillea’d stone arches in a colonial setting? Few places on earth offer up as many of those Kodak moments as Mexico, and that’s why Mexico has become one of the most popular foreign wedding venues for Norteamericanos. The Mexican wedding cookie and the Mexican wedding shirt have to stand for something after all.

But before you and your beloved hop on that plane planning to wed next weekend, make plenty of plans ahead of time. If it’s a quick and easy wedding ceremony you’re after, go to Las Vegas.

Only the civil wedding is legally recognized in Mexico. The religious event is a ceremonial event only and has no legal effect. Consequently, many Mexicans have two weddings — the civil ceremony and the religious one. A civil marriage contracted in Mexico is legally valid in the United States and just about any place else, provided it doesn’t contravene public policy.

Each state in Mexico has its own set of laws prescribing the finer points of getting married, but there’s a prevailing theme of basic requirements. The Registro Civil, found in every city and burg, serves as the city hall’s marriage license bureau, and the bride and groom will need to make their application at the Registro Civil serving the locale where they plan to wed. The requirements described below are the maximum requirements.

At the Registro Civil, the betrothed couple will file an application, present the original and copies of their passports, proof that they’re legally in Mexico (the FMT, or tourist card, FM-3, FM-2 or other visa), certified copies of their birth certificates, medical tests results, and two legally qualified witnesses who will be present at the civil ceremony. Photo identification will be required of all the participants.

The requirements don’t stop here. First, the certified copies of each birth certificate must bear the apostille of the Secretary of State in which the document was issued. And then it must be translated by an approved translator.

If this marriage is a second trip to the altar for either party, then proof of how the prior marriage terminated is required, which means providing a divorce decree or death certificate, certified, apostilled and translated. Divorced persons cannot marry until a full year has passed since entry of the final decree.

Medical tests can range from a simple blood test to thoracic x-rays, but they must be performed in Mexico and within a specified time from the date of application. Persons under eighteen years of age can’t get married without the consent of a parent or guardian. The lowest age threshold for marriage, with parental consent, is 16 for males and 14 for women. (So much for those threats of a 15-year old daughter about eloping with the boyfriend to Mexico!)

Finally, there’s the statement contained in the application designating whether the nuptial duo plans to be married under the system of joint or separate property. Some states have begun to entertain a “none of the above” category. Will this statement, a sort of forced prenuptial agreement, be enforceable in the United States? That’s a matter of state divorce law.

Having amassed all of these documents, the couple is now ready to pay the fee (about $35 USD) and obtain the license. Waiting periods before performing the civil ceremony vary from state to state, ranging from five minutes to a week. For little or nothing, the civil ceremony can be performed right at the Registro Civil, or the full-blown civil ceremony with all the pomp and circumstance of getting married by a federal judge at the Ritz Carlton can take place. Obviously, there’s a much greater charge attached to that privilege.

The civil ceremony having been completed in full accordance with the law, the next step is to obtain a certified copy of the acta de matrimonio, or the marriage certificate. It’s a good idea to obtain several copies right now instead of waiting for later when the memories have faded.

Now let’s add another twist. What’s described above pertains only when bride and groom are non-Mexicans. When a foreigner marries a Mexican on Mexican soil, there’s yet another hurdle.

Foreigners planning to marry Mexicans must first obtain permission from the Secretaria de Gobernación Office of Migración, providing the same documentation as well as a fee of $1723 pesos (about $191 USD). And not just any office will do — the p ermiso para contraer matrimonio con un nacional must be granted by the office having jurisdiction over where the marriage will take place. This process may take anywhere from 48 hours to two weeks, and a U.S. passport is absolutely required, even if the foreign applicant entered Mexico using a birth certificate.

Just as each state in Mexico has its own laws, each Registro Civil, and indeed each Office of Migración, has its own internal rules of operation. Rules are relaxed in resort areas or anywhere a critical mass of foreigners might gather for the purpose of marrying one another, but the best preparation is to be completely forewarned that tying the knot in Mexico can involve a lot more than finding a wedding singer.

It’s not impossible, but it does take planning ahead. This is where wedding planners are on their mettle — and for more than lining up mariachis and margaritas. The pros can streamline the process so the bride and groom can work on their tans before the wedding and concentrate upon doing whatever it is that married folks tend to do on honeymoons instead of running bureaucracy’s gamut. Weddings in Paradise, a Cabo San Lucas planner can put together the simplest wedding for about $500 USD.

Daunted by the maze of procedure and documentation? Get married back home, quietly, and announce it to everyone gathered at a reception in Mexico.

Published or Updated on: April 1, 2000 by jennifer j. rose © 2000



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