Warning: super personal post alert! It’s been exactly one year since I eloped and got married in Gibraltar, so I thought on my first wedding anniversary I’d do a post all about it! Gibraltar is located on the very southern tip of Spain, and a United Kingdom territory. Gibraltar itself is worth visiting for a few days, if you’re in that area of Spain. And of course, the main thing to do is explore the Top of the Rock! Overall, it was really easy to get married there, and for anyone looking to elope in Europe, it’s a great option. I’m not an expert on this, so if you’re looking for the official civil marriage and civil partnership page for Gibraltar, it’s here.
So many people have asked, “Why Gibraltar?” The question has a bit of a complicated answer: first of all, as an American I didn’t need a visa to get married there (and Adam was obviously fine as a UK citizen). Secondly, there are no residency requirements, so we didn’t have to live there in order to get married. Thirdly, as Gibraltar is a territory of the United Kingdom, the official language is English, so all of our documents would be in English (which is very important, as paying for translation of documents like a marriage certificate is very expensive). And finally, it would be nice sunny weather, and we could fly there for cheap from England!
The major detractor for pretty much every other European country was that the documents wouldn’t be in English, they would be in the official language of the country—which would mean very expensive (and possibly time-consuming) red tape getting the marriage documents translated to English. So in narrowing down the countries in Europe (where we’d be in the spring) that had English as the official language, it was pretty much either the UK or Ireland. Since to get married in Ireland you needed to be a resident (or to be in Ireland 90 days in advance, for them to read the marriage banns), it was pretty much the UK.
But the downsides to getting married in the UK would be that I would need to apply for a separate marriage visa in order to register a marriage in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. And since I knew I would be applying for a different partner/settlement visa for the UK, I didn’t want to worry about doing more paperwork in a quick time crunch.
The great news is that Gibraltar is the perfect place to elope—it’s part of the UK (so everything is in English), but Americans don’t need a visa to get married there! Other nationalities might need a visa though, so check the immigration requirements here (and potentially send an email).
You will need several things in order to get married in Gibraltar: you’ll need your passport and birth certificate, and you’ll also need proof that you will be staying in Gibraltar for at least one night before or one night after the marriage ceremony (and all of these documents must be in English). While it’s cheaper to stay in the Spanish border town (La Linea de la Concepcion), you must stay overnight in Gibraltar in order to get married there. If you have been married before, or are a widow(er), you will need to provide additional documents. You will also need to be at the registry office in Gibraltar at least the day before the marriage ceremony before 10:30am in order to do some paperwork (more on that below), so make sure to take this into account when booking flights/accommodation.
You can get married at 12 approved venues (including several fancy hotels), or at the registry office, which is the most straightforward/cheapest option. Any ceremony that takes place outside of the registry office costs extra, as does any ceremony outside of the office working hours.
Making your booking is fairly easy! You will need to contact the registry office in Gibraltar during their opening hours to secure an appointment, either in person, or by phone, email, or mail. We made our booking just about 2 months ahead of our ceremony date, but it’s never too early to schedule something this important
When you make your booking, you will need to send copies of your documents (passport and birth certificate, etc.) which can be done over email. However you book your hotel, make sure you have a document proving that you’ll be staying in Gibraltar overnight—you’ll need to send this in with your documents. You will also have to send payment for the ceremony. If making your booking over email, you’ll send off a payment form with debit/credit card details as well.
In terms of money involved, it’s actually quite cheap to get married in Gibraltar! If you are getting married in Gibraltar (and you aren’t a resident), you’ll only need to pay £67.50 for the special license for marriage, and £40 for the ceremony and registration (if done at the registry office)—which is only £107.50 (~ USD $132). This is the money you’ll send in advance.
One thing to be aware of is that you will need two witnesses at your marriage ceremony. They don’t need to be related to you, or each other, they just need to speak and understand English, be able to sign their names, and be over 18! Since Adam and I were eloping, we picked up Alan and Brenda (an older British couple) off the street for our witnesses—they were waiting outside the registry office the day before, Adam asked if they were busy the next day, and it turns out their friends were getting married immediately after us! So they kindly agreed to come half an hour early and witness our wedding. It was a bit stressful but everything worked out in the end for us. You can also pay for witnesses from the registry office, but it’s quite expensive. Best of luck if you need to find witnesses!
Once you get to Gibraltar, it is very important to get an official letter from your hotel/accommodation stating that you’re staying there, and the specific dates of your stay. This was no problem at all at the Bristol Hotel, where Adam and I stayed (and bonus points since it was 2 minutes away from the registry office!). You’ll need this letter when you do paperwork at the registry! If you don’t have witnesses, start asking as soon as possible. Depending on the length of your stay in Gibraltar, this might be very leisurely. Since Adam and I were only there for less than 4 days, we felt a bit rushed with the stress and red tape of it all.
It is very important to do your paperwork at the registry office before your marriage ceremony. You will need to do this at least before 10:30am the day before the ceremony, at the absolute latest. This worked fine for us, as we got to the registry office bright and early when they opened (the day before the ceremony). You’ll need to present your original documents (passport, birth certificate, hotel/accommodation letter, etc.), and to fill out and sign an affidavit (stating that you’re single and free to marry) before a Commissioner of Oaths/a notary. The notary typically charges a fee for their services, which I’m pretty sure was £20 or £30 for both Adam and I.
When you get this paperwork done, you can also order and pay for marriage certificates (which are £3.50 each, plus £5 postage if sent outside of Gibraltar). Adam and I ordered 3 certificates, just to be extra sure we’d have the paperwork and backups. If you want to use the marriage certificates outside of Gibraltar, the UK, or the United States, you should probably get an apostille on the marriage certificate (basically a fancy stamp or post-it on the certificate saying that it’s legit and can be used in other countries)—which costs £15 per certificate.
With all the paperwork done, all you need left to do is show up to the marriage ceremony and enjoy the fun stuff—getting married!
In the year it’s been since I’ve gotten married, I’ve sometimes felt like I should regret mine and Adam’s decision to elope, to get married just us two, to not do the big fancy wedding.
But I’ve never actually regretted it.
Adam and I have never been a conventional couple. We did long distance for most of our relationship. We didn’t live in the same country, let alone the same state or city. We got together after traveling in Poland for a week, had our first date at Auschwitz, and said “I love you” for the first time the day before I left England at the end of my study abroad (when we didn’t know when—or if—we would ever see each other again). We missed birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Days, big life events, put up with so many shitty connections on Skype calls, and spent thousands of dollars on plane tickets to see one another when we could. So for me, it only made sense that our wedding would be unconventional as well.
There was no big proposal. We decided to get married over Skype. I wore a dress I bought at Primark for £5 (~$7). Our two random witnesses took all of our photos during the actual ceremony. We didn’t do rings. After we got married, we Skyped our families, then went to a bakery and bought a shit ton of cakes and pastries. We went to Catalan Beach and ate them all and drank champagne on the beach in the sun. For our wedding dinner, we went out to a great Indian restaurant and ate our body weight in curry.
For us, it just made sense. And in the last year looking back on it, I am so happy with the decision to elope. Neither of us wanted the big fuss. And our simple, non-traditional, European elopement was exactly perfect for us.
Adam and I have both been blessed with truly wonderful and supportive family members. We didn’t have the traditional type of wedding most people expect. And on top of that, we both wanted to keep it quiet for the first couple of months (until we were together in the same country for more than a few days at a time!), and we didn’t end up breaking the news about eloping—besides to immediate family—until August! Both of our families have been so great and welcoming and understanding in our decision to elope (and our decision to tell people in our own time) and do it “the Gib way.” A lot of them read this blog, so just saying it—we appreciate it SO much.
The great thing about marriage and getting married is that you get to do it however you want to!
Gibraltar was the perfect place to get married. It was easy to get married as a non-resident, all our documents were in English, and the weather was fantastic. I sincerely hope this post finds its way to people looking to elope, and proves useful. Best wishes to everyone!
Do you have a special wedding story? I’d love to hear about it! Share your experiences in the comments!