Getting Married in Costa Rica
What a delicious thought! Tropical! Romantic! About a zillion cool things to do before and after the wedding for both the newlyweds and their guests. Memories of a wedding last forever. As a matter of fact I just got married last year (2005)! The wedding was performed in our home by my attorney, Jose Carter.
OK, so what's the deal? What do you need to do? Here are the details. I will break this down as to residency as that is the controlling factor
Bride and groom are NOT citizens of Costa Rica
If you are NOT Costa Rican citizens, things are pretty easy!
- You both MUST have a passports valid for at least six months.
- You will need to contract with a local attorney and notary to marry you. In Costa Rica, notary is not as in the USA, eg a person who only validates signatures. Here, a notary wields enormous legal power and is empowered to make entries directly to a registry and then register documents. While all notaries are attorneys, not all attorneys are notaries!
Note: There are documents that must be prepared in advance of the wedding. These need to be completed by a Costa Rica attorney and notary. Do not fly into the country with your wedding party and expect to be married that night. Many hotels and wedding planners here can provide the right contacts.
One person Is a Costa Rican citizenand the other is NOT
If you are marrying a Costa Rican citizen as I was, your future (Costa Rican) spouse will require the following documents:
- Their Costa Rican identity card - called a "cÚdula"
- A Certificate of Civil Status issued by the Civil Registry. This document validates they are single.
If your future spouse has been married before (in Costa Rica), he will require these additional documents:
- A copy of the divorce paperwork certified and bearing "timbres" or stamps, or
- A copy of the previous spouse's death certificate bearing "timbres" or stamps and
- A document certifying his civil status sworn before the notary
If your future spouse is a Costa Rican female and has been divorced or is widowed, she can remarry, BUT she must wait three hundred days after the official issuance date of the divorce decree or publication of her former spouse's death certificate. Note this is NOT from the date of death.
The above requirement can be waived if the future wife can prove that she is not pregnant before the marriage ceremony by taking a pregnancy test administered at the Forensic Medicine Office in San Joaquin de Flores in Heredia. If the pregnancy test is negative, marriage can occur immediately.
To make the marriage official, you will need two "non relative" witnesses to your wedding. They must have the following documents: For non-Costa Rican citizens: a passport valid for at least six months. For Costa Rican citizens: their cÚdulas.
A lawyer (notary) or judge in Costa Rica can perform the civil ceremony and the marriage is binding when the document has been registered with the Registro Civil (Civil Registry).
NOTE: Most Catholic priests will NOT perform a civil ceremony.
Marriages legally performed and valid in Costa Rica are also legally valid in other countries. Your marriage certificate will be issued by the Registro Civil about one to three months after it has been registered by your attorney.
Your marriage will be recognized in the U.S. or Canada after you or the lawyer who performed the ceremony submits appropriate certifications to the U.S. or Canadian Embassies in Costa Rica.
To be legally recognized in the U.S. or Canada., your marriage certificate must be:
- Translated into English by an Official Translator accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Relations
- Authenticated by the Ministry of Foreign Relations.
- Notarized by a Notary (normally your lawyer).
- Certified and signed by your embassy's Consular Section.
Catholic Weddings (Ugh!)
If you wish to be married in a Catholic Church in Costa Rica, there are about 10 tons of things you must do to qualify. If you have been married before and are divorced, things REALLY get nutty. My wife is Catholic and we tried! We just gave up as the wedding would have been delayed about a year just getting the paperwork and taking the various classes.
It is possible that pre-marital classes taken in another country could be transferred. I would suggest contacting the Church here at least six months before to find out what things you must do to qualify.
If possible, and if you are lucky enough to have a Spanish speaking priest in your local church, have him contact the archdiocese in San JosÚ. Start this process very early.