The process of a farang getting married to a Thai national isn’t all photos in paddy fields like the one above but more likely a challenging process of battling the Thai bureaucracy in Bangkok. I thought I would share this detailed story of one couple’s experience in the hope it may help others who are heading down the same bridal path.
Bob and Soun are friends of ours who we originally “met” online as a result of Bob’s contribution to the blog especially in the topic of visas. They dropped in to spend a couple of days with us in Isaan on the way to their wedding at Soun’s village.
Bob not only wanted to marry Soun in a Thai community wedding but also legally and it is this process that he describes in the words below. The posts Bob refers to that have been published previously in this blog on the topic of marrying a Thai national can be found HERE and HERE. There are also details of the document translation place Gaun and I used in Bangkok HERE.
Thank you very much Bob for this informative contribution to the blog. It is much appreciated. Bob’s words from now on:
This is the story of an Aussie getting his marriage to a Thai national made ‘official’, so that it is legally recognised in both Thailand and Australia. Soun and I were ‘unofficially’ married in a lovely Thai ceremony that was held in Soun’s Mother’s house in her Isaan village in November 2015. That was the easy and very enjoyable part.
Following in the footsteps of the advice provided by Tony in his two posts and some others, we were married (officially) in Bangkok in early April 2016. That was not so easy and not so enjoyable, until the photo below.
This is provided to give a personal account of what transpired, and to provide some additional advice and detail to any Australian lucky enough to find the right Thai person, and wishing to get ‘officially’ married. We went through the whole process in Bangkok, and I organised everything myself.
As shown by Tony’s two previous posts, the process is fraught with difficulties and problems, and very few couples ever get through it without having some trouble. We met a couple from Switzerland who had lived in Bangkok for several years, and they had to return to their Embassy 4 times, the Thai Foreign Affairs Office 3 times, and also the local Amphur Office 3 times. They were at the Amphur for the 3rd time and were waiting for their turn to get married – they came in at 11am and were there at 3pm and were next in line. We also met another Belgium Expat/Thai couple and they had been to their Embassy once and then to a Wedding Planner, and were now in the Amphur Office getting married inside 5 business days from starting the process.
There were two things that are very apparent from my observations of the entire process. Number one is that the official Thai process for the registration of a ‘foreign’ marriage is a moving target. And number two is that the Thai translators/organisers have seen the opportunity to make money from Expats (how unusual J).
I would recommend to all Aussie Expats that they research and learn everything needed well in advance, and that they get all their paperwork ready well before they travel to Bangkok, and take everything you have with you (you never know what you may need). Bangkok is the only place you can do Parts 1 (Embassy Documents) and Part 2 (Embassy Documents translated and then certified and stamped by the Thai Consular/Foreign Affairs). Part 3 of the process, the registering of the marriage, can be done at an Amphur office in Bangkok, or in any town/region.
I will now call the Thai Consular Office, Thai Foreign Affairs, because that is the name they use, and is the name on the stamps they use to certify the documents needed to get officially married at an Amphur. As anyone who has been through the Thai bureaucracy for any reason will know, things are not ‘consistent’ – neither in name nor in process.
I had researched and prepared and got all the documents (and more), and it still took a long time and we had a few problems. We had to re-visit both the Thai Foreign Affairs and also the Amphur. I was clearly swimming against the tide, but we eventually we got through it all. Definitely worth it in the end – but as the old saying goes: I wish I knew back then what I know now.
Please read Tony’s two posts for all the good advice he has already provided about the process and what documents are needed, but I suggest you take everything with you (just in case).
Because we each planned to spend a couple of weeks with our families immediately after our time in Bangkok, I had allowed for two weeks. If I am asked how long will it take: then if all goes according to plan, the Embassy is one day, the Translator is later that day and the next day, the Thai Foreign Affairs is later that day and two more days, and the Amphur is later that day and the next one day. That makes 5 days in total and all the pigs have been fed and are ready to fly you home with a marriage certificate.
The following is what actually happened and I have added a few thoughts/ideas in italics. We had two weeks and therefore had plenty of time, so we had a good time in Bangkok anyway. But I just wish the ducks and pigs had lined up, so that we could have had a few days in Bangkok after the ceremony to celebrate.
The ‘days’ below are all business days – the weekends are not included.
Day 1 – Embassy closed on Friday as it was a public holiday in Australia. So much for my plan of getting the translation documents done on Friday/Saturday, and being ready first thing Monday for Thai Foreign Affairs.
The Embassy observes a combination of Australian and Thai public holidays. Check well in advance when the Embassy will be open – dont assume they will have something on their web site. It is now well after Songkran and today the Embassy still has a notice on their website stating that they will be closed.
And check for Thai public holidays as well – best to count on it being a holiday if there is any Aussie or Thai celebration in the calendar. Those who have been in Thailand a while will have noticed and become accustomed to most s places being open every day. This is certainly not the case for Thai Government Offices.
Day 2 – Embassy open on Monday and we completed that part of the process easily – in and out, within an hour (mostly waiting in the queue). The Embassy witnessed my already completed statutory declaration (500baht), and certified my prepared copies of my Passport and Divorce Certificate (750 baht each).
I found a Translator Company that offered same-day service and a good price (500 baht each) and they were right next door to the Australian Embassy. Originals and Translation documents all ready late Day 2.
Make sure you bring original copies of all your ID documents with you, and make a copy of them so that the Embassy can stamp/certify the copy for you. Complete the Stat Dec before you get there – but don’t sign it til you are there.
Nothing has changed since Tony was there, including the foreboding female security guard. Up the stairs and press the screen and take a number and wait. Most time there was waiting – some people just don’t prepare things and yet they expect to be helped and advised, while others who are all ready and prepared have to wait. I was wishing that the security guard was working upstairs, instead of the very friendly and helpful staff who do work there.
I elected to use MCT Translations who are on the ground floor of the Chaydon Hotel, literally about 50 metres from the Embassy – they have a sign outside their shop stating “Express Translation Service”. There is another translation service near the Embassy recommended by another Expat, which is another 100 metres up the South Sathorn Road in the Thai Wah Tower – Wireless Travel Company Ltd. The main reason I chose MCT over the others was that they quoted 500baht for each document, and they would be completed the same day. Everyone else quoted me 900baht and upwards, and 1-2 days to complete.
Day 3 – Thai Foreign Affairs at 10am. We had completed the Application for Legalisation application beforehand, and we walked past all the ‘organisers’ and went up to second floor. Soun spoke to them and handed over all the documents and we were given a number. After about 45 mins we were called forward and we paid the fees (about 1200 baht), and were given a receipt and told to come back in two days after 1pm.
Day 5 – Thai Foreign Affairs at 1.30pm – after a wait we were advised that there are faults (3) in one of the documents and we must get that one re-translated. Downstairs I was quoted 900 baht and one day – they sure can see an Expat in need. We went back to MCT Translations, who re-translated the document inside two hours (and for free). Thai Foreign Affairs detailed the exact faults (they seemed very pedantic), so re-translation was relatively easy to do.
At first I was thinking that MCT was cheap for a reason, but Iater I found out that it ‘standard practice’ to find minor faults and reject translated documents – especially for an Expat not using a Thai ‘organiser’. And it was very clear to me on each visit, that the ‘organisers’ have set up office and take advantage of the whole thing. I was watching them closely while we were waiting, and not only are there a lot of them, but they have their own area on the second floor. Their demeanour and behaviour reminded me of the scammers at Phuket and Pattaya beaches – they own it.
Day 6 – Thai Foreign Affairs at 10am and handed over the re-translated document. The document was accepted and we were told to come back about 4pm (they would not say why so long – but you can guess). We came back at exactly 4pm, and at 5pm we received all our documents, certified and stamped – ready to go to the Amphur.
Needless to say, the scammers/organisers all had their documents completed and handed back well before anyone else who was waiting. By 4.30pm they had all gone home – and all the rest of us were left waiting. Most of the people behind the counter had ‘clocked off’ before 4.30pm (drinks and pizzas etc.), and we all waited for the few people still working to complete the documents of everyone waiting.
We now had Embassy certified copies of the Passport, Stat Dec and Divorce Certificate, and certified translated copies of each of them, and all of the documents were certified and stamped (front and back) by Thai Foreign Affairs. The final result will be something like the following (this is the translated Passport) – note the Foreign Affairs stamp on the front, and also on the back of each document. They stamp both the originals and the translated copies.
Over the previous days, Soun had called several of the Amphur Offices that were near our Hotel in Bangkok, and she had tried to make a ‘wedding reservation booking’. They all stated that we had to bring our documents into their Office to have them checked, before they would book a day/time.
Based on the Expat stories on some web sites, we called Bang Rak Amphur (not close to hotel), and they were by far the most cooperative and receptive. Every Amphur, except Bang Rak, stated that we must have an ‘independent’ Thai/English translator present at the ceremony as their ‘official’ did not speak English (and they refused to allow Soun to translate). We had even walked to the Amphur office nearest out Hotel, and we were told the same thing.
It appears that there has been a lot of Expats making wedding bookings and then turning up at the Amphur Offices expecting to get married, but not having all the correct documents. And it seems most of the Bangkok Amphurs have also decided to enforce the rule that a Thai/English translator is required for the ‘ceremony’.
Day 7 – Bang Rak Amphur Office 10am (Friday) – joined the queue and after Soun had discussed some things for a while, we were told we needed 2 copies of everything (I had brought one copy) and all the other documents that would be needed on the day (Thai ID etc.). This included copies of the Blue House Book and Soun’s name changes, which of course I had left in the Hotel, thinking they would only be needed on the day of the ceremony.
Went got back to Bang Rak Amphur Office at about 3pm – after a bit of wait we are told it was all good and approved (Soun completed a document as well). All the documents were put in an order and stapled together. It was then that we were told that both Monday and Tuesday were ‘full’ for Expat marriage bookings, and that Wednesday is a Thai holiday. The first available appointment for an Expat ‘marriage ceremony’ was the next Thursday at 11am.
This was a huge mistake. As those who have lived in Thailand will know, there is often no literal translation possible between English and Thai , and there is also often a huge gulf of understanding about what certain things mean. A marriage booking is one of those things. Soun (and I) thought we had booked 11am for our marriage ceremony, but all she had done is take that ‘time slot’.
Day 11 – Soun wanted to go early (luckily) and we were at the Amphur Office before 10am, with her Sister and a close friend as our two Thai witnesses. I gave back all the documents as handed to us on Friday, and Soun and I signed another form or two. Everything was re-checked and we were then given a number and told to wait. 11am came and went, and at 11.30am Soun went and asked when we would have the ceremony as we had booked 11am.
It was then that we were advised that we had to wait in the queue – the ‘booking’ for 11am was not what we had expected. Yours truly is trying to stay calm, but it clearly shows to all that I am not happy, while Soun is calm and stays happy. 1.30pm and we are legally married, and we then have a celebration lunch with Soun’s Sister (her friend had to go back to work). 3pm and I am in a cab and on my way to the airport to catch my plane to Australia.
The huge mistake was assuming that the booking was needed, and that it was what it meant (to us). What happens is that Thai wedding organisers make bookings in advance for their clients. This makes it easier for them to plan and organise things (see below). What I observed was that several wedding organisers were in the Amphur organising things (both sides of the counter), and they also acted as the Thai witness for the couples of other organisers.
What I also found out is that anyone can turn up at anytime and once the paperwork is checked, they can just wait. Those who have a ‘booking’ get some sort of priority, but I noticed this priority went to the couples who had a wedding organiser there – they turned up when told and were married reasonable quickly – a few before us.
In hindsight, I now know that we could have just turned up at the Bang Rak Amphur on the Monday morning and taken a number and we could have just waited. It may well have been 3pm to 4pm when we got married, but we would then have had 3 days to ‘celebrate’.
Please note that there are two documents you should get when the marriage is registered at the Amphur. One is the ‘marriage certificate’ as shown in our photo above, and the other is a ‘marriage registration’. The marriage registration document is what you will need to present to the Australian Government, and it is the official marriage document. Because we were told that we will only get two marriage certificates unless we ask for the marriage registration document, we ended up getting four copies.
With regards to the translation part of the exercise, in hindsight it seems to me that it would be a good idea for you and your Thai partner to sit down with the translator/organiser and carefully go through every word (especially your names). This will give them more chance of being ‘correct’ when the Thai person in the Foreign Office reviews them all (every letter, one by one). There is a natural translation of European languages (English to German/French etc.), but there is no natural translation of English to Thai. There are words and meanings in English that just do not exist in Thai (and vice versa). It all has become a matter of what is accepted – and that means what the individual Foreign Affairs Officer who happens to read your documents believes it to be.
Overall, we could have saved a day by getting the translation documents correctly done, another day by taking 2 copies and every document/ID to the Amphur, and another 3 days by doing that first thing in morning and then waiting in the Amphur for the day. So therefore the whole process ‘technically’ could be completed inside a week (a Monday to a Friday) – there goes those pigs again J.
Recommendations (20/20 hindsight vision):
Yes, I saved a fair bit of money, and because I had allowed two weeks, I was able to get it all done inside the time allocated (just). I have put it down as an experience/achievement – but I would not do it again. My recommendations to other Expats are:-
If you live where you want to get married, or you want to get married in your Thai lady’s home Amphur, then I would do what Tony did on his second attempt. I would go to Bangkok and do the Embassy part, and then hand everything over to a Thai Translator company who you will pay to get everything translated and then get them certified and stamped by Thai Foreign Affairs – and they will mail the completed documents to you. Meanwhile, you would go to the chosen Amphur (or call them), and have your Thai lady talk to them and find out exactly what they need to conduct your ceremony once the paperwork arrives from Bangkok – and pick the day of your choice.
If you want to do it all in Bangkok, including the wedding ceremony, then I would use the services of a Thai Wedding Organiser. The wedding organiser will organise for the Translator part to be completed, and then also organise the wedding ceremony day in the Amphur (including the ‘booking’ and paperwork and witnesses if needed). She/he will be there on the day, and can even act as your Thai translator. You can then have a nice relaxing holiday in Bangkok after doing the Embassy part, while you wait for the call to tell you when to be at the chosen Amphur.
Summary: Swim with the tide – it is a lot easier and more enjoyable (costs a lot more, but that is just the way it is) J