As an Aussie girl, getting married in New York City never even crossed my mind as a possibility, despite watching Bride Wars on repeat throughout my final semester at uni. However, thanks to the various visa complications that arise when you want to marry an American and move to his hometown, it became a (corny) dream come true.
I entered the USA on a K-1 visa, which allows fiancées (and fiancés) of American citizens to enter the USA and get married within 90 days of arrival (a process so entertaining the USA made an entire TV show about it). I was DYING to have a big tacky Vegas wedding (since we’d done the OTT thing back home in Perth), but as my now-husband wisely noted, NYC is probably more our style. Both the State of Nevada and the State of New York easily accommodate a short turn around for a wedding, so it didn’t matter too much for visa and logistical purposes, so NYC it was.
To get married at NYC Office of the City Clerk, you have to register your intent at least twenty four hours before you wed. You can do most of the registration online, then head on down to the Office to get a Marriage Licence. You go through security, show your ID, take a number, wait a little, then head up to a teller window when your number is called to verify all your details and pick up your licence and pay your fee of $35USD. The licence is valid for one month from the date of issue, meaning if you decide not to get married for three months, you’ll need to head down and get a new licence.
Then the waiting game! We got our licence on Wednesday, the day we arrived in the USA, so we could get married on Friday, when my new sister-in-law and her husband could join us and be our witnesses. When getting our licence, the very friendly clerk told us to try come before midday on Friday, since it’s the most popular day to get married, and to avoid, at all costs, coming on Valentines’ Day (which just made me want to come back to NYC on the 14th to tie the knot then!). I had figured since it was about as off-peak season as you can get (early February), and miserably cold (a balmy average of around zero celcius), that we wouldn’t have too much trouble or much of a wait on the Friday, but I was pleasantly surprised. By the time we arrived at about 10.30am (since I had to attend a SoulCycle class that morning), having taken the subway in our wedding clothes, getting multiple wears after our Perth wedding, we joined a surprisingly long line. You don’t actually have to have your ceremony at the Office of the City Clerk once you’ve obtained your marriage licence – much like anywhere else, you can go anywhere as long as you have a registered marriage official there to conduct the wedding. But we figured it would be fun to just continue on with the full-blown City Clerk experience.
I insisted on getting a bouquet from the friendly guy outside the building, who charged around $30 for a little custom bouquet of almost-frozen roses. He was well equipped with other wedding paraphernalia like rings, for the less fussy/organised among us. I wanted a bouquet of red roses with a white ribbon, and he quickly whipped one up, he told some great stories of all the different international couples he’d met through his time set up outside the building. There were also a few professional photographers creeping on the stairs trying to spruik their photography services. I’d initially very desperately wanted a professional photographer to capture the moments, but cooled on the idea once I saw the very understandable price of around $1,000 for a shoot, since we’d already paid for photos for our Aussie wedding. We just got our witnesses to snap some pictures on my camera and on our phones, which more than did the job.
Once inside, there were so many people!! We went through security again, got our number, and joined all the other very happy people waiting to tie the knot that day. It was so joyful! There was the full gamut of outfits, from full-blown wedding gowns and suits, to just casual clothes covered up with winter jackets, big fancy bouquets, and my personal favourite of a totally babin’ white jumpsuit that I just wish I’d found. You first go up to sign your marriage certificate before a clerk with your witnesses and pay $25USD for the ceremony fee, then wait a little while for your number to be called to go to the ceremony room. There are two chapel rooms set up opposite each other, with a little pew or two, and an altar. There is a big group of you waiting, and the officiant will just pop out of the room, and call your names to come into the room. You and your guests hustle in, the ceremony commences with speed and vigour, you exchange your rings (only if you have them), give your I Dos, are pronounced married and kiss! The officiant then signs your marriage certificate and gives it to you, before heading out of the room. It’s over quicker than you can imagine, you snap some pictures, then you’re shuffled out for the next ceremony.
Honestly, if there is a way to just go and join in the commotion as a tourist on a standard Friday in NYC, you definitely should – weddings are already the total best, and being a part of a big crowd of people all going through this life-defining moment was a really unique, happy and wonderful experience. There is a hilarious little photoshoot spot we went to afterwards on the way out from the ceremony rooms, and next to the gift shop (obviously, there is ALWAYS a gift shop), which has nice lighting and has a fake backdrop that looks like the City Hall building. I stickybeaked at other couples have professional photos taken, but I still love our phone snaps! I wanted to go wild at the gift shop, but since we were travelling at absolute maximum capacity on our way from Australia, I limited myself to the magnet which now has pride of place on the fridge.
After the wedding, we parted ways so my official husbo and I could head to the top of the Empire State Building and embrace the views of NYC. It was flipping freezing, so we didn’t spend too long up there, but it felt so great to soak in the city where we got married. We were still in our wedding clothes, and got lots of lovely comments from people in the street.
Like all good weddings, you must have a reception. I continued our theme of being totally extra and had booked high tea at the Plaza in the Palm Court, and it was to DIE for. There is a choice of two high tea menus, the New York and the Broadway options, and Kelly and I accompanied our choices with a glass of Veuve because obviously it was a celebration. Each couple got a tiered serving of their own high tea selection of absolutely decadent savoury and sweets, as well as your own pot of tea. I was dying over the Plaza crockery, the general Palm Court-y-ness of the whole place, and the chocolate hazelnut dessert. Okay, I was dying over the whole thing. It was incredible. And if you do go there, you HAVE to go to the bathrooms. You get to sneak through the main lobby and up the epic Plaza stairs (I swear everyone I walked past was wearing Louboutins), and see the completely unnecessarily pretty toilets.
Despite complaining regularly about how full we all were after the deceptive high tea, we rounded out the full-blown NYC experience by having dinner at the Gramercy Tavern. I mainly drank red wine and cocktails, and picked at a delectable snapper dish, but the general vibe was that the food was excellent, the drinks exquisite, and the New-York-i-ness on point.
In sum, getting married at the Office of the City Clerk, even in February, even with just four of you, and even if you just are not from NYC even remotely, is the funnest, coolest, best and most awesome experience, and bonus – your marriage certificate will always say you were married in the State of New York. Five stars for life experience. And extra bonus, mum and dad got me the Smeg toaster I was desperate for as an NYC wedding present, and now my toaster and my kettle match. Getting a husband I love with my whole heart is pretty good, but matching OTT kitchen appliances is pretty darn excellent.