Photo by Quetzal Photo: Natalie & Chris’ ceremony at Capilla de Todos Los Angeles (Hotel Xcaret)
If you’re planning a Catholic destination wedding to the Cancun and Playa del Carmen areas, you’re likely having a bit of a difficult time finding just the right information on the Catholic wedding ceremony process. You probably have questions about what your first steps should be, who to contact, and more.
Because this information is not always easily and readily available to most of our Catholic couples, we’ve put together this informational Q&A to help answer some of the most common questions that we receive about this process.
Though all of this information was accurate at the time of writing, we would encourage you to first start with your local parish and with the parish assigned to your particular wedding resort, as each resort’s Catholic chapel has a specifically designated parish. They will be able to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information on what they will need to help you begin your pre cana, the PNI (prenuptial investigation), and the document transfer process.
As always, if you would like assistance in locating Cancun and Playa del Carmen area resorts that have Catholic chapels on-site, please contact us here.
*Please scroll through or click the links below to take you to that particular section.
- What are the “rules” for Catholic wedding ceremonies?
- When should I start preparing and planning for a Catholic marriage?
- What is the difference between a legal/civil ceremony and a symbolic ceremony?
- Are you required to have a legal ceremony to have a Catholic ceremony in Mexico?
- What do you need to do to have a legal/civil ceremony?
- After the ceremony:
- Is a Catholic ceremony civil/legal in Mexico or the US?
- Do you contact the Catholic Parish in Cancun/Playa del Carmen directly? Does the resort connect you?
- What’s the process for the Catholic paperwork?
- What happens if one of us has been married before and is now divorced?
- What happens if one of us is not Catholic?
- Can you have a same sex Catholic wedding?
- How much is the priest fee?
- How do you pay the priest?
- What days of the week can you host a Catholic ceremony? Are there any dates that a Catholic wedding is not allowed?
- We really really want to get married on the beach. Is there any way at all that we can have a recognized catholic wedding on the beach?
What are the “rules” for Catholic wedding ceremonies?
According to Canon law, because the act of marriage is considered a sacrament, there are some specific rules that apply to recognized Catholic weddings. For the most accurate information, we recommend consulting the Vatican’s website – http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P40.HTM and reaching out to your local parish to begin the planning process.
In a nutshell, you will need to complete a PNI (prenuptial investigation) and a pre cana course with your local parish. Catholic ceremonies also need to be held on consecrated grounds, which means that you will not be able to host your ceremony on the beach or other non-consecrated location.
When should I start preparing and planning for a Catholic marriage?
Ideally, you will want to begin preparations with your local parish as close to 12 months in advance of your intended destination wedding date, as possible, though a minimum of 6 months is recommended. This is especially important if one member of the wedding couple is not yet Catholic, if either of you have been married and divorced before or have not been baptized. Even if all goes smoothly with your documentation and marriage preparation, a lot of parishes require a waiting period of at least 6 months before your wedding date while they determine if there is any reason that the wedding should not continue.
Additionally, since the full PNI and pre cana process can take up to 6 months or more in some cases, and you will likely be required to begin transferring all your documents and details to the destination wedding location about 3 months in advance of the wedding, you can see why 12 months in advance is the recommended time to begin preparing for your wedding day.
You should also take into consideration that wedding date reservations in the Cancun and Playa del Carmen zones with the local parishes should ideally be made at least 6 months in advance of your intended wedding date, to guarantee your preferred wedding date. That means that you’ll want to book your wedding date with the resort at least 6 months in advance as well, so they can connect you with the correct parish that is local to either Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
What is the difference between a legal/civil ceremony and a symbolic ceremony?
A civil ceremony is simply a nonreligious, legal marriage ceremony presided over by a legal official instead of a religious one. A civil wedding is the only legally “recognized by the Mexican government” wedding in Mexico.
If you choose not to have a legal/civil ceremony, you will be having what’s called a “symbolic” ceremony. A symbolic ceremony is not legally recognized and can be officiated or performed by anyone – a friend, family member, local officiant, any religious or non-religious figure, etc.
Are you required to have a legal ceremony to have a Catholic ceremony in Mexico?
No, you can have a symbolic Catholic ceremony in Mexico and can have your legal/civil ceremony in your home country. Catholic weddings in Mexico are not legally binding so all couples must be legally/civilly married, either in the United States or in Mexico, prior to the Catholic ceremony.
What do you need to do to have a legal/civil ceremony?
- A completed marriage application form
- A copy of your passports and tourist visas (this may be issued to you at the airport)
- Both birth certificates
- Divorce decree or death certificate, if applicable
- You must be in Mexico a full 4 business days before the ceremony (Saturday, Sunday, legal holidays and the day your flight arrives, unless you arrive prior to noon, do not count in these days)
- Blood test for HIV and a Health Certificate must be done in Mexico within 7 days before the wedding. The blood test checks for blood type, syphilis, and HIV. If one of the couple tests positive for one of these, you cannot get civilly married in Mexico.
- Chest X-rays may also be required in some areas
- The ceremony can be performed in both English and Spanish and translated into English.
- 4 witnesses that can be family and/or friends that are at least 18 years old. They must be present for the ceremony in order to sign the marriage certificate. Each of these witnesses must have their passports and tourist visas with them as well. If you do not have 4 witnesses, your resort can normally provide this for a fee.
Most of this can be handled at the resort, for a fee, and your resort can work directly with you on these details.
After the ceremony:
Once Legally married, you will receive a certificate, but the legal act called “Acta de Matrimonio”, will be send to Chetumal, the capital of the State in order to be annotated. In approximately 1 month you will receive the authorized copy at your home address, which can then be taken to your civil registry to file the marriage.
Is a Catholic ceremony civil/legal in Mexico or the US?
No. The Catholic ceremony, by itself, is not a legal/civil ceremony in Mexico. However, you can have a legal/civil ceremony, when paired with the legal/civil requirements.
In Mexico, your pastor, rabbi, priest, friend, etc does not have the legal authority to perform civil/legal weddings. Legal marriages are performed only by judges from the civil registry office. They will give you a legal marriage certificate that will be filed with the state civil registry office in Chetumal, which is the capital of the state of Quintana Roo, México.
Do you contact the Catholic Parish in Cancun/Playa del Carmen/Tulum directly? Does the resort connect you?
Each area of the Riviera Maya (and each resort) works with a specific parish in their area, so you will want to secure your wedding date with the resort of your choice first, then the resort will give you the contact details and information for the correct parish and priest to contact.
What’s the process for the Catholic paperwork?
You’ll first want to start at your home parish. Your marriage preparation, prenuptial investigation (PNI), and all documents will be prepared there. After your parish priest completes all your documentation, the local diocesan office will need to give a Nihil Obstat in order for your wedding ceremony to take place in another location other than your home parish.
Once all of this is completed, they must be stamped from the Diocese or Archdiocese and signed by the Bishop or Chancellor, then scanned and sent to the parish in your wedding destination. The parish in your wedding destination will also want all these original documents mailed to them approximately 3 months (on average) before your destination wedding. Your pre wedding seminar certificate and the Faith of Baptist and Confirmation certificate for both bride and groom should be included in this document packet.
It’s very important to make sure that these documents are mailed via Fedex, DHL, or UPS and NOT from the USPS, since mail service is very unreliable to Mexico. Delay of these documents may cause your wedding ceremony to be cancelled.
What happens if one of us has been married before and is now divorced?
Divorced Catholics are not allowed to remarry unless their earlier marriage has been nullified. You can reach out to your local parish to help you with this process, but it entails the following:
- An annulment petition from the church
- Copies of the baptismal certificates of the Catholic parties involved
- A copy of the civil marriage license
- A copy of your church marriage certificate
- A copy of the divorce decree, either signed or certified by the judge
What happens if one of us is not Catholic?
A dispensation from your Bishop is needed. Your local parish can guide you through this process.
Can you have a same sex Catholic wedding?
How much is the priest fee?
It’s an average of 3,000 pesos in the Cancun through Playa del Carmen areas, but each parish will give you the specific details that apply to their priests.
How do you pay the priest?
This is normally done by bank transfer directly to the priest. The destination parish will give you these details.
What days of the week can you host a Catholic ceremony? Are there any dates that a Catholic wedding is not allowed?
In this area, no Catholic ceremonies may happen on Sundays, Tuesdays, December 24th, 25th, and 31st, January 1st, July 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th, or during Holy Week. December 11th is also a day where most Catholic ceremonies may not be performed, depending on the chapel and location, due to the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
We really really want to get married on the beach. Is there any way at all that we can have a recognized catholic wedding on the beach?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. However, you might consider having a marriage blessing on the beach, or anywhere else for that matter, performed by a priest. You can have this performed at any time.
The Archdiocese of Montana and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland, have recently ruled that a priest or deacon can now officiate a wedding in “another suitable place”. This hasn’t quite made its way to Mexico yet, so until it does, the only places you can get married by a Catholic priest is on consecrated grounds (a consecrated chapel).
If a Catholic Wedding in Mexico is in the future for you and your significant other, please consider us to assist you. We’d love to help you secure your wedding date and room block!