The ease with which an American may marry legally outside of the United States varies by destination, with some locations requiring more paperwork than others. And while you may already be expecting to bring along the basics – passports, copies of birth certificates, etc. – your luxury elopement destination may require documents that are completely unfamiliar to you. Below is an overview of the most common documents you probably haven't heard of (or realized that some foreign countries may require), plus info on how to obtain what you need.
CERTIFIED COPIES OF BIRTH CERTIFICATES
Why You May Need Them: Birth certificates for the bride and groom will often be required when applying for a marriage license in a foreign country, and photocopies will not suffice – original or certified copies are almost always necessary for verification even if you've sent/faxed photocopies of the documents to your planner or a government office in advance.
How You Can Get Them: If you don't have a certified copy of your birth certificate and aren't comfortable traveling with the original, you can request one from the Department of Public Health or County Recorder's Office of the state or county in which you were born, respectively. Keep in mind that online processing can take up to six weeks, and you'll need to submit a notarized sworn statement that you are authorized to receive the copy, so you may want to consider going through the motions in person. Note: Make sure that you request a certified copy that is valid for proof of identity; an informational copy will not be accepted.
CERTIFICATES OF NO IMPEDIMENT/AFFIDAVITS OF SINGLE MARITAL STATUS
Why You May Need Them: Most elopement-friendly countries (including the U.S.) require proof that you're legally free to marry only if you've been wed before. However, some foreign destinations (and the rules may vary by city or region) also require proof if you've never been married, often referred to as a Certificate of No Impediment, a Certificate of Freedom to Marry, or, in the case of Italy, an Atto Notorio.
How You Can Get Them: The U.S. equivalent of those documents is an Affidavit of Single Marital Status, and you can obtain one before leaving the states by making a sworn statement in front of a consular officer at the nearest embassy of the country you plan to marry in. You may also have your lawyer prepare the document and have it notarized, or make a sworn statement at the American embassy or consulate once you arrive at your destination.
Why You May Need Them: Many foreign countries require that the signatures on your public documents be authenticated with an apostille, which draws its name from the treaty that allows documents issued in one signatory state to retain its legal status for use in another. The apostille itself takes the form of a standardized printed form or seal obtained from a "competent authority," defined by the Hague Conference on Private International Law, which varies by the origin of the document.
How You Can Get Them: The three tiers of U.S. authorities competent to issue an apostille certificate are as follows:
The U.S. Department of State Authentication Office affixes apostilles to documents issued by Federal agencies of the United States.
The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Passport Services, Vital Records Section affixes apostilles to Consular Reports of Birth, Death and Marriage of U.S. Citizens abroad
The Clerks and Deputy Clerks of the Federal Courts of the United States are authorized to issue apostilles on documents issued by those courts. As an alternative, the U.S. Department of Justice may authenticate the seal of the Federal court and the U.S. Department of State Authentications Office will then place an apostille over that seal.