Getting Married in Costa Rica
We stood beside a small pond, surrounded by family and friends. The sky was blue, the breeze gentle, and everyone was smiling. We said our “I do’s” and then posed for wedding photos beside a roaring waterfall. It was a beautiful ceremony and a memorable afternoon.
The road to this perfect Costa Rica wedding was paved with paperwork since I am an American. Some people told us that we could skip the hassle and just present my passport, but our lawyer explained that this was not a good idea. In recent years, Immigration has cracked down on marriages of convenience – getting married for the sake of residency – and so it’s best to do everything by the letter of the law. The process had taken about four months, though we could have expedited it down to roughly two. This is what we had to present:
Emma, U.S. citizen
1) A passport valid for at least six months.
2) A certified and authenticated copy of my birth certificate.
3) A certified and authenticated copy of my criminal record.
4) An Affidavit of Single Status OR a certified and authenticated divorce certificate OR a certified and authenticated copy of my previous spouse’s death certificate.
Each of the three legal documents – birth certificate, criminal record, and affidavit of single status – had to be originals (not copies) issued by the state ($10-$20 each). Additionally, they had to be authenticated by the same state ($10-$15 each) and then authenticated by the Costa Rican consulate ($40 each). Once the papers arrived in Costa Rica, they had to be translated (about 10¢ per word). Finally, we spent an afternoon at the Foreign Ministry in San Jose to legalize each document (less than $1 each).
Emma’s Husband, a Costa Rican
1) A Costa Rican ID card
2) A Certificado de Solteria, which is a certificate verifying single status, issued by the Registro Civil
After our paperwork was translated and legalized, we handed it over to our lawyer. In most cases, the lawyer must publish an official marriage notice in La Gaceta, Costa Rica’s legal newspaper. This announcement is the legal version of “speak now or forever hold your peace” – if anyone objects to your union, they may respond to La Gaceta’s announcement. However, a lawyer may waive this requirement if he or she knows the couple, which is what happened in our case.
By law, only a lawyer or a priest can marry you and a lawyer must accompany religious figures not ordained by the Catholic Church. Local lawyers charge $60-$100 to perform the marriage ceremony and file the necessary paperwork; English-speaking lawyers who cater to an international clientele may charge up to $500. (If you speak even passable Spanish, I recommend a local lawyer!) The civil ceremony is short and sweet, and the couple speaks only a few words before becoming husband and wife. Then it’s time to celebrate!
Our marriage is valid in Costa Rica. To be legally recognized in the United States, we must have our marriage certificate translated into English, authenticated by the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, notarized, and finally certified and signed by the U.S. Embassy’s Consulate.