I may be a tiny bit biased, but I think New York City is one of the most incredible places in the world to get married – whether you’re eloping or having a huge wedding. This city is a magical place, and I am so grateful to call it home. So many of my clients travel to NYC from overseas or across the country to get married here, and don’t really know where to begin, so I thought it was high time I put together a very simple “how to” on eloping New York City! So how do you elope in NYC…? Well, it’s actually pretty easy!
- First things first, you need a marriage license. You need to have your marriage license at least twenty-four hours before your wedding, but I recommend getting it at least two days in advance, so you’re not under a time crunch. From late spring to early fall, the Manhattan Marriage Bureau can be crazy busy. Go early (they are open from Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 3:45pm), but if you can’t get there first thing, at least avoid the lunch time rush. It’s usually most crowded in my experience from 11:30am to 1:30pm. (If you can only go during those hours, just be prepared to wait and bring a snack.) You can fill out your application online before you go: HERE. (Even if you fill out the paperwork online, you still have to pick up the license in person, so don’t forget!) When you pick up your marriage license, you’ll need a valid photo ID with you (license/passport/state ID). The Manhattan Marriage Bureau is located at: 141 Worth Street. The marriage license is $35, and that can be paid by credit card or money order.
- Once you have your marriage license, there’s really only one other thing required of you: a witness! If you’re planning on having a few friends or family members present at your elopement, then you’re all set! Designate someone to be your witness, and on the day of the wedding, they’ll sign your marriage license. What if it’s just the two of you? Well, good news… if you hire a photographer, they can act as your witness! One of the greatest joys of my chosen career is being able to be a witness to the marriage of so many incredible couples. When I think about how many marriage licenses I have signed in the past two years, it feels a little overwhelming. Being your witness is an honor, and I take it very seriously. What if you’re not having a photographer? I’ve known several people who have asked perfect strangers to be their witness, and strangers are usually happy to oblige! My guess is if you stand in front of the Manhattan Marriage Bureau and ask passerby, someone will absolutely say yes. New Yorkers are quite friendly and willing to help out someone – especially when it comes to something as beautiful as getting married. So don’t be afraid to ask! Just make sure whoever you choose – friend/family member, photographer, or stranger – has a valid photo ID with them and is at least 18 years old!
- Go get married!
The City Hall Experience: You have your marriage license, you have a witness… now it’s time to get married! If you’re getting married at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau – the same place you picked up your license – then you don’t have to worry about hiring an officiant. You’ll walk in, check in with the front, and they’ll give you a number. When your number is called, you and your partner (and witness!) will sign the paperwork, and then sit back down again and wait to be called into the chapel. When they call you into the chapel, the ceremony is literally about two minutes long. It’s no frills. And if you’re wondering what the officiants at City Hall are like, let me assure you – they are THE BEST. Seriously. They love their job and it shows. So even though it’s short and sweet, they really do care, and I believe they truly want you to have a special experience. The fee to marry at City Hall is $25, and that can be paid by credit card or money order.
The Personalized Experience: Another option for eloping in New York City is to hire an officiant and pick a location somewhere in the city to hold your ceremony other than City Hall. If you’re looking for a truly personalized experience – you want to write your own vows, or have something in particular read – this may be for you. I’ve photographed elopements all over Central Park, in private homes, in Prospect Park, on Governor’s Island… this city is full of beautiful corners and streets, ideal for tying the knot. I know some seriously amazing officiants, and I’m happy to help you find a location that’s just right for you.
There are no rules when it comes to eloping. It can be a simple affair – casual clothes, weekday afternoon, City Hall ceremony with just the two of you and one witness. Or similar to a larger wedding – a handful of friends and family on a Saturday evening, formal clothes, a gorgeous spot in Central Park overlooking the Manhattan skyline, dinner and drinks at your favorite Manhattan restaurant after. Or anything in between.
However you get married – elopement or wedding – you should do what’s right for you and your partner. If having a huge wedding doesn’t feel like you, then don’t do it. When you get engaged, a lot of people are going to tell you a lot of things… “You have to have your make up done.” “You have to have flowers.” “You have to have to invite Cousin Mary who you haven’t seen in 10 years.” You don’t have to do any of those things. Figure out what’s important to you and your partner and do or have those things, and don’t worry about anything else. The wedding day is just one day… what really matters is every single day after that. That’s a marriage.
Questions? Concerns? I have photographed over one hundred elopements and have seen it all when it comes to elopements and intimate weddings, so if you have a question, I probably have an answer! You can also visit the website for the New York City Marriage Bureau – this site covers all the legalities of getting married in New York City.