Tips for getting married in France
Et voila ! For anyone wishing to tie the knot in France (and isn't a native of France), here are some useful nuggets of information.
That's us..... three years ago in Biarritz.
Here's the deal breaker which will determine if you can get married in France. Either the bride or groom needs to have been born in France and their immediate family needs to maintain a permanent residence there. Now, of course if you're Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt, these rules are more like guidelines. But for the rest of us peasants, we are bound to the French laws.
Step 1 - Set the date. Everything else will fall into place once you know when you're walking down the aisle.
Step 2 - Start making appointments to try on wedding dresses! It can take anywhere from 6 to 9 months to craft a dress (depending on the material etc) so get onto this pronto tonto. My dress was from Aibheil of Adare in Co. Limerick. It was the only shop I visited and the minute I tried it on, I knew it was the one!
Step 3 - Visit the City Hall of the town in France where your immediate family lives to start the process. We visited the Mairie d'Anglet in South of France. Ultimately this is where your official wedding takes place so be prepared to complete a mountain of paperwork to satisfy the legalities of marriage. Also, keep your wallets nearby and your patience in check. PS. We were fortunate to have the Mayor of Anglet marry us as he's a family friend. Just in case you think that's the norm...nope!
To satisfy the paperwork at City Hall, here's what both parties need to submit:
- Original birth certificate that is under 6 months old (because my birth cert was in EN and FR, I was not required to get it translated but then still needed to be notarised in Canada).
- Proof of residence.
- ID (passport).
- List of witnesses for the wedding ceremony and their ID.
- Wedding contract.
- Freedom to Marry certificate.
Step 4 - Apply for the Freedom to Marry certificate online and submit to the local passport office with the following:
- Original birth certificate that is under 6 months old.
- Copy of passport.
- Completed application.
- Original naturalisation certificate, if naturalised (this was relevant for me).
You should receive the Freedom to Marry certificate within 8 weeks of the date of marriage.
Step 5 - Once you receive the certificate, you need to request an appointment with City Hall (Mairie) in France for the official interview. If you are not fluent in French you are required to locate a translator. Keep in mind you'll also need the translator on your wedding day! PS. Notarised documents are only valid for three months so keep this in mind when reviewing timelines and the process.
Step 6 - Start sourcing venues for your big day. Decide if you want your wedding in a chateau, vineyard, on the beach or somewhere less conventional and then... let the negotiations commence! We visited several venues including Hotel du Palais (slightly ostentatious!), Chateau de Brindos, Radisson Blu Hotel and our final choice was Espace de l'Océan (space on the ocean). What better location to welcome your friends and family to Biarritz then a reception overlooking the sea!
Step 7 - Taxi service is hard to come by in Biarritz and Anglet so I would advise to hire a shuttle service to transport your guests to or from the reception.
Step 8 - The most important detail for a French wedding is the food. Let's be honest... the French know their wine and their cuisine so locating a credible caterer can be stressful. We were fortunate to locate a reputable catering company named Barrère. They understood our requirements and the various cultures attending our wedding. They accommodated every request and allowed us tasting sessions prior to the wedding. I would highly recommend Barrère for any wedding or special event in the South of France.
Step 9 - Locating accommodation for the eve of your wedding and for the first night as a married couple can be daunting as there are so many choices in Biarritz. We wanted a hotel that was a slightly luxurious, appropriate for photographs, sea views and of course, offered a bridal suite. We were delighted to choose Le Régina Hotel for this special occasion.
For those who wish to have a religious ceremony on their special day, keep reading. The ceremony in Mairie (City Hall) is official from a legal stand point and the ceremony in any church/cathedral is an added bonus but just know that it has no legal weight! #notgoingtohell #bubblingholywater #praisethelord
Our ceremony took place in Sainte-Eugénie Cathedral in Biarritz city centre. We met with the local priest who talked us through the required steps which included more paperwork and subsequently coordinating with our local parish in Cork.
Despite the extra costs for translating prayer books, purchasing flowers, organist, Basque choir etc., we were delighted to have our church ceremony among friends and family members. Fun fact: Our flower bouquets for the pews were robbed during the day... that's right folks.. someone robbed flowers from a church! #goingtohell #karma #cheapskates
If you're considering having your wedding in France (and meet the requirements above) then look no further than Biarritz. Only a two hour flight from Dublin or London, you could be sipping on mojitos and walking along the crushed white sandy beaches in your guna! Now, where did I leave my prenup? ;)