Life & Style | Relationships

Why getting married in the UAE is a knotty affair

The road to conjugal bliss is fraught with pitfalls for certain nationalities

  • By Jay B. Hilotin, Chief Reporter
  • Published: 19:43 February 13, 2013

  • Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
  • IN A MAZE: Caught in a maze of rules, many couples either abandon their marriage plans and risk living together or look for options outside the country to tie the knot

Dubai: Expatriates from certain countries are finding it almost impossible to get married in the UAE, XPRESS has learnt.

Caught in a maze of rules, many couples either abandon their marriage plans and risk living together or look for options outside the country to tie the knot.

Unmarried couples living together could face jail under UAE laws. Non Muslim expats said they have no choice as the road to marital bliss in the country is not only long and winding, but also fraught with pitfalls.

“It is like going through a needle’s eye,” said Juliet, a Dutch expat whose daughter Diana and her German fiancé, 27-year-old Martin had to fly out of the UAE to exchange their wedding vows.

“We obtained attested Certificates of No-Impediment (CNI) from our governments. We presented them to the civil court, to the churches and the consulates but to no avail,” said Martin, an oil and gas executive.

According to Diana, what adds to the frustration is a flood of unreliable information online. “People are ill-informed about where to go,” she said.

After much running around, the Dutch-German couple decided to pack their bags and go get married in Cyprus where civil wedding procedures are simple.

“It is just impossible, especially if you are marrying someone who is not a member of one’s own denomination,” said Juliet, whose daughter is Catholic while Martin is Lutheran.

Don’t get it wrong — getting married in the UAE at churches and under Sharia law in the courts is possible — but there are different rules for different nationalities and religions.

For Muslims, getting married is a straightforward process. After the male parent/guardian’s consent is obtained, the marriage can either be performed in court or by a religious clerk at home following completion of requirements.

different affair

But for non-Muslims, it’s different strokes for different folks.

While Indian and Philippines diplomatic missions do solemnise marriages, other residents, especially western, find it tougher to say ‘I Do’ here.

Many approach their diplomatic missions to conduct civil weddings — only to realise it’s not that straightforward.

Most Western embassies direct their Christian citizens to churches, but this route could lead to a dead end especially if the couple belongs to different sects.

“We do wedding ceremonies for Christians, but we need the couple to present a baptismal certificate issued by their parish,” said a staff at Trinity Church, which bundles more than 50 Christian denominations. “Without a baptism certificate, we can’t be sure if a person is Christian.

In addition to baptismal certificates and CNIs, a couple must also undergo counselling by a priest three or four weeks after they register for marriage at the Trinity Church.

“The lack of proper information is frustrating,” said Mary, an Indian living in the UAE who spent months getting required papers for her marriage with her French fiancé only to be told at the eleventh hour that they would not be able to get married anywhere in Dubai. “It’s too complicated,” said Fabrice, who decided to marry Mary in a Christian rite in the south of France.

But it’s not all that bad for everyone. Norwegians, for example, find it a breeze as their embassy conducts free wedding ceremonies for couples who meet the requirements and even if they are just visiting the UAE. “We do around 15 wedding ceremonies a year,” a Norwegian embassy staff told XPRESS.

It is also easier for Indians and Filipinos to get married here. The Indian mission in Dubai, for example, oversaw 186 marriages in 2010 (latest available figures) of which 63 were between an Indian and a foreign national, while the Philippine Consulate in Dubai is set to solemnise more than 100 weddings this month alone.

“We only solemnise weddings between Filipino citizens,” said a Philippine Consulate official in Dubai.

The Czech Republic embassy confirmed that they perform marriages for their citizens (neither party should be Emirati).

On the other hand, both British and Belgian embassies conduct marriages only in exceptional cases. Ruzina Hasan, Political/Media Officer at the British Embassy in Dubai said: “A marriage at the British Embassy can only be conducted under exceptional circumstances and requires additional permission from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.”

A Belgian embassy staff told XPRESS: “When a wedding in Belgium or with the local authorities is not possible, we will solemnise civil weddings when at least one of the spouses is Belgian.”

Given the complications, it’s no wonder many European expats such as Diana and Martin are opting for Cyprus, which has an uncomplicated civil marriage procedure with a minimum fuss and no residency requirements.


Among Catholics (of any nationality), the couple must prove they are already civilly wed, present the original baptismal certificate (stamped with ‘Free to Marry’ or ‘For Marriage Purpose’). The certificate is valid only for six months. The candidates must also present a certificate of confirmation, wedding application with photos for the banns (announcement in church of intended marriage), and an attested certificate-of-no-marriage. The couple must attend a day-long marriage preparation course, which is held every third Friday.

Sancho, a 36-year-old Mexican, had been in a serious relationship with his 30-year-old Filipina fiancee, Cynthia, for four years. They tried to get married in the UAE for over three years, but their embassies wouldn’t marry them as they were of different nationalities.

Sancho’s birth and baptismal certificates, misplaced by his parents, made him ineligible for a church wedding, too.

“We really wanted to get married as soon as possible as we were already living together,” said Sancho.

For over two years, they lived in constant fear. “I know it is illegal under Sharia to live together, but we haven’t found a solution.”

Last month after preparing their papers, they finally flew to Cynthia’s home town and got civilly married. “It was a big relief,” said Sancho. “Now, we can start building our family.”




Diplomatic missions that conduct civil weddings for couples where either the bride or the groom belongs to their country






Czech Republic

Belgium (exceptional 
cases only)

UK (exceptional cases 
only, requires permission 
from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London)

India (marriage between Indian and non-Indian 
citizens complicated)












Comments (10)

Your comments
  1. Added 11:42 February 14, 2013

    I am from Pakistan and my wife is from The Philiphines but we got married here in Dubai very easily in just three months.

    beat down, ajman, Pakistan

  2. Added 11:10 February 14, 2013

    A wedding is supposed to be an auspicious and memorable occassion. I cannot trade my beautiful home country with any other country for a wedding! Having said that, given the complications involved in the UAE, I know several people who have had what I would call 'Theory wedding', meaning the wedding actually never took place but they have the papers, they just make a single phone call to their home country and pap: they have the marriage certificate, This is the so-called 'come-we-stay' marriages. Life is is so full of short-cuts anyway.

    AlbertO, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 10:07 February 14, 2013

    My husband and I faced many problems trying to get married in the UAE back in 2009 - so we organised our papers and hopped on to a plane to Cyprus. Even the British Embassy recommended this route to me as getting approval from the Home Office in London to conduct a civil wedding at the Embassy in Abu Dhabi is a very lengthy process. Not to mention that before our marriage, my husband was refused a UK visit visa -- so we couldn't even get married in my home town! Seriously, I can tell anyone who has trouble getting married here in the UAE - just go to Cyprus, it's quick, easy and very cost effective. The wedding certificate is 100% legal here in the UAE (and everywhere else for that matter) which is crucial for living together in the UAE, and of course for registering any children born afterwards. There is an office based in the Al Ghurair Centre in Diera called The Cyprus Trade Centre -- they are very helpful in organising the paperwork and Cypriot entry visa if you are a non-EU national. Good Luck!

    Sarah Louise, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 09:55 February 14, 2013

    Very soon Filipinos will be overpopulated in the UAE the way they are multiplying as The Philipines government has already put restrictions over the birth rate.

    kay, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 09:27 February 14, 2013

    It's true -- getting married is difficult in the UAE. The law is so difficult and cumbersome. God knows why?

    Usman Rahi, Dubai, Pakistan

  6. Added 08:48 February 14, 2013

    I got married here and my husband and I are of different nationalities. We are both Muslims though, and the judge did the marriage in Sharjah Sharia Court on the day we presented the attested papers proving that we can get married. Hopefully the Sharia courts here will also extend the same service for non-Muslims so long the papers are complete and attested as per requirements.

    farah, sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 08:30 February 14, 2013

    I am a bit surprised to read this article as I found getting married in Dubai was the easiest for me and my husband. I am a Lebanese. My husband is Swedish. Both of us are Christians. In our both home countries, the amount of papers and documents and hassle required was unjustified. While in Dubai we only needed to provide the church a document from our home countries stating that we are single and are Christians, which we did. The church took care of registering the wedding in Dubai Court. We took our stamped certificates to our respective embassies and they registered the marriage in our home countries. We did not have any hassle with anything.

    Aline, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 07:19 February 14, 2013

    And what about the atheists?

    Victor, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 06:30 February 14, 2013

    I cannot understand why we need to get married in the UAE! That's ilogical! Is it not much better to get married in your sweet home country with your parents and friends -- may be in the Church where you were baptised as a newborn. You can also have your a nice marriage ceremony later? And WHY can't unmarried people live together in Dubai? In other nations, nobody cares about your life partner. Then why in Dubai should it be any different for expats? We are all humans after all!What's the problem if an unmarried couple loves each other and decides to stay together? I know many couples living together in Dubai without any problems. No one really cares...

    Marco, Rome, Italy

  10. Added 05:51 February 14, 2013

    When a man and a woman decide to get married, why should the law come as a hindrance? Such tough laws may either force the couple to compromise a live-in kind of situation, which is strictly prohibited by the law in this country and may face arrest, or it becomes a financial burden to fly out and tie the knot!

    Agniyah Shaikh, sharjah, United Arab Emirates

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