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Getting Married in Bulgaria

The number of people living permanently living in Bulgaria is growing in a positive way. Bulgaria was once considered a property and lifestyle option by retirees only, but now it is attracting families, single parents, professionals and singles. Those who decide to move here have many reasons for doing so; some fall in love with the landscape, others with the climate and many just want to get out of the rat race and make a brand new life for themselves. Many of the singles who come over here find love very easily either within the expat community or through integration with local Bulgarians and for many making a greater commitment becomes important as they decide on getting married.

Here Comes the … Documentation!

If you have any experience of life in Bulgaria, you will be well aware that paperwork infiltrates every aspect of life here, so don’t be surprised to learn that before you plan the white dress and flowers or tux and ring if you’re a guy, you need to sort out your documentation.
The British Embassy in Sofia (www.ukinbulgaria.fco.gov.uk) should be your first port of call if you reside permanently in Bulgaria. They will help you to obtain the three documents you need to satisfy the Bulgarian authorities that you are free to marry and that your marriage will be legal under UK law.
The first step is to give a Notice of Marriage in the UK to the British Embassy at least three weeks before your marriage ceremony. This acts as official notification of the imminent marriage and complies with British regulations.

This will result in a Certificate of No Impediment being issued by your local Registrar. The British Embassy will then provide you with a Bulgarian version. If you are travelling to Bulgaria for the sole purpose of getting married and reside in the UK, you should file for this document before you leave otherwise you will have to wait 21 days before the Embassy can issue it in Bulgaria.
You also need to obtain a Statutory Declaration, a document, which states that you are not married. If you are divorced or widowed you will need to provide your Decree Absolute or your former spouse’s Death Certificate.

Next is the Certificate of Law, which is a statement regarding the validity of the marriage in English law and again the Embassy will provide this for you. The total cost for the documentation from the British Embassy is 460 lv. at current exchange rates:-
Administering an oath 100 lv., Notice of Intended Marriage 120 lv., Certificate of No Impediment 120 lv., Certificate of Law 120 lv.

Once you have dealt with the British Embassy you need to get a Bulgarian Health Certificate and this is done by having a blood test at a local clinic or hospital. Tell the staff there that you a general check-up for marriage. Blood tests in Bulgaria are a common part of the system – you even need to have one when your child starts kindergarten - and yes, they will test for AIDS.
A marriage under Bulgarian law is normally recognised in Britain. To simplify matters, you will probably find it useful to have an official translation made of the Bulgarian marriage certificate.
Marriages under Bulgarian law are recognised by the British authorities as well as the Bulgarian system.

A Bulgarian Wedding

Traditionally marriage was a big thing in Bulgaria, however today according to the National Statistics Institute, Bulgaria has one of the lowest marriage rates in Europe. It used to be seen as one of the most significant changes in the circle of life so the rituals associated with it lasted anything from several days to a year and sometimes even longer. Today, some of those rituals still continue, however young people tend to reject the more old-fashioned traditions, something that was totally inconceivable a generation ago.
Official engagements usually take place on a public holiday or a Sunday when all of the friends and relatives for both sides can get together and celebrate. The engagement used to last anything from one day to a year, but today couples plan their own weddings in the same way that they do n the west. Prospective grooms have stag parties just as the girls hold a hen party. The parties used to contain a lot of rituals but today they are reasons to go crazy and have fun before you bid goodbye to single life. Most couples are married on a Sunday and one tradition that has survived is the ritual making of the pitka bread on the Thursday preceding the wedding.  The meaning of this act is to ensure the creation of a new family with the rising of the dough rising of the dough symbolizing pregnancy and fertility.  The best man makes a wedding banner made from the branch of a fruit tree felled in one blow. The branch is adorned with handkerchiefs, an onion or apple, ribbons and strings of popcorn. The banner is used in the parade that escorts the groom to the best man’s house. There is a party and then they all parade to the bride’s house and give her gifts and the party continues.

Sometimes the couple marries on the same day as their respective singles parties and the guests escort them from the party to the church, although nowadays this ceremony seldom happens as most girls want to ensure that they look their best by getting beauty treatments anon the day of the ceremony. The marriage service is short, but results in the couple exchanging rings and making vows as well as exchanging the traditional wedding kiss. Official documents are signed and then the couple participate in another ritual whereby whoever steps on the other’s foot first will be the boss in the marriage.
The reception is held in a local restaurant and it is the start of another party. One tradition still adhered to though is the one where the mother-in-law to the bride lays a white handmade cloth at the restaurant door and the couple walk over it as she throws flowers to signify health and happiness. Dancing also plays a big role in the celebration and it is often tradition for the newlyweds to be made to dance to receive their wedding cake.

Wedding photographs courtesy of Erna Veliya and Ivan Kolovos