Deciding to say "Ja, ik wil."

Or "yes, I do."

After our civil ceremony in Weesp, Netherlands.
When the husband and I were figuring out how to go about starting our life together, we decided to first live in the Netherlands where it was easier for me to gain residence status. Or, I should say, where it would have been easier for me to gain residence status had I moved when we first did the research. In March of 2013, however, laws changed and limited my options to the following:
  1. I could come as a highly skilled migrant, meaning that I would be hired by an employer who would then sponsor my immigration. 
  2. I could start my own business in the Netherlands by initially contributing a hefty sum of money to my company's start-up, and then stay as long as my company was successful. 
  3. I could enter into a registered partnership or marriage with my man and apply for residence as his partner or wife. 
The first two options were not relevant to my situation. First of all, I am just one English teacher among many English teachers looking for work in Europe. I knew that my chances of finding a school who wanted me so desperately that they would monetarily sponsor my immigration was slim to none. Secondly, I am no entrepreneur. I had no great idea with which to start my own business endeavor, nor did I have any interest in starting my own company - let alone a company's whose success would be responsible for whether I stayed in the Netherlands.

That left us with the third option. Luckily, at this point in our relationship, the husband and I were very much in love, deeply committed, and confident that we would spend the rest of our lives together. We hadn't planned to make a legal commitment so soon, but we were open to it. Now we just had to decide if we would enter into a registered partnership right away and get married later, or get married right off the bat. The Netherlands views both the registered partnership and marriage quite equally. The only difference is that in a marriage, the man automatically becomes the lawful father of any children born into the marriage. In a registered partnership, the man has to legally acknowledge each child after their birth. Because it didn't matter too much which route we took in the eyes of the Dutch government, we decided that it made sense to look into how these options would affect a future move and immigration on his part to the United States. 

We found an immigration lawyer in Minnesota whose first case was bringing her Turkish husband to the States, and we picked her brain. She informed us that my man could either enter the U.S. as my fiancé or as my husband. If he entered as my fiancé, we would either have to spend time apart as his application was reviewed and processed - me in the States and him in Amsterdam - or he could come to the States and wait for his application to be processed without the ability to work. If he entered as my husband, we could complete the application process before we moved to the U.S., cross the ocean together, and he could start working or applying for work right away. She also informed us that if we decided to move to the U.S. as husband and wife, the longer we were married the more solid our relationship looks to U.S. immigration. Ultimately, she recommended that, if we were ready for it, we should get married. 

Two days later we looked at engagement rings. And at the end of January, as we said our goodbyes at Amsterdam Schipol Airport, my man asked me to spend the rest of my life with him. I said yes, and that's when the fun began.

It was now time to start gathering documents. Most readers will find the next part of this blog post incredibly dry, but I feel the need to publish this information because it was quite difficult for me to find some of it. I can only hope that someone else in my situation stumbles across this and it makes their life a little bit easier.

For the first step of the marriage/immigration process, I needed to procure the following:
  1. My original birth certificate with apostille. An apostille is a document issued by your state's Secretary of State. It is affixed to an original document or a notarized copy of a document and makes it legal in all countries who participate in the Apostille Convention. Basically, all you have to do is mail or bring your document to your Secretary of State, along with money to cover the fee. The process is simple, it just takes some time.
  2. An affadavit of eligibility to marry (with apostille). Now this document was extra fun to procure because it doesn't exist in the United States. Yes, that's right. If you are in a similar situation and need this document as well, let me save you the time, frustration, phone calls and emails and tell you that your most recent income tax return filed with single status (plus notarization) will suffice (at least in the Netherlands) to prove your eligibility to marry. It will also count as your proof of residence.
  3. Proof of residence (with apostille). See above.
I gathered my documents, acquired the correct notarizations and apostilles, and sent them off to my man who then presented them to Netherlands' immigration. After they saw no problem with me getting married to a Dutch citizen (thank goodness!), he made an appointment with the city hall for both of us to attend our pre-wedding meeting. Shortly after our arrival, we brought the aforementioned documents plus a copy of my passport, a copy of his passport, copies of our witnesses' passports, and his original birth certificate to the city hall ... and were approved! They put all of our documents together in a nice little package along with a letter certifying that we had been approved for marriage, and sent us on our way.

Our next stop was to schedule the wedding. We decided to have a small civil ceremony with just two witnesses as we are planning a bigger wedding with family and friends in October. Therefore, we didn't want to spend a lot of money on the initial ceremony. In the Netherlands, you can get married on a Monday morning between 9:00 and 9:30 for free. If you want to get married at any other time on any other day, you must pay at least 300 depending on the day and time of your choice. We wanted the free wedding.

Now, if it isn't clear by now, I'm just going to come right out and say that not much about this marriage process was easy. Scheduling the actual wedding was no different. In Amsterdam, there were no free weddings available until October. Since my residence permit and eligibility to work depended on my marriage certificate, this just wasn't going to do. Our next move was to look at towns around Amsterdam, but most of them wouldn't allow a couple who didn't live in the town to hold their wedding during the free time slot. That's when we found Weesp. Weesp (pronounced like vase with a p at the end), is a very picturesque small town just outside of Amsterdam. Weesp was willing to marry us in their beautiful, historic city hall. So we made an appointment to meet with an official at the Weesp city hall to go over that nice little packet they made for us at the Amsterdam city hall so we could make an appointment for the wedding. Yes, all these steps took a lot of time, but we did it! We were scheduled to get married on July 15, 2013 at 9:00 in the morning.

And so we did...

Photos taken by Luis Monteiro

Now for a little side note: I think it's important to say that my man's immigration to the U.S. on a fiancé visa would be a similar process to what my immigration to the Netherlands has been. We started the application process shortly after the new year, and though I am living here now, I am unable to work legally until my residence permit is issued. The main difference in these processes is time. I have been here for two months and will likely get my residence permit next month. If Philippe were in the States, the time it would take to get his application processed would be quite a bit longer, meaning he would be without work for a longer period of time. You might say it's six of one, half dozen of the other (or as my mom sometimes says "half of one, six dozen of the other" ... wait, what?), but this choice worked for us. Plus, these months have given me the time to enjoy this uncharacteristically beautiful Dutch summer, explore Amsterdam, get all my cover letters drafted and ready for when the work permit finally arrives, plan a wedding and nanny on the side. I'm keeping myself happy and busy.

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