Whether it’s a destination wedding because you love France, or getting married abroad because you or your partner is French, getting married in France is an exciting prospect. I am Australian and my wife is French, so I will be focusing on how to organise your wedding from Australia. However, the French requirements are similar for most foreigners, this advice will be relevant to many non-Frenchies from around the world dreaming of a French wedding.
We got married in Paris earlier this year, and we planned almost everything from overseas. The paperwork, booking the reception, making our decorations overseas and sending them over – we did it all. And I must say, if you have a few contacts in France and plan well, you’ll find it’s not as difficult as it seems.
What to expect from a French wedding
French weddings differ quite a bit from Australian weddings. The most awesome thing is that they seem to run as late as you want into the night (where most Aussie ones wrap up well before midnight)!
In terms of the legal stuff, in Australia, a celebrant is usually hired to conduct the ceremony in a location of the couple’s choosing, and has the power to legally marry the couple. In France, the marriage process always takes place at a town hall (or mairie) by a civil officiant, and it’s free as well.
The ceremony at the mairie is usually quite short. The officiant reads out the legalities, and then the marriage certificate is signed, with the whole thing wrapped up within 20 minutes. All guests are welcome to witness this (as the mairie has space for this short ceremony), but there are no speeches, vows, etc. It’s advisable that you know a bit of French, so you know when you’re supposed to emphatically declare “Oui”!
Many people choose to have a second ceremony. You’ll now already be married, so this second ceremony is purely for show. It could be a religious ceremony in a church, or a non-religious ceremony (ceremonie laique – what we did). Our ceremonie laique took place in the garden at our reception venue, complete with music, vows, speeches, the arch, and all that fun stuff. I even had a good friend stand up with a script to be our ‘non-official’ celebrant.
OK, on to practicalities! Let’s get the tricky stuff out of the way first, and begin with the necessary paperwork.
All the documents needed by the Australian
- The Certificate of no impediment to marriage (certificat de coutume)
This certificate probably the biggest hassle to get. The CNI information is found at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website, but you actually apply for this certificate from the Australian Embassy in Paris. Every country (where the marriage will take place) seems to handle their own CNIs, they aren’t issued in Australia.Let’s assume you’re doing all this outside of Paris (if you’re in Paris, you can visit embassies in person, making things are easier). The application form can be found online at the Australian Embassy in France website. You complete it, and have the signature witnessed by a justice of the peace (or any other person listed on the form). Include a copy of your passport and your birth certificate (both documents certified – the justice of the peace can do this too).Print off and fill out the credit card charge form (also on the embassy website), and a copy of your spouse’s passport and birth certificate (not necessary to have it certified). Finally, post all these documents to the Australian Embassy in Paris (4 Rue Jean Rey 75015 Paris).
The certificate will be issued in French, and you can pick it up (if you’re in France). If you need it posted to you (to a French or Australian address), include a stamped return envelope. Allow 10 working days for this certificate to be processed, plus postage time. If you are two Australians getting married in France, you both need to apply for the CNI.
Unfortunately it gets slightly more complicated if you’re visiting the mairie twice. It is valid for 3 months, so you need submit one when you register your wedding day (which we did a year before), and a second one within 3 months of the actual day (if you’re just registering your wedding day within 3 months, once is enough).
- Birth certificate with apostille
The birth certificate needs to be less than 3 months old from its issue until the date of submission. It also needs an apostille, a form of authentication used in countries that participate in the Hague convention (which defends the rights of international adoption, in short, making sure you’re the correct age). It looks like a huge red sticker seal on the back of your document. Go to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and pay the fee for the apostille, which takes a day or two to process.
- Birth certificate translation
In addition to the apostille, the birth certificate must be translated into French. In Australia, search for a translator which is accredited by NAATI (National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters). They can often receive your document by email, and post the translation back to you with their official stamp of accreditation. I wouldn’t expect to pay more than about $60 for a birth certificate, and they’re often very fast completing your request.
Don’t forget your passport! Double check your passport doesn’t expire soon.
- Statement of no previous marriage
I got very confused trying to figure this one out, eventually realising that this is also known as a Single Status Certificate. This certificate is obtained from the Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages. You’ll need 3 forms of ID, and pay the appropriate fee (depending on time frame and urgency).
- Divorce certificate
- French ID resident’s card
If your partner is French, bring their ID card along too (see below for the partner’s documents).
- Blood test/medical exam (if necessary)
We didn’t need to do a medical exam – from what i’ve read, this hasn’t been necessary since about 2013.
All the documents needed by the French partner
One of the couple needs to have been a resident in France for a minimum of one month, and you need to get married in the mairie of the commune where that person is a resident. Alternatively, you can get married in the commune where the French partner’s parents live.
- Passport or carte de sejour
- Birth certificate less than 3 months old
- Proof of address by the resident of the commune
Ideally two documents such as phone bill or rental receipt. Documents of the parents who live in the commune are acceptable as well. We submitted the parent’s documents, and there were no issues.
You will need 2-4 witnesses who will be present on the wedding day, to sign your wedding certificate. Ask the mairie for the required form. Each witness must fill out their section, sign, and provide a copy of their ID, such as a driver’s licence or passport.
- Pre-nuptial agreement
If you have one organised.
Meeting with the mairie
The documentation listed above needs to be submitted to the mairie in the prefecture where you, your partner or their parents live. There, you will discuss the order of the ceremony, and decide on a wedding date.
It is possible to meet with the mairie just the once, as long as it’s 3 months before the wedding day, as some of the above documents need to be current. In our case, because we needed a lot of time to prepare, we met with an official at the mairie twice. The first time was one year before, where we submitted the bulk of our paperwork and locked in our date nice and early. Because we were having a lot of international guests, we didn’t want to risk booking our wedding less than 3 months before! It’s worth mentioning that booking too far in advance may not be possible, because we were some of the first people to book for the following year.
The second time was about a week before the wedding, and the purpose is to hand over some of the documents which need to be current. The two big ones they required were the Certificate of No Previous Marriage, and the CNI. It’s a good idea to stay in touch by email as well, just to double check which documents they require the second time. The local mairie we used seemed quite relaxed on certain points.
The wedding reception
Besides taking care of the legal aspects of your wedding in France, the other major thing to organise is your reception, and organising this from abroad seems like a nearly impossible task. Don’t worry too much, because this is not as difficult as it may seem.
- Finding a location.
Unless you have a very specific location in mind, are planning on a multi-day wedding, or are willing to travel far, the good news is that you can start by choosing a location relatively close to the mairie. If your mairie is in or near Paris, then it makes sense to choose a reception venue in Paris. You can always get married in Paris, and then drive south to a castle near Bordeaux if you want, but consider the transport and time needed.
- Narrowing it down.
Maybe you want a wedding by the sea. Or perhaps in a park. Maybe you prefer a small, classic French village, or a forest, or in the middle of Paris with the Eiffel Tower in view. In our case, we wanted to be in the park, so we simply Googled the large parks and found a number of restaurants located within each one. From there, we made a shortlist from the ones that looked good.
We had the advantage of having French friends, who were kind enough to go and check out our top 3 venues, and reported back to us. They chose a clear winner, and we trusted their advice and booked it by emailing back and forth with that venue, obtaining a quote with approximate guest numbers and dinner choices. Tripadvisor is a great resource here as well, especially reviews by previous weddings. If you don’t have any eyes and ears in France, you’ll have to make the journey yourself.
- Catering, chairs, dinnerware and all that stuff.
The best thing about the reception venue we booked was that everything was included as a package deal – and these package deals are commonplace for many wedding reception venues in France. Everything from the alcohol, to the dinner, chairs, tables, staff, even the wedding cake was all included, and that saved us a LOT of trouble.
The ceremonie laique was an additional cost, but they included all the chairs, as well as refreshments for the guests.
DJ and Photographer
To find a DJ or wedding photographer, Google is your best friend. Firstly, because they advertise well, and secondly, because these wedding professionals usually have very good websites and are good at replying. Secondly, they’re often given shoutouts in wedding blogs – and if they’re mentioned in a destination wedding blog, even better! It is quite easy to find those specialising in destination weddings too..
It’s a great idea to browse French wedding blogs or destination wedding blogs to see which style of pictures jump out at you, and hopefully there’s a link to the photgrapher’s site (this is how we found our photographer, and our DJ). Once you’ve chosen contractors you like, send them a message and arrange to meet up. If you don’t get the chance to meet face to face, Skype is a good alternative. You’ll get a sense of their style, and they’ll explain how they work, what types of weddings they like to do, and so on.
You’ll also need to arrange a time to meet each of them a few days before the wedding to agree on a few points. Sitting down with your DJ and deciding on what music you’d like to have played, as well as listening to their own suggestions is actually quite a lot of fun, and a great way to see the style of your wedding take shape!
Meeting the photographer immediately before the wedding is also a good idea, for several reasons; firstly, they can provide valuable advice about the order of the day. We completely re-wrote our run sheet because of suggestions given to us from our photographer, 2 days before the wedding. Last minute changes to the time of the cake cutting, the first dance, timeframe for the photo shoot – your photographer knows how these things run best, so before your print off your run sheets, it’s very much advisable to consider their input.
We made almost all of our decorations ourselves, and most of that during our time in Australia. We made place cards, seating charts, disposable cameras, confetti parcels, folded origami, wedding cake toppers, and packed it all in the suitcase. We also brought sparklers, straws and other miscellaneous decorations.
In France, we completed our arts and craft by doing the big stuff. We bought cardboard and painted our own blackboards with messages, bought large picture frames for our seating plans, and created a wedding gift box. Invitations we printed in Australia, and posted them to Europe. You can send them individually, or send them as a parcel to family in France for further distribution (either way it’s fairly expensive).
Another huge advantage of having a wedding package organised through the reception venue is that they’re often willing to set up your decorations personally – no need to drop by the day before when you’re likely to be the most stressed.
Finding a florist, like the makeup artist and stylist (see below), was another fairly difficult thing to arrange, because we found it nearly impossible to find a directory of florists local to our wedding venue, and when we did, they either had very poorly designed websites, or didn’t respond to our emails. In addition, it seemed very hard to find a simple list or directory of florists in the city!
In the end, we asked the wedding venue itself to recommend a florist. They put us in touch with one which they work with frequently. It ended up being one of the best things we did, because they knew exactly how best to decorate the venue, and communication was good between the shop and the restaurant manager.
Makeup and hair
Finding a makeup artist, and a stylist ended up being some of the hardest things to organise for us. Finding a directory of good makeup artists or stylists in Paris was very difficult, and we even visited the salon de mariage (a big wedding expo) in Paris and came away none the wiser. In the end, for both jobs, we decided to use a friend of a friend to do the makeup, and another friend for the hair. For these ‘it’s-who-you-know’ contractors, you may want to search hard through destination wedding blogs to try and turn up some recommended names.
Dresses and suits
Our clothes were easily organised from Australia. I bought my suit and simply carried it as carry-on all the way to France. Airline staff are happy to hang garments for you in the plane’s garment lockers. For our bridesmaids and groomsmen, we asked them to bring their own clothes across.
For Cindy’s wedding dress, she ordered it in Australia, and once it was ready, they simply shipped it over to France for us – for free.
As I mentioned before, our wedding venue included alcohol. With the package, it included cocktails, beer and champgane during the vin d’honneur, as well as one bottle of red and one of white per 3 people. Champagne would also be served during the cake cutting. Because we had a lot of heavy drinking Aussies and Belgians attending, that didn’t think that would be anywhere near enough alcohol to last the whole night. So we decided to buy a bit more. But, we over-catered; the champagne offered was more than enough (extra champagne we bought wasn’t even opened), and we only really needed a half dozen or so extra cases of beer.
On the big day
If everything as above has gone smoothly, then there’s almost nothing that you need to worry about on the big day. Just turn up to the mairie on time and they’ll do the rest.
Getting married in France doesn’t give you or your partner French citizenship, even if one partner is a citizen. For more details, it is worth enquiring at the embassy.
Have you had a wedding in France? Are you planning on having one soon? What questions do you have about the process?
Please let me know in comments!