You might be here on our page because you’re an American getting married in Italy and you found us while doing your research about how the legal process works for marrying in Italy. We wanted to put together a description of what we experienced so that the process is clearer for Americans marrying in Italy – it’s not a complicated process as many tried to lead us to believe. It did require more time spent in Italy going around to the various offices we had to visit, but I am so glad we did it this way. And I’ll be honest, we are also writing this because we are wedding photographers and would love to shoot your wedding in Italy. We love Italy so much, and hiring us provides many added benefits – I (Adam) speak Italian and managed the entire legal process we went through so we can help you along the way with any questions, translations, or situations that come.
In this article, I am going to focus mainly on the legal process for getting married in Italy, the pieces of documentation that are required, and I will describe the process for navigating through the legalization process necessary to make your Italian wedding legal in the US and the rest of the world. I’m also going to talk about our wedding and the area in which we got married so that I can illustrate the different things we experienced
In October 2012 Shawna and I were married in beautiful Poppi, Italy, a small village in eastern Tuscany. The town is surrounded by majestic mountains and beautiful farms. Located in the Casentino valley (which stretches from the north, southward towards Arezzo and west towards Florence), it is where the Arno river originates and flows towards Florence and finally out to Subbiano. There is a long, rich history that can be seen throughout Casentino and beyond into Tuscany, and a visit to Arezzo is highly recommended if you’re exploring this area.
Because we knew there would be a lot of running around to different offices and waiting on paperwork, we planned on being in Italy for a total of three weeks. The process for getting the legal requirements in order within Italy don’t take that long, but we wanted to plan in some time for travel, and we had reserved a villa at Podere Sant’Angelo for a week while everyone was out with us for the wedding.
However, the process to acquire the legal documents necessary to get married in Italy began several months before leaving the United States. Because the closest Italian Consulate to us is in Los Angeles, I referred a lot to their website to find out what needed to be done and what paperwork I needed to complete.
Step 1: Call Up the Nearest Italian Consulate in the United States to Begin the “Atto Notorio” Process
The first Italian document you will need to obtain is called an Atto Notorio. It is simply a declaration in front of the Italian Consulate that you and your fiancé are who you say you are and that you can be legally married in Italy. You will appear before the Italian Consultate with you, your fiancé and two witnesses to make this declaration. Before obtaining the Atto Notorio, you will need to obtain a few documents that I describe below. Each document will also need to be attached to another document called an Apostille, which is a document certifying that the attached document is legal and shall be recognized as legal throughout the world. Lastly, the documents (except for the Apostille) need to be translated into Italian, and your consulate should be able to refer you to a translator.
So, I called up the Italian Consulate in Los Angeles and was directed to “Ufficio Notarile” department (this is the Notary Office). Helping me from the Ufficio Notarile was an incredibly friendly lady named Aureliana. She was so excited I was getting married in Italy and she did a great job of explaining to me what needed to be done as the first step.
Obtain the Necessary Legal Documents for the Atto Notorio:
– An official signed copy of your birth certificate (most can be ordered online through the county in which you were born)
– An official signed copy of your fiancé’s birth certificate
– If either of you are divorced, you will need to obtain the divorce decree from the county where the divorce was finalized.
– A copy of your driver’s license
– A copy of your fianceé’s driver’s license
– Copied of your two witnesses’ driver’s licenses
– A copy of your passport
– A copy of your fiancé’s passport.
The following documents will need to be translated into Italian:
– Both official birth certificates
– Any divorce decree
What We Did:
I simply went online to the website for the county where I was born to find out how to order an official copy of my birth certificate. The county website directed me to VitalChek.com where I was able to place the order online. When doing so, there is a screen to indicate the reason you are ordering the certificate. You want to specify Apostille/Authentication as this will ensure you get the long form of your birth certificate. It cost under $50 to get my certificate. I also did this for my fiancé. Total cost: under $100.
Because I was divorced, I had to go to the San Diego County legal records office and obtain a copy of my divorce decree. I indicated to the legal records office that I needed an Apostille attached to my divorce decree. This was free and took 20 minutes while I waited at the office.
Once I received the birth certificates and my divorce decree, I copied them and sent them to my translator. She had them back to me within a week. Total Cost for the translation: $150.
While my documents were being translated, I sent the original copies I received of our birth certificates to the offices in each state (for me, that was California, and for Shawna it was Massachusetts) that process Apostilles. To be clear, even though when I ordered our certificates on VitalChek.com I indicated this was for Apostille/Authentication, they do not send the Apostilles with the documents, that simply tells them to send the long form of your birth certificate. You then need to send the birth certificate to the appropriate state office to have the Apostille affixed to the certificate. I got our Apostilles and birth certificates back within a week of sending them.
At this point now, I had both of our birth certificates, each with their own Apostille and translated version. I also had my divorce decree, its Apostille, and its translated version. Now I was ready to actually make the appointment to go to the Italian Consulate in L.A. with all of our documents in hand and our two witnesses. Important: you must receive your Atto Notorio within a three month period before the date of your wedding. Because our wedding was October 10th, I made our appointment for July. I probably began the process to gather all the documents for the Atto Notorio in May/June. I think it cost around $150 to get the Atto Notorio. At the Consulate, the process is simply this: you present all of your documents (see the Obtain the Necessary Legal Documents for the Atto Notorio section above for a list), and show up with your two witnesses, then you swear an oath in front of the consulate, and when that’s all done you get two Atto Notorio documents: one for you and one for your fiancé. Once you have those, Step 1 is done!
Step 2: The Nulla Osta
The Nulla Osta is another document that you will complete once you are in Italy. It is performed at any American Embassy in Italy. We went to the one in Florence. You can download and print out the form from this website before leaving the United States. Like the Atto Notorio, the Nulla Osta is a sworn statement that you are who you say you are and that you can be legally married in Italy. With the Nulla Osta, you make this sworn statement in front of the American Ambassador. You’ll need to make an appointment at the embassy a month before you want to have the appointment take place. Just like the Atto Notorio, you will actually be receiving two Nulla Osta documents: one for you and one for your fiancé. I think the total cost that I paid at the embassy was around $200. You can go online to get more information here. You may also make your appointment with the embassy online by going to the website for the embassy you want to have the appointment take place at (Florence, Milan, Rome, etc). These appointments are generally only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
After you have completed the Nulla Osta process and have received both Nulla Osta documents, you need to bring them to the local Prefettura (the local Prefecture office) to have the documents authorized by the provincial Italian government agency. But before you even do that, you need to go to any Tabacchi shop (tobacco store) to buy two marco da bollo stamps: one for each Nulla Osta. Just go into any Tabacchi and ask for two marco da bollo stamps. The cost for each is pretty cheap. In Italian, you simply say “Vorrei comprare due marco da bollo per favore” (I would like to buy two marco da bollo stamps please). Don’t attach the stamps to anything yet – they will do that at the Prefettura. The Prefettura simply validates the signature of the American Ambassador. The specific office at the Prefettura that handles legal documents is called the Ufficio Legalizazione. Here’s the website for the Ufficio Legalizazione in Florence: http://www.prefettura.it/firenze/contenuti/11205.htm. If you don’t speak Italian, now is a good time to get to know Google Translate (translate.google.com) which is awesome because you can enter the URL of a website you want translated and it will render you a complete translation of the site in English. At the Prefettura there is a strong chance that nobody in the office will speak English. Not a big deal with a little Italian: you simply ask for the Ufficio Legalizazione, then go to that office and show them the two Nulla Osta, the stamps, and say you are here for his signature because you are getting married in Italy. “Scusi signor, siamo qui per obtenare sua firma sulla Nulla Osta. Io e mia fidanzata andiamo sposarci in Italia. Grazie” (Excude me sir, we are here to obtain your signature on the Nulla Osta. We are getting married in Italy). He’ll know what to do from there.
What We Did:
We arrived into Florence the day before our appointment at the US Embassy in Florence. The day of our appointment, we made sure to show up a few minutes early at the embassy. It’s a highly secure area, so you will wait outside, present your passports to the guard and notify him why you’re there and when your appointment time is. We waited out front and then were called in separately. I went first, going through security, checking in my cell phone, and then waited for Shawna within the lobby of the embassy. Shawna made her way through security about 5 minutes later. I checked in at the desk and then explained why we were there and that we needed to obtain the Nulla Osta documents. I had to re-fill out the paperwork since I had filled out one piece incorrectly. Not a big deal, took 5 minutes. We made the sworn statement to the ambassador, they certified the Nulla Osta documents, I paid the fee, and they the lady told us we needed to get a marco da bollo stamp and go to the Prefettura across town to have his signature attached. So we walked to the nearest tabacchi (they are everywhere) got a marco da bollo (make sure you get two – I didn’t know this and had to get another one later), and then walked to the Prefettura. No appointment was needed at the Prefettura. We simply walked in, asked for the Ufficio Legalazione and then waited for him to call us in, which he did 5 minutes later. He looked over each Nulla Osta, attached another page to it where he signed and affixed the stamp. Then we were done and on our way.
Step 3: The Marriage Certificate
The Atto Notorio, the Nulla Osta, and the Prefettura signature are all obtained so that you can present these, along with your Italian-translated birth certificates and divorce documents, to the local authority in the town where you are to be married. I should mention that we were doing a civil ceremony, not a religious one. Shawna and I were married at the Castle of Poppi which was unbelievably affordable compared to venues in the US.
Because both Shawna and I are American citizens marrying in Italy, we did not need to post banns or do much else. We had some help at this point from the son of the people who owned the villa where we were staying for the wedding (this is where I can help out in a big way for your wedding since at this point I can hold a conversation in Italian and help you out with this process if you hire us to photograph your wedding). We showed up with Andrea at the Comune di Poppi (the mayor’s office who was performing the wedding) I think on Monday October 8th (our wedding was Wednesday October 10th). We gave all our documents to the guy at the mayor’s office and he said that everything was in order and that was it. He will keep all of the paperwork you presented to him. There is a formal procedure that takes place at Italian civil wedding ceremonies but we were able to work with the mayor and customize it a bit – we wanted to read each other our vows, have a candle-lighting ceremony with my kids, and then step on the glass as a jewish tradition at the end of the ceremony. The mayor was fine with all of that. It’s also important to note that you will need a translator present at the ceremony who will repeat in English all of the things the mayor says. The translator can be anybody who has a good command of both English and Italian. We used Shawna’s cousin Giorgia, who lives in Bologna.
The ceremony was beautiful, and lasted about 30 minutes. Giorgia did a great job translating, and at the end of the ceremony we signed our names to the legal marriage license, and after the ceremony were given an envelope containing the official marriage certificate authorized by the mayor in the Comune di Poppi.
The final step was to re-visit the Prefettura (the closest one to Poppi was in Arezzo), present the marriage certificate, and say that you would like to receive an Apostille for the marriage certificate. Now, this step is not actually required, but it is highly recommended because the Apostille is what will be officially recognized back in the United States and it actually contains a translated copy of the marriage certificate so that people back in the States can understand it.
What We Did:
As I mentioned, a few days before the wedding, we went into the office of the mayor and presented all of our documents: the birth certificates, the divorce decree, the translated copies of these, both Atto Notorio, both Nulla Osta. That was it. Then we said our I Do’s, obtained the official marriage certificate from the mayor right after the ceremony, and two days later went to Arezzo to the Prefettura to get the Apostille for our marriage certificate. Now, it will take a 1-3 days for the Apostille to be completed by the Prefettura so plan some time for this. We dropped it off on Friday and picked it back up the following Monday. We had to show up Monday before 1:00 pm when the office closed and we had spent the weekend in Amalfi so the bummer was waking up at 4:00 am on Monday to drive from Amalfi to Arezzo but we got there early, got our marriage certificate and Apostille, and that was it – we were married and had the official paperwork we needed!