How to plan a wedding ceremony in France

It’s always a treat when we hear from past clients. Our bride Leslie, whose wedding in Normandy took place in a beautiful garden (pictured above), recently got in touch. She has created some excellent content about her own wedding planning journey on her personal blog. The idea was to recount her experience of planning a wedding in France to share with family and friends. But she’s actually been contacted by brides and grooms embarking on their own planning journey who have come across her posts.

Leslie reached out to see if we would be interested to share some insight on planning a wedding in France. We’ll be contributing to a future post on her blog, and it was also just the motivation we needed to start up a series on our blog we’re calling “How to plan a wedding in France”. To kick things off, we’ll start with how to plan a wedding ceremony in France.

Planning a wedding ceremony in France

If you’re thinking about planning your wedding in France, one of the first questions will be about your wedding ceremony. It may seem romantic to have the “official” wedding take place in France. Or you may be accustomed to having one ceremony that fulfills your wish for a religious wedding and at the same time makes your marriage official in the eyes of the state. However it’s important to know that in France, the civil ceremony is always separate from any other type of symbolic ceremony. With all that in mind, how do you go about planning your wedding ceremony in France?

Planning a civil ceremony in France

The civil ceremony in France refers to the ceremony celebrated by the maire (mayor) or adjoint-maire (deputy mayor) which officializes your marriage in the eyes of the state.

The location of the civil ceremony is determined by where you reside in France, or in case of foreign couples, where you can establish a local tie in France. If one of the members of the couple is French, the local mairie (city hall) where their parents or family member lives could be an option. Otherwise, one member of the couple must establish residency in France and show they have been a resident for at least 1 month.

In addition to the residency question, as with most administrative processes in France, compiling the necessary documents is a cumbersome endeavor. If you are not French, there’s the added layer of complexity to obtain recent versions of documents (birth certificate, etc) and have them translated into French by an approved translator.

Given the time and effort required to pulling this off, if you are both citizens of another country we strongly advise you to have the civil ceremony in your home country.

Planning a symbolic ceremony in France

The symbolic ceremony in France refers to any religious ceremony held in a place of worship, or a secular ceremony held in a garden, ballroom, or other space. The symbolic ceremony can be conducted by a member of the clergy, a friend, or family member, and has no legal bearing.

Religious wedding ceremonies

Different faith traditions have different rules around marriage preparation, and often couples are surprised to learn the requirements that their (or their family’s) faith has around wedding ceremonies.

France is a country where all religions are freely practiced, but it has a long history with the Catholic faith, and a majority of the churches in France are Catholic churches. The Catholic Church in particular has a lengthy administrative process that rivals the process for the French civil ceremony. If you are interested in marrying in the Catholic Church, we advise you to start by reaching out to your home parish to get their blessing to marry in another parish. From there, you’ll need to find a Catholic parish in France who is open to celebrating a marriage ceremony for a non-parishoner couple. Once that is established, the remainder of the process involves compiling the different religious documents (baptismal certificate, etc) and completing your marriage preparation course.

Whatever your faith tradition, you will likely want the ceremony performed in a language you speak! It’s helpful to see if your rabbi, priest, pastor or faith leader would be open to coming to France with you.

Finally, if you plan on having a religious ceremony in a place of worship in France you will need to provide proof that your civil marriage has already taken place.

Secular wedding ceremonies

If a religious ceremony is not the right fit for you, a secular wedding ceremony will be the best route. The secular ceremony allows you to create a ceremony in your image, with readings and music that are meaningful to you. You may choose to have a non-religious celebrant create a text and officiate your ceremony, or you may prefer to have a friend or family member in this role.

The good news is that if you plan on having a secular ceremony in France, you have the choice of officializing your marriage either before or after your wedding in France.

Additional resources

For a first-hand account of the trials and tribulations of planning a civil ceremony in France, click here to read about Leslie and her French husband Arnaud’s experience.

And if you’re considering working with a wedding planner in France who can help you navigate this and all of your other questions about planning a wedding in France, we’d love to hear from you!