By Adam Purcell
ON May 23, 2014, I decided to pop the question. Literally. With an engagement ring ensconced inside an inflated orange balloon – “The Question?” scrawled in black ink on its rubber surface – I got down on one knee and asked my girlfriend of seven years, a Thai national, if she would spend the rest of her life with me. I then jabbed the balloon with a pin – and watched it slowly deflate. pfffffffffft. Hardly the impact I wanted, but fortunately the flatulent flapping didn’t render my question a stinker. My girlfriend said YES.
If only I’d known all this one year earlier.
You see, back in May 2014, my knowledge of nuptials was limited to what I’d gleaned from tacky TV shows and cheesy Hollywood rom-coms; I’d thought that getting hitched back in England would have been as simple as saying “I do.”
Turns out I’d quickly have to divorce myself from that asinine idea.
“I think this may be more complex than you suspect,” wrote Ruth Evans, deputy registrar of Whitby registry office (in my hometown) in response to an email I’d sent in June 2014 requesting how I could get married there.
“As neither of you live in this country you would be required to set up a residency before you could give your Notices of Marriage. This involves arriving in the district in which you intend giving notice, the following seven days as residents [sic] then your notices could be given on the ninth day. Evidence in the form of travel tickets, hotel or accommodation receipts etc. would be required alongside proof of nationality and second proof of ID.
“Your notices are then put on public display for 15 clear days and on the 16th day – assuming there are no legal objections and that the paperwork is in good order – your authorities to get married can be issued. Only when we have these can you be married.”
So far, not so good. And Ruth’s concluding statement threw our wedding rings right into the smelter.
“Assuming you arrive on 27th August, the soonest you could give notice is 4th September – if you are able to make an appointment. Your authorities, which are valid for twelve months, could be issued on 20th September if all goes smoothly.”
Wowzers. We had planned to arrive in the UK on August 28, 2014, get married on September 6, and return to Thailand on September 16. As we both work in the deadline-riddled world of magazine publishing, where extended vacations are rarer than unicorn manure, our plans for a fairy tale wedding had just been ripped to shreds by the ogre of bureaucracy. And it hurt.
Chief among our concerns was my 79-year-old Nanna. A proper northern lass who’s lovelier than a freshly toasted crumpet, she nevertheless has a talent for dishing out bruising comments. “If I don’t get to see you two get married before I pop my clogs,” she had told me in her thick, Yorkshire brogue, “I’ll rip yer head off.” Too old to endure a 14 hour flight, she said she meant it, too.
I asked Ruth if I could fast track the process. The answer was no (unless I was terminally or seriously ill – which I would have been, if my Nanna had gotten hold of me at that point). I asked if my fiancée and I could run to Scotland and get hitched in Gretna Green, a village renowned for offering quick, often surreptitious marriages. No (tighter rules apply now, apparently). I asked if I could slip a fat, brown envelope under the table to make all these problems ‘disappear.’ Well, not really, but the thought had crossed my mind. And we all know what the answer would have been.
That’s it, then, I thought. My fate is sealed. I’m going to lose my head.
But – a light at the end of the tunnel: “If you were to marry in Thailand then we would be able to do a ‘Renewal of Vows’ ceremony,” wrote Ruth. “This is remarkably similar to a wedding so might be the answer, and I’m sure your Nanna would be delighted.”
My head was saved!
Sure, a Renewal of Vows ceremony might not be the most traditional way to celebrate a new marriage, but, hey, at least we could still travel to England on the dates we wanted to, celebrate when we wanted to, and with my Nanna happy and my noggin intact, I could kiss my bride in customary fashion at the end of a properly officiated ceremony (long story, but before Ruth came to my rescue, I had seriously considered hiring an actor to take on the role of registrar for the day).
Best of all, to achieve all this, we only needed one legal document from Thailand: a marriage certificate. Surprisingly, especially when considering the longwinded process we could have faced in the UK, obtaining this here was a doddle – we went from single to married in just seven days! Follow the advice below, and you could potentially do it in three (as long as you have a loving and willing partner, of course, and a bit of luck).
GOING from from single to hitched in Thailand requires the following:
1. Getting engaged, obviously.
2. Obtaining an ‘Affirmation of Freedom to Marry’ from the British Embassy in Bangkok.
3. Having this letter translated into Thai by a licensed translator.
4. Legalizing these letters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
5. Taking these legalized letters to your local district office (Amphur) and registering your marriage. You’re now officially husband and wife. Yay!
6. Bonus step: To ensure your marriage is legally recognised in the UK, translate the marriage certificates to English. Certify the translation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Report the marriage to the British Embassy (we didn’t have to report at the Embassy because we had a Renewal of Vows Ceremony in the UK).
OK. So this all sounds simple enough. But there are pitfalls. For example, the Affirmation of Freedom to Marry document, which is available to download from the gov.uk website, comes with instructions as vague as they can be infuriating – nowhere does it tell you, for example, that all addresses you include on the letter must be based in the UK. Had I known this, I would have saved myself a wasted trip (my original letter included my Bangkok address, so I was told to return to the Embassy the following day with a new letter).
Similar problems plague the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where, after queuing for 30 minutes with my letters, I was told I would need to go and get a photocopy of my passport and return and queue up again. I had no idea I was supposed to provide one. I also had no idea that I was supposed to arrive before noon if I wanted to receive my documents on the same day, and that this privilege is only afforded to the first 50 people that apply for it.
These are just a few of the niggly things that turned what could have been a smooth and simple process into a vexatious test of patience. Love is in the air? Not when you’re crammed in a queue with 30 sweaty, confused people.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Follow the document cheat sheet below and you’ll free up more time for more important matters, such as selecting a suitable wedding venue, arranging wedding invites, planning one last big night out with your mates…
• Getting engaged
My advice. Don’t do what I did. It took at least 30 minutes for me to convince my wife I wasn’t joking. Play it safe – nice restaurant, candles, ring baked inside a chocolate brownie. On second thoughts. Don’t do this either.
• Obtaining an ‘Affirmation of Freedom to Marry’ from the British Embassy
The British Embassy (14 Wireless Rd., a short walk from Ploenchit BTS station) is open Mon – Fri from 8am – 11am. Download your copy of the Affirmation of Freedom to Marry letter from www.gov.uk and ensure that all addresses you include on it are based in the UK (including usual address), and that both of your referees are UK citizens (the website info doesn’t mention this, but it’s essential). The price for having this letter stamped at the embassy: B3,080. Turnaround time: around one hour.
• Having this letter translated into Thai
The Affirmation of Freedom to Marry needs to be translated into Thai by a licensed translator. Luckily, such services are available in Wave Place, near the Embassy, which do this for B500. What’s more, you can cheat slightly and hand them a copy of your completed letter before you go to the Embassy. Your translation will then be ready to pick up as soon as you leave the Embassy, saving you at least a 30 minute wait.
To ensure a smooth translation process, make sure you take a copy of your work permit so that the translator can match the Thai spelling of your name. Also take a copy of your Thai partner’s ID card, so they can match this too. This will prevent any problems from arising at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who are a stickler for details such as these.
• Legalizing documents at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is located in Zone B of the sprawling Chaeng Watthana Government Complex and can be accessed directly from Chaeng Watthana Road. The best way to get here, if you don’t own a car or bike, is to take the BTS or MRT to Mo Chit station, then hop in a cab (B80-B100). Ignore the freelance translators pedaling their wares outside and head straight for the second floor where you can collect, complete, and hand in the necessary form.
To ensure a smooth process, make sure you take a signed photocopy of your passport and your Thai partner’s ID card. A fast track service (priced B400) which allows you to receive the documents on the same day is available, but you must hand in your documents before noon (and be among the first 50 people to apply for this service). If you’re in no rush, you can simply opt for the standard service (B200) and return when your documents have been processed (at least one day). Alternatively, for an additional B60 you can have the legalized documents mailed to you, which is what I did (I handed in my forms on Thursday, and received them in the office the following Monday). Once you receive these forms, you’re all set to become legally married.
THE MFA is open Mon-Fri (except Public Holidays), 8am-3pm.
• Registering your marriage at the local district office (Amphur)
SIGNING marriage papers at an Amphur office can be a strange experience – especially if you visit an office that handles marriage and divorce applications at the same table. Think some couples smiling; others looking like they’ve just been force-fed a bucket of wasps. This was the case at Khet Bangrak Registration Office (a 10 mins taxi journey from Silom), which is a popular office for registering marriages due to its name – Bangrak means ‘District of Love.’
A rickety trishaw decorated with pink ribbons is the only ‘romantic’ feature of this office, though, and most couples that climb aboard the bike for pictures after signing their papers look more terrified than elated. Not an image for the front of the photo album, then!
Bangrak is a good option in Bangkok for registering your marriage because it operates slightly differently to other offices. Chiefly: you don’t need to take your own witnesses (the office provides them), so you don’t need to worry about establishing a date and time to visit the office with friends or family.
Due to the office’s popularity you should aim to arrive as early as possible and be prepared to wait at least two hours (although you may be lucky). Again, alongside your legalized documents from the MFA, make sure you take signed photocopies of your passport (ID page, visa, and arrival card) and your fiancée’s ID card and House Registration Certificate.
Once all the documents have been approved (around one hour), and you pay the princely sum of B40, you’ll officially, and legally, be husband and wife. Congratualtions! Now just be careful when climbing aboard that trishaw…
The best day of your life
OF course, all of the above is about as romantic as being slapped in the face with a kipper. But this is just the legal side of things; the real romance lies in having the ‘big day’ itself – when all the people you know and love come together to celebrate the best thing that’s ever happened to you. After signing our papers last July, my wife and I have since been lucky enough to celebrate our big day twice – once in England, last September, and once in Thailand, in January – and they truly were the best days of our lives. Would we like a third? Nah. That’d just be greedy. But we might come and gatecrash yours. Best of luck. And congratulations!