A day at the Portuguese consulate (part 1): where is Europe when you need it?

19 Apr 2013

As expats, we have had our fair share of dealing with our respective country's embassies for a whole range of administrative formalities: from a simple registration to registering a birth. Most of the visits are simple and get us what we wanted (or even sometimes more than we bargained for) if a little time-consuming.
Despite the recent bad publicity for Europe, P and I are both quite proud to be European citizens. Europe and its regulations save us a lot of hassle: no visas, no work permits, freedom of movement for goods, people, money, etc. Yet, when it comes to the little European people getting together the barriers are still there and things are far from simple.

Our wedding, a French citizen and a Portuguese citizen getting married in France but living in the UK, was a challenge that tested the European regulations knowledge of all of the above countries' representatives we had to deal with. We had to supply documents to the French but couldn't until we had got some from the Portuguese and so on in a vicious circle until we broke down and screamed for someone to listen. Planning our wedding took a year and this was needed from a paperwork point of view, trust me.

One of the papers a French citizen must (or at least had to) supply  when getting married to a foreigner is a 'certificat de coutumes' (a customs certificate). Customs as in a country's cultural rules, not as in airport what-is-in-your-suitcase customs. What? Yes, our thoughts exactly. My husband-to-be had to prove his country only allowed one marriage and one wife! Portugal? Oh, yes, right, it is in Europe. Does France not know that already? Well, it seems not. 

So, off we go to the Portuguese consulate in Manchester, England. A three-hour trip later, we sit in front of a young Portuguese man registering our intent to get married. I supply my share of papers to minimise the paperwork after the wedding and for our wedding to be legalised in Portugal later on.  All had had to be translated in Portuguese, of course, and notarised, which cost us about £300 at the time. So far so expensive good.

Then, we come to asking about that certificate for my husband to provide to the French authorities. A what, they said. Yes, we had warned you in emails and phone conversations (or rather our chats with your answering machine). I have no idea, said the young man quite a few times while vaguely searching on his computer. This was a case of, let me call my manager (about three time until we got to the Consul himself). After about an hour, a lovely young lady (following the Consul's suggestions) managed to find the said document on their Intranet. She had to hack the system to access the Portuguese consulates in France. The document was a simple piece of paper quoting the Portuguese law (made specifically for the French authorities) without any reference to my husband: no name, no date of birth, no wedding date, nada. We still had to pay for it (about £10 for an A4 piece of paper printed on their Epson home printer)!

A day off work, a hefty travel bill and an even larger administrative bill later, we got there. You would think that things could be simplified. How about recognising documents in any European language? How about having the same rules for marriages around Europe? How about France asking for this certificate only in cases of countries which allow multiple marriages?

Did I mention our witnesses were Portuguese, French, German and Spanish and we had to supply ID cards for them too?


  1. This sounds familiar! And I've just had a similar experience with getting passports for my children!

  2. Sounds like a mightmare.

    Everything was surprisingly serene when I got married here in Brazil. We arrived about 5 weeks befor the date, went to a registry office with all our paperwork and, in about 1 hour, we had a marriage license.

  3. Yes, it sounds very familiar, spain and france are neighbours, in Europe and still we needed a lot o time to get the "livret de famille" and so on. Got spanish ID and french ID for my daughter after months of P&P(papers and patience...!!).Bon courage!
    Par contre impossible d'homologuer mes diplômes français, j'ai fini par abandonner!
    Et on est en Europe....

    1. J'ai laissé tomber les diplomes aussi!! mais cela ne m'a jamais vraiment posé de problème.


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