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Legal vs Symbolic wedding ceremony - What's the difference?

Okay so this is probably one of the most asked questions, and the one that causes the most confusion with couples.

Let me just put it simply here – both options are possible here, and both options are not complicated provided you’re working with the proper authorities on this.

But they do differ in requirements which I’ll get into in this article.

Before I get into that part though, I want to stress the factor of your celebrant which have the same requirements in both ceremony types.

Regardless of whether you choose a symbolic/commitment ceremony or a legal ceremony, both will need a celebrant, and that celebrant cannot be a family member or a friend. They need to be an Indonesian national or an expat with the correct working permits to conduct the ceremony. For those of you who will already be legally married before your Bali wedding, you may be asking…but why can’t my friend/family member do it? It’s not a legal wedding so I wouldn’t be breaking any rules.

True – the wedding itself wouldn’t be a legal marriage, but the “job” of conducting the ceremony must be done by someone legally allowed to work here, so this is why it’s imperative you have the correct information. It’s not a matter of marriage legalities for this, but of working and man power laws here in Indonesia.

So let’s break down the differences between the two types of ceremonies.


A legal ceremony here is recognized not only here, but also in your home country and around the world. You will not need to get legally married in your home country before or after your Bali wedding as it will already be solidified and official.

I have couples who don’t want two wedding dates, wanting the one time they do their ceremony to be their official wedding date, so if that’s you, and you want to get married in Bali, then a Legal ceremony is what you’ll need to do.

However there is a little more involvement with getting married legally here.

Firstly, religion is a part of the national constitution of Indonesia, and in order to get legally married here, a couple must claim one of the five recognized religions – Islam, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant or Buddhist – and their ceremony must follow the requirements of marriage in that religion.

The ceremony must be performed by an Indonesian authority within that religion such as a priest or Imam, and the couple must follow the procedures required by that religion. The script for these types of ceremonies are largely unchangeable, meaning you won’t be able to edit what is being said. It’s a very serious matter and as such is to be followed strictly.

Further to that, you will need an Indonesian government official to witness the marriage.

You’ll need to bring required documents such as copies of your birth certificates, any documents pertaining to previous name changes and such, in order to cement the marriage with your respective embassies.

It’s worthwhile noting some nationalities are more difficult to process or require different documentation, so do make sure you outline everything to your planner before proceeding.

A legal marriage here in Indonesia is not hard to do, contrary to popular myth. But it does require more documents and has less flexibility when it comes to the ceremony.


This type of ceremony is probably the more popular of the two – in my experience anyway.

Firstly because of the misconception that legal weddings are not possible or too hard.

Secondly because couples who opt for a Bali wedding generally do this to have a fun party style wedding and don’t want to spend large amounts of time the more serious aspects of the wedding.

Another reason many choose this is because not all their friends and family can come to Bali for their wedding, so doing their legal wedding at home means they can invite family members or friends who can’t travel to witness their special moment and not feel they’re missing out on something so important.

A symbolic ceremony is carried out in an almost identical way to that of a legal. Your celebrant will call your guests to be upstanding, instruct when to sit, lead the vows, perform the ring exchange and announce you husband and wife. If your guests are not privy to the fact that it isn’t a legal ceremony, they’d be none-the-wiser. Only differences are that you can customize what the celebrant says, making it more personal, and you don’t have to include religion into your ceremony, making your choice of celebrant much broader.

These ceremonies are ideal for those couples who are already legally married in their home countries, or have plans to do so upon their return from Bali. It’s also a more affordable option as less paperwork and processes are needed in order to complete it.

Heather from My Bali Celebrant is a wealth of knowledge on this topic and had some great tips to share:

  1. If people are concerned about their non-legal ceremony not looking "legit" they can relax about that. Our celebrants know what components of a wedding ceremony guests are expecting and will do all of those. Commitment ceremonies also offer 100% customization, so they can make it REALLY personal.

  2. If they're concerned about "already being married" when they do the wedding here (if they do the legals before their Bali ceremony), they can simply do a quiet ceremony upon their return home. Then the wedding here isn't really a "lie" - people won't be upset that they are "already married".

  3. Finally, when they just have a commitment ceremony here, they can relax and enjoy the build-up to the big day without the stress of additional paperwork, trip to the consulate, etc. And not all consulates are in Bali, so getting the CONI can be difficult if their nation doesn't have a consulate here.

We regularly refer clients to choose their celebrant from the plethora of options available at My Bali Celebrant. With them, you can choose who you feel best fits with you as a couple, and if you have any questions on the legalities, the procedure or how it will be carried out on the day, they'll only be too happy to help.


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