Having just gone through this process myself, I thought it only appropriate I pass along my newfound knowledge as a US citizen married in Scotland.
I was married in Scotland and the rules do differ slightly for the rest of the UK. However, this is at least the basic outline of steps you could expect everywhere.
For a US citizen to get married in Scotland, there is a specific sequence of events to take place.
Please note: This information is valid for a US citizen marrying an EEA-national in Scotland.
If you want to marry in Scotland as a tourist and neither party is from the EU, the requirements and legalities are different.
You will require a Marriage Visitor Visa even if you do not require a visa to travel to the UK.
This visa is for tourists who want to get married while in the UK. It is not for anyone intending to stay in the UK after the wedding.
Related: An American Expat in Scotland
Process for a US citizen to marry an EEA-national
First, if you do not already reside in Scotland and have no visa to stay long-term, you will want to apply for a fiance visa prior to entry.
This application is made outside of Scotland. You cannot apply for a fiance visa after entering the country.
I entered Scotland on a tourist visa because, originally, we thought we would get married in Ireland.
But our plans changed and we decided to get married in Edinburgh instead. So I needed to get approval from the Home Office to get married here as a foreigner.
It is possible to get married in Scotland if you entered on a tourist visa. However, you might have to wait longer for approval.
Give notice for your wedding in Scotland
To get married in Scotland, you must give notice of your intent to marry with the local registrar’s office in the area where the ceremony will take place.
This is submitted no earlier than three months before your ceremony, and no later than 29 days before the ceremony.
(NB: the timeframe is different for England and Wales. There, you have a year to conduct the ceremony after lodging your notice.)
The forms and list of required documents are easily found online, just be sure you download the most recent version and complete it in its entirety.
(NB: You must have your original birth certificate.)
If you are granted a fiance visa prior to entry, or if you reside in the UK, you will have to give notice of your intention to be married a minimum of 29 days before the ceremony.
If you do not have a fiance visa and you require permission from the Home Office, you must lodge your notice a minimum of 70 days before your ceremony.
You can submit your notice anytime once you are within 12 weeks of your ceremony date.
If the Home Office elects not to conduct an investigation into the veracity of your marriage, you will receive notice that you are allowed to marry after the 29-day notification period ends.
If, however, they opt to investigate, you must wait the 70-day period. There is no in-between; you either wait 29 days or 70 days.
Although I entered on a tourist visa, we were allowed to marry after the 29-day waiting period had passed. That was because the Home Office opted not to investigate us further.
What type of wedding ceremony can you have in Scotland?
There are two types of ceremony you can choose from: civil or religious.
A religious ceremony is conducted by an approved celebrant.
A civil ceremony is conducted by a registrar and can take place anywhere. However, there are quite a few requirements for the services available on-site at the venue.
We opted for a civil ceremony in a Registrar’s Office.
This is sort of equivalent to a courthouse wedding in the US. The rooms are usually quite nice at Registrars Offices throughout the UK, with some in historic buildings.
We opted for this because we didn’t want to spend a ton of money. We also knew our family and friends spread around the world wouldn’t be flying in for the occasion, so we wanted to keep it simple.
There were several options in our area, but we opted for Lothian Chambers in Edinburgh. It was right on the Royal Mile beside St. Giles Cathedral. This building has since been sold to the French government and now includes offices and French language learning.
The staff was absolutely wonderful and more than helpful in planning everything, from paperwork to fees, and from music to the wording of our ceremony.
You can select any of the many Registrars Offices throughout Scotland, or select another venue.
If you are selecting another venue, confirm the date with the venue first. After confirming availability, call the Registrar’s Office to check the availability of a registrar for that date.
You can provisionally book your wedding prior to actually lodging notice with the registrar’s office.
Legal paperwork and fees to be a US citizen married in Scotland
The formal notification paperwork itself is a harmless two-page form. American citizens need not worry about getting a declaration or certificate of no impediment to marriage, as the US does not supply this document.
As an American citizen, you will also need to complete a form for the Home Office. That’s another easy two-page document.
All the legal forms can be found on the National Records of Scotland website here.
You also pay fees to get married in Scotland. For us to be married on a weekday in Lothian Chambers in Edinburgh in 2016 cost a total of $340.
You will pay in pounds, so the conversion rate obviously changes. Your fees will vary based on the location of your ceremony.
For example, a Registrar’s Office in Edinburgh may charge differently than one in Fife. And requesting a registrar to perform your ceremony on a weekend at a remote venue comes at a different price as well.
About your wedding ceremony in Scotland
There is some specific language required for your ceremony to be deemed legal in Scotland.
However, you do have a lot of leverage in choosing the majority of the wording for your ceremony. You may also opt to write your own vows.
You will receive a packet when you give your notice to be married. That will provide ample options for each section of the ceremony.
In that same packet, you will identify how you want your ceremony details conducted. That could include when to play music, how guests and the marriage parties will enter the ceremony, whether or not a photographer or videographer will be present, etc.
This is all for a civil ceremony in a Registrar’s Office. Obviously, many of these details will be coordinated with the venue should you opt for a ceremony outside the office.
Get married in Scotland as a foreigner
You’ll find those sites especially useful for religious or non-registrar office ceremonies, plus same-sex marriages, marriages abroad, etc.
It can seem overwhelming when you start researching all the legal information for getting married in another country, or for bi-national weddings like ours.
But hopefully sharing our information helps a bit!
After our experience with the wonderful staff at Lothian Chambers in Edinburgh, I also recommend you simply reach out to your local registrar if you have any questions.
They were all very helpful and accommodating to us and I’m sure other offices would be the same.
Good luck and congratulations!