Marriage Requirements in International Waters

by Emily Vertosick

Getting married at sea or in international waters can make obtaining a marriage license slightly more difficult than for a traditional wedding Some cruise lines and cruise ships have the capability to perform weddings in international waters. There are also requirements for documentation and procedures for at-sea weddings. Couples should still make sure to research and prepare carefully and contact a travel agent or wedding planner for additional help, if needed.

Planning a Cruise Ship Wedding

If you want to get married at sea, there are several cruise companies that may be able to help you. Choose a cruise company that regularly deals with weddings and research companies and ships that offer on-board marriages. To get married while sailing, the cruise line must be specially authorized to marry couples in international waters.

United States Laws Regarding At-Sea Marriages

Some cruise ships have special permits allowing them to perform legal marriages at sea. Couples are responsible for getting their own marriage license in the appropriate jurisdiction as required by the cruise company and the government. If the couple is not concerned with United States recognition of their marriage, they can get married in a non-U.S. port as well, provided they are in compliance with all local laws. Many municipalities accept formal marriages conducted in foreign jurisdictions. However, some municipalities may not consider these marriages legal, and the couple must contact their local area government to confirm that a foreign marriage will be accepted when they return home.

Travel Documentation Needed

The bride, groom, family, wedding party and any other guests who are planning on sailing on the cruise must have appropriate documentation. For cruises originating from and returning to a U.S. port, travelers to not need to have passports. They still must have passport cards, enhanced driver's licenses or a certified copy of their birth certificate along with a photo ID to travel. It is recommended that cruise passengers have a passport, however, since in case of emergency or early departure from the cruise, passengers will be able to enter a foreign country to fly back to the United States.

Marriage Documentation Needed

For a couple to get legally married aboard a ship, they must bring the correct documentation. While regulations can differ slightly between cruise lines, brides and grooms may be required to bring one or more of the following documents: birth certificate, Social Security card and/or government-issued photo identification. For those who have been married before, a divorce degree or spouse’s death certificate may be required to prove that the previous union has been dissolved, and some places may require that documentation showing previous name changes be presented as well. These are only general guidelines and that each cruise line and cruise ship has different policies and requirements for weddings on board. Couples should contact their cruise wedding coordinator for the most up-to-date information on documentation needed for the wedding.

About the Author

Emily Vertosick is a writer, editor and proofreader, specializing in the fields of science and technology, health and medicine, crafting, travel and culture, computers and frugal living. She holds a master's degree in public health from SUNY Albany and a bachelor's degree in French studies from Bard College.