Belle Bride Tracey – International Wedding Paperwork

Bride Tracey, engagement photos in Italy

It is getting super exciting as it isn’t long to go until our Belle Bride Tracey gets married!  It might be a non sexy, non pretty wedding topic, but a really important one as Tracey talks to us today about international wedding paperwork for residents of different countries.

Tracey:  Wow, I blinked and now it is spring!

The wedding is getting so close my subconscious is feeling it! I’ve been having countless dreams about the wedding, in general where the wedding either doesn’t happen or it happened but I missed it.

One dream was that I was only a mile away from the place of the wedding and running late, but instead of getting closer I was only getting further away. All the sudden I was lost in a subway station in Asia! In another dream, my brother texts me last second that he decided not to come. Another dream, I was riding the bus in my wedding dress, then I got off the bus and I was in my gym clothes with ratty hair. And yet another dream where I completely missed the wedding, but I had people come up to tell me that it was a good time. I could go on…

I think what is most terrifying about weddings is that so much money, time and thought goes into one event that will be over with in one short night. All that you can take from it are the memories. That’s why I will argue that the photographer and videographer are the most important investment. (If you say, who would argue with that, well meet my husband who believes the food is the most important. That would be a good debate!)

But beyond the pretty flowers, the pretty dresses, the handsome suited men and mouth-watering food, there is a dark corner that no one wants to talk or think about: the paperwork. I don’t know if you are a non-EU citizen marrying a French, an EU citizen marrying a French, or a non-French couple that wants to marry in France because of a love or attachment to the country. But whatever your situation is, it will involve lots of paperwork.

I just wanted to share a bit my experience with paperwork in hopes that it might help someone: as a U.S. citizen living in France, as a U.S. citizen applying for my French spouse’s permanent residency in the U.S., and declaring our marriage in France.

First, for some background on how a French wedding typically plays out:

  1. First, the bride, groom, witnesses and small party go to the “mairie” or courthouse to be married civilly. The bride might have a more casual white dress for this ceremony.
  2. Next, if it is a religious ceremony then everyone gathers to the church for the religious ceremony by the priest or deacon. If non-religious then an officiant directs the ceremony in the place of choice or it can be skipped.
  3. Then the cocktail (vin d’honneur) and the reception dinner follows. It is also normal for the bride and groom to invite guests only for specific parts of the wedding day. For instance, a guest could be invited to the cocktail and the dessert at the end of the reception dinner, but not to the dinner itself! This can be considered weird and rude to Americans, but for the French c’est comme ça!

When I was living in France with Thomas, we weren’t ready to marry but wanted to stay together in France. So, we happily PACSed. The PACS is an awesome option offered by the French government as an alternative to the traditional marriage, when you can declare a union together as a couple whether you are heterosexual or homosexual. It is very similar in paperwork to a civil marriage, as you are officially joined in PACS union at the tribunal. I remember using this blog as a guide.

About a year later, we married in the United States in a civil wedding, while Thomas was on his 90 day Schengen visa. Once we were married, I applied for Thomas’s permanent residence in the USA by going to the USCIS website and following the instructions for the forms I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and the I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status). To support the forms, I had to gather loads of documents to prove the validity of our marriage, including sworn statements from witnesses, pictures, common leases and expenses, and the evidence of the PACS union helped as well.

Some of the final steps involved going to a USCIS approved doctor and injecting Thomas with a lot of vaccinations at once, and a final face-to-face interview with a USCIS agent to defend our relationship. The entire process took 2-3 months and cost about $2,000. For anyone going through this, my advice is to be extremely diligent and organized with the USCIS paperwork. Read and follow carefully the instructions on each form you are submitting. Trust me, you want to be on USCIS’s good side! If something is missing, incomplete, or they can’t find it, then they can delay your status or worse, deny it.

Later, we declared our marriage to the French government through the French consulate in the U.S. Once approved, we received a green pamphlet called a “Livret de famille”. It’s a book where we will officially track legal family events such as any children born between us.

Sorry for boring you with the above, but I can imagine how difficult it is to plan a wedding AND take care of all the paperwork that goes along with it. For us, it was difficult to piece together all the legalities that we had to do, and I hope that providing some small details here will help make it easier for someone else!

Back to the wedding planning, it’s coming along great! I think that as an American, my first impulse is that we should go big or go home. I’m trying to tone down my American and force myself to keep it simple. Besides, there is only so much you can carry in a suitcase! I’m now in the process of taking care of the decoration details: DIYing table numbers, place cards, the alliance pillow and deciding the table organization. Here is an awesome tool for table organization I’ve been using!

If you are looking for ideas and inspiration on planning your wedding in France, don’t forget you can catch up with Belle Bride Tracey and you can find all the Belle Brides past and present here.


Wedding Vendors

Caterer: Traiteur Dumont
Cake: le Lautrec
Photography & Videography: Lifestories
Makeup: Adam et Elles
Hair: Amandine
Dress : LWD Bridal Denver
Reception Venue: Château du Guérinet
Engagement images by Purewhite Photography
Flowers: Stéphane Chanteloube – Fleurs Nature Créations
Music : Quatuor Basalte (cocktail), Vintage Vinyl Events for the DJ

Leave a Comment