You are thinking about getting married in New York City. What a wonderful idea! There is no better place in the world, and here we will talk about how to elope in NYC; weather you are local or coming from out of town. We have your complete Guide to “How to Elope in NYC”. New York City is full of love, life, skyscrapers, yellow cabs, bagels, squirrels, parks, bridges, art, lox, architecture and honking. Lots of honking.
The idea of the elopement has become more popular over the past few years and more couple’s are choosing to forgo the big wedding traditions and running off to City Hall to say I do, either on their own in secret or with a few of their nearest and dearest. There is a lot of freedom and creativity for all, with no real timelines to stick to, you have all of New York City to roam and celebrate in.
OBTAIN YOUR MARRIAGE LICENSE
The first step to getting legally married is to obtain the New York marriage license. The City Clerk’s office, located at 141 Worth Street in Manhattan, issues the $35 license. While the Manhattan location is the most popular, you can get the license in any New York county including any of NYC’s other boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.
You can save a little time by starting the marriage license paperwork online, but either way you and your partner must finish the process together in person. The City Clerk’s website contains more detailed NYC marriage license information.
Tip: If you were married before, you will be asked to list all prior marriages. You are required to include your previous spouse’s full name and the date the divorce decree was granted. You also have to provide the city, state, and country where the divorce was issued.
This is what typically happens:
- Arrive at Marriage Bureau – 141 Worth Street, New York, NY 10013 – between the hours of 8:30am to 3:45pm, Monday to Friday.
- After passing through security – you check in at the front counter, show your marriage license, ID of the marrying couple & of the witness. The attendant gives you a number. We head inside and wait for the number to be called. This can take anywhere from 1 minute to 45 minutes (or possibly longer). Normally it’s around 30 minutes.
- Your number is called and you go up to teller, pay the $25 fee and all sign the marriage license.
- We sit back down and wait again until your number is called to counter 5 – normally 5-20 minute wait for this.
- At counter 5, you hand the person the marriage license and we enter the oval waiting room for your names to be called into the ceremony room.
- The officiant marrying you will call you into one of the ceremony rooms. They will ask if you are exchanging rings. I’ve seen some couples exchange their own (very short) personalized vows but if sharing your own vows is important to you, I would suggest getting married outside instead.
- Approximately 60 seconds later you are married! The officiant will give you the official marriage certificate. They will normally give you a minute or two to hug it out and take a few pictures inside the ceremony room. We then depart the Clerks Office and you are married!
On average, it takes about 45 minutes most afternoons, but I always allocate 90 minutes when creating the timeline of the day just in-case it takes longer. It’s impossible to know really how long it’s going to take, though I do find midweek and the colder months to be a little quieter.
In order to make use of the late afternoon late in the summertime (when the sun sets between 8 to 9pm), it is best to enter the marriage bureau at around 3pm so we can make the best use of late afternoon light. That way, by the time we exit, it’s the most ideal light to shoot the portraits in. Obviously in winter when the sun sets at 4:30pm, we will want to go in around 1pm or earlier.
I can be your witness. I am more than happy to be the witness for you.
Some extra steps for international couples – In this “how to elope in NYC guide” I need to tell you that if you’re not a US citizen you’ll need to get an additional “long form” document after your ceremony has been performed. You’ll return to the City Clerk’s Office to obtain this and it will enable you to register the marriage back in your home country. If you’re from a non-English speaking country, you’ll also need to get an apostille. You can read more about the apostille at the Department of State’s website.
HAVE YOUR CEREMONY ON LOCATION. NOT IN THE CITY CLERK’S OFFICE…
A full 24 hours after receiving your marriage license, you can perform your wedding ceremony. While most couples are opting to hire a private officiant these days, getting married at City Hall along with other couples from all over the world is still a great experience.
To have the ceremony on location, find a registered marriage officiant and schedule a date, time and place where you would like to get married. When thinking of how to elope in NYC, you really need to think of an officiant. With an officiant, your are not bound to any business hours. You can get hitched 24/7, 365 days a year anywhere in the city. You would like to ‘say YES, in Central Park? No problem. You want to get hitched on the ‘Top of the Rock’? Do it! How about ‘The Highline Park’? It’s your wedding.
Pick a location and have fun. Once you have figured out all the details make sure to bring your marriage license, proper identification, at least one witness ( I’m happy to be your witness. Just let me know ahead of time so I can bring my ID) and that’s it.
After the ceremony, the officiant will have you and your witness sign the marriage license and then return the paperwork to the city clerk’s office for you. You will receive your ‘Certificate of Marriage’ in the mail within about 30 days from the wedding date.
WHERE SHOULD WE HAVE OUR WEDDING AND OUR PORTRAITS?
When planning a New York elopement, there aren’t any bad places to take portraits. It’s just about finding the side of NYC you want to have as a backdrop, whether that’s skyline or graffiti. But therein lies the problem! If everywhere is good, where should we go explore?
In this how to elope in NYC guide, I am going to give you some ideas, and here are some suggestions:
- Central Park
- Madison Square Park
- Bryant Park (with the New York Public Library in the background)
- Staple Street in Tribeca
- Pebble Beach on the DUMBO river edge with Manhattan skyline in the background
- Brooklyn Bridge Park (also has Manhattan views)
- Brooklyn Grange Farm Rooftop
- Coney Island
- Top of the Rock
- One of the many community gardens scattered across the city
- Balcony of your hotel / apartment (Sixty Soho has a rad loft suite – the Thompson loft – with amazing balcony views.)
HOW CAN WE FIND A REGISTERED WEDDING OFFICIANT?
BOOK A NICE HOTEL. START YOUR WEDDING PHOTOS THERE!
If you’ll be splurging on a swanky hotel when you elope in NYC, capturing photos before heading out the door is always a fantastic idea.
GREAT NEIGHBORHOODS IN NYC FOR TAKING PHOTOS
You can have the ceremony any place in NYC, and in this guide on how to elope in NYC, I can tell you a few of the neighborhoods I like and a little description of what you can find.
Central Park – Central Park is quintessential. It can get busy in certain parts, but I know the park well and can guide you to great spots.
West Village / Greenwich – old buildings with tree lined streets, a mix of residential and shopping areas. This area appears a lot in movies and TV shows as it’s beautiful, classic New York with well kept streets and buildings.
Tribeca – just south of the West Village, known for its old industrial buildings and Cobblestone streets. It’s a pretty quiet area and I enjoy taking photographs in this area a lot.
Lower East Side / East Village – a favorite area to shoot in Manhattan as it has a bit of everything, from grungy street scenes to residential streets with stoops and lovely parks.
Chinatown – once away from the main touristy area of Chinatown, there are few quiet streets that have a lot of character and it’s next door to the Clerks Office.
DUMBO, Brooklyn – this is area that appears most often in my elopement photographs. It is only a short car ride from the Clerk’s Office and has a huge variety of locations within the same area. It has the two bridges (the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan bridge), many old buildings that are very quiet compared to Manhattan and it’s on the East River, so it’s the perfect spot to get the Manhattan skyline.
Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn – it’s an upmarket neighborhood which beautiful old brownstones. It has a completely different vibe that north Brooklyn (Williamsburg & Bushwick), so if you want residential streets without the industrial wasteland feel, this is the place to go.
Bushwick, Brooklyn – it’s a grungy / industrial area with some great street art. It does not have any classical architecture but more of an industrial wasteland vibe..which is fun to shoot in if you want something different.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn – Great views of the city and some street art. There is a ferry that runs from Williamsburg to DUMBO and the Financial district (where the Clerks Office is), so always an option to jump on the ferry to get between two locations.
HOW TO ELOPE IN NYC, EXAMPLE TIMELINE
If you would like to do the portrait shoot after the ceremony, plan to have the ceremony start about 2.5 hours before sunset. Before reading this “How to elope in NYC guide” you may have not thought of some of the timing details. The time is going to vary depending on the time of the year of course, but here is a sample of an early summer/ mid fall.
A rough timeline for an outdoor ceremony would look like :
4:30pm – Meet for start of portrait shoot
6:00pm – Depart for ceremony location
6:30pm -Arrive to ceremony location
6:45pm – Ceremony starts
7:00pm – Sunset
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS ON HOW TO ELOPE IN NYC
What to wear – It is up to you, but you can follow some of the same guidelines as what I suggest during an engagement session. Here are my suggestions.
Flowers – It’s entirely up to you if you would like to have flowers or not – some of my couples have a bouquet and some do not. Just feel what is right for you.
Hair & Makeup – Plan to have your hair & makeup complete at least an hour before we plan to meet. As hair & makeup often runs late, you do not want to feel any unnecessary stress on the day. My favorite hair & makeup artists are also on my vendor page.
Transport – I encourage walking where possible and catching the subway or a taxi – they always create the most iconic NYC pictures.