Here’s a high-level “how to elope to Scotland” guide for foreigners looking to get married in Scotland. From required documents and residency requirements to what to expect.
*NOTE: This is NOT a guide for UK Citizens.
**UPDATE**As of 2014, same-sex marriage is legal in Scotland.
How we got married in Scotland.
If you live outside of Europe, eloping to Europe to get married in Scotland is easier than you think.
You just need to know what to do and when to do it.
You also need to be a little flexible because eloping to another country means there are many unknowns, and a lot of things may be out of your control.
I should know.
In 2008, Blake and I eloped to Scotland with the kids.
If you’re interested in getting married in Scotland, or you’re just curious how and why we did it, keep reading.
Keep in mind, when we eloped, we had a civil ceremony with no guests. It was just the three kids and us.
Eloping with the kids to another country.
When Blake and I decided to get married, we agreed that we didn’t want a big wedding.
This was the second marriage for both of us, but more importantly, we had children to consider.
Blake and I had a 12-month-old daughter, and I had two young sons from a previous marriage.
The last thing we wanted to do was spend our precious time and money on a big wedding that would last a few hours.
We considered a small local civil ceremony, but then I thought, why not elope as a family and get married abroad?
The idea of having a private destination wedding and honeymoon as one big happy family appealed to our travel itch.
The other thing that was appealing was the cost of eloping.
We could fly our entire family to Europe for 30 days, get married and have our honeymoon for about the same cost as having a catered wedding with guests.
What could go wrong?
We tried to elope to Paris first, but…
We originally wanted to get married and honeymoon in Paris. We even planned to have our wedding on the 14th of July, France’s national day, also known as Bastille day.
Unfortunately, our dream of a Parisian elopement was squashed when I discovered France had a 30-day residency rule immediately before a civil ceremony can take place.
Essentially, we had to physically be in France for 30 days prior to our marriage.
I did the math, and we probably could have pulled it off, but it meant we had to get married on day 31 then fly out the next day.
We weren’t living in France at the time, and staying in France for more than 30 days wasn’t possible for reasons I won’t get into.
I didn’t give up on my dream to elope and have a destination wedding in Europe, followed by a honeymoon in Paris. I kept researching, and then I discovered Scotland had no residency requirements.
And the rest is history.
Why we honeymooned in Paris before our wedding in Scotland
Blake and I are flexible people. We pretty much threw out the book of wedding rules and did everything backwards. Instead of getting married first, we had our honeymoon first.
We spent three weeks in Paris in a fantastic Parisian apartment with high vaulted ceilings. The day before we were supposed to get married, we flew to Edinburgh and married on the 14th of July. Then we spent one whole week exploring the city of Edinburgh, visited the incredible Edinburgh Castle and enjoyed Haggis for breakfast.
We flew home one week later.
The reason we honeymooned in Paris first before marrying was simply due to logistics and timing.
Getting the timing just right with the boy’s school schedule, our work schedule and finding an apartment available for our specific dates was tricky. So, we just kind of went with the flow.
The only constraint was that I wanted to get married on the 14th of July, which we did.
Now every year, on France’s national day, we pretend the fireworks are in celebration of our wedding anniversary.
The hardest part of eloping to another country
The hardest part of eloping to another country was timing everything. Keep in mind; we had no guests, no planned venue, nothing. I can’t even imagine how much more difficult it would have been to plan a reception from afar.
Here are just some of the things we had to do and time just right.
- Choose a budget and stick to it. For us, it was based on what an actual wedding would cost.
- Select a destination & wedding venue: This was easy; we wanted a civil ceremony at the local Edinburgh registrar’s office.
- Ensure our passports were up to date
- Check the laws: Make sure our marriage would be legal.
- Choose a date: that suited our work and the kid’s school schedule, and the weather.
- Start gathering our documents, apply for a marriage visa, and hope that everything arrives in time to send off to the registrar’s office.
- Send all of our documents to the registrar’s office in Edinburgh to give notice of our intent to marry, which you can only do three months in advance.
- Make travel arrangements:
- Find accommodations within our budget on the dates we needed.
- Plan the ceremony: We had none. We exchanged vows and went to dinner with the kids. Then we were on vacation.
- Get ready in our hotel room and get the kids ready too.
My only regret or what I would do differently
A destination wedding may not be for everyone, and eloping with the kids to have a destination wedding in another country may not sound very romantic. However, it was and still is one of the most memorable times in my life. I’m so happy the kids were there to experience it with us.
My biggest regret is that we didn’t hire a photographer. The few photos we took were taken by either myself, my husband or my son, which is why most of our photos are missing one person.
My second regret is not exactly a regret, but I’ve often wondered if I should have hired a wedding planner to help with some aspects of our elopement. It would have taken some of the pressure off us, but then again, Blake and I are pretty spontaneous people. We like to do things ourselves and fly by the seat of our pants.
What are the pros and cons of having a destination wedding and eloping to another country like Scotland?
The pros and cons of eloping and getting married in another country will depend on your circumstances, your taste, whether you invite friends and family, your budget and more.
Here are some of the pros and cons that may influence your decision to elope to another country.
The Pros of eloping and getting married in Scotland:
- You don’t have the pressure of a big wedding.
- Saves you money: You don’t have to pay for food, a giant cake, a band, renting the hall, table decorations etc.
- You can have your honeymoon in the same country you’re getting married or quickly and inexpensively fly to another European country as we did.
- You get to travel.
- You already speak English, so communication won’t be a problem.
- It’s romantic
- You’ll have great stories to tell your family, friends and kids.
- If you’re of Scottish origin, you can explore your heritage.
- There are no rules: You can throw the wedding rule book out the window.
- Eloping is intimate and Simple: No pleasing guests. You just show up at the courthouse.
- Privacy: No third cousins and their plus one.
- You can always celebrate with family and friends when you return from your honeymoon.
- The cost of a destination wedding is still well below what the average catered wedding would cost.
The Cons of getting married in Scotland (or abroad):
- You’re close friends and family may not be able to attend. (This could be a pro or a con, depending on how you look at it)
- You probably won’t get a bunch of wedding presents.
- Breaking the news to those closest to you may be tricky.
- Some people may get upset that you chose to elope and have a destination wedding.
- Your friends will be jealous.
- There is more paperwork and bureaucratic red tape than a typical wedding, such as applying for visas.
- Eloping thousands of miles away from home often means you won’t be able to see the venue or destination before the wedding.
- If you invite guests and plan to have a reception, you’ll probably have to hire a wedding planner that you may not be able to meet in person beforehand.
FAQ: General Questions
Q: Can anyone get married in Scotland?
A: Yes, two people from any country, regardless of sexual orientation or where they live, can get married in Scotland so long as you’re not breaking any laws by getting married. No polygamy, no forced marriages and no child brides etc.
Q: What are the basic requirements for getting married in Scotland?
A: The three basic requirements are
- You are both 16 on the day of your marriage.
- You are not already married.
- The marriage needs to be legal in your home country. (Americans and Canadians, you’re covered here, and you don’t even need to register it once you return home)
Q: Are there any residency requirements?
A: No, there are no residence requirements to get married in Scotland.
Q: Are there any special immigration rules or visa requirements?
A: You may need a visa or a permit, depending on where you’re from and who you’re marrying. Assuming you’re both non-Europeans, who want to get married as tourists, you will need to apply for a marriage visa.
Blake and I had to get a biometric visa and be fingerprinted. Do this in advance. It took us weeks to get an appointment.
Q: Can I have a religious ceremony or a civil one?
A: You can have a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony from any belief system. Blake and I opted for a civil ceremony.
Q: Can I get Married anywhere within Scotland?
A: For the most part, yes, you can get married anywhere in Scotland, but there are specific requirements, depending on whether you have a religious ceremony or a civil one.
Religious Ceremonies: You can get married in a castle, on a boat, in a park or anywhere you can think of, provided you can arrange for it with a minister, clergyman, pastor, priest or other person entitled to do so.
Civil Ceremonies: You have three choices.
- You can get married in the registrar’s office, which is kind of like a courthouse or city hall. This is where Blake and I got married in Edinburgh.
- Choose one of the pre-approved places in your registrar’s area. (Check at the Marriage/Civil Partnership section for the list of approved places. Here is the link http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk)
- For a fee, you can have a civil ceremony at a place not on the approved list, like in a castle.
Q: How much does it cost to get married in Scotland?
A: Prices may vary by registrars’ office, but to give you a ballpark figure, you’ll pay around £30 per person and £10 for an extract marriage certificate. So two people having a civil ceremony could get married for a total of £70.
Q: What Documents and paperwork do I need to get married in Scotland?
Please check with the nearest embassy since this list may be incomplete, and rules are subject to change.
A: The first thing you need to do is to gather all the required documents and paperwork. I recommend starting at least three months in advance. Once you have your documents, you’ll need to mail them to the registrar’s office.
- Two “marriage Notice forms” or M-10 form: One for each of you. You can download the M-10 form from the registrar’s office.
- Birth Certificates for both of you. They must be original.
- Divorce Decree: If you were married before, you must provide a divorce decree or a death certificate if that person is deceased. (They must be certified)
- “Certificate of no impediment” (CONI): Contact your home country’s civil authority to obtain this. It is to prove that you are free to marry. Only foreigners need to do this step. Without it, you will not be able to get married in Scotland. The only exception is if you have lived in the UK for two years as a resident.
- Valid Passports to prove your nationality.
- Visa: Even if you do not need a visa to enter the UK like Americans and Canadians, you may need to get a special visa that allows foreigners to marry in Scotland. We had to get a biometric visa and some fingerprints.
- English translations: All documents must be in English, so plan accordingly to allow enough time to get a certified translation along with your original documents if they are not in English.
The link below has all the information, including the M-10 Form I mentioned above.
Q: When do I contact the registrar’s office to give notice that I want to marry and mail my documents?
A: You must give the district registrar’s office in the area you plan to marry 28 days’ notice before the marriage date but no earlier than three months. The registrar takes this information and makes the details of your intention to marry available to the public.
Don’t wait until you’ve collected all the necessary documents. Call them as soon as you can to book a date. Scotland is a very popular place to get married. Then when you have all your documents, mail them to the registrar’s office.
Q: What if we don’t have any witnesses?
A: Blake and I didn’t have any witnesses, so we waited out front of the registrar, hoping some passer-by would agree to help us out. We lucked out because another couple was registering to get married and offered to be our witnesses. Phew! Apparently, this type of thing happens all the time.
Whether you want to elope with the kids or just have an intimate wedding for two, If you love to travel and you’re feeling a little adventurous, Scotland might make the perfect place to exchange your wedding vows.