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5 things foreigners need to know before getting married in Switzerland

Thinking of tying the knot in Switzerland? From paperwork and taxes to venues and Swiss traditions, here are some things you should know about.

Wedding rings.
There are a few things you should know when getting married in Switzerland. Photo: Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash
  • Get legally married first 

In Switzerland the state only recognises civil weddings as legally binding.  That means that the wedding must be performed by a local civil authority, traditionally at the registry office.  These are intimate affairs with a small number of guests, lasting around 10-30 minutes. It’ll cost you around 300-400 CHF. 

Couples who want to have a religious ceremony or another symbolic ceremony are still required to have a civil ceremony first. You usually present the civil marriage certificate as proof to the priest or celebrant before your ‘official’ wedding ceremony begins. 

  • Get in early with the paperwork

Assuming you meet the legal conditions required to get married (for instance – being at least 18-years-old) there are several steps, in this order, that you need to take:

  • Notify the civil register office (the local Gemeinde or Commune) of either partner of your intention to marry.  The office will then send you a marriage form to fill out
  • As a foreigner, you will also be asked to provide certain documents, which can vary slightly depending on your residential status in Switzerland and the country you’re from. Generally, you’re required to provide proof of:
  • Identity (your passport, original birth certificate)
  • Residential status (residency permit and/or notarised proof of address)
  • Marriage status (an affidavit or similar documentation from your home country stating you are free to marry) 

Keep in mind that these documents will have to be translated into one of Switzerland’s official languages. Here’s a look at what the process looks like:

  • You and your partner will attend a short interview at the registry office where you declare that you meet the obligations to be married
  • Your marriage application can take up to five weeks to be processed. After processing, you will receive a marriage license (around 200 CHF) which is valid for three months
  • If your civil wedding location is NOT in the same area as the civil authority which issued the marriage license, you’ll have to send the license to the civil authority in the area where you’re getting married

READ ALSO: Revealed: The Swiss canton with the best tax rates for families

  • Incredible locations for a small price 

It’s worth mentioning that these days, most civil authorities offer a list of external locations (beyond the registry office) where couples can get legally civilly married.

For instance, Canton Bern offers couples stunning locations like the Harder Kulm above Interlaken, Schloss Spiez, Schloss Schadau in Thun and the Grandhotel Giessbach on the Brienzersee. You could also get married somewhere a little quirkier: at the Zoo in Zurich, a boat in Canton Vaud or even a circus in Canton Glarus. 

Spiez Castle in Bern.

Spiez Castle in Bern. Photo by Chris Kaeppeli on Unsplash

Keep in mind that you do have to reserve in advance for external locations, with reservations generally opening about 12 months before the wedding. You may also have to be more flexible with your wedding date, as usually only one or two days per month are available for civil weddings-and it could be only on Thursdays (for example). 

Summer is the most popular season for weddings in Switzerland, so those months book out fast. That being said, this is an amazing budget option for couples who can’t afford to splurge on a luxurious local; the price can be as little as 100 or 200 CHF more than the wedding at the civil office. 

  • Think about your taxes

Depending on your income, the tax system for married couples in Switzerland could either work for you or against you.  

Married couples must file their taxes together. Because those in a higher income bracket pay more tax, couples who both earn a lot can be taxed significantly more than if they paid their taxes separately. 

This so-called ‘Marriage tax penalty’, lead some to believe that it makes more financial sense not to get married.

On the other hand, if one spouse earns a low income or no income, then this system may work in the couple’s favour, pushing them into a lower tax bracket. 

This is of course, dependent on other factors such as the canton and municipality you live in. 

READ ALSO: Does marriage make financial sense in Switzerland?

  • Modern Swiss traditions

One playful Swiss wedding tradition to be aware of is, that it is not uncommon for the bride and groom’s close friends and family to ‘decorate’ their apartment, garden or car for the wedding night.  The decorations are designed to be funny and annoying but harmless.

A few years ago, Swiss Radio Station FM1 Today compiled a list of some of their listeners wedding prank experiences. These included changing the doorbell ringer to the tune of popular Swiss love song ‘Ewigi Liebi’, filling the bathtub with toilet rolls or with a goldfish and filling the bedroom with balloons. 

Another common tradition is for family and friends to organise sketches, skits or songs as part of the wedding party celebrations. I got married in Switzerland last August.  My husband’s Swiss cousins changed the lyrics of some Swiss and German songs to perform our love story, while at the same time throwing chocolate at the crowd.  

As in any country around the world, each Swiss family also often has their own unique wedding traditions. For us, that meant receiving a Swiss cow bell engraved with our names and the wedding date on it.  During the wedding festivities, guests could ring the bell in exchange for a coin donation. Anytime we heard the bell, no matter what else was happening, we had to kiss. 

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For members


Six tourist attractions in Switzerland you have to visit

Switzerland is a small country, but its diverse geography and fascinating history means it has a lot to offer. Among the various cities, mountains, and lakes that span the country, The Local has identified six places you should check out.

Six tourist attractions in Switzerland you have to visit

The Matterhorn: 

Of course, Switzerland is most famous for the Alpine mountains that dominate much of the country’s landscape. You can’t go wrong in visiting any of these mountains, but why not go for the most iconic, the Matterhorn? At nearly 5,000 meters, its sharp peak is one of highest in the Alps, and the way it juts up to the sky makes for an unforgettable view. 

At its foot is the village of Zermatt, a picturesque town near the southeastern border where horse drawn carriages take the place of cars. Using Zermatt as your base, you can explore the various smaller slopes in the area, which offer many hiking, skiing, and toboggan trails. The Glacier Palace, located within the glacier that lies between the Klein Matterhorn and the Breithorn, is particularly intriguing. Accessed via the highest cable car in Europe, here you can make your way through ice tunnels lined with a variety of fascinating ice sculptures.

You can even supplement your stay in Zermatt with a visit to the Matterhorn Museum, which details the history of the region.

READ ALSO: Why is Switzerland’s famous Matterhorn mountain disappearing from Toblerone bars

Zermatt-Matterhorn slopes. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Historical Museum of Bern: 

Speaking of museums, if you find yourself in the Swiss capital, be sure to check out the Historical Museum of Bern, which also includes an Einstein exhibit. Displays dating from the Stone Age to the 20th century coexist with the papers and personal objects of famed physicist Albert Einstein, who developed his theory of relativity in Bern. You can check out a 15th-century Flemish tapestry in one part of the museum, and watch an animated film on Einstein’s most important theories in another. 

Chateau de Chillon

If you are spending time in the cities of Lausanne or Geneva in Switzerland’s southwest, be sure to add a day trip to Chateau de Chillon to your itinerary. Located on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva, this medieval castle, which inspired writers such as Jean Jaques Rousseau and Victor Hugo, is more than just a stunning architectural landmark.

Inside the complex, you can explore rooms housed within the 25 buildings assembled around 3 courtyards. The three great halls offer stunning views of Lake Geneva, while the well-preserved Camera Domini (Lord’s Bedroom) features 14th century wall murals. In addition, you can venture into the subterranean vaults that formerly served as a weapons hold and a dungeon. 

READ ALSO: Seven events not to miss in Switzerland in April 

Monte San Salvatore: 

On the opposite end of the country sits another picturesque lake: Lake Lugano. Located in the Italian speaking region of Ticino, there’s no better way to take in its beauty than by heading to the top of Monte San Salvatore, the mountain that rises above it.  

Lugano – Monte San Salvatore, Carona, Switzerland. Photo: Julia Goralski on Unsplash

At 912 meters high, you can hike to the summit in about two hours, or you could opt for the funicular ride to the top. Once there, you’ll have amazing 360 degree views of the lake, which you can enjoy at the Restaurant Vetta, known for its Italian dishes and Ticenes specialties. After you’ve taken in the view, one of the hiking trails or the funicular will take you back down.

The Rhine Falls: 

Moving to the northeast but sticking with the water theme, you won’t want to miss the Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen.  

By taking a short train from Zürich, you can experience this stunning 150 meter wide, 23 meter high waterfall formed during the last Ice Age 17,000 years ago. The best time to visit is early summer, when the mountain snow has melted and the water volume is at its highest. You can see the falls from viewing platforms on both sides of the Rhine River, or via a boat trip up the river itself.  

Rhine Falls, Laufen-Uhwiesen, Switzerland.

Rhine Falls, Laufen-Uhwiesen, Switzerland. Photo by Hasmik Ghazaryan Olson on Unsplash

Weidling tour in Basel: 

A more traditional way to travel up the Rhine River awaits in Basel, which lies on the convergence of the Swiss, French, and German borders. Although Basel’s many museums and art collections have earned it recognition as the cultural capital of Switzerland, its status as a key trading centre along the Rhine is what initially put it on the map. 

And to navigate this important trade route from Venice to the North Sea, merchants in the middle ages used weidlings, narrow and flat wooden boats that first emerged in the fifteenth century. With a tour, you can put yourself in their shoes, and even have a chance to try out the special upriver paddling technique called spiking. 

So, now you know some of the places you have to see when spending time in Switzerland. All that’s left to figure out now is: where to start? It may be a tough question, but with these options, you definitely can’t go wrong.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages less than an hour from Basel