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Guide to Russia > Russian Culture



So you wanna get married?
In Russia? Find out how here.

It might sound a little funny to those who have already tackled Russian burocracy, but in terms of documents, marriage in Russia is one of the easiest things to accomplish. Only a state marriage is considered official, even though many people prefer a church marriage. Of course if you have the desire, you can have a church marriage but only after you've registered for a state one. The registration needs to be done at a place called ZAGS - an organization where births and deaths are also registered. Following is an explanation of how the system works if two Russians want to marry:

First, they should find a ZAGS which is located in the district where one of the future newlyweds is registered. Another option is to go to a Wedding Palace. In St. Petersburg there are many ZAGS organizations and two Wedding Palaces which register marriages - if the future husband and wife are from St. Petersburg, if they are registered in the other Russian cities, or even if they are foreigners. They should bring their passports. They will receive a propiska (registration), fill out a short application form and bring a receipt for 200 rubles. ( The 200 rubles should be paid for at a specific bank, where they will give you a receipt after payment.)

After filling out the application form, the date of the wedding is booked, but requires a minimum waiting period of one month. You can choose what date you want to get married on, but to be honest it is quite difficult to get the exact date desired, especially during the summer. It is a good idea to start the document preparation process at least 6 months before your desired date. There are always cancellations or other ways to get the wedding date you really want, such as a pregnancy or a long business trip confirmed with the official paperwork, but the main advice here is to apply earlier rather than later!

And if you're a foreigner…

Other than the long queue to get the date of the wedding established, especially if you are applying to the Wedding Palaces, for Russians there are not many more difficulties. For foreigners this is a more complicated process because of the paper work required. In this case the Russian ZAGS organizations will act according to international agreements which require additional documents from the embassy of the foreigner's native country. And here the main advice is to check with your home embassy about the process and what exact papers are obligatory. The process is similar in all cases, so we will attempt to underline the main steps and procedures. But before we begin, do not forget to register your visa! All foreigners need to register their visas if their stay in Russia is longer then 3 days.

The Russian government requires that foreigners who wish to marry in Russia, have in their possession the originals of all pertinent civil documents (i.e. their last divorce certificate, their passports, etc.) In St. Petersburg further information concerning marriage procedures may be obtained by contacting one of the Wedding Palaces: 28 Angliyskaya emb., tel.: (+7812) 714-9848 or 52 Furshtatskaya Street, tel.: (+7812) 773-7396. Remember that following are only general guidelines. In every case it is necessary to contact your embassy in Russia or in your native country for detailed and accurate information. See our list of foreign embassies in Russia.

Got a Pen and Paper?

For a foreigner: a Russian visa (any kind - tourist, business, private, student), and passport are obvious requirements. The visa and the first page of the passport, where the first page with all the personal information is contained, should be translated into Russian (by a specific translating agency) and should have a Russian notary proof (stamped and signed). If the passport is translated at the foreigner's embassy, an authority should sign the translation so that it is legal. Then the foreigner needs to obtain a marital status paper from the embassy. In the United States this paper is called a "Marriage Letter" ("Certificate de Marriage" in France or "Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage" in England). This document can be obtained through the embassy or through your local authorities. In case you do it through your local authorities (outside Russia) the notice of marriage will be given in the area of your usual residence, and if in the period of 14 to 21 days (depending on the country) there's no objection to it, the Marriage Letter will be issued. The Certificate should be then legalized by attaching a Foreign and Commonwealth Office certificate to it, also called an "Apostille". You can apply for the Apostille in St. Petersburg on Tavricheskaya Street, 39, room # 312, tel. (+7812) 771-3651, or at your country's embassy in Russia. Contact them for further information. The papers will be issued within 21 to 30 working days. In some countries the process is free, while others will charge up to $50. If you were married before, you'll need more documents from your embassy.

It's important that you understand that some embassies will require additional documents (besides your passport) to be able to issue you the Marriage Letter. For example, your future spouse's Birth Certificate and a testimony saying that he/she sincerely wants to marry. Both papers should be translated and stamped with an Apostille. The translation with notary proof can be made in St. Petersburg at the following Translation Centers:

  • Bronnickaya street, 15, tel. (+7812) 712-6515
  • Vosstania Street, 6, tel. (+7812) 773-7003

All notary procedures take up to a few working days and cost from 300 to 1000 roubles ($10 - 35).

Continue reading

In Moscow, useful contacts are the following:
  • the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Consulate Department address is: Moscow, Neopalimovsky Pereulok, 6 (M.: Smolenskaya). Open: 10.00-17.00 (lunch break 13.00-15.00), closed Sat & Sun.
  • The translation with notary proof can be made, for example, at the "Tolmach" translation center: Zemlyanoy Val St., 58/23, office 1 (in the courtyard), M.: Kurskaya. Telephone/fax: (+7095) 915-5784, email: maschino@aha.ru. Open: 10.00 to 18.00 Mon to Fri.
  • Apostilles should be placed on the translated copies of original documents, and can be made at the Russian Federation Ministry of Justice located in Moscow, Novy Arbat St., 21 (a tower), room 310. Open: Mon-Fri 9.30-12.00 (receives documents); 12.00-13.00 (gives out documents).

On the very day of the wedding, you, your fiance/fiancee and your witnesses should come to the Wedding Palace a half an hour before the ceremony in order to make sure all needed documents are in order, chose your music preferences and a photographer. After the ceremony and your confirmation, where you and your significant other provide testimonial proof that you want to marry each other, you will get a Government Wedding Certificate. You will also be given the address of a government office, which can stamp this certificate with an Apostille stamp. This stamp gives this certificate international legitimacy and is proof of the marriage in native countries.

Need Reassurance? Our Personal Notes and Impressions

Tanya, our former editor, and her husband applied to the Wedding Palace - Angliyskaya emb., on the 27th of October, 2004 and booked a wedding date for February 25th 2005. There were earlier dates available, but they wanted their wedding to be at the end of winter, so they got exactly what they wanted - a Friday service and a nice day-time registration ceremony. The whole application process took about half an hour. On the actual wedding day, they arrived, as recommended, a half an hour before the registration time, when they paid for photography, music and video services. After the photographer took several pictures, it was time for the ceremony to start. The ceremony was very lovely and serious at the same time. Good words were said, beautiful music heard and after they said "I do", they became happily married. Afterwards, their families and friends congratulated them with kind words and flowers and then, as quickly as it began, the ceremony was over. They were photographed a few more times and then walked out of the Wedding Palace to continue celebrating elsewhere. The marriage ceremony at the Wedding Palace takes about one hour and makes memories to last you a lifetime.

When we were conducting research on the topic of how to marry in Russia, our two editors Lolita and Tanya went to the Wedding Palace on Angliyskaya emb. 28 to scope out the scene and research the process. They pretended that Lolita, who is an American citizen, wanted to marry a Russian man. Tanya acted as a friend, who was helping Lolita collect all the needed information, since Lolita, an American, could not communicate well in Russian. The atmosphere there was nice, but a bit confusing. When you first walk into the office there are lots of people walking around and talking, but no one really tells you where to sit and wait or what to do. Also information for foreigners was nowhere to be found. Some people were busy filling out their applications, but it was hard to figure out who could help you or give you a consultation. After a short while a lady, who looked like a consultant, came in. At this point our editors hunted her down and asked her questions. If you are quick on your feet - it is a good idea to jump ahead of everyone else and ask for help! And that was it! That was the right lady and she kindly consulted the girls on what they had to do and which papers were needed. Also the lady said that in St. Petersburg, the Wedding Palaces are friendly to foreigners and will help them book a date. In this case it is necessary to apply with the Chief Inspector of the Wedding Palaces. This small research experiment gave us the following result: no one bites, it is good to come with a Russian speaking friend, it is a good idea to just walk in and ask who can help you and it is very useful to have a quick reaction, when authority figures enter the room. It will take about 15 minutes to get all the needed information and the atmosphere there is helpful and kind - just don't be shy!

When Lolita tried to contact the US consulate in St. Petersburg, she had a slightly more difficult time getting someone to help her. First she called on Tuesday afternoon, when she was told to call back on Wednesday between the specific hours of 3-5 PM. When she called back on Wednesday at 3:30, she was directed to the department, which would supposedly answer all her questions regarding the paperwork needed for US citizens to get married in Russia; however, no one answered the phone the first 3 times Lolita called. Finally, on the fourth phone call of the day, a lady answered and kindly told Lolita that all the needed information was online at the US consulate's website. When Lolita explained that the information was confusing, the lady reluctantly took her through the entire process, step by step. Basically the same information, which was given to Lolita and Tanya at the Wedding Palace, was repeated again. There were no extra papers to fill out, because Lolita was an American citizen; however, this may not be the case for all other citizenships, so check with your personal consulate office in Russia for specific details. The only thing which surprised Lolita was that you had to get the Marriage Letter from the US Embassy in Moscow and must get it notarized there as well. This paper is not available in St. Petersburg. The Marriage Letter should only take one day to process, but afterwards it has to be translated into Russian and legalized. Since you are already in Moscow, this can be done by taking the Letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is in walking distance from the embassy. It will cost about $30 and will take 4-5 days to complete. Of course, if you were previously married, divorce certificates have to be translated, notarized, and stamped with an Apostille.

All in all, the process for foreigners trying to get married in Russia is not too difficult but a lot of paperwork is required, so plan accordingly. Also, have patience. Most people are willing to help out a foreigner in need, but others are not so eager. Don't take it personally and find out everything you can.

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