Getting Married in the Philippines

IJsselstein, Wednesday, 20 June 2007 23:08:50

Since questions about foreigners wanting to marry a Philippine citizen pop up every once in a while on the visa regulations page, I've decided to add a small page on this issue.

Please read this page carefully before asking questions in the feedback section below. Do not ask questions about individual cases. I will delete such questions and also any question already answered in this article, or outside the scope of this article.

This page is about the case that a foreigner wants to marry a Philippine citizen, either in the Philippines, or abroad. Since the details and regulation differ per country, I can only provide information about the case where the foreigner comes from the Netherlands.

What this page is not...

This page is not...

Beating Red Tape

This page will describe a lot of interacting with officials. When dealing with the bureaucratic red tape, it pays off to heed the following general guidelines.

In Manila, and other major cities, the offices work relatively efficient and in a business-like manner. In many smaller towns, approach officers in a friendly and open way. It pays to enter into some small talk and establish a relationship before turning to business.

Always dress up correctly. Business casual is fine. A formal suit is not strictly required, but may help. Don't appear in shorts and sleeveless shirts; avoid slippers.

When you think something is wrong or inappropriate (such a request for undue fees, or unexplainable delays) you best ask for clarification, and get things in writing. If somebody is particularly unhelpful, try to navigate around the person. Never show signs of anger or insult officers in public. Always remain correct and business-like.

Ask for receipts for money paid and documents submitted.

Basic Requirements

The basic legal requirements for a Filipino-Foreign couple to marry in the Philippines are the following.

Consent of both prospective partners. Obvious.

At least one of the partners is a Philippine citizen. Two foreigners cannot marry in the Philippines. Resident foreigners should contact their own embassy or consulate, as in that case their consulate may be entitled to perform a marriage.

Both partners are at least 18 years old. A pretty straightforward rule. If one of the partners is younger, you just have to wait.

Both partners are not married. Fairly obvious. The most common issue here is that divorce is not possible in the Philippines, so even if somebody has been legally separated from his or her partner for many years, they can still not legally marry again. However, foreign divorces are recognized, so if a Filipino marries, either in the Philippines or abroad, and then divorces abroad, he or she can remarry in the Philippines.

The Philippine alternative to divorce is to have the marriage declared void from the beginning. This is a complicated legal procedure, which will not always be successful, and can be quite costly.

Partners are of opposite sex. The entire concept of same-sex marriage will be met with utter astonishment in the Philippines. Philippine society has a relatively relaxed attitude towards homosexuality, but this is still a bridge too far.

For the foreign partner, a declaration of no objection to the marriage has been obtained from the embassy of the foreign partner's country. This step will often be the most complicated step, and, as each embassy may have its own rules for issuing such a statement, it is difficult to provide all details. I will here provide the details required by the Dutch embassy, as that is all I have experience with. Citizens of other countries are invited to provide the details of the procedures they have to follow.

Information for Dutch Nationals Only

To issue a declaration of no-objection, the Dutch embassy in Manila required us to appear both in person, and submit the following documentation.

  • For the Philippine national:
    • A birth certificate on NSO security paper.
    • A statement of non-occurrence in the National Marriage Register on NSO security paper.
    • A notarized statement of two disinterested persons that the Philippine national is not married. Those two people cannot be parents or siblings.
  • For the Dutch national:
    • A birth certificate (Uittreksel geboorteregister; get international version).
    • A residence certificate (Uittreksel bevolkingsregister; get international version) which states that he or she is not married.

All Philippine documents have to be legalized by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). Please read the section below about the legalization (or attestation) of documents in the Philippines.

After receiving all these documents, and accepting a rather large processing fee (in Philippine Pesos, cash only), they legalized (once again) the documents, and issued the statement. Officially, this may take up to eight weeks to complete, but often this can be collected the next day.

To visit the Dutch embassy, you have to make an appointment on a rather expensive and difficult to reach phone number. The easiest way to avoid this is to make the call from the Netherlands (or use a Dutch cell phone from within the Philippines) to any other embassy line and then make that appointment.

If an appointment cannot be made within reasonable time, or other things go wrong. Make the official request by fax (in Dutch language: this will start the eight week legally prescribed maximum waiting period), and immediately follow up with a complaint to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague.

Whenever you face problems with the Filipino staff in the Dutch embassy, express that you need to explain your situation in Dutch, and therefore have to talk with the Dutch staff.

A helpful site for Dutch nationals marrying a foreigner is

As said above, the details for other embassies may differ.

A marriage permit has been obtained from the Municipality where one of the partners lives. Once all the paperwork has been prepared, this should be reasonably straightforward. The catch here is that you'll have to wait at least ten days before the permit will be issued.

Easiest is to go the the municipal office and explain your purpose. There you will have to submit the following documentation.

Officially, foreign documents will need to be legalized (attested) by the Philippine embassy in the country they come from. The Philippine embassy will only legalize documents that have already been legalized by the Department of Foreign Affairs in the same country. Sometimes, municipal officers do not know about this rule, but it is better not to take that chance.

If all is in order, they will enlist your application for the marriage permit in their books, and paste a public announcement somewhere in the municipal hall where everybody can read it. Then they will tell you to come back after ten days.

Before you can collect the marriage permit, however, depending on your ages, you may be required to follow two government seminars, one on the meaning of marriage, and one on family planning. Those are organized on regular intervals with groups of couples who wish to marry, and often held in the local language. It is sometimes possible, however, to have these seminars in English, and organized specially for you. You will get two certificates that you have completed the seminars successfully.

With the two certificates from the seminars, you can get the marriage permit, and organize the wedding ceremony.

The Wedding

In the Philippines, both civil and church marriages are legal (if proper procedures are followed) and are most likely also valid in your country (Even a church marriage will be valid, even if in your own country church marriages are not acceptable). Most countries accept each others marriages based on the Vienna treaty.

Most common in the Philippines are church marriage, where the priest is authorized to perform the wedding ceremony. However, you can also be married by the mayor in the Municipal hall or a judge in a Provincial court. In all cases, you need to present the Marriage Permit issued by the municipality, and make an appointment for the date.

After the Wedding

After the wedding, you will receive some documents that state that you are now married. If you want to settle abroad, you will need to get your marriage registered in the other country as well. To do this, you will need a fully legalized copy of the Marriage Certificate, printed by NSO Manila on security paper. Read the section on legalization, and the paragraph on forwarding documents to NSO Manila below to accomplish this.

Also, after the wedding, the wife's last name will legally change to that of the husband (and her original last name will become her middle name; her original middle name will be dropped. In this, the Philippines still follow the Spanish tradition). However, if you indicate before the wedding that you (as the wife) want to keep your own family name, that is possible. This may reduce a number of issues with passports and visas being issued in the maiden name.

Getting Visa

Being married no longer automatically entitles the foreign partner to a residence permit in most countries. You will have to go through formal visa and residence permit applications, which again will require some time. In many cases, you will already have much of the documentation available as it was required to get the no-objection certificate from the embassy. Many countries will have some additional requirements on income before they will issue a visa or residence permit.

(One much overseen and very helpful exception to this rule is available to EU citizens not living in their own country. This is based on EU regulations that overrule national law. If you are married to an EU citizen, you should be given a residence permit with minimal procedures in any EU country except that of the EU citizen itself. So if your partner is Dutch, and he lives, or is willing to relocate to Belgium, you can join him much faster than when he would live in the Netherlands.)

Being married to a Filipino also does not automatically entitle you to a residence permit in the Philippines, however, you will be able to get one considerably easier.

Another benefit of being married to a Filipino is that you can now enter the country, and stay up to two years without a visa under the Balikbayan program, as long as you arrive together with you Filipino partner. Note that this benefit is only available to citizens from countries that are also entitled to a 21 day visa-on-arrival.

Legalization of Documents

When you legalize a document you ask one (typically higher) authority to attest that a document issued by another authority is genuine. This typically involves a verification of the signatures on that document. It does not include a verification of the factual correctness of the content of the document. Legalization is needed when somebody needs to be reassured about the validity of a legal document but does not have the means to verify the signatures of the issuing authority.

When you need Philippine legal documents in a foreign country, they typically have to be legalized by the corresponding foreign embassy in the Philippines. Before they will do that, you will have to follow a chain of legalization.

For notarized documents from a notary public in the Philippines, you will have to start to go to the provincial court (not the same as the city court) in the capital of the province where the notary operates. This typically can be done the same day. They may either attach a sheet or stamp the paper with a statement that the signature of the notary public is genuine.

The statement, legalized by the provincial court then has to be legalized again by the Malacaņang Palace in Manila. Here you will have to deposit the document as early in the morning as possible, and can collect it three working days later. They will attach a sheet to the document which states the nature of the document and that they believe that the signature from the provincial court is genuine.

After this, you will bring the statement with the legalization of Malacaņang attached to it to go the Department of Foreign Affairs, which will again attach a sheet, claiming that they believe that the signature from the Malacaņang is genuine. (with gold-colored sticker and nice red ribbon: you now know where the phrase red tape comes from). This also takes three working days.

Thus decorated, this statement can now be submitted to the foreign embassy for legalization. (Which again will attach a sheet or stamp, etc....)

When you have certificates from the National Statistics Office (NSO) in Manila on security paper, you will have to start with the Malacaņang Palace, and need not go to a provincial court. Note that only documents from the NSO offices in Manila printed on security paper can be used with foreign embassies.

In summary, you will have to go through several offices with your legal documents.

  1. Notary public or other local agency.
  2. Provincial court (of province where issuing agency is located)
  3. Malacaņang Palace.
  4. Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
  5. Foreign Embassy in Manila.

Documents from NSO Manila (only Manila, NSO documents from other towns are useless) can be directly legalized by the Malacaņang Palace, and then need to go to the DFA.

Locating or Replacing Missing Documents

Often, documents are misplaced or missing and cannot be found. In that case, you may have to follow some steps to find or replace the missing documents.

The most common case here is that NSO in Manila cannot find a birth certificate. Typically, they will only check very close to the date of birth you indicate, whereas it is quite common that the birth was only registered several weeks later. Try to find out the date on which the birth was registered, and ask them to look again at that date. To find that date, you can consult a copy of the birth certificate (if your parents still have this) or go to the municipality you were born, and ask the officers here to consult their books.

If locating a birth certificate fails completely, you will have to apply for a late registration of birth. Here you will need to present any evidence you can get about your place and date of birth, such as school records or a baptismal certificate. Then the municipal officer can register your birth, and provide you with a birth certificate.

Unfortunately, for legalization, a municipal birth (or marriage) certificate is useless, as you need a copy from the NSO in Manila. It may take up to half a year before birth registrations made in a municipal office arrive in Manila. To expedite this process, you will have to ask the municipal office to send, by express mail, the document to the regional NSO office, and then ask the regional NSO office to forward, again by express mail, the documents to NSO headquarters in Manila. You'll have to shoulder the cost of this, but then will be able to get the copies you need on security paper from NSO Manila.

Correcting Documents

Another issue that may pop up regularly is that documents may be present, but have one or more mistakes on them. Often clerical errors or typos, sometimes blatant mistakes. The best way to correct this is to issue a request to correct clerical errors (following the procedure given in the Clerical Error Law, RA 9048). Always try this route first. Even if the issues appear to be more than a clerical error, leave it to the officials to decide so. If this won't work, if, for example, the corrections amount to more than just clerical errors, your only recourse will be a legal proceeding, which can take six months to several years.


A list of Foreign Embassies and Foreign Consulates in the Philippines.

Mag-Anak is a community of Filipino-American couples, that provides information and support to (would-be) couples.

The World of Filipinas has a lot of information in its various forums.

Jeroen Hellingman