Scotland has some of the most stunning landscapes in Europe, and the welcoming locals and ample choices for ceremony destinations make Scotland an amazing place for a destination wedding or elopement. But that doesn’t make it one without obstacles. Read on to find out everything you need to know about how to elope in Scotland.
Why get married in Scotland
Scotland is a great destination wedding location for multiple reasons. For one, you don’t have to be UK citizen or live in Scotland to legally marry there. You also don’t have to submit a health certificate which is required in some countries for destination weddings. It’s also the only country in the UK and one of few around the world that allows you to get married anywhere as long as the ceremony is officiated by registered officiant or celebrant. This means you can pick from beautiful mountains, rocky beaches, dramatic cliffs, or peaceful lochs. No need to pay an exorbitant venue fee or find an available date. You just need to show up and be married.
One of the only downsides about an outdoor wedding in Scotland is that the weather is not for the faint of heart. Expect rain, wind, and sun all in one afternoon. But if you’re worried, you can always get married in one of Scotland’s historic castles.
Here are other things to consider when you plan your destination elopement.
How can non-UK nationals marry in Scotland?
While any two persons over the age of 16 are legally allowed to marry in Scotland, if either party is a non-UK national, you will have to apply for a marriage visitor visa. This is irrelevant to whether or not your passport allows visa-free tourist travel. If your reason for visiting Scotland/the UK involves marriage, then you’ll have to first apply for a marriage visitor visa. This allows you to stay in the UK for up to 6 months and marry. You are not allowed to work, study, or live there for extended periods.
Obtaining the marriage visitor visa
You must apply for the marriage visa before you arrive in the UK, but after you’ve booked your trip/wedding day. Supporting documents for your application must include details about your trip and marriage-related costs that you may have already paid like fees for a venue or photographer. Failure to obtain a marriage visitor visa may mean you are refused entry into the UK at worst or that your marriage will have to be investigated by the UK Home Office and may not be considered valid at best. Frankly, like many visas, this is a time-consuming money grab. It’s also the trickiest part about getting married in Scotland.
That’s because the earliest you can apply for a marriage visitor visa is 3 months prior to your wedding. However, as part of your application (conveniently after you’ve applied and paid your application fee), you also have to book an appointment at a local UK visa application center where you present all necessary documents. The visa application center closest to you may or may not have appointments available for weeks or months. So be prepared for the possibility that you’ll lose your application fee and not be able to legalize your wedding ceremony after all. Once you’ve applied and attended your appointment, the UK immigration authorities will make a decision within three weeks.
The civil partnership loophole
The only way to avoid having to get a UK marriage visitor visa is if you’re converting an existing domestic partnership from another country into marriage in Scotland. For example, if you’re a same-sex couple and gay marriage is not fully recognized in your country and you have entered into a registered partnership, you can enter Scotland without any additional visa and convert your partnership into a Scottish marriage.
Finding a celebrant
If you choose to marry at the courthouse, your registrar will officiate your marriage. In which case, you would have to contact them to agree on a time and date. But given all the beautiful places in Scotland, I’m not sure why you would do that. If you’re looking for a religious venue, you would probably find your celebrant through the church. Otherwise, you’ll need to look for a celebrant through the Humanist Society Scotland. There you will find someone who is registered to marry couples. You can search by the location where you want to wed, though some celebrants are willing to travel for an extra fee.
It’s a good idea to meet your celebrant before you book them (even if it’s via Skype or Zoom). This will give you a good idea of whether you’re a good fit for each other. Your celebrant might want some preliminary information about you and your relationship and may offer you some ideas or tips about writing your vows or choosing what elements you want to include in your ceremony such as hand-fasting.
After you’ve chosen a celebrant who is available on your chosen date, you will correspond back and forth to agree on what the ceremony will be like including what they will say. Like any traditional wedding, you may want to review their speech, or you may want to be surprised on the day of the ceremony. Your celebrant has done this before even if you haven’t, so ask all the questions you need. Scottish people are the nicest people on earth, and celebrants marry people out of an unbridled love for weddings. They’ll be happy to guide you.
Finding wedding/elopement vendors
Whether you’re having a small gathering or it’s just the two of you, chances are, you’ll want to book additional elopement or wedding services like photography, make-up, or flowers. Your celebrant may be able to recommend some people in the location where you are to be wed. You can also get a lot of inspiration from Instagram and Pinterest by looking up Scottish weddings and elopements. The wedding industry is well-connected and supportive of each other. So we had photographers recommend other similar photographers because they weren’t available. Others may recommend florists, make-up artists, and even celebrants if you started looking up venues and photographers before celebrants.
Picking a location
There are probably hundreds of thousands of beautiful locations to marry in Scotland. Looking through the websites or blogs of photographers can help you narrow down what kind of setting you prefer whether you like waterfalls or mountains or the ocean. I recommend deferring to the expertise of locals on this one. Celebrants and other people you’re working with know the weather and locations better, so they know what makes for a more pleasant location. For instance, they may recommend a more private remote setting than the popular Quiraing to hold your ceremony so you don’t have a gaggle of tourists watching you get married.
If you’re looking to get married in a castle or castle grounds, you may have to do a little more work. Many castles are privately owned, and even those that are open to the public only allow events by prior arrangement. Some castles only host weddings during certain times or limit their bookings to once a month. Obviously this is more expensive than taking yourselves to some beach and marrying there for free.
Local requirements to marry in Scotland
Submitting notice of marriage
The remaining requirements are no different from those that Scottish citizens must undergo in order to marry – the first of which is submitting notice. Regardless of whether you are having a civil or religious ceremony, you need to submit notice of of marriage (provided on an M-10 form to the registrar of the district where you plan to marry or elope. Notice must be given no more than three months before the date of the ceremony and no later than 29 days before that date.
It’s probably a good idea to contact your registry office directly to find out what they need and when, but in general, both parties will have to fill out an M-10 form and you’ll each pay a service fee. You’ll also need to submit your birth certificates, passports, residence permits if necessary, and a decree of divorce or dissolution if you’ve been previously married. If you haven’t, you still have to submit a “Certificate of No Impediment” from your home country proving that you’re not married. Note: this is not required for US nationals as it’s not a document that they regularly provide.
If you’re a non-UK national and you’ve already started with step 1 and applied for a marriage visitor visa, you’ll also have to submit a Declaration of Status by Non-UK Nationals along with your visa documentation. If you haven’t yet received visa approval, you can still submit notice with evidence that you applied for it.
With your M-10 form, you must also submit details of your celebrant and witnesses. If you’re eloping and it’s only the two of you, your celebrant cannot also act as a witness. You can either pick friends or family who will be there or arrange for others to act as witnesses. For example, your photographers can be witnesses.
Obtaining the marriage schedule
Once your application to marry has been approved by the local registrar, you must collect your marriage schedule which is the valid form that legalizes your marriage in Scotland. The marriage scheduled cannot be issued any earlier than 7 days before the wedding and it must be collected in person. This means that if you’re eloping somewhere remote like the Isle of Skye, you must be present there at least one or two business days before the ceremony to collect the marriage schedule.
Finalizing your legal marriage in Scotland
The marriage schedule when signed by the couple, the celebrant, and the witnesses legalizes your marriage in Scotland. However, it must be returned to the registrar three calendar days after your ceremony. You can check with your registrar whether they have a post box that might allow you to return the schedule over the weekend.
A handy cheat sheet of all the legal requirements for marriage in Scotland can be found here.
Once you have returned the marriage schedule, your marriage is entered into the National Records of Scotland. You can request a marriage certificate directly through them. And that’s it! You’re married in Scotland. Cheers!
All photos featured here are credited to our amazing elopement photographers David & Martyna of Wonderful and Strange.