Getting married in South Africa

Before getting married in South Africa, there are certain legal requirements that you need to oblige to ensure your marriage will be valid in the eyes of the law.

This is particularly important when marrying in a foreign country. Marriage is a binding contract; taking this important step changes your status and once you have entered into the contract, it involves a costly procedure to change its basis. The South African Marriage Act lays down all the rules regulating how a marriage should be solemnised, who may marry one another, where and how the wedding may be conducted, and by whom. If you fail to comply with the regulations set out in this Act, your marriage could be declared null and void.

Documents Required

  • A clear copy of your ID (if you are South African) and passport if you are not South African.
  • 3 x colour passport photos of each of you
  • A clear copy of your divorce decree if this is applicable.  Please note it MUST state “Final Divorce Order” on the top, must be stamped by the court and dated clearly.
  • A clear copy of a death certificate if you have been widowed.
  • A clear copy of 2 witnesses’ IDs if they are South African or passports if they are not.
  • A Letter of non-impediment from your Embassy – this is a letter stating you are free to marry.
If the couple are getting married Out of Community of Property, they need to draw up their contract with a lawyer who will give them a letter stating that such a contract has been entered into. The marriage officer needs a copy of this letter. An Abridged Marriage Certificate will be issued to you immediately after the ceremony. The Marriage Officer will register your marriage with the Department of Home Affairs and apply for your Unabridged Marriage Certificate, which you can use to register your marriage back in your home country. The Unabridged certificate will be stamped “Apostille” by the High Court for your applicable country. The issue of this certificate will take approximately 20 – 25 working days as a  “Fast track “option and has an additional cost. The non-South African party must complete the “Declaration for the Purpose of Marriage” (Form BI31) in the presence of the marriage officer prior to the wedding ceremony. Provided by the marriage officer.


Abridged marriage certificate

These are issued by default to all couples married in South Africa. They are presented to the couple immediately after the ceremony. For couples living in South Africa, this is the only certificate they require.

Unabridged marriage certificate

These are issued to all non-South African couples or couples where one party is Non-South African. These are only issued if the couples are not living in South Africa or by special request due to plans to travel extensively or immigrate in the fore-seeable future.


Unabridged marriage certificates get stamped ‘Apostille’ at the Pretoria High Court as authentication of certificate and issue. Apostilles are not needed for countrys which are part of the Commonwealth, but are issued for all other countries who align with the Hague Convention. Should a country not be aligned with the Hague Convention, then an “Authentication” stamp is affixed to the marriage certificate also by the Pretoria High Court.

Who may perform a marriage ceremony?

Only a marriage officer may conduct a marriage. Every magistrate, special justice of the peace, and commissioner is a Marriage Officer, as are those ministers of religion (and only those) so designated by the Minister of Home Affairs.

Where can you marry?

According to the Marriage Act, the ceremony must take place in a church or other building used for religious services, or in a public office (such as a magistrate’s court) or private dwelling. During the service, the chosen venue must have ‘open doors’ and the service must be conducted in the presence of the parties themselves and two witnesses. A marriage service conducted without two witnesses is not considered legal.

Can you marry outdoors?

If you plan to marry in a garden or on the beach, it is best to repeat the legal part of the service indoors so as to avoid any doubts about whether you are formally married or not (see ‘Where May I Marry?’ above). The same applies to marrying in a restaurant or other building not defined by the act. However, as long as your marriage is solemnized by a competent Marriage Officer, the courts are not readily inclined to declare a marriage invalid simply because it was held in the wrong place.