Portugal has seen an immense rise in foreign interest in the past few years. Due to its beautiful scenery and sunny weather, our country has naturally become a top-tier destination for weddings. But what do you need to do in order to successfully get married here? And how do you go about it? In this article we will provide you with all necessary information regarding the intricacies, legalities, requirements and traditions surrounding marriage in Portugal!
Being a Catholic country, religious marriage or “casamento pela igreja”, as it is commonly called, is the staple in Portugal. However, marriage as a whole is becoming less and less of a general staple over time. Whereas just 20 years ago, the number of marriages in a year was 53.735, in 2019 (pre-pandemic), the number was just 33.272. Moreover, Portugal has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe – 60% in 2021.
Not only are the Portuguese marrying less, we are also getting married way later in life. Just in 1990, the average marriage age was 24 for women and 26 for men, whereas in 2022 it increased to 34 for women and 35 for men – pretty much a 10 year increase in age.
As previously stated, Catholic marriage was the staple in Portugal for many years, but that is another tradition in decline. As society progresses, civil marriage becomes increasingly popular. Just 20 years ago, in 2023, Catholic marriage represented about 60% of all weddings, whereas in 2022 the rate fell to 37%.
Before, couples would get married in order to be able to move in together and have kids without any judgement – marriage was basically seen as obligatory. But nowadays, that is not the case, especially in the bigger cities. In fact, many couples start living together and even having kids before getting married – if ever.
This makes for the increase of de facto unions – a status which provides similar conditions and rights to those of marriage, such as tax and legal benefits and protection of the family home.
As civil marriages take over Catholic ceremonies in popularity, this broadens the possibilities of venues and, of course, vows and overall style of ceremony. However, in both cases, the ceremony must be held in Portuguese – for notary and legal reasons.
To marry in Portugal, foreigners must abide by specific legal requirements. It’s important to note that the process may vary slightly depending on your nationality, but here are some general guidelines:
Important note: all these documents must be translated into Portuguese and legalized at the Portuguese consulate of your home country.
These are the so-called “regimes de bens” in Portugal – which define how possessions are to be shared between you and your partner after the marriage.
LGBT or same-sex marriage has been legal in Portugal since 2010 – when the country became just the eighth nation in the world to legalize it. In 2016, it also became possible for LGBT couples to adopt.
The requirements are exactly those of a opposite-sex civil marriage. In the case that LGBT marriage isn’t allowed in your home country, instead of the Certificate of No Impediment, you must submit a statement from your country declaring that gay marriage isn’t legal there. You can usually get this from your country’s embassy in Portugal. Your union is then valid is any country that allows same-sex marriage!
Portugal has many traditions that are similar to other countries – such as the bride’s father walking her down the aisle and the bouquet throwing. But there are also many specific traditions to the country.
In Portugal, a traditional wedding starts very early with snacks at each of the partners’ parents’ house – dividing the families. After eating and spending a bit of time together, each person is given a piece of fabric to put on their car to signal the wedding and go to the venue. It’s common to honk during the drive. This “step” is optional and, in case of a Catholic wedding, the fabric is only given after the church service.
Again, in the case of a Catholic ceremony, after the couple walks out of the church door, they are welcomed with handfuls of rice thrown at them, which symbolises prosperity and good luck.
After guests arrive at the wedding venue, they are greeted by immense amounts of “starters”. If the ceremony is happening during the Summer, which is usual, this usually takes place outside. Meanwhile, the couple takes pictures with the different families. Next (after roughly 3 hours), everybody goes to a different location within the venue in order to start the real wedding meal.
As you can see, Portuguese weddings are very food-focused. After the “starters”, the wedding menu has specific starters again (usually 2-3), plus soup, two main dishes (one meat and one fish) and many desserts, and, obviously, the wedding cake. But it’s not over! After the dances, later in the evening, there’s supper – which usually consists of caldo verde and leitão (suckling pig).
In Portugal, the dance floor is a very important part of a wedding. A DJ or “wedding animator” is a must and different songs are chosen by the couple for different situations – like stepping inside the venue and the first dance.
Guests are expected to give a wedding gift which covers their meal, plus some extra money for the couple. The couple’s respective parents usually pay for the more expensive things, such as the venue booking or the bride’s dress. The wedding’s godparents (in case of a Catholic union) are also expected to give a bigger gift.
Usually by the end of the night, the pictures taken before are already available to see, so the couple usually offers one to each family, plus a souvenir. Commonly there are three different types: one for women, one for men and the other for kids.
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