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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Marriage: From matrika to Senzus

Early December may not be the most romantic time of year, but for any foreigner-Slovak couple planning to get yoked in the spring, now is the time to start on the paper chase that mixed marriages involve.
Here's the scoop - if a foreigner wants to marry a Slovak on Slovak soil, it takes about three months of focused work and costs around Sk12,000 ($240) just to arrange the necessary paperwork. You can count on spending another Sk50,000 ($1,000) if you have a reception for about 40 people and avoid getting ripped off too badly. Rings, honeymoons and tuxes depend on the depth of your pocket and your infatuation.
Start by visiting your local marriage office (matrika), which can be found at the city hall wherever you live. They'll give you a checklist of the documents you need, principal among which is your birth certificate.

Early December may not be the most romantic time of year, but for any foreigner-Slovak couple planning to get yoked in the spring, now is the time to start on the paper chase that mixed marriages involve.

Here's the scoop - if a foreigner wants to marry a Slovak on Slovak soil, it takes about three months of focused work and costs around Sk12,000 ($240) just to arrange the necessary paperwork. You can count on spending another Sk50,000 ($1,000) if you have a reception for about 40 people and avoid getting ripped off too badly. Rings, honeymoons and tuxes depend on the depth of your pocket and your infatuation.

Start by visiting your local marriage office (matrika), which can be found at the city hall wherever you live. They'll give you a checklist of the documents you need, principal among which is your birth certificate.

It's no easy task, getting hold of a birth certificate that will satisfy the Slovak marriage cops. You need a copy of the original sent from whichever country you were born in, which may take up to a month. If you were born in England, this copy has to be returned to London and legalised by the Legalisation Office, then back to Slovakia to be super-legalised by the British Embassy, and finally off to the Consular Section of the Foreign Ministry to be super-super-legalised.

All documents then have to be translated into Slovak by an official court-recognised translator before they can be submitted to the marriage office. (Warning: Just because someone is a court-recognised translator doesn't mean they're any good, and in fact is usually a guarantee that they are more negligent and indifferent than usual. Check your translated documents before you pay for them.)

Of course, you need more than a birth certificate to get married - you need a document certifying that you are eligible to marry a Slovak citizen (ie that you aren't a polygamist) as well as papers to prove where you live and what nationality you claim. At every stage of the way, bureaucrats with pinched expressions will interpose themselves between you and your goal, claiming the perfectly good documents you possess are insufficient. If you've been here long enough to be getting married, this probably won't surprise you, but nor will it cool your temper. 'Red-tape rage' is a condition far more common in these parts than road rage. Stay calm.

Stay calm, because one day you will have all the documents you need (likely the day before the ceremony) and will be facing only the ordeal of getting married. If your wedding is a civil ceremony at City Hall, beware - the Slovak civil ceremony is not what we have come to expect, with questions and repeat-after-me's. It's about 10 minutes of drivel interrupted by a snap question to catch you off guard. The magistrate simply asks you each if you have come here of your own free will, and that's the extent of his curiosity. After that it's whack on the rings, scribble in the book and off to the reception.

I wasn't expecting to be asked about free will at my wedding in 1999, and after a long hesitation I bellowed out ÁNO!, which made even the magistrate smile sourly. But then, had I known what to expect I would have done so many things differently. Such as - making sure the DJs we hired for Sk6,000 had some decent music instead of only 40 Senzus Slovak disco folk CDs. Getting the reception menu in writing down to the last detail, to avoid having the restaurant prepare 420 small pastries for 40 guests (What the hell does one do with 380 expensive and leftover pastries?) and ensuring that the open bar didn't include Johnny Walker Black and Chivas Regal.

For mixed couples one might say that as the wedding, so the marriage. Your non-Slovak partner may not understand your despair at the bureaucracy, any more than he or she understands what's wrong with six hours of Senzus.

Foreign Affairs is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping expats and foreigners navigate the thrills and spills of life in Slovakia.

The next Foreign Affairs will appear on stands December 17, Vol. 7, No. 48.

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