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Civil versus Symbolic Ceremony in Portugal: Pros and Cons

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

It is possible to marry legally in Portugal without being a resident of this country, but it is not a service we often provide for several reasons.

In this article, we will explain what exactly a civil ceremony in Portugal looks like, how you can apply to it and the reason why we advise our couples against having Civil Ceremony in Portugal.

Bride and Groom standing in front of the Officiant exchanging their vows during a civil ceremony

What does a civil ceremony in Portugal look like?

First of all, it is a very short and simple ceremony, which only takes about 10-15 minutes. Your registrar will read out the data of your wedding contract in Portuguese. If you don't speak or understand Portuguese, a translator is mandatory.

The registrar will read out the data of your application for the wedding, followed by the legal explanation of the marriage. The Portuguese law doesn't require witnesses unless the registrar decides differently.

Your marriage will be registered under Portuguese law. This means that, back in your country of residence, you will have to register your marriage in order to update your marital status and to have your marriage recognised in your home country as well.

How to apply for a civil ceremony in Portugal?

We strongly advise applying for a civil ceremony with the help of a Portuguese lawyer.

If you are an EU citizen, special EU documents exist, so no further official translation should be required. However, please bear in mind that Portugal' remains pretty notorious for its bureaucracy, so it does depend on the officer who will treat your application whether further documentation will be required.

All documentation must be original, accompanied by official translations - translated by an agency verified by the Portuguese Consulate and endorsed with an Apostille stamp.

  • Copy of a valid passport

  • Long-form birth certificate: Issued within six months before your marriage date, unless your wedding takes place in the Azores, then the documents will need to be issued within three months before your marriage date;

  • Certificate of no Impediment: Stating that you are both free to marry and your marriage will be recognised once you get home. The certificate has a validation of three months from the date of issue;

  • Letter of Attorney: Issued by a lawyer or notary from your home country, stating that you both give authorization for legal representation in order to organise and prepare the Civil Ceremony in Portugal;

  • Divorce decree or death certificate: If this is not your first marriage, a document should be provided to prove the termination of previous marriages. Issued within six months before the date of marriage or within three months in case the Civil Ceremony will take place at the Azores;

  • Parental or Guardian consent: In case you and/or your partner are under the age of 18 years.

Why we don't offer a Civil Ceremony service?

Although we do understand the idea of getting officially married abroad, this idea turns out to be more romantic than the reality in fact is. Not only the paperwork may cause a little stress here and there (although we would absolutely make sure you would be in the professional hands of an excellent and reliable lawyer). More papers may be required throughout the process, depending on which officer will treat your application for a civil wedding in Portugal. Needless to say, this will increase the costs of the application.

The civil ceremony on its own is rather a quick, slightly boring and cold reading out load of the contract. We have seen registrars who didn't show the slightest emotion or even a smile while conducting the ceremony. There is not much room for personalisation, and therefore a civil ceremony hardly can't stand on its own, in our opinion.

A Symbolic Ceremony

We call the ceremony ´the heart of your wedding day or celebration´. An official and emotional moment in which you seal your love in front of your loved ones. A moment that shouldn't be rushed over, but deserves to be completely personalised with room for vows, perhaps some speeches, music, happy tears and laughter. This all can be met with a Symbolic Ceremony. Whether you will choose a wedding celebrant who will professionally design your ceremony to your wishes and ideas. Or whether a relative or special friend will create and conduct your ceremony.

If you are still doubting between a Civil Ceremony or a Symbolic Ceremony for your destination wedding in Portugal, the shortlist below with pros & cons may help you make the best choice for your ceremony.

Civil Ceremony

Symbolic Ceremony

+ You can get legally married in Portugal as non-residential

+ As formal or informal as you want it to be and fully tailored to your love story

+ Portugal allows same-sex marriage

+ Stress-free as no paperwork is involved

- Your marriage is legalised under Portuguese law, meaning that you have the register your marriage in the country where you reside

+ Make the ceremony as long or as short as you wish. We recommend somewhere between 15 and 40 minutes.

- Non-EU citizens may need to provide more documentation to apply for a legal marriage

+ Whereas a Civil Ceremony is always in Portuguese, a Symbolic Ceremony can be in your own language

- Additional costs (e.g. lawyer, official translator)

- The ceremony can be conducted by a dear friend or relative, but in case you prefer to have a professional wedding celebrant for your Symbolic Ceremony, you will need to include an additional cost for his or her fee.

- Formal and not personable

- Not legally binding

Conclusion: it is possible to get officially married in Portugal as a non-resident. The application process though, is not a straightforward process and it may require some extra paperwork, extra costs and an extra amount of patience to get it all properly organised. Yes, we would be perfectly capable of helping you with this. But the one thing that couples would do differently if they would do it all over again, is to opt for a Symbolic Ceremony only, rather than a Civil Ceremony.

Or as one of our Brides stated:

"If I had known that the Civil Ceremony would have been the most boring part of our

wedding day, I surely would have saved myself the hassle of the paperwork before and after. Although Marleen advised me well before against having a Civil Ceremony,

I am happy that at least I did take her advice on having a Symbolic Ceremony in addition.

It definitely saved the most important part of our wedding day."

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