The Skinny on Getting Married in Paris

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From the classic Technicolor dance scenes of An American in Paris to more recent films like Moulin Rouge and Amelie Poulain- for many Americans, Paris is the epitome of romance. And what could be a more romantic place to get married? For most couples, after deciding to get married in Paris, the first thing they do is make a giddy, “so crazy this just might work” phone call to their local French consulate, where they are instantly jerked backed down to earth by their first official French Non: “Mais, mademoiselle! C’est impossible! You must live in France for 40 days before you can marry in France. Impossible! Why are you calling me? Au revoir!!” Click…. And for some couples, that will be that. In a flash they’re swept directly to Plan B, their local country club with a Paris themed reception, do not pass Go, do not collect 200€…

Some couples, though, will want to see the dream through- they may choose to have a legal ceremony in their own country, and then come to Paris for a symbolic ceremony. Symbolic ceremonies aren’t legally binding, but are as romantic and as meaningful as you’d imagine them to be. I’ll post more about symbolic ceremonies in the future. This post, though, is for the hard-liners- those couples that are ready to dance with the big boys, to run the gauntlet, fight the fight… Getting legally married in France as a foreigner will be one of the strongest tests to your “coupledom” as you’ve probably gone through so far. Forget about Couples Fear Factor- If you can survive this, you can survive anything…

The Nitty Gritty
What the curt civil servant at the embassy told you is true. In order to be legally wed in France, one of the couple needs to have lived in France, in the district around the city hall in which they plan to marry, for a minimum of 40 consecutive days before the wedding. Some sources say 30 days, but you have to add on an additional 10 days for the city hall to publish the Banns - a public announcement that is put up in City Hall for 10 days preceding your marriage that lists your names and your impending marriage date so that any estranged husbands or wives have one last chance to find you before you’re married off…

Before asking for that sabbatical from work, though, you should know that this one little detail is actually a big one. You must show 2 proofs of domicile (“justificatifs de domicile” )- a gas or electricity bill (a cell phone bill doesn’t count), a rent receipt, a lease, a French social security card, etc. If you are planning on renting an apartment here on a short-term lease in order to meet this marriage requirement, know that it could take several months before you receive any of the above documents. Another option is to live with a friend or relative, and have that person sign an attestation d’hébergement sur l’honneur. This is a statement swearing that you have been living at that persons residence, and that they take responsibility for you if you happen to be a drug trafficker or illegally downloading “Desperate Housewives” or something. There is a ton of small print on this one, including a huge fine and a short trip to the guillotine if its ever found out that you, in fact, Paris City Hallwere not living with them.

If you are able to meet the 40 day requirement, the first thing you want to do is to get the most recent list of required documents from the city hall (mairie) in which you plan to marry. Most of these documents have specific time frames in which they must be dated before being submitted, so it’s important to get the list as soon as you can. Here is a general list of the documents that you will need to be legally wed in France. It’s important, though (and I can’t stress this enough) that you get the official, most up-to-date list from the mairie in the district (arrondisement) that you are planning to marry.

A valid passport or a French residence permit (“carte de sejour”)

A birth certificate (”extrait d’acte de naissance“): Most city halls require that you present an original copy of a complete birth certificate (with full details of your parents) issued within 3 months of your wedding date along with a sworn translation. You have to get the translation from a sworn translator (”traducteur assermenté“). Sworn translators are listed at every “mairie”.

A certificate of celibacy (”attestation tenant lieu de declaration en vue de mariage ou de non-remariage“) less than 3 months old

An Affidavit of law (”certificat de coutume“) Many mairies request an Affidavit of Law (”Certificat de Coutume”) in addition to the Affidavit of Marital Status from foreigners. The Affidavit of Law certifies that the American citizen is free to get married in France and that the marriage will be recognized in the United States. Only an attorney licensed to practice in both France and the United States may execute this document.

A medical certificate (“certificat médical prénuptial”): You both must get a pre-nuptial medical certificate which says that you were examined by a doctor “en vue de mariage.” (Don’t get nervous, girls- it’s just a standard check-up plus a couple of blood tests: blood type, syphilis, rubella and toxoplasma…) The marriage banns cannot be published until medical certificates have been submitted to the mairie. The certificates must be dated no earlier than two months before the publication of banns. Any qualified doctor can perform the medical examination (the Embassy publishes a list of English-speaking doctors).

Proof of domicile (”justificatifs de domicile“) (see above)

A “certificat du notaire“: If you are planning on having a pre-nuptial agreement, you must go through a lawyer (a notaire) who will provide a “certificat du notaire” which must be submitted to the mairie as well. It must have been drawn up no more than 2 months prior to the marriage.

If there are no pre-nuptial contracts, then you will be married under the communauté réduite aux acquets. This means that what each of you owned personally before the marriage, or whatever comes to you afterwards through inheritance, remains your own, individual property. Only that which is acquired during the marriage is owned equally by both parties. (If you’ve ever seen or read Le Divorce, this scenario may look very familiar to you…)

If either of you were previously married, you must provide a certified copy of the death certificate of the deceased spouse or a certified copy of the final divorce decree.

In addition to all of the above, you will also have to choose and provide information on your witnesses (”temoins”)- 2 to 4 people who will act as sort of your Best Men and/or Maid of Honor, and sign the registry after the marriage ceremony. You will need to provide their names, addresses, their professions and photocopies of their passports with your dossier.

All of this needs to be presented to the Mairie in time for them to check and approve your documents before posting the Banns- they typically ask for your completed marriage file 10 days before their publication, but I usually suggest that my clients submit their dossier sooner than that- the curt civil servants will almost always insist that there is a document missing, sending you into yet another frenzy of frantic phone calls and emails.

When all has been accepted and approved, you will receive word from the Mairie of your wedding date and time (you can request a specific date and time ahead of time, but they will assure you that nothing is confirmed until the dossier has been approved). Keep in mind that you must be legally married in a civil ceremony before you will be allowed to have a Catholic church ceremony in France. After your civil ceremony, you will receive a “Livret de Famille” (Family Book) a sort of wedding certificate that also has pages for all of your future children. This little blue book is the Holy Grail. If you live in France, this book will make your administrative life here a lot easier pretty much until the day you die (in which your death will be noted in said little blue book). If you don’t plan on staying in France, think of it as the ultimate wedding present.

Getting married in a foreign country is rarely easy. A Parisian wedding is just a bit more difficult than that. But if you are willing and able, the lasting memory of exchanging your vows beneath the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, or in the cobbled halls of a centuries-old chateaû is worth a few months of frustration.

Like I said, if you can survive all of the above, your marriage will be built to last.
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20 Responses to “The Skinny on Getting Married in Paris”


  1. 1 Caroline

    I have a question you might be able to answer…

    first thank you for the detailed information regarding how to get married in France. What of the list of requirements changes if one of the parties to be married has a French passport (but isn’t currently residing in France–though that is do-able)?

    Secondly, do you help plan weddings outside Paris (like 30 minutes outside the city by car?)

    Thank you!

    Caroline

  2. 2 Melanie

    What a wonderful blog!

    I’m desperate to get married in Paris but we can’t do the 40-day residency thing BUT, we only want to get married once rather than having a symbolic exchange. Friends of our who got married in France had the 40 day residency waived on the grounds of compassion by the mayor. They were married in St Paul de Vence. In your experience, have you ever seen the 40 day residency waived for a wedding in Paris?

  3. 3 kim

    Hi Melanie,

    I personally have never heard of anyone waiving it. Did your friend who was married in St Paul de Vence have a close connection to the Mayor of that town? That’s all that I can think of. The thing is, it really is like running a gauntlet- there are so many people you have to get through before you actually “see the wizard” (as it were) you would have to have some sort of “in” in order to get to him directly. I understand you not wanting to go through the 2 ceremonies, but in fact, if you wanted a traditional wedding in France, you would have to go through 2 anyway! Here, you’re not allowed to have a church ceremony without having first had a civil ceremony, plus they don’t really “do” non-church weddings (like in the States, where you can marry on a boat, a historical home, etc). You either have a civil ceremony, followed by a church ceremony, followed by the reception, or you have just the civil ceremony followed by a reception. Most of my clients have the civil ceremony in their home country before their symbolic ceremony here- there are a couple of Anglo phone churches who will also offer a blessing ceremony if you’d prefer a religious celebration.

  4. 4 Jim

    We will be married in the US but would like to have a simple ceremony in Paris. Cost, is of course, an issue. How to do this nice, but affordably?

  5. 5 Deb Prado

    We are going to Paris for a week on vacation and just want to have a small ceremony in front of the Eiffel Tower. It will just be my fiance, my son and mother. We have been together for 9 years and want something special for us and not spend to much. Do we have a civil ceremony here in the states , then have a small something there. PLEASE HELP ME !!!!

    Deb

  6. 6 Sori

    Hi Kim! Thanks for all the info and wedding tips!

    If we’re already married by civil in our home country, can we have the church ceremony here in Paris? what are the requirements? We both live here: i work, he studies.

  7. 7 laura

    Hello;)
    My name is Laura, I’m a professional photographer & I will be in the Paris area from June 9-June 18th 2012. If you are planning on getting married, or would like to do an engagement photo shoot, contact me @ itashepard@gmail.com I would LOVE to help make an amzing experience a memory forever!

    By the way; GREAT blog;)! I can’t WAIT to get to Paris this summer!!!!

  8. 8 Laura

    Bonsoir Kim,

    I wonder if you could help me out with something- I am getting married in one month! My fiance grew up in Paris and I would like to surprise him by replying to our vows in French. The only “phrase” other than just a simple “oui” I could find was “oui je le veux”. Is this commonly used, or is it reserved only for religous ceremonies? I’d like to say more than just “oui” - so anything you could help with would be amazing!

    Merci beaucoup!

  9. 9 kim

    Hi Laura! Yes, I always think the “oui je le veux” is a bit “meh” myself. If you’re having a traditional church wedding in France, I don’t think you will get to modify the ceremony too much (so the answer will have to be “oui, je le veux) but if you can completely write your vows, you can say whatever you want! Here’s a french website with some hints and examples of french wedding vows. I hope this helps! Congratulations!! http://1andonly-ceremony.fr/blog/?p=541

  10. 10 Paul Morash

    We are arriving in Paris on Sept 1 2012 and leaving on Sept.7 2012. We would like to have a symbolic ceremony around the Eiffel tower. There wil be just the 2 of us. Could you do something like that.

    Thank you

    Paul Morash & Carol Antifave

  11. 11 John Dodge

    Hi Kim, This article is incredibly helpful! I’m just getting started with the bureaucratic labyrinth. Me and my fiancee are getting married in August in the southwest of France, near Auch - where her family lives. She’s French and I’m American, but we’re currently living in Dublin, Ireland. (We met years ago in Prague… we like to travel!). I’m confused about the 40-day requirement for people in our situation. Have you ever had such a situation where the French citizen is living abroad?

  12. 12 Sasha

    This was SUPER helpful to me when I started planning our wedding. The Mairie is definitely the biggest administration hurdle. Thanks for the advice!! xoxo

  13. 13 Ruben Sanchez

    We are arriving be in Paris on August 6-9 2013. I would like to have a symbolic ceremony around the Eiffel tower. There wil be just the 2 of us. Could you do something like that.

    Thank you

    Ruben Sanchez

  14. 14 Badiana Badio

    Hi Kim,
    My husband and I are already married but our Parisian wedding is for my side of the family because we have already been wed in India. I am from the USA and we have booked the hotel and they are handling the venue, food etc BUT I am having trouble finding a Catholic priest that doesn’t require pre-cana classes or if that is just impossible to find a justice of the peace to do our no more than 30 minute ceremony at the hotel. Our wedding is October 7, 2013 in Paris, France. Also, can you help me find a makeup artist for an African American bride, DJ recommendations and a place to get my wedding dress pressed because I am sure it will wrinkle while on the plane. Any feedback you can give me will bo SO APPRECIATED!!!

  15. 15 Alex Fernis

    Hi Kim,

    My husband and i got engaged in Paris 2 years ago and would love to renew our vows in Paris this year 2013 December 22nd (is when we arrive and will be spending chrismtas their. We only have a small budget and would like to know the cost of a english celebrant,photogragher, and perhaps a car photo sesions around paris.
    Also how much would it be for a hairdresser and make up artist to come to the hotel?Yes so many questions..but would like an overview as to how much we are looking at.
    I really apreciate your advice.

    Many thanks
    Alexandra Fernie

  16. 16 Charmaine

    We are taking a trip to Europe in Sept. 2014 and we would really like to get married in Paris. We have a priest travelling with us from Newfoundland and he would be willing to marry us. Could you please let me know if this is possible and what procedure we would have to follow. Look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

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