The big guide on getting married overseas with a celebrant

The big guide on getting married overseas with a celebrant

Anyone tuned into my socials would see that Britt and I spend one to three months a year in countries without a Waltzing Matilda or a koala in sight, for weddings and elopements. Whether it’s a Bali wedding, a New Zealand elopement, or a Canadian marriage ceremony, we’ve got you covered.

In this article just wanted to lay out really simply how the legal side of getting married overseas works when I’m your marriage celebrant.

The difference between solemnising a marriage and celebrating one

In my role as a celebrant I see there being a fine but dividing line between solemnising a marriage and celebrating one.

Solemnise is a fancy legal word which means to “duly perform” which I’ll simply for this blog post’s context: to make you married legally. This takes a few seconds and some government-required stuff.

Celebrating your marriage is a whole other ball game.

Solemnising your marriage

As of writing this blog post in mid-2018, I, Joshua Withers, am legally authorised to solemnise marriages on Australian soil and American soil.

That means that if you, your partner, and myself are all standing on Australian or American soil and we’ve jumped through all the hoops the government requires, I can marry you legally. That generally requires a few words being said (all of 45 seconds or so) and some paperwork being signed and submitted.

Solemnising your marriage is important, but it has more in common with a credit card application than a wedding.

Celebrating your marriage

Celebrating your marriage has far more value, worth, and longevity than solemnising it – in my opinion. Which could be heard as blasphemy in many circles, but if the only thing holding you together as a couple is the law, you might as well separate. It’s like me telling you that I’d murder you if it was legal – crazy talk right?!

Celebrating your marriage is about words, vows, rings, laughs, clapping, ceremony, dressing up and feeling good. It’s about having the right people there to witness it, and sharing good times, food, and drinks together.

There’s been occasions in my career that I’ve even celebrated a marriage without ever solemnising it. For some like Lauren and Ana they married in Washington DC before I celebrated with them in NZ, for S&A they were married a year earlier for legal purposes but then I celebrated with them with their friends and family, and for others like Bradley and Brandon when they had their wedding, it wasn’t legal for them to marry.

If you’re getting married in Australia or America with me

If we’re actually standing on Australian or American dirt/land/soil/country I have the legal capacity to solemnise and celebrate your marriage in the same event. In the ceremony you would hear me mention the legally required words, and after the ceremony we would sign the legally required paperwork.

Australian law is only Australian law on Australian land, that’s how countries work, so when I leave Australian soil and go to Fiji for example, I’m no longer subject to Australian law, but Fiji law. And under Fiji law I’m not a government-appointed marriage celebrant.

If you’re getting married in New Zealand, Bali, or pretty much anywhere else with me

If you’re having a destination wedding or eloping overseas with me or The Elopement Collective we would solemnise your marriage in Australia (generally before we leave) and celebrate your marriage overseas.

What does this look like?

Before leaving the country we would catch up at a cafe or similar and go through the steps required to legally marry you under Australian law. This takes about 5 minutes and two other witnesses. Then overseas we will celebrate your marriage, with vows and cheers and photos!

Can I change the date so it’s the same as the overseas ceremony?

I’m often asked if I can backdate or forward-date the marriage certificate so it has the same date as the overseas ceremony.


That’s fraud and I’d probably go to jail and most certainly lose my authority as a celebrant.

But the date’s different

Britt and I only looked at our marriage certificate for the first time in our sixth year of marriage, because we had to do some legal paperwork. I even saw that our celebrant put the wrong birth place for Britt!

The legal solemnisation of your marriage is important, and it affords you many benefits under Australian and international laws, but it’s not everything.

Most of my couples don’t even refer to their Australian legal marriage date as their “wedding anniversary” because it’s just the offical side, and the date they exchanged vows and celebrated is the important date.

But I really want to have the same date

In some countries, like Canada, I can apply for a temporary officiants license, this costs about $200CAD, but in other countries you’d need to seek advice from the local authorities. In some countries you need to be there a month before, and in others you’ll need to have a religious ceremony in that country and submit to the religious requirements.
Trying to square it all up is a lot of work in my humble opinion, and if it’s good enough for Brangelina (god rest that marriage’s soul) then I think it’s good enough for the rest of us.

The added benefit to Australians being married in Australia

If you are legally married in Australia on Australian soil (even if you celebrate overseas) you get to change your name to your partner’s name for free.

But if you are legally married overseas, that marriage is 100% recognised here (you don’t need to “register” it here or anything like that) but you need to pay for a change of name with your Births, Deaths, and Marriages department and then you need to pay for changing your name with the passport and drivers license authorities.

But if you marry in Oz, it’s all free in the first year of your marriage.

If we marry overseas is it recognised here?

Finally, as I hinted at in the last section, if after all my encouragement otherwise you choose to marry overseas, that marriage is recognised in Australia and requires no registration or paperwork or anything:

  • if the marriage was recognised as valid under the law of the country in which it was entered into, at the time when it was entered into, and
  • providing the marriage would have been recognised as valid under Australian law if the marriage had taken place in Australia.

So if you could have been married in Australia and your marriage is legal in the other country, then it’s legal here too.