Everything you need to know about marriage in Sao Tomé and Principe

30 Aug 2023·19 min to read
Everything you need to know about marriage in Sao Tomé and Principe 01

Sao Tomé and Principe is an island country in central Africa. The country consists of two archipelagos around the two main islands of Sao Tomé and Principe. Every year, thousands of marriages are performed in this country by native Sao Toméans and foreigners from other countries. Marriages in Sao Tomé and Principe are solemnized in either civil, religious, or traditional ceremonies. However, it is possible to have multiple marriages, such as in cases where couples would like to perform a civil and religious marriage. These types of marriages are recognized and protected by law, and all civil marriages performed are internationally valid. Most marriages performed in the country are traditional or "customary" marriages. 

Formal civil marriages are only common among elites who live in urban areas. Common-law marriages are also recognized in Sao Tomé and Principe. In a lot of regions and communities, couples often do not go through all the required formalities before deciding to live together as husband and wife. Even though this type of marriage is not formally legalized or recognized by the government, it is still widely practiced. In Sao Tomé and Principe, arranged marriages used to be very popular. The norm was for families to search for potential brides for their son, who must have reached the age of marriage. 

In some families, the parents of the bride and groom often agree to marry off their children, even when they are unborn or just infants. It is seen as a way of strengthening the bond between both families. Other families may look for brides based on qualities like beauty, level of education, family background, etc. There is a prevalent rate of child marriage in this country. The legal age for marriage in Sao Tomé and Principe is 18 years for both male and female spouses. However, exceptions are allowed. Female and male spouses between the ages of 14 and 18 and female and male spouses between the ages of 16 and 18 may be allowed to marry provided they have parental, guardian, or court’s consent and approval. 

Nevertheless, most cases of minors getting married are the result of customary marriages. About 35 percent of all marriages in the country are entered into by spouses who have not reached the age of 18. Child marriages before the age of 15 amount to 8 percent of all marriages in the country. As you read on, you will find out more about the types of marriages in Sao Tomé and Principe as well as their various laws and rights.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages performed in Sao Tomé and Principe are recognized in the country and other parts of the world. This type of marriage is performed by an authorized registrar in a civil registry office. To contract a civil marriage in Sao Tomé and Principe, there are steps that must be followed by both spouses, as well as documents they are required to submit. To curb the number of child marriages in the country, a lot of attention is paid to the minimum age of marriage, especially when such marriages are recorded in the civil registry. Both partners must be at least 18 years old to get married civilly. 

Under special circumstances, male and female spouses aged 16 and 14 may be allowed to marry with consent as stated above. Both partners must state that they are marrying of their own free will and consent. The application for a marriage license must be done in person at the registry office. The registrar will then provide an application form as well as a list of documents that must be attached to it. The application form must be completed by the couple with their signature. 

The documents submitted must be certified copies, and they must include current and accurate information about the status of both partners. Foreign spouses may be required to submit some additional documents that are not typically requested from Sao Toméans. This includes a proof of arrival or residence in the country and a certificate of no impediment to marry. The latter document must be submitted for the purpose of showing that a foreign spouse is not facing any legal prohibitions that may prevent them from getting married abroad, such as marriage age or marital status. The documents obtained from foreign countries must be translated into Portuguese, as this is the official language of Sao Tomé and Principe. 

Furthermore, these documents must also include an apostille with an authorization seal or stamp. There are generally no requirements for blood tests or physical examinations. However, spouses entering a marriage must both be of sound health and mind. They must have the mental capacity to make decisions on their own and clearly state that they are getting married as a result of their own free will. The registrar will fix a date for the marriage ceremony after the license is issued to the couple. The paperwork couples are required to submit is stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A national ID card or a valid passport
  • Government-issued birth certificates
  • Proof of arrival and residence in Sao Tomé and Principe may be required from foreign spouses.
  • Two witnesses must be provided by both spouses.
  • For spouses under the age of 18, written parental, guardian, or court approval is required.
  • Certificate of No Impediment to Marry
  • Payment of all required fees

Religious marriages 

Religious marriages are legally recognized and protected by law in Sao Tomé and Principe. This type of marriage is performed by a registered minister of religion in the couple's place of worship. Over half of the population (about 60 percent) are Christians. Others include Muslim people and those with no religious affiliations. Church marriages are usually performed by a pastor or priest, and most churches have a set of conditions that must be met by the couple before they are allowed to get married. 

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination in Sao Tomé and Principe, and to marry in the church, both partners must be baptized Christians. There is usually a mandatory premarital counseling session that may include multiple classes that run for up to a month or more prior to the marriage. It is usually organized by the priest. Upon the conclusion of the necessary preparations, the priest will then schedule a wedding date for the couple. Catholic Church weddings usually last about two hours, during which several ceremonial rites will be performed.

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Marriage traditions in Sao Tomé and Principe

Bride Price 

It is customary for the bride's family to present a list of items that must be provided by the groom and his family before they accept the marriage proposal. This usually includes money and livestock. In most cases, the type of wedding price requested depends on the financial capacity of the groom.

Exchange of Gifts

The families of the bride and groom usually exchange gifts between themselves during the different ceremonies, from the engagement to the actual wedding. It is also common for the couple to exchange gifts with the guests at the wedding reception.

Wedding Feast 

Sao Toméan weddings include a lot of eating, drinking, and dancing. The couple may hire a DJ or have a live band play music as people are wining and dining. The food served may include multiple courses to keep the guests filled and refreshed as the beautiful occasion progresses.

Same-sex marriages 

In Sao Tomé and Principe, two people of the same sex are not allowed to enter into marriage with each other. Homosexuality and same-sex sexual status are legal; however, same-sex couples are not allowed to head households or even perform registered partnerships and marriages. Members of the LGBT community in the country face stigmatization and discrimination that are not experienced by non-LGBT members.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamous marriages are allowed in Sao Tomé and Principe. A man is allowed to marry multiple wives, provided he is able to cater for them. However, polyandry is prohibited. A man is not allowed to be married to more than one man at a time. Even though the country is dominated by Christians, polygamy is still prevalent because most people perform customary marriages.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


The laws of marriage in Sao Tome and Principe consider customary unions to be equal to legal marriages. In the country, legal marriages, religious marriages, and customary marriages are all legally recognized under the law. Legal marriage is for everyone, but it is often practiced by the educated elites in the country. The majority of the population enters into customary or religious marriages. There is also legal recognition for cohabitation in Sao Tome and Principe. Couples in informal unions are allowed to contract common-law marriages, which protects the rights of couples in such unions. Marriage, according to the law in Sao Tome and Principe, is defined as the voluntary union of a man and woman with the purpose of starting a family. 

The definition of marriage has some laws embedded in it. It states that marriage must be voluntary, which implies that, before marriage can take place, the groom and bride must give their free and willing consent to marriage without any external influence. The use of force, threats, and violence to contract marriage is against the law in Sao Tome and Principe. The groom and bride must be in a stable state of mind to be able to contract marriage. If one of the spouses is considered unfit or ineligible for marriage due to his or her mental state, the marriage would not be allowed to take place. The groom and bride must not be related to one another in any way. The groom is not allowed to marry any of his immediate or extended family members with whom he shares a common ancestral link, and the same applies to the bride as well. 

They must not marry anyone related to them by marriage, alliance, or adoption. Marriage laws in Sao Tome and Principe state that anyone who wishes to be married must have attained the legal age for marriage. 18 is the legal age for marriage. Exceptions are made for minors to contract marriage, provided they have parental permission to do so. A girl aged 14 and a boy aged 16 may be allowed to marry in Sao Tome and Principe. In the absence of parental permission, a legal guardian's consent to marriage is admissible. In Sao Tome and Principe, polygamy is allowed for men but prohibited for women. A man is allowed to marry more than one wife and as many wives as he wishes. However, the wives cannot live in the same house as him; they have to be in different locations. Same-sex couples' sexual activities are illegal in the country, and they are also prohibited from entering into any type of marriage or civil partnership without facing legal consequences.


Under the Constitution of Sao Tome and Principe, married men and women enjoy the same rights in marriage. By law, married men and women have the right to legal guardianship and parental authority over their children. Despite popular belief, a husband and wife have equal parental rights over their children. Married couples have the right to be actively involved in social and economic activities outside the confines of the home. They both have the right to secure financial assets, properties, etc. 

The husband and wife have the right to use, own, and dispose of property as they wish, regardless of the marital regime of property in effect. Both the husband and wife have equal rights to file for divorce. Divorce can be granted based on the mutual consent of the couple or on the fault of one of the spouses. After the divorce is finalized, the couple shares parental responsibility for the children. They both have the right to work and receive equal payment for work done. They are both entitled to receive fair treatment at the workplace. Both the husband and wife have the same right to access justice in the event of marital disputes, domestic violence, or abuse. 

Married men and women have the right to inherit. Upon the death of one of the spouses, the surviving spouse automatically inherits all property, land, and non-land assets that belonged to the deceased spouse. Married women have the same equal footing as married men in politics and government. Couples enjoy the right to vote and be voted for in public government offices. Married men and women have the right to make important decisions concerning the health and comfort of the family.


The cost of marriage in Sao Tome is decided based on a number of factors, such as the couple's and their families' willingness to spend on the event, the type of ceremony, etc. In this country, legal marriages often cost less than other types of marriages. Customary marriages are often the most expensive type of wedding in Sao Tome and Principe. 

This is so because of the different celebrations for the various customs and traditions of the couple. The average cost of a wedding ceremony in Sao Tome and Principe is estimated to be around $1,000–5,000, excluding the cost of the bride. Couples who want a more elaborate ceremony should be ready to spend more on the wedding celebration.


Married men and women are subject to the same duties and responsibilities in the home. The husband and wife are obligated to provide for the needs of the family together. One of the most important responsibilities of couples is to look after their children's needs. In Sao Tome and Principe, couples have a duty to provide for the needs of their children. However, this must be done according to their means. The husband and wife are responsible for the educational background and moral upbringing of the children. 

They are also tasked with the responsibility of providing a safe and conducive environment for the growth and development of the children. Couples have duties to themselves and not just to other members of the family. They have a duty to respect each other's opinions and beliefs, love one another, be committed to the marriage, and avoid any extramarital affairs. They are saddled with the responsibility to manage the resources in the home and to protect the family from any form of harm that might come to them.


Sao Tomé and Principe are diverse in terms of ethnicity and religion. Different ethnic groups have their own special marriage rituals, and weddings are usually performed in grand style. There are many cases where couples decide to cohabitate and let go of all the required formalities for a valid marriage in the country.

The marriage certificate obtained from a civil marriage performed in Sao Tomé and Principe holds legal grounds in other countries. Arranged marriages used to be very common in the country; however, this changed over the years. Most Sao Toméans now marry for love, and arranged marriages are rare.