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Why do foreign couples head to Denmark to get married?

Denmark has developed a bit of a reputation as a destination wedding location. The Local’s Sarah Redohl looks into why so many foreign couples head to Denmark to wed.

Married couple on a beach in Denmark.
Getting married in Denmark is a simple and straightforward process and the country has plenty of beautiful locations – such as beaches – to choose from. Photo: Elena Belevantseva

Stephanie Heys and John O’Brien had a whirlwind international love story. 

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, and Los Angeles, United States, the pair met in Croatia in 2014. Living on different continents at the time, they met up in Europe several more times and visited one another before eventually moving to Stuttgart, Germany. 

“It was a non-traditional way to start a relationship, but I knew he was special to me from the moment we met,” Heys told The Local. 

When the couple got engaged in the fall of 2019, they planned to have their wedding in Vancouver, but those plans were quickly derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“I could only spend three months at a time in Germany until we got married,” Heys said. When the pandemic hit and she was back in Canada, it became impossible for Heys to visit the EU or for O’Brien to visit Canada. 

At first, they waited for the restrictions to pass, but eventually they didn’t want to wait any longer. “It felt like our engagement had been outstanding for too long,” Heys said. “Getting married would also resolve the issues we were facing.”

But, they knew that getting married in Germany was unlikely to be a quick process. 

“Even if you’re from Germany, it can take months and months to get married here,” Heys said. That’s when one of O’Brien’s colleagues suggested they look into marrying in Denmark.

Denmark: The Las Vegas of Europe?
“People are now calling Denmark the Las Vegas of Europe because it’s so easy to get married here,” Ditte Rendtorff, owner of the wedding planning company Danish Coastal Weddings, told The Local. “But, it’s a European version, with castles and quaint islands.”

Rendtorff recommends couples wanting to marry quickly look outside of more popular locations, like Copenhagen Town Hall. For example, she recommends Helsingør (pictured), 50 kilometres north, where there is no waiting time. “Plus, it’s a charming little town with a nice town hall,” she said. (Photo by Monica Hjelmslund)

One of the primary reasons for Denmark’s reputation as a destination wedding location is that it’s simple and straightforward application process, which is open to non-residents, can be mostly completed online, requires relatively little documentation, and applications are processed quickly. 

This is in stark contrast to what couples may experience elsewhere, said Rasmus Clarck from the wedding agency Getting Married in Denmark.

“When multinational, multiracial, multi-religious or same sex couples decide to get married, they may discover that it’s difficult to do so in their home countries or current countries of residence,” he told The Local. That is often when they discover Denmark, he added.

Why is Denmark becoming such a popular place to marry?
“It isn’t as though the Danish government saw a market for easier weddings in Europe and decided to take advantage of it,” Yuki Badino, a wedding planner at Danish Island Weddings, told The Local. “The marriage laws have always been simple in Denmark.”

When Badino’s sister, Louise Badino Moloney, started the agency 13 years ago, Denmark was a less common destination for weddings. “Even Danes don’t realise Denmark has become a wedding destination,” Badino told The Local. “It’s a niche, but it’s growing.”

She said this can be attributed both to word of mouth, as was the case for Heys and O’Brien, but also news coverage, blogs, and other online resources directing couples to Denmark. 

That was one factor in the decision of Katharina and Malte to marry in Denmark. Living in Hamburg, Germany, the couple had read about Denmark as a destination wedding location in a German magazine. 

Katharina and Malte got lucky with the weather on their wedding day. “We chose the only weekend in autumn that was 23 degrees and sunny,” Malte said. (Photo courtesy of Danish Island Weddings)

Malte, who goes fishing on Ærø each year, already had the Danish island in mind for a wedding when he proposed in August 2021. “I thought it was a small, hidden, lovely place for a wedding,” he told The Local.

Lastly, marrying in Denmark meant they’d be able to wed before their son’s due date in January 2022. “We wanted the wedding to be sooner rather than later, so I wouldn’t be too pregnant and we’d still have nice weather,” Katharina told The Local.

The couple wasn’t sure if they could make a wedding happen in such a short time period in Germany. The paperwork is more onerous, and nice locations tend to book out a year in advance, Katharina said. Covid-19 wedding postponements only made that more unlikely. 

By choosing Denmark, the couple was able to marry three weeks after their engagement. 

What does the process look like?
The first step is to apply for a marriage licence with the Danish Agency of Family Law (AFL). Lena Hansen, a wedding planner at Nordic Adventure Weddings, said the required documentation is minimal: passports, divorce decrees if divorced, relevant residency or visa information, and the proof of the relationship.

Hansen with Nordic Adventure Weddings said she’s planned weddings on cliffs, in forests, on the beach, and in castles. “Couples can of course get married in town hall, but many people want something more romantic,” she said. (Photo by Justine Høgh)

Previously, couples would apply directly with the local municipality where they planned to wed. However, the law was changed in 2019, Rendtorff said, to prevent Denmark from becoming a target location for pro forma marriages. 

The approval process can take anywhere from a few days to two months, at most, Badino said. 

Then, the couple can book their date with the town hall or venue of their choice, Clarck said. The day before their wedding – or even 10 minutes prior, depending on the town hall – the couple will present their documents for final review.

It’s also a simple process to get the marriage recognised in a couple’s home country, Hansen said, since Danish marriage certificates are recognised by all EU countries. “For countries outside the EU, the document must be legalised, which is a quick process by getting an apostille through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” she told The Local.

By default, Badino added, Danish marriage certificates are already translated into five languages: Danish, English, German, French and Spanish. “So, it’s already an international document,” she said.

Katharina and Malte were able to finish the application online from their sofa in one or two evenings. Three weeks later, they were getting married on Ærø with around a dozen of their closest friends and family.

When they returned to Germany, all they had to do was send a copy of their wedding licence to the proper authorities via email. “It wasn’t hard for us, since the German and Danish governments cooperate nicely,” Katharina said. “And it was much faster than it would have been in Germany,” Malte added. 

Clarck said the vast majority of Getting Married in Denmark’s couples live in Germany, the UK, Ireland, France, and the rest of the EU. Pictured, Emma (Irish) and Daniel (American) got married in Denmark while living in Spain, before moving to Ireland after the wedding. (Photo by Elena Belevantseva Photography)

What if a couple wants something more than a town hall wedding?

Although Rentdorff agrees that the speed and ease of the marriage process in Denmark is a major factor, she said Denmark is also a destination in its own right. 

“We’re seen as this romantic little kingdom,” she said. She said the ease of having a beach wedding is also appealing. “We have 8,750 kilometres of coastline, so it’s easy to get married by the beach.”

“You can get a quick marriage in Las Vegas or Gibraltar,” Badino said, “but Denmark has a unique appeal. I think people want to marry in a beautiful place.” 

Getting married in a beautiful place, she added, is also streamlined in Denmark. “There’s a lot of freedom to marry wherever you want in Denmark,” Badino said, “from an aeroplane to a lighthouse. In Germany, you need special permission just to marry on a beach.”

Danish Island Weddings offers locations on beaches, lighthouses, gardens, cliffs and in a private wedding room at an old merchant’s house. “We try to make the wedding for the couples extra special in whatever location they prefer, and to make it more personal than a town hall wedding,” Badino said. 

The company organised Katharina and Malte’s wedding at the auction house in only three weeks, including cake, champagne, flowers, decorations, music, a lunch reception and a photographer. “It ended up just like I would have done it, if I had planned the whole thing myself a year in advance,” Katharina said, “but without the stress.”

Now, one of the couple’s friends’ brother is planning a wedding on Ærø with his British fiance before the couple moves to Shanghai this summer. 

Denmark’s reputation continues to spread, one couple at a time.


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New Danish museum wants to ‘tell the story’ of country’s refugees

Built on the site of a camp for German World War II refugees, a new Danish museum opening Wednesday shines fresh light on personal stories of forced migration, past and present.

New Danish museum wants to ‘tell the story’ of country’s refugees

The new FLUGT (“flee” in Danish) Refugee Museum of Denmark, in the small town of Oksbøl on Jutland’s west coast, focuses primarily on German refugees, as well as others who have come to Denmark over the years.

Exhibits include personal items — from a tent to a teddy bear — that tell the intimate stories of people who have fled war and oppression in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chile, Germany, Hungary, Iran, Lebanon, Russia, Syria and Vietnam, among others. 

“We want to tell the story that is behind these numbers, there are actual people,” museum director Claus Kjeld Jensen told AFP ahead of Wednesday’s opening.

But for some, the museum’s open philosophy contrasts with Denmark’s approach to refugees, with successive right and left-wing governments pursuing one of Europe’s toughest immigration policies.

ANALYSIS: Why is Denmark treating Ukrainian refugees differently to those from Syria?

As World War II drew to a bloody close, roughly 250,000 Germans fled to Denmark as the Russian Red Army approached.

Around 35,000 of them found their way to the refugee camp in Oksbøl, instantly making the site Denmark’s fifth largest city by population size.

The camp, in operation from 1945 to 1949, had schools, a theatre and a workshop, all behind barbed wire.

Nowadays, little of the camp remains, aside from two former hospital buildings and a cemetery, hidden amid a thick, green forest.

“We have got this part of world history actually taking place right here where we’re standing. But then there is an actual situation today,” Kjeld Jensen said.

“We have far more refugees worldwide than we had by the end of World War II. So, I suppose the issue is far more relevant today than it has ever been.”

Denmark's new museum for refugee stories FLUGT

Denmark’s new museum for refugee stories FLUGT in Oksbøl. Photo: John Randeris/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II attended the museum’s official inauguration on June 25 with Germany’s Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck. The German state contributed around 1.5 million euros to the 16-million-euro project.

“None of us would have thought it would be so sadly current to talk about refugees and fleeing,” the 82-year-old monarch said.
In 2021, the total number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflicts, violence, fear of persecution and human rights violations was 89.3 million, according to the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked fresh movement across Europe, with more than six million refugees fleeing across the borders, according to the UNHCR.

The new museum was designed by world-renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, who recently finished Google’s new Silicon Valley headquarters and is set to design a new US museum about slavery in Fort Worth, Texas.

Ingels’ design links the two surviving hospital buildings with a new, circular rusty steel-clad construction. Indoors, towering timber frames stretch into the sky, creating a large, open foyer, from which visitors explore the exhibits.

“When you come here from the outside, you see this kind of closed undulating wall of corten steel,” explained Ingels.

“But then, when you move inside, you realise that there is this oasis or sanctuary that opens up towards the forest, which in a way is what the fugitives hopefully found here — a sanctuary from the war and a glimpse of a brighter future.”

In mid-2020, Denmark became the first European Union country to re-examine the asylum cases of several hundred Syrians from Damascus, judging it safe for them to return. It also plans to open asylum centres outside Europe where applicants would be sent to live.

READ ALSO: EU politicians criticise Denmark over return policy for Syrian refugees

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In 2021, only 2,099 people sought asylum in Denmark. 

UNHCR representative Henrik Nordentoft admitted there were “challenges” with Denmark’s refugee policies.

“These are very politically-driven and we hope, of course, that there will be a way of changing that,” he said.

The museum’s inauguration was attended by 82-year-old Jörg Baden, who fled Germany for Denmark in 1945 at the age of five, as well as more recent arrivals, including a 16-year-old who fled Syria in 2015 and a group of Ukrainian classical musicians who arrived earlier this year.

It’s a reminder, as Baden put it, that “Flugt is not only a topic of the past, it reaches into our lives today.”