Surviving the Registry Office.
When getting married abroad, you really do need to look into what your best options are regarding all that dreary legal paperwork. Otherwise you may find out you’re not really married at all. Well, not legally anyway. Might be a relief to some people, but not to us. To be honest, we didn’t really look into what was required to get legal status from a wedding in South Africa…it just felt like we would be letting ourselves in for a world of paperwork pain. Africa loves paperwork. Slow, laborious, nit-picky paperwork. So, we decided to have the legal part of the wedding done in the UK. You can do it either before or after the actually ceremony, it's up to you. But it doesn’t have to be the day you celebrate as your anniversary for years to come. And the day itself can be played down and as informal as you like. We did ours before our ceremony in Africa, as we felt it would be weird to say all those vows to each other in front of everyone, feeling like man and wife, but knowing we’re not really, not legally.
In our case, the registry office wedding was a blessing in disguise, as Spencer’s grandad couldn’t make it to South Africa. This ceremony meant he could witness us saying the vows and actually getting married. So it was still a very special few hours for us.
When we arrived to book our appointment, they gave us options of what we’d like to say and how we’d like it to be conducted. We opted for minimal vows, no ring exchange, no music or grand entrance, and we went dressed smart but not bridal. The reason we played it down so much is that we didn’t want it to overshadow or spoil the day in Africa. That was to be our proper wedding day. After all, the registry office thing is just the legal side.
There really is no wrong or right way to do it, just do what feels best for you and your partner. A warning though: you do have to have two reliable witnesses, that 'know' both you and your partner. Gone are the days when you could grab someone of the street to stand in for you (at least at the picky office we attended). We made that mistake and almost weren’t able to get legally married that day. Big bummer when your grandad’s come a long way for it, dressed up to the nines! It was also a little heart-wrenching, realising that you may have to wait another 28 days before they can fit you in again. Not a great situation when your actual wedding is 2 weeks away and you’re booked to fly to America for a year or more soon after! Thanks for the stress, Bow Registry Office.
You see, we were told that just anyone could come along and be a witness - so we didn’t even think about having a back up plan in case someone couldn’t make it. So of course we didn't panic at all when our second witness pulled out. We thought ah what the heck, we’ll ask the nearest homeless man to step in for us. It'll be funny at worst. When we didn’t see a homeless man, or any else nearby for that matter, we were relieved when a couple in the registry office offered to be our witnesses. The staff member told us that was all fine. Until we were just about to go into the room...we were then told by some old frump who'd clomped up the staris that those two people couldn't be our witnesses after all, as they don’t actually 'know' us. Crazy. Stupid. Pedantic. How do you legally prove or quantify ‘knowing’ someone? We knew it was because they have so many sham marriages going through…but I bet most of them don’t get singled out like us! We’d already gone all the way there weeks before to be interviewed - to find out if we really knew each other, which is daunting enough, and now they suddenly may not let you get married after all because your best friend isn’t there to give a nod. Silly business. And we could tell that the lady telling us we couldn’t go ahead was quite enjoying her little bit of power.
It would have been good to find this nonsense out even 30 mins before the ceremony was due to start. But oh no, Bow Registry Office let us know 5 minutes before we were to begin. Spence called everyone he could think of that would be close enough to rush down and save the day, before the next couples’ appointment was due. Thank goodness for his mate Dave - he saved the day by leaving work suddenly and mysteriously, jumping into the nearest taxi and running into the room like a mad thing. Still in his trainers. So, our story is much more stressful than it should have been, thanks to misinformation from the registry office beforehand. Don’t fall into the same trap!
How much do they want from you for this piece of paper, you ask? Well, pricing varies quite a lot. Each registry office has its own fees. And it also varies depending on which day of the week you go: weekdays are cheaper, of course. Ours cost £210 altogether, which included a booking fee of £50. As costing varies so much I’d recommend calling your local registry office for more information. Click here to find out all you'll need to know.
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