A lot of westerners come to Thailand and marry a Thai. Others come with a western boyfriend or girlfriend and get married while they’re here. Getting married in Thailand is actually not that difficult and it’s a lot cheaper than in the US or Europe. Whether you’re a farang (westerner) living in Thailand and marrying a Thai woman or man, or whether you’re a western couple coming to Thailand to get married, the same rules pretty much apply. If you plan on getting married in Thailand, here’s how to do it and what you’ll need to bring with you to make sure you can.
Documents You Need – If you’re a foreigner marrying either a Thai citizen or another foreigner, you’ll need to make sure you have your passport with two copies of the photograph page and also two copies of the page showing your visa into Thailand. Your passport must be valid for at least six months otherwise Thai authorities won’t even let you in the country, let alone get married.
Secondly, you’ll have to get an Affirmation of Freedom to Marry, which you can get at your home embassy in Bangkok – and a certified translation of this document in Thai. You’ll then have to take this document to the Legalization and Naturalization Division of the Department of Consular Affairs on Chaeng Wattana Road in northern Bangkok to get it authenticated. It normally takes two working days and you’ll have to return there to pick it up (which can be a real drag as it’s a long way and the traffic is horrendous), but if you pay an extra fee (they’ll tell you how much as it seems to change every day), you can usually get it taken care of that day. Like every other document in Thailand, you’ll also need a photocopy of both of these documents (Thai officials love photo copies!).
If you’re marrying a Thai citizen, he or she will only need two things – their Identification Card, which every Thai carries, and their House Registration Document (a blue book) with, of course, a photo copy of both of these.
Once you have all these documents in order, you should go to an Amphur (this is what Thais call a ‘District Office’ and apply for a Thai marriage license.
Getting Married – Most people in Thailand will have a religious ceremony (usually Buddhist) to celebrate the wedding. Be warned though, if you get married in a religious ceremony but then don’t register at the Amphur office, the marriage is not legal. It must be registered at an Amphur office and a marriage certificate issued. If you get married with one of the many package deals available in Thailand, though, the company organizing the package wedding will usually arrange to have an official from the Amphur office at the wedding so it can be registered and made legal as soon as the religious ceremony is finished. If not, after the wedding (or before, if you like), you must go to the local Amphur office to have the marriage registered.
Getting the Marriage Registered at the Amphur Office – Unlike in the west, where getting married at city hall includes a wedding ceremony, there’s no wedding ceremony at the Amphur office. All you do is take all your paperwork with you, stand in a line and, when it’s your turn, submit your paperwork with the necessary fee. The Amphur office will issue your marriage certificate and that’s it, you’re married. This is why most Thai couples have the religious ceremony, as you hardly feel married if you’ve just filled in a couple of pieces of paper and been given your marriage certificate.
Getting Married With a Wedding Package – A lot of foreigners come to Thailand on a wedding package holiday. What that means is you pay a set amount and it will include airfare, hotel, food, traditional Thai wedding dress, traditional suit for the groom, all costs of the wedding ceremony, fees for the monks, flowers, Amphur fees and everything else included in a wedding. They’re actually a great deal as many of them are in nice hotels, outside Bangkok a beach is usually involved, and the total cost is far less than any western wedding I’ve ever been to. You should book one of these packages, obviously, before you come to Thailand.
If you’re living in Thailand, you can get a similar package, minus the airfare, through many wedding planners (you’ll often see these companies with large booths at malls all over Thailand). Again, it includes most of the things involved with a wedding and, if you’re not Thai and don’t speak the language, you’re far better off paying for one of these. For only a couple of thousand dollars, you get everything and you’ll end up getting married in a much more romantic place than in a typical American or European wedding.
The Dowry – If you’re a foreign man marrying a Thai woman, don’t forget about the dowry or ‘sin sot’. Most Thai women, especially the poorer ones, will expect a dowry to be paid to their family before the marriage can take place. The amount of the dowry should be arranged with the woman’s parents before the wedding, but can be anything from 10,000 baht to several million. One of my friends who recently got married to a Thai woman paid the father 1 million baht (about $30,000) but, after the wedding, the money was returned to him, which seems to be getting more common in Thailand. The dowry, much of the time, is just to prove you can support your future wife. Be warned though, in poorer communities, some families will try to milk the foreigner for as much money as they can get. Put your foot down and offer much less. Most families will take it as they know their daughter marrying a foreigner is likely to have a far better life than she would marrying a Thai man in the same social bracket.
Letting Your Home Country Know You’re Married – What’s fabulous is you actually don’t have to do this. While you’re in Bangkok, just go to the embassy or consulate of your home country and give them the original marriage certificate. The embassy will then send this to whichever registration department is near your home. Make sure though that you have a photocopy of the marriage certificate in your records before you hand over your original marriage certificate. Some of them have been known to disappear and you want proof that you’re married if, God forbid, that happens to you.
All in all, getting married in Thailand is a piece of cake (no pun intended!). The cost of an average Thai wedding is only between $1,000 and $2,500, which is a far cry from the tens of thousands it now costs in the west and getting married in Thailand is much more unique too. You’ll even end up with some pretty cool photos.