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How can American marry in the Philippines?

I am pleased to help my clients get both fiancee and spouse visas to bring their loved ones to the USA.

Almost half of the couples I work with come from the Philippines. It turns out that the US Embassy in Manila is THE busiest of all US Embassies in the world. Processing 10's of thousands of requests for visas to travel to the USA every year.

The Philippines is a wonderful country. The people are very kind, very gentle, they are awesome to know and be friends with.

English is taught in the schools so most Filipinos can speak some English, and they like the USA, they like Americans.

And most Filipino Families have some relatives who have already immigrated to the USA.

This all makes the Philippines a very popular place for an American to find romance.

I know that I did.

If you have fallen in love with someone from the Philippines basically you have two choices to bring him or her to the USA.

Either get engaged then apply for a fiancee visa or marry and apply for a spouse visa. Most choose the fiancee visa route because it is much faster than the spouse visa. Currently (and this changes over time), currently it takes about 8 to 9 months to get a Fiance visa from Manila, compared to 14 to 18 months to get a Spouse visa.

That "doesn't make sense" you say. "Married should be faster", Well, yes, BUT the way these processes work, a fiance visa is considered a non-immigrant visa, good for a 90 day visit, to meet potential inlaws and Disneyland, and IF a wedding occurs to remain in the USA permanently. But it is a big IF, and the system assumes the fiance might go back to Philippines, so since it is officially only for a short stay, the visa does not need to be vetted as much as a spouse visa.

A spouse visa on the other hand is considered REGULAR immigration. That means the applicant is not applying for a short visit, but is applying to stay in USA permanently. So there is more vetting, more examination, and the final approval includes approval for the GREEN CARD. The spouse visa allows your spouse to enter the USA, and to STAY permanently.

Despite the spouse visa needing more time, for many the attraction of marrying your love sooner, and having a wedding ceremony in a tropical paradise, among your spouse's family, friends, and neighbors can be very attractive.

For those here is how to get married in the Philippines.

Getting married in the Philippines takes planning and it takes some time, and needs a minimum of 10 days.

If you're flying in for a short stay you will have to plan your time carefully. The reason it takes at least ten days is because in order to get married one first needs to obtain a marriage license. Applying for a marriage license in the Philippines is somewhat like applying to buy a gun in the USA. There is a ten day cooling off period between when you file your application until the earliest you can get to the altar.

Applying requires you and your fiance to go to the court or mayors office and present the following documents.

Passports. Birth certificates. Proof of termination of previous marriages Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage and as in most recent update each applicant (even the American) must provide a Certificate of No Marriage, (CENOMAR), issued by the Philippines Government (PSA)

The CENOMAR can be ordered in advance and can be ordered online and takes about 10 days to be issued. It's best to order this document well in advance of your arrival in the Philippines.

But the Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage is not so easy for an American to obtain.

The Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage is a document issued by a government body, that states the holder is currently not married and is free to marry.

Many countries like the Philippines maintain a central registry of marriages so this document would normally be issued by a government authority.

However, since the USA does not have any central registry of marriages it is impossible to find any US Federal, State or local government office that would issue the statement stating they have checked their records and you are not married and are eligible to marry.

So what can you do?

Well the US Embassy is there for you. They can not issue a document that categorically states you are not married, but what they CAN do is, allow you to raise your hand and swear to a consular officer that you are not married, and he then can issue a statement, that he has witnessed you making your sworn statement.

This is called "Affidavit In Lieu of a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage"

Both the consular section at the US Embassy in Manila, and the consulate's satelite office in Cebu will do this for you.

Do be aware however, that a very few of the local towns, like Quezon City, Makati City, and Davao City and others might not accept this Affidavit. Best is to find out in advance, and if necessary choose another town to marry in.

Marriage licences are good for 120 days, and the wedding doesn't need to occur in the same town that issued the licence.

After you bring all the required documents to the court or mayor's officer, and pay the licence fee, after the ten day waiting period the marriage license becomes valid and you can marry, either in church or in front of a judge or mayor.

To marry within only 10 days you must plan your trip carefully. For the shortest stay, you would plan to arrive in Manila or Cebu in the morning take taxi from airport to the consulate or embassy, get the Affidavit In Lieu of a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage, then pushing on to the local mayors or judge's office before they close.

On the tenth day you can pick up your approved marriage licence and marry.

When planning your whirlwind 10 day trip, keep in mind that government offices are closed on weekends and holidays and plan your arrival and departure accordingly.

And of course while a 10 day trip including wedding is possible, it would be prudent and more relaxing if you give yourself few more days overall to your visit. This would give you a cushion in case of delayed flights, traffic jams, and so on.

When can you bring your new spouse to the USA?

Unlike what we saw in old movies an American can't arrive, sweep a foreign beauty off her feet then throw her over his shoulder to board a Pan Am jet back to the USA.

Sorry, but once the honeymoon is over, you will most likely be returning to the USA alone.

To bring your new spouse to the USA. You need to apply through US immigration. Of course I can help.

Usually we start working together well before your wedding, in order to get "all our ducks in a row".

But the earliest we can actually submit your application will be a few months after the wedding. This is because in order to successfully apply, your application needs to include a copy of your marriage certificate issued by the Philippines Federal government.

Sadly, in the past the Philippines has been plagued by fraudulent or counterfeit Civil documents. In order to make civil documents trustworthy, the the Philippines government has instituted national government office called the Philippines Statistics Authority, PSA. PSA's job is to verify and vet Civil documents such as birth, death and marriage certificates. Even though, soon after the wedding, the local judge or mayor has issued you a local marriage certificate, that document is not accepted by US immigration. Instead, only the PSA version is acceptable. And it takes three months or so for the PSA to issue their own marriage certificate.

Once the wedding takes place, the time it takes to bring your spouse to the USA will be about 3 months to obtain the PSA marriage certificate plus another 14 to 18 months at US immigration before the visa is issued, and life together in the USA can begin.

Because it takes such a long time to bring your spouse to the USA many couples, decide not to marry in Philippines, and instead choose to marry in the USA. With a Fiance Visa, once a face to face meeting has taken place, a couple can usually get permission to come to the USA in only 8 to 9 months.

What can you do to speed the process ?

Don't wait to bring VisaCoach on board. Typically, we should start working together months in advance of your trip to get married.

This way we can get most of the logistics out of the way, and on your trip to get married you will be armed with detailed instructions and checklists of what bases to touch during your trip, and what to bring back in the way of evidences to make your visa application strong and likely to be processed as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Then we craft your application to VisaCoach's high standards, leaving a placeholder to insert the PSA marriage certificate the moment it is issued.

By Fred Wahl
the VisaCoach

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