We did it! Not only did we get hitched, but we also got an education in Mexican paperwork. It’s well known that you can-not just make one trip to get any paperwork accomplished. It usually takes 2 or 3. For us, it was more like 6 stops at government offices
While the requirements (and experience) will vary from state to state, this is our story about what we needed to do in order to meet the legal requirements. My understanding is that it is similar for foreigners marrying one another in Mexico. For Mexicans marrying one another, it’s a little easier and fewer steps are called for.
To marry a Mexican (as I did), a foreigner must have permission at the state level. Years ago, a permit from the Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación) was required. Now it is a letter from the state civil registry (vital statistics office) that is needed.
Requirements, as provided by the Manzanillo civil registry office (9 am – 2 pm, tel. 314 137 2248), inside the main city hall in Manzanillo Centro (most documents need to be in original and it’s wise to have three copies on hand with the originals first and copies immediately behind each original):
- Application form (specifying your choice of marital regimen or union, among other items – more on that later)
- Medical certificate (blood tests and a medical letter for each applicant – most local clinics do this)
- Proof of premarital talks (no more than 30 days ahead of the wedding, signoff from an office in Colima City), ours was exempted for some unknown reason but the location for this is: Alfonso Sierra 369, tel. 312 330 3014, no cost, 9 am – 2 pm
- Authorization from the state civil registry in Colima City (a letter): $650, Gabino Barreda 261, tel. 312 313 7730, 9 am – 2 pm
- From the foreign applicant: legalized or apostilled birth certificate and a letter of single status from your state or province or a notarized copy of a divorce certificate, also legalized or apostilled, both documents duly translated by an official translator of the state such as Luis Medina email@example.com (Manzanillo will also accept translations from CENBI – apostille or legalization is done at your local consulate back home) .
- For the Mexican applicant: birth certificate or naturalization letter
- Official ID from both applicants (passport, voter’s card in Mexico, etc.) and the foreigner’s tourist card or visa
- Two witnesses each (full name, address, age, occupation, relationship to applicant)
Note: all amounts mentioned in this article are in pesos mexicanos (MXN)
On the application itself, you are asked to provide details of yourself, former spouse (if applicable) and your parents including the name (at birth) address, nationality, occupation, birth date or age of each and related details. This is provided mainly on the application form but can be asked for on other documents as well.
The other decision that needs to be made and presented to the judge (justice of the peace) at the civil registry is whether the marriage will take place in the judge’s chambers (small office, mainly meant for applicants and witnesses only) or else-where around town. The cost of the wedding ceremony and paperwork is $775 and an additional $2,000 if held off-site (the latter payable at the wedding ceremony).
So…after all paperwork is gathered and you are ready to present it (likely two weeks or more before the intended date), you take all to the Manzanillo civil registry office, present it to the judge for revision and obtain a letter to take to the Colima office. Most likely the Manzanillo office paperwork will take a few trips as you’ll probably be missing something. As with any Mexican paperwork, make sure that every piece of paper you receive and present is correct (names, birthdates, not using your middle name as your first last name, etc.) and don’t accept it if it is incorrect. Politely ask for a correction.
After you have your letter from the Manzanillo office, you’re ready to go to Colima with your mountain of paperwork and copies. Go to the marriage talks in Colima for your stamp be-fore proceeding to the civil registry office where you will present all your papers. The clerk in the Colima office will need to see originals and will also keep a copy of each document. There is a copy place across the street from most offices in case you need it but it’s best to be fully prepared. Copies can be in black and white.
Once you have had all paperwork accepted, the clerk will ask you to wait and will prepare a letter. You will need this letter to return to Manzanillo. Generally, the judge in Manzanillo will ask you to send him this letter, perhaps by Whatsapp, to verify that all is correct before leaving the Colima office. Ours was not (it was addressed to the office in Villa de Alvarez instead of to the Manzanillo office) and we had to return to Colima to have it corrected.
As you can see, this takes several days and trips so patience is a must. You can now return to Manzanillo with all the documents and the letter from Colima and present them for final inspection to the Manzanillo judge and pay your tax (the $775). If you will want certified copies of your marriage license on the day of the wedding, now would be a good time to re-quest them ($75 each). You will need a certified copy (or more than one) in the future and, in particular, to get the apostille or legalization that you’ll need for legal effect in your home country.
The day before the wedding, the judge’s clerk will do up the wedding certificate and documents. You will want to go and view them in person to ensure everything is correct. Ask when they will be prepared and then take all your documents again to verify this in their system. Go as early as possible. Ours contained more than 30 errors at first sight. It is important that this be done correctly as it would be nearly impossible to change it later. Once all is completed, you are set to go. If you are getting married off-site, then you’ll have to provide the judge with the time and location of your ceremony. Expect him to be punctual or arrive early.
Taking a few steps back in the paperwork process, one of the very important things you’ll need to decide for your application form is the marital union or regimen (regimen de matrimonio). This is a legal decision. You’ll be asked to choose be-tween a sociedad conyugal (collective goods) and bienes separados (separate goods). These terms are used differently in different states in Mexico. The sociedad conyugal is some-times referred to as bienes mancomunados. This is, again, a critical legal decision and the main reason for which we chose to formalize our marriage in Mexico. If you select the collective goods regimen, that means that all debts and assets are joint or are community property.
The joint property union is better to protect a stay-at-home spouse or when the assets and income are quite uneven. The separate property union protects the parties from liability for debt or suit and also from the need to declare income to one another. In the case of a Mexican with a foreigner, in particular for those located within 50 km from the coastline, it means that one spouse can own property without needing a trust (because a foreigner can’t own property in the zone). There are many articles to better explain the difference online and you should seek legal advice before making such a decision to ensure you select the correct option for your family.
So…on to the big day! On the wedding day (ours was held off -site), the judge will arrive with yet more paperwork (vows, paperwork for the couple and witnesses to sign and more) and will ask to see the ID of each witness to ensure all info is correct (best to have a copy of said ID and official address when the paperwork is being drawn up in the first place – name, ad-dress, date of birth). The judge won’t likely ask for more paperwork from the bride and groom as it has all been cleared already. The judge will read the marriage act (foreigners will need an interpreter for this, either someone they know or the civil registry can provide one at a cost) and will ask each party if he/she accepts the marriage contract. The marriage contract is a one-page document that will be provided to the couple upon completion of the ceremony.
Once the marriage act has been read, if the couple will ex-change rings (best to let the judge know in advance), the judge will ask each of the parties to repeat after him, making a vow and placing the ring on the other person’s finger. If you wish to use some vows you have written, including in English, that would be the time to exchange your own vows, most likely in addition to the marriage act or preprepared vows.
The judge will make a brief declaration then will ask the bride and groom, witnesses and parents (if present) to sign the paperwork (many copies and documents) and provide finger-prints (bride and groom). And that’s it, almost.
For legal effect of your new marriage certificates in other countries, it’s best to have the document legalized or apostilled (depending on where it will be used) then translated. You take the certified copy to the Palacio de Gobierno, second floor (tel. 312 314 4046, 9 am – 2 pm) and drop off your document, then take a slip of paper they will give you down the road to another office and pay for the apostille or legalization ($136) then return for your document a while later. Once you have your legalized or apostilled document in hand, you can have it translated by a Mexican translator but most likely your local jurisdiction at home will have specifications for this. You may need to use a local, certified translator at home.
While marriage certificates are considered legal anywhere, you may need to do the extra step to legalize the document for various purposes, such as to do a will. As with most paper-work in Mexico, you can often get someone to do the paper-work for a fee. This will work for some of the marriage paper-work but most of it must be done by the couple, or with the couple present, to ensure it is the will of both parties and no fraud is being committed.
The celebration after the ceremony was a lot more fun. All in all, getting married in Manzanillo was worth it!