Everything you need to know about marriage in Guinea-Bissau

15 Aug 2023·20 min to read
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Guinea-Bissau is a west African country popular for its national parks and wildlife. Every year, thousands of marriages are performed in the country by Bissau-Guinean nationals and foreigners from other countries. Marriages are very important ceremonies that are looked forward to by the whole society in many areas of the country. Traditionally, marriages do not involve just the bride and groom. They are perceived as a way of joining two families together. The types of marriages performed in the country are civil, religious, and customary marriages. They all hold legal grounds and are recognized and protected by the laws of the country. Civil marriages performed in Guinea-Bissau are recognized in other African countries and the rest of the world. 

Both foreigners and Bissau-Guineans are required to follow certain steps in order to register their marriage to ensure it holds legal validity. In Guinea-Bissau, the traditional family structure is patriarchal, with the father being the head of the household. The extended family, including grandparents, uncles, and cousins, often lives together and plays an important role in raising children. In rural areas, extended families may also share land and resources. However, in urban areas and in more recent times, the nuclear family structure is becoming more common. Women have traditionally played a secondary role in the household and society, but there is a growing movement to promote gender equality in Guinea-Bissau.

Child marriages are prevalent in Guinea-Bissau, with 24 percent of marriages performed by spouses below the age of 18 and 6 percent of marriages performed by spouses below the age of 15. Child marriages affect females more than males in the country, and this is mainly driven by gender inequality and poverty in the country. According to the customary laws of some regions, females are said to be inferior to male spouses. As you read on, you will find out more about the marriage traditions in Guinea-Bissau. Let’s get started.

Civil marriages 

In the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, civil marriages involve multiple procedures that must be followed by the couple before they are recognized as being officially married. The civil marriage is performed by an authorized marriage officer and takes place in the city hall or registrar's office. This type of marriage is legally recognized and protected in Guinea-Bissau and other foreign countries. Civil marriages are mostly performed in urban areas, and generally, they are not as popular as traditional and religious marriages in Guinea-Bissau. The couple must issue an official statement indicating that they are willing and consenting to marry. After all the marriage documents are submitted, spouses will be required to wait for a certain period of time. 

During the waiting period, all the documents submitted will be verified by the marriage officer and other concerned authorities. This process may take up to two weeks. During this time, the registrar makes a public announcement of the couple's intention to marry in the country and waits to see if anyone or anything will come up to prevent the marriage from happening. One of the most popular situations that may hinder a marriage is where one or both spouses are still married to their former spouse. 

Under the civil codes, marriages may only be contracted between single partners; therefore, both partners will be required to provide valid documents to show that they legally dissolved their previous marriages. The country does not have strict medical requirements. However, spouses who have mental challenges and are mentally unstable are not allowed to marry. Both partners must be of sound mind to make the decision to get married together. Marriages may only be entered into by partners who have reached the stated age of 18. Spouses who wish to perform a civil marriage in Guinea-Bissau must ensure all the documents submitted are certified copies that were recently obtained. 

The marriage officer has the authority to prevent the marriage from happening in the registry if he or she discovers any irregularities in the documents provided. Both partners must be in good legal standing with the government before they are allowed to perform a civil marriage. Convicted spouses or those facing criminal charges are not allowed to get married in Guinea-Bissau. Both partners must ensure the documents provided are all in Portuguese. If they are issued in other foreign languages, they must be legally translated into the accepted language. Also, all the documents received from foreign countries or the embassy of a foreigner's home country in Guinea-Bissau must include an apostille. The documents that must be submitted by both spouses are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification. This includes a national ID card or valid passport.
  • Both partners are required to submit the completed marriage application form.
  • Both partners must provide valid copies of their birth certificates showing their names as they are currently addressed.
  • Single status certificate. This document is frequently required of foreign spouses who marry in Guinea-Bissau.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Separated or widowed partners must provide whichever of the documents apply to them to show their previous marriage was legally ended.
  • Both partners must provide valid witnesses during the marriage ceremony.

Religious and customary marriages

Religious and customary marriages are quite popular in Guinea-Bissau. Most marriages are performed in accordance with the couple's religion or customs and traditions. Traditional marriages in the country involve the negotiation and exchange of gifts between the families of the bride and groom. These marriages are often arranged by the families, and the bride is expected to move in with her husband's family after the wedding. Arranged marriages used to be very popular in Guinea-Bissau in ancient times. Marriages were decided by families, and it was up to the parents to choose suitable brides and grooms for their children. 

These marriages are still practiced in some regions of the country, but they are not as popular as they used to be. Guinea-Bissau is dominated by Muslims, with over 45 percent of the total population. About 31 percent of the people living in the country follow indigenous practices, and 19 percent are Christians. Religious marriages are performed by ministers of the religion, such as the imam or pastor. Muslim marriages usually involve various marriage rituals, which include activities from both families.

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Marriage traditions in Guinea-Bissau

Traditional wedding music

Traditional music is quite important at weddings in Guinea-Bissau. The most popular genre of music for weddings is called "coladeira," which is a lively, upbeat style that combines elements of African, Portuguese, and Brazilian music. It is typically played on instruments such as the accordion, guitar, and drums and features a combination of singing and dancing. Guests often look forward to the dancing part of the ceremony.

Cachupa and Matapa

These refer to traditional dishes that are served during the wedding reception in Bissau-Guinean wedding ceremonies. The cachupa is regarded as the national dish in Guinea-Bissau and is a traditional stew made with a combination of corn, beans, and fish or meat. Other local beverages are matched with the different foods served during the ceremony.


In Guinea-Bissau, dowries play a very important role. The dowry is a symbolic gesture that must be performed by the groom for the bride's family to appreciate their efforts in raising his wife-to-be. The specific items to be provided by the groom are up to the decision of the bride's family, but in most cases, the dowry is in the form of money or other valuables.

Same-sex marriages

The status of homosexuality and same-sexual sexual activity in Guinea-Bissau is legal; however, there is no recognition for any form of relationship between two people of the same sex, including unions, partnerships, and marriages. Same-sex couples are not allowed to head households or enjoy the legal protections and marital benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples.

Polygamous marriages 

Under the customary laws of marriage in Guinea-Bissau, polygamous marriages are allowed. However, under the civil codes, marriage is only allowed between one man and one woman. Polygamy is also allowed under the religious beliefs of Islam. Bissau-Guinean men can marry up to four wives, provided that they are able to treat them equally and fairly. In some communities, the number of wives a man has is a determinant of how wealthy he is.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


to be legally married In Guinea-Bissau, the couple must have a comprehensive understanding of the institution of marriage and what it entails. Marriage is governed by the Civil Code and the Family Code in Guinea-Bissau. These codes provide for the legal recognition of marriage and state the requirements and procedures that need to be carried out. In Guinea-Bissau, civil marriage must be contracted before a civil registrar at the civil registry or at a different location chosen by the couple. Under the Civil Code, the minimum age for marriage is 18 years for men and 16 years for women. Anyone under the age of 21 must obtain the consent of a parent. In the absence of parental permission, a legal guardian is permitted to give consent to marriage.

However, the Family Code sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 for both men and women. Both codes require that the groom and bride freely consent to the marriage. The consent given must be void of any form of interference from third parties. It must not be obtained with the use of force or threats. Under the family code and the civil code, polygamous marriages are not allowed. Neither the groom nor the bride is allowed to marry more than one partner at the same time. The couple must ensure that there is no legal impediment to marriage. Both parties must provide proof of identity, such as a birth certificate or national ID card. They must either be unmarried, widowed, or divorced to be able to enter into a marriage agreement. The groom and bride are required by law to provide proof of civil status, such as a certificate of celibacy or divorce. 

If either party is divorced, they must provide proof of the divorce decree. If either party is widowed, they must provide proof of the death certificate of their deceased spouse. Foreigners are allowed to contract marriage in the country, but they must be eligible for marriage in their home country to be legally married in Guinea-Bissau. Mixed marriages between foreigners and citizens of Guinea-Bissau are allowed. Sexual activities between same-sex couples are illegal in Guinea-Bissau; they are also prohibited from contracting marriage in the country. The couple must be able to provide at least two witnesses at the time of marriage. The witnesses must be at least 18 years of age and have valid documentation.


In Guinea-Bissau, marriage confers certain rights and responsibilities upon the parties involved. Some of these rights include the right to live together and establish a common residence. The husband and wife have the right to decide on the permanent residence of the family. They have the right to receive mutual respect and fair treatment from one another at all times. The husband and wife have the right to participate in socioeconomic activities outside the confines of the home. They both have the right to participate in the management and administration of the household. 

They have the right to own property. The management of property in marriage is determined by the marital regime of property chosen at the time of marriage. They have the right to have and raise children together according to the moral and religious beliefs of the family. The groom and bride enjoy the right to inherit upon the death of one of them. The surviving spouse automatically has the right to receive the land and non-land assets of the deceased spouse. They both have the authority to initiate and finalize divorce proceedings. The husband and wife have the right to receive alimony in the event of divorce or separation. 

Furthermore, they both enjoy the right to social security and pension benefits. The husband and wife have the right to make each other their next of kin. In cases of emergencies, either spouse can make decisions on behalf of the other. They have the same right to use the surname of the other party or a combination of both surnames. They are both granted the right to be recognized as the legal guardians of the children. They also have the right to exercise parental authority over the children when necessary.


In Guinea-Bissau, traditional and cultural norms and customs play a big role in weddings, and they can have an impact on the cost. However, it is common for couples to pay fees to the civil registrar for the marriage license, the marriage ceremony, and the issuance of the marriage certificate. Couples may need to pay for accommodation for themselves and their guests, which is optional. 

An average hotel room costs around $79 or more, depending on the location of the hotel. The couple may have to include the cost of the wedding hall, wedding attire, food, and drinks for themselves and their guests in the wedding budget. The average cost of a wedding in Guinea-Bissau is estimated to be around $5000–20,000, depending on the size of the ceremony and how much the couple is willing to spend.


In Guinea-Bissau, marriage confers certain rights and responsibilities upon the parties involved. Marriage is a partnership, and both parties are obligated to work together to make it successful. The husband and wife have a duty to live together and establish a common residence. Married men and women in Guinea-Bissau are obligated to show each other mutual respect, loyalty, and support. They are obligated to actively participate in the management and administration of the household and property. 

The duty to raise the children and provide for their needs should be the couple's most important duty. They are expected to provide a safe and conducive environment for the growth and development of the children. The choice of moral and religious inclination for the family is the responsibility of the husband and wife. They should be responsible for the financial support and welfare of the family. Couples are obligated to respect each other's opinions, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds. They have a duty to communicate and resolve conflicts in a constructive way and avoid the use of violence at all costs.


Guinea-Bissau weddings are typically large and festive events that involve the entire community. They are a celebration of the union of two families and involve many traditional customs and rituals. Marriages are celebrated in grand style by the couple and their family members.

In a typical Bissau-Guinean wedding ceremony, there may be hundreds of guests. There may be special attire provided to the guests beforehand to identify the exact guests from either the bride's or groom’s side. We hope this article has helped you understand everything about marriage in Guinea-Bissau.