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Last updated: August 2021

Preparing for marriage in France is a complicated process, even if you’re French. As an American, there were a few extra steps. Knowing that it was my intention to get married ASAP, I had many friends ask me on the regular if I had secured a wedding date yet. Read on to find out why it just isn’t that simple.

Paris town hall 11th arrondissement
La mairie – Town Hall

Civil Ceremony at Town Hall

First off, it is important to note that the only marriage that is recognized in France is the marriage performed at town hall. You can only get married at the town hall where you or your future spouse lives, or where your parents live. It is possible to have a religious ceremony immediately following the town hall ceremony, and some couples opt to do this.

To get started, some information is given online about the paperwork needed for a French wedding. The US Embassy in Paris also has General Guidelines for Marriage and Civil Partnerships (PACS) in France, which further clarifies the specific case of an American getting married in France. However, in true French administrative fashion, not everything is listed online, and it is absolutely necessary to go to the town hall to inquire in person. We called ahead but were told that we did not need an appointment for this initial meeting at our Paris town hall.

Dossier de Mariage

Small towns might only have one receptionist in their town hall, while large towns and cities will have a marriage office. In the bureau de mariage, they will give you a dossier de marriage with a handy checklist indicating all of the required paperwork pertaining to your situation. In most cases, someone will sit down with you, explain all the paperwork, and answer any questions that you have regarding acceptable paperwork as a foreigner. They should also be able to give you an idea of the timeline for processing paperwork and when the soonest possible wedding dates might be for that specific town hall. 

Side note: There was a single agenda/notebook into which every wedding date was literally pencilled in. What century are we in??

His Paperwork, as a Frenchman:

  • Information sheet, provided by town hall (address, parents’ info, etc)
  • Proof of identification (passport) & photocopy
  • Birth certificate, dated within three months
  • 2 proofs of address: pay stub and renter’s insurance (a utilities bill would have also worked)

My Paperwork, as an American:

  • Information sheet, provided by town hall (address, parents’ info, etc)
  • Proof of identification (passport) & photocopy
  • Birth certificate, dated within six months, with apostille and translated into French, by a traducteur assermenté (certified translator). I got the birth certificate and apostille ahead of time while I was still in the United States and got the translation done in Paris.
    •  UPDATE (July 2020): If your country of birth never changes or updates its birth certificates, there is no time limit. (For reference: 1. Constituer le dossier de mariage, 2. Durée de validité d’un acte d’état civil, and 3. Legal Code)
    • Your town hall might insist upon a recent birth certificate despite these references. Had I known about this rule when preparing my file, I still would have supplied a new birth certificate if possible to avoid any delay or problem. I’ve provided these links as a tool in case you’re in a tight spot but I wouldn’t count on them as a guarantee. (If you’ve been able to get married using an “old” birth certificate, please let me know in the comments below. Your story might help someone!)
  • 2 proofs of address: attestation d’hébergement  – sworn statement by Jonathan saying he is housing me (this paper was provided by the town hall) and renter’s insurance. It would also work to prove residence in your home country, but we thought this would be easier.
  • Attestation tenant lieu de certificat de coutume et de célibat (see below)

Other Paperwork:

  • Witness information sheet (profession, contact info, etc.)
    • At least 2 witnesses are required, and 4 is the max
    • Copies of their proofs of identification (passport)
  • Contrat de mariage: If you are planning to have a prenuptial agreement, the notary’s certificate must be filed with your marriage paperwork, at least a couple weeks before the wedding. 
  • If you are not fluent in French, an interpreter will need to be present for the ceremony. 
    • It is up to the town hall to decide if your level of French is adequate, and they’ll be making this informal decision during your meeting(s) to go over the paperwork. While some town halls are more strict than others, you certainly don’t have to have a perfect command of the language. Make sure you engage during the meeting and make an effort to answer questions instead of defaulting to your partner.
  • If you have been married previously, or have children, further documentation will be needed.

Attestation tenant lieu de certificat de coutume et de célibat

Establishing Your Marital Status

Since polygamy is illegal in France, this document is a sworn statement saying that you are free to enter the contract of marriage. You can get this notarized at the US Embassy in Paris (4 Avenue Gabriel) for $50. Save time by printing and filling out the form (new form as of July 2020) ahead of time. Just don’t sign the bottom until you are in front of the notary.

UPDATE (July 2020): As of April 25, 2020, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates are no longer notarizing these forms. The new form can be signed without a notary present. If your town hall insists upon a notarized version, you can still schedule an appointment to have that done at the U.S. Embassy in Paris or the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille or Strasbourg.

When the notary looked over my form, she said it was great except I should have written out Connecticut instead of using the abbreviation—CT. Thankfully, she had forms readily available, and I filled out a new one right in front of her. It felt silly to have to do a completely new form for such a little thing, but I’m glad there was no problem in getting a new form. 

Consulate Appointment

You have to schedule an appointment at the embassy for notarial services. When I scheduled my appointment mid-August, the first availability was about four weeks away. I was glad to have checked on this before leaving the United States. I am unsure whether the town hall would accept a similar document from a public notary outside of the American consulates in France.

off to the side of the US Embassy in Paris
Side view of the US Embassy in Paris.

You are advised to arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment time, and this is no joke! It took me a full 20 minutes to pass through security. They call people, from the sidewalk, to go through security based on appointment times. You have to completely turn off your cell phone, and they will hold it for you while you are inside the building. No electronics bigger than a cell phone are allowed to enter the premises. They won’t let you go through the checkpoint with your laptop. I saw a few people with laptops turned away and directed down the street, but they returned 5-10 minutes later with no laptop. I wasn’t close enough to hear, but maybe there’s a nearby museum or shop that is willing to stow larger electronics? I’d just as well leave them at home.

American Efficiency… Yea, Right.

As an American citizen, I did get to bypass one of the lines of waiting people. Yay, perks! Inside, I was directed to find a seat after being given a ticketed number. Another perk! Above, screens indicated the number being helped and at which window. I had to wait quite a while before I was called up. She checked my document and then directed me to a different window to pay and come back with my receipt. At the cashier, they ask for identification when paying with a credit card. The funny thing is, the first person had my passport! Luckily, I carry around my driver’s license, but I saw some people of French nationality struggle with this. In France, a driver’s license is not considered a proof of identification, so it is not obvious to pull this out when asked for ID.

There was no line at the cashier, so I was able to pay and immediately go back to the first window. She took my receipt and asked me to sit back down and wait for my name to be called. More waiting. When my name was called, I swore that my statement was true, she notarized the document, I signed it, and then I left. Getting back my personal effects at the end was quick and easy with a plastic lanyard. The total time, including security, was about an hour and fifteen minutes.  A bit longer than one might hope for, but if you’ve ever flown to or from JFK airport, you know that Americans do not excel in efficiency.

Setting the Wedding Date

Rendez-vous Number Two

We made an appointment and handed in our dossier de mariage at the beginning of October. “Handed in” is a very generous way of saying we sat down for another long meeting at the bureau de mariage. She went over all of our paperwork with us to verify that it was acceptable. When I say that she “went over all of our paperwork”, what I really mean is that she recopied all of the information onto another sheet of paper, by hand.

And yet, despite her thoroughly reading and rewriting all the information, as well as, mispronouncing many of the American names, our file would still need to be validated and approved. I’m not sure how much more validation could possibly take place, but it might have something to do with the straight pins she used to attach our documents to the file folder. Watching her accomplish that was, in and of itself, quite the cultural experience.

PRO TIP: They will want to keep your precious apostilled and translated original birth certificate. Tell them how much it cost you to get it with all those bells and whistles, and you may very well shock them into accepting a photocopy. My total cost was about $140 (birth certificate from town in Connecticut = $20, apostille from CT = $40, translation in Paris = $80) It costs nothing for a French person to obtain a birth certificate, so this is generally news to them.

Call Back in Three to Five Weeks!

At the conclusion of the meeting, we thought that we would be able to select a wedding date. Nope! Although, we did get an update on which weekends were no longer available. She told us it would take about three to five weeks for our file to be checked and approved. Furthermore, in order to know whether it had been approved or not, we would need to call the town hall.

As we had opted for a contrat de mariage, we decided we would go back to the town hall about a week and a half after submitting our file in order to submit the notary’s certificate. In this way, we hoped we would be able to check in on our paperwork and maybe give it a little nudge. SUCCESS. The man behind the counter asked if we had a wedding date yet. He then pulled out our file, briefly scanned our paperwork, and asked us when we would like to be married. And just like that, our date was secured. 


Did this guide help you? Say thanks with a cup of coffee!


Publication des bans

France has, in my opinion, an archaic tradition of publicly announcing future marriages. So, just in case someone wants to object, they have a full 10 days to do so during which the announcement is posted at the entrance to the town hall. After the paperwork is approved, the bans are automatically put up. The marriage cannot be performed until the bans have been posted for at least 10 days.

French wedding banns displayed in town hall

After securing our wedding date, we decided to look for our wedding announcement. We found the bulletin board tucked away in the corner of the town hall entrance. Turns out our paperwork was approved a mere two days after turning it in. Go figure!

Next stop: Civil Ceremony!

French wedding banns displayed in town hall
Marrying French: Preparing for Marriage in France as an American
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17 thoughts on “Marrying French: Preparing for Marriage in France as an American

  • October 30, 2019 at 7:15 am
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    😀🥐👍!

    Reply
    • October 30, 2019 at 7:51 am
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      I feel very lucky that witnesses are not required to be nor speak French. 💛

      Reply
  • November 9, 2020 at 11:11 am
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    Hi,

    I’m french and wanna marry a Californian man. He still lives in LA and was wondering if he had to use his current adress or mine to create the ”dossier de mariage”. I know that he can come for 3 months max and then would have to come back to the US to apply for a family visa. Thanks in advance for your reply ☺️

    Reply
    • November 9, 2020 at 4:02 pm
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      Bonjour Elodie!

      Congratulations on your upcoming plans! When we had our initial meeting at the town hall to obtain our “dossier de mariage” and instructions, we asked about the address. They told us that it would not matter which address that I (as the American) put down. Both you and your partner will need to provide documentation proving your address. You might want to ask what documents the town hall will accept from an American, and if those “justificatifs de domicile” need to be translated (as is often the case). In the end, we decided to provide all documentation at the French address, because we knew that they would be more easily accepted here in France.

      I hope this helps!

      Best,
      Ellen

      Reply
  • April 13, 2021 at 8:50 am
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    Hello, thanks for the helpful article.
    I am an American and I’d like to marry my French partner. We are currently in France and have PACS, but we want to ‘upgrade’ our PACS to marriage so that my French partner can enter the US and we can live together there. We would like to do the marriage in France since we are both here, but then get it recognized in the US. How did you get it recognized in the US?

    Thanks,
    Mae

    Reply
    • April 13, 2021 at 11:36 am
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      Hi Mae,

      I’m glad my blog has been helpful to you.

      As a resident of France, there is nothing that I need to do to declare my marriage to US authorities. If the case arose that I needed to prove that my husband and I are married while we are traveling in the United States, we could simply show our marriage certificate and it would be recognized as a legal marriage.

      If you were getting married in the US, then you could get the marriage recognized in France. There is a procedure for that. To be clear, French people getting married abroad should declare their wedding to French authorities in order to get their livret de famille and be officially on the record, but Americans getting married abroad do not have a similar procedure. Generally speaking, unless the foreign marriage breaks US law, the marriage will be considered valid on US soil.

      If you are planning on getting a visa/green card for your future spouse, you will need to see what further documentation is required. (I do not have personal experience with this.) For example, you might want to get an apostille and translation of your marriage certificate. See more information here under: How can I authenticate a French marriage certificate? https://fr.usembassy.gov/general-guidelines-for-marriage-and-civil-partnerships-pacs-in-france/

      Best of luck to you and congrats on your upcoming marriage!

      Ellen

      Reply
  • June 3, 2021 at 7:43 am
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    Thanks so much for the information, it’s very helpful. I’ve been lost trying to figure out the translator for my documents. I don’t really speak French and my fiancé is no help, It’s been so hard navigating this process.

    Reply
    • June 5, 2021 at 12:05 pm
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      Hi Priya,
      So glad my post has been helpful to you. It’s certainly a lot to sort through. Good luck with everything!
      Ellen

      Reply
  • July 28, 2021 at 4:42 am
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    Hi Ellen,

    Thank you very much for your article which is extremely helpful ! I am French and my partner is from Texas. He’s still living there at the moment, and we are planning to get married in France, but his French visa will be a short term one / touristic one… Our plan is that, hopefully, the wedding will allow him to get the long term visa (for us to finally be reunited for good !). Do you know if his touristic visa might be a problem to actually get married here in France with me ? All these different steps and documents seem to be time consuming and, on a short term visa, I don’t know if it’s realistically achievable…

    Thanks again !

    Manon

    Reply
    • August 1, 2021 at 8:29 am
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      Hi Manon,

      I’m so glad that you’ve found this post to be helpful 🙂

      There is no requirement for a foreigner to have a visa when getting married in France. They’re going to be looking for ties to France through one of the partners (that’ll be you in this case!) via your established residence and/or the residence of your parents. And this is to determine where you are allowed to get married.

      I cannot definitively tell you how long this process will take from start to finish because each town hall has their own processing times. Ahead of your partner arriving, you can kick off the process by going to the town hall yourself to get the dossier de mariage and ask them how far out they’re currently scheduling marriages.

      In our case, I arrived at the beginning of September 2019 and we got married mid-November in Paris. Keep in mind that this was pre-Covid and it’s possible that some town halls are still working through a backlog at this time.

      Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

      Best,
      Ellen

      Reply
  • August 2, 2021 at 9:49 am
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    Hi Ellen! Thanks so much for providing this info and the updates. The birth certificate was really holding us back (there’s a 12 week wait at the county office of my birthplace due to covid, not to mention the wait for the apostille then getting it translated), so being able to use my “old” copy will be a huge help!!! We just called our mairie and they said I still need a new one… but this July 2020 birth certificate requirement change should be valid in all of France, right? Not just certain regions??

    Reply
    • August 3, 2021 at 1:05 pm
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      Hi Amber,

      I’ve just looked up the French legal code for you and added a link to it in the paperwork section above. The last line indicates that there is no time limit on birth certificates coming from countries that do not update their birth certificates. This civil code is specifically in reference to putting together the dossier de mariage.

      You might notice that this version of the law has been in place since 2016. It wasn’t reflected on the government website I linked above until 2020. As you can see, it takes a while for things to trickle down and actually get put into effect. It does not surprise me that you are running into some pushback from your town hall. I hope this legal code might help you.

      Are you American? I’m not sure if your old birth certificate is already apostilled or not, but keep in mind that not all birth certificates qualify for an apostille. Some States have time limits set for how old a birth certificate can be.

      Best of luck with putting together your file and congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

      Ellen

      Reply
      • August 4, 2021 at 2:33 pm
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        Hey Ellen! Thanks for looking up the legal code! You are awesome 🙂
        Yes, I am American. My old birth certificate is already apostilled and translated, as we needed it to get PACS’d last year. My bf went to the mairie this morning to discuss the document requirements and again they insisted I get a new birth certificate and that “the internet is not reliable” :/ We will try to speak to someone else and bring a printed page of the legal code you linked to get them to understand it’s a real law.. It’s crazy that it was not reflected online until 4 years after it changed! Anyway, I’ll keep you posted… thank you again!

        Reply
        • August 5, 2021 at 6:29 am
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          Happy to help… I just hope that it actually does help you!

          When we got married in 2019, they also insisted that I have a birth certificate dated less than 6 months. At the time, I was just referencing the Service Public website so I didn’t know about the civil code and I didn’t even attempt to push back. It’s incredibly frustrating that they’re insisting on a new birth certificate when our certificates never change!

          I’ve now linked 3 websites total up above: 2 different website pages from Service Public in addition to the Civil Code. The Service Public website is literally “le site officiel de l’administration française,” but technically the town hall does have a point—It’s not always reliable because it’s usually lagging behind the latest laws 😅 When looking at the Légifrance/Civil Code website, you can look at previous versions of the law. (Right below the code, click “versions” and then “comparer.”) Maybe it would sooth them to know that they were right at one point in time but that the law has changed.

          Sending you good vibes and wishing you good luck. Please do give an update when you have the chance.

          Reply
  • August 11, 2021 at 2:51 pm
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    Hi Ellen,

    I have found your blog to be so very helpful! Thank you for providing this public service.

    I have a question about getting my birth certificate translated from English (American) to French for my upcoming wedding in France. Since I’m still in the United States, can I pursue getting my birth certificate translated before I arrive in France later this year? I’m trying to do as much as possible ahead of time.

    Also, can you explain how the translation process works? Did you get several quotes and choose the best value (price and turnaround time?) How did you pay for the translation services (credit card, PayPay, other)? Did the translater deliver to you an electronic copy or a printed copy of the translation? Or both?

    Any other insights about that process would be wonderful to learn.

    Best wishes and thanks again!

    Sam

    Reply
    • August 14, 2021 at 7:49 am
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      Hi Sam,

      I’m glad to hear that you’ve found my blog and experiences to be helpful to you.

      There is a range of prices, turnaround times, payment methods, and delivery methods, all dependent on the translator you select. You can shop around and get free quotes to see what works best for you.

      The translation is generally a very fast process especially since birth certificates are such common documents to be translated. You can probably expect a turnaround time of one week or less especially if you drop off and pick up your documents. Keep in mind that your town hall might want to see that the original document is the one that was translated. It could be a good idea to give the original to the translator so they can certify and attest to it being an original document instead of a photocopy.

      Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

      Best,
      Ellen

      Reply

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