In October 2016, Adam and I eloped to New York City and tied the knot at City Hall. I use the word ‘elope’ in a loose sense of the word, given that this decision was not spontaneous nor a secret. We had carried out a little research online beforehand and found that the legal requirements to marry in the state of New York rather daunting. Therefore, I have put together this guide to hopefully help simplify the process for other people who may be considering doing the same thing.
The first thing I want to point out is something that I only discovered the day before our own nuptials. One of the factors in
my our decision to elope to NYC was that infamous scene from the ‘Sex And The City’ movie. You know the one. Carrie + Big + City Hall = Happily Ever After. Guess what? All fiction (obviously Lisa, it’s a film…) I’m referring to the setting; the City Hall ceremony and location are all fake.
Whenever I searched the words ‘NYC Elopement’ online, I was met with the words ‘City Hall’ time and time again and apparently, this is a very common misconception. In reality, these nuptials were actually conducted at the NYC City Clerks Office, located at 141 Worth Street, Manhattan. So to clarify, you’ll be getting married in this building and not at City Hall.
So with that little revelation out of the way, I’ll get to the practical stuff.
For us, a simple ceremony for two was all that we wanted, however, you can choose to hire an officiant and marry pretty much anywhere that you like in New York City (your chosen venue will need a permit).
Whichever way you’re planning to tie the knot, you’ll need to apply for a Marriage License regardless. The fee for a Marriage License is $35 by credit card or money order, payable to the City Clerk. Please note that they do not accept cash.
We actually began our application online before flying to America (you can find the link here) which helped to speed up the process; these do expire after 21 days though so don’t do it too far in advance! This is free of charge and took approximately ten minutes. You will need to provide various details, such as your parent’s names, places of birth, any previous marriages and other information. Once completed, you will be sent a confirmation number to print out and take along to the City Clerk’s Office when finalising your application in person.
To have your application approved, you must both attend the City Clerk’s office together and at the same time. You will then receive the paper application from the information desk, to be filled out in the office, along with a ticket. When the number on your ticket is called, you will present the application to a clerk, along with your identification (passports for overseas visitors) and other applicable documents, such as a decree absolute if previously divorced.
You do not need a witness for this part and will then pay the $35 fee, as above. Your marriage licence will then be handed to you. After obtaining your marriage licence, you have to wait 24 hours before you can get married, so again, something to bear in mind when planning your big day.
This entire process took us around three hours in total so give yourselves plenty of time. We did this on a Tuesday morning, however, the City Clerk’s Office can get extremely busy on Fridays.
On The Day
The NYC City Clerk’s Office perform civil marriage ceremonies on Monday to Friday, from 8:45am to 3:45pm. You must have passed the front desk and taken a number by 3:45pm to have the marriage ceremony performed that day. The ceremonies are carried out on a first come, first-served basis, so it’s advisable to get there early.
We had to queue to for around an hour to get past the security check to reception. The clerk then gave us a ticket for us to wait for our number to be called. Again, it can be a bit of a wait so it’s worth having a bottle of water with you (see the checklist below for more information). There are restrooms in the lobby.
Our number was called around 40 minutes later and we went to the relevant desk. Here, we had all of our documents and details checked again, including our identification, and produced our marriage certificate. We also paid the $25 fee for the marriage ceremony via credit card. It’s important to make absolutely sure that all of your details are correct at this point, as it’s the last stage before you get married; you can fix mistakes afterwards, but doing so will cost extra and is more hassle than it’s worth!
We were given another ticket with a number on and had to wait another hour or so to be called to the chapel area. There are two of these – East and West – with a small seating area in the middle. We were called into the East Chapel. The ceremony is very basic and we were done in around five minutes, although it did feel longer.
We were allowed a couple of pictures in there but be aware that you will be vacated from the chapel promptly, in order to keep queuing times to a minimum. You do need a witness, but it seemed as though it would be very easy to find one whilst you’re there. Just remember that they will also need valid identification.
And that’s it – you’re given your signed marriage certificate and are legally married! What you choose to do afterwards is entirely up to you. Personally, we headed over to the DUMBO area of Brooklyn with our photographer, which was a bit of a hidden gem and utterly beautiful. We got some incredible pictures against the iconic skyline.
Later that evening, the two of us grabbed a cab and enjoyed a lovely meal at One If By Land, Two If By Sea, a restaurant in Greenwich Village. It wasn’t a cheap place to dine but was the perfect venue for us to celebrate our special day and I’d highly recommend it.
After The Ceremony
There are two types of Marriage Certificate available; a Short Certificate, which is the basic one issued on your wedding day and an Extended Certificate, which includes extra information required by foreign jurisdictions. As British residents, we had to get the Extended Certificate in order for our marriage to be valid and legal within the UK.
You can apply for the Extended Certificate as soon as you’re married, but it does require trips to different buildings and a lot of queuing. We chose to do this two days after our wedding day instead and it took us around five hours in total.
1. Go back to the City Clerks Office with your Short Certificate and identification, fill out an Extended certificate request form (available at reception) and take it to the Records Room, which is located just opposite the reception desk. Here, you pay another $35 using a credit card or money order again, obtain another ticket and wait. Once your number is called and your paperwork is checked, an Extended Certificate will be issued. Our wait was just over an hour.
2. You then need to go over the road to the County Clerks Office (located in the Supreme Court Building, 60 Centre St, New York, NY 10007. Room 141-B in the Basement) to have the certificate signed at the Notary Public Desk at a charge of $3; you must pay this in cash. This building has manual security checks and metal detectors, so cameras and such will be temporarily confiscated (I discovered this after my Go-Pro was swiftly taken off me!) This step took around two hours.
3. Once the Extended Certificate is signed, you need to take it to the New York State Department of State (2nd Floor, 123 William Street, New York, NY 10038-3804 ) to get an Apostille that authenticates the document. The fee is $10 but the New York State Department of State does not accept cash or credit card so it has to be paid via a money order. You can find several pharmacies or Western Unions in the area to buy the required $10 money order at a cost of $11. We used 7-ELEVEN located at 111 John St, New York, NY 10038 but you can find a full list here. Again, we queued for around two hours before the legalities were all sorted in this final stage.
What to Wear
At the City Clerks Office, anything goes! I opted for a simple white cotton dress and veil and Adam wore a navy blue suit. Other arrived in simple jeans and t-shirts, smart suits in a variety of colours (men and women), saris and office wear right through to grand, traditional wedding dresses with trains, cathedral veils and an army of bridesmaids.
There really is no right answer here so simply put, whatever you feel the most comfortable in will work just fine.
Checklist For Your Wedding Day
Remember to take along all the relevant paperwork and identification, such as passports, decree absolute (if applicable) marriage licence and money orders/credit card.
You will need to have at least one witness on your wedding day. This a legal requirement and they must also provide valid identification. We used our photographer (agreed in advance) but given the vast number of people around the City Clerks Office, I’m sure you could find somebody happy to oblige. Just be aware, there are
scammers people offering this service as you enter the building – these guys will charge you a hefty fee for the privilege, so be careful.
Oddly, they do not sell any beverages or snacks in the City Clerks Office; not even a humble vending machine or water cooler. Given that your wait could be a few hours, I would definitely recommend taking these along with you.
As previously stated, our only guest was our photographer, however, there were people who had brought along friends and family to witness their marriage, Given how busy the City Clerk’s Office is and the limited space, I would personally advise that you bring no more than ten people with you.
More a tip for the female members of the wedding party. Seats can be filled quickly in the waiting area so you may find yourself standing around for long periods of time. I wore low heels for our ceremony but, by the time we got to Brooklyn for pictures, my feet were sore. I’d definitely recommend popping a pair of comfortable shoes in your bag as a backup up.
This may seem like a given, but you’ll be surprised at just how many people forget these. After talking to George, the gent who runs the flower stand outside of the City Clerks Office, we discovered that he also has an array of rings available to purchase on the day, as an emergency option.
That’s it! *phew* So, I do hope that my post has been somewhat helpful to those of you looking at eloping to New York City. Congratulations and I’d love to see pictures/hear all about your big day!
This post is intended for guidance purposes only and refers to legalities required for UK residents. Please ensure that you check all the information needed with the local government before travelling. All information provided is correct at the time of publication.