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Getting Married in Mexico

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Couple watching the sunset on the beach
Credit: EpicStockMedia | Shutterstock

Marriages between Mexicans and expats in Mexico are quite common, and with good reason. Few among us can resist the charm, the romance and sometimes even the drama of Mexican men and women. If you are thinking about getting married in Mexico, there are a few things you need to know.

La Boda Civil vs. La Boda Religiosa

When you ask someone when their wedding anniversary is, you might be puzzled to get a question right back in return: Which one?

Puerto Vallarta
Credits: c13studio | Adobe Stock images

One of the legacies of the Mexican Revolution is the strict separation of church and state. Under Mexican law, no one in the Catholic church, to which most Mexicans belong, has the authority to legally marry anyone. That said, many couples still want a church wedding.

Because of this, it is very common for couples to have two ceremonies: the legal la boda civil, which often takes place at the Registrar’s office, and the religious la boda religiosa. Usually, these ceremonies happen fairly close together. Sometimes couples marry legally first and then prepare for a bigger church wedding in the future, which may or may not happen depending on how far into the future it is planned- you know how things are.

For boda civil, each state has its own rules for getting married, but the law does not vary too greatly among them. Once you decide to tie the knot and have an idea of when, your first stop should be the Registrar’s Office in your municipality, or el registro civil. They can let you know everything you will need, and inform you of available dates and costs in case you would like the judge to officiate the wedding somewhere other than the office, like at a banquet hall or similar venue. You will also need to make sure you have four witnesses, who will need to show their identification beforehand.

Though it varies from state-to-state, you will most certainly need originals and copies of your passport, birth certificate and immigrant card. It is advisable to have all of these documents apostilled. They may need to be officially translated by a perito traductor (expert translator) as well, so be prepared for that. I lucked out because either Veracruz is not that strict or I was particularly charming on a day when the judge was in a spectacular mood. She told me, “Oh, you can just translate it yourself, that will be fine.” Score!

I was planning on just a civil wedding, but discovered too late that there was a problem with my passport and birth certificate not matching exactly. They had put a space in my last name on my passport that I never thought anything of, but apparently it made the two Sarahs not the same person in the eyes of Mexican bureaucracy.

We still had a lovely religious ceremony – although we were not religious – that my sister performed and a friend translated into Spanish. My sister, after all, had just as much authority – which was none – to marry us as a priest did, according to the Mexican government.

We did not have our civil wedding until two years later when I was pregnant with our daughter. My favorite joke at that time was, “It is not a real wedding here if the bride is not at least four months pregnant!” Though Mexicans are famous for their sense of humor and the ability to turn almost anything into a joke, they were fairly sensitive about that one.

Once you get married, or por lo civil, your marriage is legal everywhere. I cannot say how many times I have heard people ask: “But will my marriage be recognized in the U.S. if we go back?” Of course it will!

Fun with Names

A women from Mariachi band in Tlaquepaque, Mexico
Credit: Sarah Johnson

In many places around the world, as well as the U.S. and Canada, it is common for women to change their last name to that of their husband’s. In Mexico, this is not the norm. If you have the same last name as a man, it is almost certainly because he is your brother.

Mexicans keep their full names from birth to death. Almost everyone has two last names. Their first last name is their father’s first last name, and their second last name is their mother’s first last name. A woman’s name still gets dropped, it just takes an extra generation for it to happen.

Let us say, for example, that Maria Gutierrez López and Mario Martínez Pérez get married. Their names would not change upon marrying. All of their children’s last names, however, would be Martínez Gutierrez.

It used to be that some women would add “de” (of) before the husband’s first last name to show that they were married. So, if Maria were feeling particularly old fashioned, for example, she might call herself Maria Gutierrez de Martínez.

What to Expect When You Are Expecting Guests

The thing most North Americans will be scandalized to hear is that people will be late to your wedding, probably plenty of them, and by a lot. Many will consider showing up to the ceremony optional, and might just waltz into the reception. Try to take it in stride. A wedding is a party, and people show up to parties when they want to. So whatever time your wedding is scheduled for, understand that it might not actually get underway until an hour or three after it’s supposed to begin.

When people find out you are getting married, many will offer to be “padrinos” or “madrinos” of something. This means they will essentially sponsor some expense, like the DJ, the flowers or the cake. It is a lot to keep organized, but it is very helpful!

Mariachi Band in Guadalajara, Mexico
Credit: Judy King

At the party, during the reception, get ready for lots of dancing and drinking. Every male in the room will take turns tapping each other on the shoulder to dance with the bride, which is something I wish I had been warned of beforehand. So, ladies, get ready.

Silly party accessories, like hats or glow sticks or masks, will be expected during the reception. There is a possibility that the groom’s friends will carry him around removing articles of clothing, like socks, as a funeral march is playing. Meanwhile, the bride is expected to walk behind picking up said articles of clothing. I was not amused with that one, but I suppose it is what I got for not being too involved in the party planning.

Something else I wish someone had told me: make sure the gift table is relatively close to you. We made the mistake of having it somewhat out of sight and closer to the entrance, and either very few people actually gave us gifts, or plenty of people had plenty of privacy to easily make off with them. Some things you learn the hard way, I guess.

At the end, some drunk uncles will probably make off with whatever champagne is left while happily waving goodbye. Finally, you’ll land in the hotel with your new spouse, ready to do what everyone does on their wedding night: fall fast asleep in under 10 seconds.

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