1. Meet the legal requirements
If you’re not a Swiss citizen, you must be resident in Switzerland to get married here. You must also be over 18, of the opposite sex (same-sex marriage is still illegal here, though same-sex couples can enter into a registered partnership) and be able to prove that you are not already married or in a registered partnership.
2. Apply for your civil ceremony
Marriage in Switzerland must take place in a civil ceremony held at an official civil register office venue. That doesn’t mean you can’t arrange your own religious or private celebration in addition, but it can’t replace the civil ceremony.
Various administrative steps must be taken in order to apply for your civil wedding and have it approved by the registrar. Foreigners must supply their birth certificate, declarations of marital status and passports and complete a ‘marriage preparation’ form.
But the process isn’t not too onerous, according to Shawna McEvoy, an American who got married to her Northern Irish partner Christi in Lausanne in July.
“Administratively it was fine. We both have our [residence] permits. We needed to supply them with a bunch of documents – I had to go up the consulate in Bern and get them to sign a document to swear I’d never been married.
“About a month before you get married they will invoke you for a pre-wedding consultation, which sounds nervewracking but is basically to make sure you speak French and have all your documents.”
Once your marriage application is approved by the registrar you have three months in which to hold your civil ceremony.
If you don’t speak the local language a translator should be present during the ceremony. Your chosen two witnesses must also be able to understand what’s going on.
The civil ceremony will set you back between 300 and 400 francs, says Swiss government portal ch.ch, which has further details on the administrative process
Your marriage certificate from your civil wedding must be presented at your church or place of worship if you wish to have a second ceremony there.
3. Decide on your family name
Prior to 2013 women in Switzerland had to either change their surname to their husband’s or double their surname with his. However since the law changed couples can choose what they want to do: both may keep their names or either may change it to the other’s. Creating a double name by combining your surnames (eg Meier Muller) is no longer allowed. Adding a hyphen (Meier-Muller) is technically allowed, but can’t be used as your official name on the civil register. Couples getting married must also decide which of their surnames to give any future children.
4. Celebrate your own way
Apart from the legal requirement that you have a civil ceremony, you’re free to celebrate your wedding however you wish. Perhaps you want a religious blessing – in which case the place of worship you attend in Switzerland will be able to advise you – or maybe you want to do things a little differently. After all, one benefit of having a wedding away from your home country is the freedom to do things exactly as you wish, McEvoy feels. “You’re relieved of that pressure of what people think you have to do for a wedding,” she says.
She and Christi chose to have an additional ceremony in the Lavaux vineyards above Lake Geneva, with the groom’s father leading the service. Then, deciding against a package from an expensive Swiss hotel, they rented a low key space in Sauvabelin park in Lausanne for their reception and arranged everything else – the caterer, the band, the wine, the decorations – themselves.
5. Plan early
If you’ve invited guests from your home country, make sure you tell them the date early enough so they can organize flights to Switzerland and accommodation.
“It’s considerate for the guests but it also takes off your responsibility – if people wait to book their flights then it’s their problem!” McEvoy says.
6. Save costs by shopping abroad
We all know Switzerland is expensive. But unlike in some countries, telling your venue or caterer that your event is a wedding does not lead to an automatic hike in prices, according to McEvoy, who estimates they paid $20-25,000 for theirs, well under the 2016 US average of $35,000.
Nevertheless, it pays to shop around, she advises, both in Switzerland and abroad. “We did bring a lot of stuff in from the UK and the States. Little things like renting tablecloths – it was cheaper to buy them in another country.”
They even flew over a videographer from Scotland. “We paid for his flights and accommodation, and it was actually cheaper than getting a videographer here. The price they were offering [here] was astronomical.”
7. Be clear with your instructions
It may be the first time some of your guests have visited Switzerland – and many won’t speak the language – so cut down on problems by making it as easy as possible for them to get about and understand what’s happening when.
“You have to give clear directions to your guests. You have to be here at this time, this train, this platform. We had ushers who were lined up to take people from place to place. There are a lot of companies to rent a special vehicle if you want one,” McEvoy says.
They also used a wedding website for instructions and did all guest admin online. “We didn’t send paper invitations, particularly because then people would have to send everything back to Switzerland which is a pain for them.”
8. Give your guests a good holiday
With guests coming from afar and probably paying a fair whack to be at your wedding, it’s only right to make sure they have a blast.
“We tried to make it really guest-orientated. Christi and I have our lives to be married. Our wedding was about sharing it and this place with friends and family, and it will be the only occasion that we will have everyone together,” McEvoy says.
One highlight of their wedding day was an hour’s tour through the vineyards on the Lavaux Express tourist train they rented for the occasion. “After speaking with guests they said that was their favourite thing.”
The following day they organized another informal event for guests who had no plans, McEvoy adds. “We really tried to maximise the time we spend with friends and family.”