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Tying the Knot in Switzerland

If you have found that special someone, it might be time to get hitched. Expats planning to get married in Switzerland should, however, be aware of various legal requirements — especially the difference between civil and religious (or personal) wedding ceremonies. Our guide to marriage in Switzerland explains.
Before you start your wedding celebrations in Switzerland, remember to sign on the dotted line first!

At a Glance:

  • Couples in Switzerland have two separate weddings; the first wedding ceremony is for legal status, while the following is more of a celebration for friends and family.
  • At the second kind of wedding, the priest or officiant will need to see proof of your civil marriage prior to the ceremony.
  • Foreigners marrying a Swiss citizen can apply for Swiss citizenship after three to six years of marriage, depending on their situation.

Basic Laws for Swiss Weddings

Contrary to most countries, couples in Switzerland are already married before they walk down the aisle. This is because people in Switzerland need to legally marry at a registration office before their ideal wedding ceremony takes place.

Technically, the only one of the two weddings that matters — for the Swiss government — is the one carried out at the registration office. Only after newlyweds receive the proper documents and title from the registration office — stating that they are legally married — are they allowed to have a ceremony at a church or another place of worship.

Although Switzerland does not officially recognize same-sex marriage, same-sex couples are able to enter into a civil partnership. In Switzerland, the processes for marriage and civil partnerships are treated nearly the same in regards to law and taxation, and the legal procedure for them is almost identical.

The basic requirements for getting married or entering into a civil partnership in Switzerland are as follows:

  • Both people must be at least 18 years old.
  • Neither is already married nor in a civil partnership.
  • If one of the partners has a legal guardian, they need to have their guardian’s consent before getting married.

Preparing for the Civil Ceremony

The couple will need to apply for a civil ceremony at the local registry office — also called Zivilstandsamt, l’office de l’état civil, or l’ufficio dello stato civile. The following list of documents will be needed in order to apply:

  • a photo ID that was either issued in Switzerland or is a passport from your home country
  • a notarized document that states your current address and marital status
  • a completed marriage request form
  • both of the applicants’ birth certificates
  • average fees for a civil ceremony (300-400 CHF)

If an applicant was previously married, they need to display their divorce decree or their late spouse’s death certificate. In addition, all of the documents mentioned above will need to be officially translated into one of the official Swiss languages.

The marriage approval process may take as long as five weeks in total. Once the civil marriage is approved, the couple may marry anytime from ten days to three months from the approval date. If the couple waits longer than three months, they need to reapply for marriage approval.

The Civil Wedding Ceremony — Marriage in the Eyes of the Law

Once the marriage has been approved, the official civil ceremony needs to take place at the registry office. In order for the wedding to be valid, the couple needs to have two adult witnesses — aged 18 years or older — present. Usually ceremonies are carried out from Monday through Saturday, but this is for the individual registry office to decide.

Following the civil ceremony, the newlyweds are presented an official marriage certificate. This document states where and when the wedding occurred; if the couple chooses to have a religious ceremony they need to show this document at the place of worship before getting married there.

Citizenship through Marriage — How Long Is the Wait?

The path to Swiss citizenship is neither easy nor quick. The typical waiting period for foreign residents with no direct family connection to Switzerland takes at least ten years. During these ten years, the applicants must permanently live in Switzerland. Luckily for some, foreign nationals marrying a Swiss citizen have a substantially shorter waiting period — compared with the normal naturalization process.

If a foreign national living in Switzerland marries a Swiss citizen, they only have to wait five years before they can start the application process. If the foreign spouse has already been living in Switzerland two years prior to the wedding, they will only need to be married for three years before they are able to become a Swiss citizen. However, if the couple is living abroad, they will have to wait six years before the foreign spouse could apply for obtaining citizenship.

The Traditional Swiss Wedding — or a Modern Twist

After the couple has got married in a civil ceremony or entered into a civil partnership, they are free to plan their wedding for their friends and family. In modern times, it is common for the bride and groom to celebrate their wedding by hosting a large party without a religious ceremony. These kind of weddings usually take place outside. There, wedding guests can enjoy Switzerland’s beautiful nature and picturesque mountainscape.

If couples want to have a non-religious marriage ceremony, they can hire a freelance marriage officiant to conduct a ceremony practically anywhere; it is important to know that these freelancers still need the official document stating that the couple has already completed a civil wedding. Although these weddings are growing in popularity, many couples prefer to have a classic Swiss wedding.

Traditional Swiss weddings start with an afternoon church ceremony, followed by a late-afternoon cocktail party, and an elegant dinner in the evening. At Swiss weddings, there is plenty of entertainment for the guests.

In addition to a band at the cocktail hour, the best man and the maid of honor organize games and tell stories about the newlyweds. For example, the maid of honor might create a fun quiz for the groom to answer questions about his bride. Although it is traditional to have the maid of honor and the best man take care of the festivities, anyone can join in the fun.

You will be able to learn more about Swiss culture and traditions by reading the articles in our Culture, Shopping, and Recreation section.

We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.