Planning a Destination Wedding in South Africa

Bride and groom in the African Bush
Estefania Romero

South Africa is a popular choice for destination weddings, thanks to its magnificent scenery, reliable weather, and relatively affordable prices. With so much to do and see, there are plenty of options for your post-ceremony honeymoon; while friends and family will likely use your wedding as an excuse to plan the trip of a lifetime.

However, if you want to hold the legal ceremony in South Africa as well as the wedding party, you'll need to put in some serious forward planning. There is a lot of paperwork involved, while weddings at the country's most spectacular safari lodges require careful budgeting. If you're looking at a particularly popular venue, you may need to book as much as a year in advance. 

Making Sure Your Ceremony Is Legal

The first step is to make sure that your marriage is legal. Like all countries, South Africa has a unique set of rules for foreigners planning a wedding within its borders. You need to become well acquainted with these so that there are no nasty last-minute surprises. It's important to remember that these rules can change at any time, so make sure to check the Department of Home Affairs website carefully before starting your preparations. At the time of writing, required documentation includes: 

  • Proof of ID: Both you and your partner will need to produce your original birth certificates and a valid passport with at least two blank double-page spreads. You will also need to provide color copies of the visa page of your passport (if appropriate), or the page showing your latest stamp through South African immigration (if you are from a visa-free country).
  • Previous Marriages: If either of you have been married before, you will need to provide proof that you are free to marry again. This means producing your final decree of divorce, or producing the death certificate of a deceased spouse. 
  • Proof of Consent: If you're under 18, both parents or your legal guardian will need to provide written consent by completing Form DHA-32. This can also be done by the Commissioner of Child Welfare or a judge. If the groom is under 18 or the bride is under 15, written consent from the Minister of Home Affairs will also be required. 
  • Declaration for the Purpose of a Marriage: If you are a foreign national and your spouse is a South African citizen, you will also need to submit a form known as a Form BI-31
  • Letter of No Impediment: South African law requires foreigners to provide a Letter of No Impediment. This is a statement from your home country's marriage registry confirming that a search has been done of national marriage records to prove that you are not already married. Some countries (most notably the UK) do not provide Letters of No Impediment; in this case, you will need to ask your marriage officer for advice as to what you can provide instead. Usually, a signed and headed letter from your home government stating that they cannot find evidence of an existing marriage will suffice. 
  • Residency: All foreigners must be "resident" in South Africa for at least 24 hours prior to the wedding. All this means is that the entry stamp in your passport must be dated at least one day before the date of your wedding. 
  • The Venue: Your wedding must take place in a religious building, a public office or a private dwelling in the presence of two witnesses. The marriage register must be signed under a permanent roof – something that you need to consider if you're planning an outdoor wedding.

All of your documentation (with the exception of originals like your passport) should be notarized by a Commissioner of Oaths. If you're already in South Africa, you can find a Commissioner of Oaths at any police station.

Same-Sex Marriages 

Same-sex marriages are legal in South Africa; however, individual marriage officers are allowed to opt out of officiating same-sex weddings on the grounds of their own religious beliefs. Therefore, you'll need to research your choice of officer carefully.

Marriage Certificates

On your wedding day, you will be issued immediately with a hand-written marriage certificate, which will be converted into a formal abridged certificate once your officiant registers your union with the Department of Home Affairs. You will need an apostilled unabridged certificate in order to register your marriage in your home country, however. This can be applied for at the Department of Home Affairs and usually takes several months to complete. For a minimal fee, agencies like Docassist can expedite the process so that it takes around one week. 

Ante-Nuptial Contracts

In South Africa, all couples are automatically married in community of property, which means that both of your assets and liabilities are merged into a joint estate – including those that you acquired before your wedding. This means that each spouse is entitled to a half share of all assets in the event of divorce, and must take on equal responsibility for financial debts. The only way to be exempt from this law is to ask a lawyer to draft an ante-nuptial contract (ANC) which must be signed before the wedding. 

The Alternative

If all of the legal requirements for having your marriage solemnized in South Africa sound like hard work, don't worry – there is an easy way to simplify things. Consider a brief civil ceremony in your own country first, before heading to South Africa for the white dress affair and post-wedding party. If you choose to get married this way, there is no need to notify Home Affairs or provide any legal paperwork once you arrive in South Africa, leaving you free to simply enjoy your time there.

Organizing Your Wedding

Once the paperwork is sorted, the fun of planning the ceremony itself can start. South Africa is a hugely diverse country and there's scope for just about any kind of wedding you can imagine; whether you want a laidback beach wedding, an intimate affair at a five-star safari lodge, or a grand social event at a Cape Town wine estate. Unless you know South Africa well, however, planning the details can be a little tricky from overseas.

Booking the venue and service providers

The first step is to decide on a date and a venue, and then to book the latter as soon as possible. Paying deposits via international bank transfer gets expensive quickly, so consider using an independent company like TransferWise. Check reviews for all services carefully, because if you're not there to interview your photographer or your caterer in person, it can be difficult to know whether you're getting what you want. Employing the services of an expert wedding planner is a great way to limit your stress levels. 

Budgeting for you and your guests

Careful budgeting is a key part of any wedding, but it's especially essential when you're getting married overseas. You need to consider the cost of your flights and visa (if you need one), as well as practicalities like vaccinations and rental cars. Don't forget to consider your guests' budget as well – unless you're paying for them too, you'll need to make it affordable or limit your invite list. Give them fair warning – the earlier you send out invitations, the longer they have to save money or apply for time off work. 

Choosing the best time and place

Location and timing are also important. If you want a large party, you need to be within reach of plenty of accommodation – so heading out to a remote bush lodge isn't feasible. The more off the beaten track you are, the more expensive it will be to get all of your suppliers to the venue. Make sure to research the weather before deciding on a date. South Africa's weather is very localized, and its seasons are opposite to those of northern hemisphere countries like the US and the UK.

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