Everything you need to know about marriage in Zanzibar

13 Aug 2023·20 min to read
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Zanzibar, also known as Unguja, is the main island in the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar. With its beautiful scenery and exotic and aromatic spices, Tanzanian Island is popularly referred to as a beautiful spot to escape the world. Every year, thousands of marriages are performed in Zanzibar by Tanzanian nationals as well as people from other African countries and various parts of the world. Marriages on the island are mostly performed in a civil or religious wedding ceremony. Zanzibar is a popular destination for weddings due to its beautiful beaches, clear waters, and unique culture. There are many resorts and venues on the island that can accommodate a destination wedding, and there are many local wedding planners who can assist spouses in planning their special day. 

Spouses may decide to perform the civil requirements of their marriage in Zanzibar, thereby ensuring that the marriage certificate obtained is legally binding and recognized in other parts of the world. Other spouses may perform a civil marriage in their home country and come to Zanzibar for a symbolic wedding ceremony as well as their honeymoon. Couples can save on their wedding expenses by performing their wedding and honeymoon in Zanzibar. The island makes provisions for all kinds of marriage, whether couples wish to elope or have a large wedding ceremony. Some popular activities for wedding guests include snorkeling, diving, and exploring the historic Stone Town. Zanzibar is largely dominated by Muslims, and most religious marriage laws are based on the principles of Islam. 

Therefore, to perform a religious marriage on the island, foreign spouses may have to follow Islamic marriage principles. Spouses who also wish to get married in Zanzibar will need to fulfill certain requirements before applying for marriage or performing the marriage ceremony. These requirements may include the submission of some paperwork. However, this only applies to civil weddings, as couples who wish to perform symbolic weddings do not need to go through strict requirements on the island. As you read on, you will find out more about the marriage conditions in Zanzibar. Let’s get started.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages in Zanzibar hold legal grounds in the state and other foreign countries. For a civil marriage to be legally binding, it must be performed by a state-authorized marriage officer in a civil registry. The first stage in performing a civil marriage in Zanzibar is to obtain a marriage application form. There is certain information that must be included in the form by both spouses. During the marriage application, the spouses will be required to declare their intention of marriage, stating that they are getting married of their own free will and consent. After the marriage intent is submitted, the registrar will then make a formal publication of the marriage intentions of both spouses in a local newspaper or not at the registry. 

The publication is usually made public for up to a week so as to enable anyone with issues that may prevent the marriage from happening to come forward. If no issues arise after the completion of the stipulated period by the marriage officer, the marriage procedure continues and a marriage date is scheduled. Foreign spouses must obtain a certificate of no impediment to marriage from their home country prior to the civil marriage application. The document must state that a spouse has never been married before and is eligible for marriage in their home country and abroad. 

Partners who were previously married must provide relevant death or divorce documents to support the claim that such a previous marriage was legally terminated. The certificate of no impediment must be completed and notarized by a notary public, and the consular section at the embassy may serve this purpose. The official language in Zanzibar is Swahili. Documents obtained from other countries must be provided in this language, and they must also include an Apostille. There are no strict medical requirements to perform a marriage in the state; however, it will be easier and safer for both partners to perform blood tests and other important medical examinations. 

This will show they have no medical illnesses that may result in future issues. Both partners must provide witnesses during the marriage registration. The witnesses provided must be within their legal capacity to act as such, and they must not be related to the spouses. The legal marriage age in Zanzibar is 18 years for both spouses; however, under special circumstances, there may be exceptions to the age that allow a spouse between the ages of 15 and 18 to get married with the provision of parental or guardian consent. The documents that must be submitted by both Zanzibaris and foreign spouses are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A national ID card or a valid passport
  • Certificate of no impediment to marriage This must be submitted by a foreign spouse getting married in Zanzibar.
  • Government-issued birth certificates must be submitted by both spouses.
  • Written consent from the parent or guardian for a spouse under the age of 18
  • Two witnesses, ages 18 and above, must be provided by the partners.
  • Proof of residence must be submitted by foreign spouses.
  • Divorce decree or death certificate to demonstrate that a marriage was legally terminated. Spouses who were previously married and are now widowed or separated must submit one of these documents.

Religious and traditional marriages

Religious and traditional marriages are widely performed in Zanzibar. The state is dominated by Muslims, and most of the marriage rites performed include an infusion of Islamic and traditional marriage rites. In Zanzibar, there are a variety of religious marriage ceremonies that can take place, depending on the couple's beliefs and traditions. The most common types of religious marriage ceremonies in Zanzibar include Muslim, Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Hindu, and traditional Zanzibari weddings. 

Each type of ceremony has its own unique customs, rituals, and requirements. In Muslim weddings, for example, the couple will typically recite the declaration of faith and exchange rings during the ceremony, while in Christian weddings, the couple will exchange vows and rings in front of a priest or minister. Muslim marriages usually include a nikah ceremony where the marriage agreement stating the rights, duties, and responsibilities of both spouses is stated. The Nikah must be signed in the presence of the minister of the religion as well as the valid witnesses provided. Most times, this ceremony takes place at the bride's family’s house.

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Marriage traditions in Zanzibar

Bride Price 

According to the customs and traditions of marriage in Zanzibar, the groom is required to pay a certain amount of money or other items stated in the bride price. This must be paid before the actual wedding ceremony occurs, and it is performed as a form of appreciation to the bride's family for taking care of her.

Blessing from the Parents

This is a pre-wedding marriage ritual where the bride and groom go to their respective families to request the blessings of their parents. Arranged marriages are no longer popular; however, the parents' blessings are still very important in ensuring a marriage is peaceful and successful in Zanzibar.

Multiple ceremonies 

Depending on the financial capacity of the couple and their family, some marriages may include up to three or more ceremonies. Both families may have special invitations for different weddings. In some cases, the families of the bride and groom hold individual ceremonies before the final joint one, which serves as the formal marriage of the couple.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages and other forms of unions or partnerships between people of the same sex have been illegal in Zanzibar since 1864. There is a severe penalty for those who perform same-sex sexual activities or marriages, and it may result in life imprisonment with the payment of fines. There are no discrimination protections, and homosexuals face stigmatization and other legal challenges in the country. Also, same-sex couples are not eligible for any marriage benefits in Zanzibar.

Polygamous marriages in Zanzibar

Polygamous relationships are widely practiced in Zanzibar. According to statistics, one in every four married women in the state's rural communities has at least one co-wife. The majority of the population is Muslim, and polygamy is allowed under Islamic principles. A man is allowed to marry up to four wives, provided that he is financially capable and will treat them fairly and equally.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


The laws of marriage in this semi-autonomous state have certain similarities with those of Tanzania. The state is partially self-governing and partially ruled by Tanzania. According to the law of marriage in Zanzibar, the legal age for marriage in the semi-autonomous state is 18 years for boys and girls. Anyone who wishes to be married but has not reached the legal age for marriage may be permitted to do so under extenuating circumstances. Parental permission must be provided either in writing or verbally. In the absence of parental consent, the couple can obtain permission from a legal guardian. The groom and bride have the option of contracting either a civil marriage, a religious marriage, or a customary marriage. 

They all have legal value and are recognized in the semi-autonomous state. Under the civil laws of marriage, the groom and bride must ensure that there is no legal impediment to marriage. They must be able to prove their current marital status to the appropriate authorities. The law requires couples to be either unmarried, divorced, or widowed to be able to contract marriage. Any member of the couple who is divorced is required by law to present a copy of the original divorce decree, and any of the spouses who are widowed are required to submit the marriage certificate and death certificate of the previous spouse. Civil marriages are required to be monogamous. The groom and bride are not allowed to marry more than one partner at the same time. Marriage is defined as the voluntary union of a man and a woman with the intention of remaining together indefinitely.

This implies that marriage must be contracted based on the consent of the couple. The groom and bride must give their free and willing consent to marriage without any interference from a third party. Marriage cannot be contracted between closely related people, according to the law. The most popular religion in Zanzibar is Islam; therefore, many religious marriages are conducted according to the dictates of Islamic law (sharia law). Marriages founded on Islamic principles are often potentially polygamous. The husband is allowed to marry more than one wife, up to four wives. The consent of the legal guardian of the bride is given more importance than the actual consent of the bride under Islamic laws. Foreigners are allowed to contract marriage in Zanzibar. They must be allowed to contract marriage in their home country before they can be legally married in Zanzibar.


Not only do couples get to exercise their marital rights, they also continue to enjoy their various fundamental human rights. In Zanzibar, the rights of the husband and wife are protected by laws such as the Marriage Act. These laws spell out the rights of both husband and wife in a marriage. The husband and wife have the right to receive equal and fair treatment from one another at all times. They also have the right to work and receive equal payment for that work while enjoying fair treatment at the workplace. 

Both the husband and wife have the right to seek protection and assistance from domestic abuse. Although women are more likely to exercise this right, it is still made available to men as well. The couple has the right to participate in the process of decision-making in the home. They both play significant roles in the decision-making process. Married men and women have the same right to own, use, and manage property, regardless of the marital regime of that property. The wife has the same right as the husband to inherit property upon the death of one of the spouses. They both have the right to exercise their legal rights. Once it is perceived that the marriage is no longer retrievable, the husband and wife have the right to initiate divorce. 

They also have the same right to receive custody of the children after the divorce has been finalized. The right to legal guardianship of the children and the right to exercise parental control are conferred on couples alongside their parental rights. The husband and wife have the right to live together in the same matrimonial home, chosen jointly by the husband and wife. The type of marital union that was contracted also plays a major role in the rights that are available to couples in Zanzibar.


In Zanzibar, marriage is believed to be one of the most important events in one's lifetime. The total cost of marriage in Zanzibar is affordable yet expensive. There are a number of factors responsible for this, such as the size of the wedding, the location of the ceremony, the guest list, etc. Marriage in Zanzibar costs anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. 

This covers the cost of the wedding attire, the photography and videography at the event, the flowers and decorations, food and drinks, and music and entertainment at the event. Couples may be required to pay certain fees at the civil registry to contract a civil marriage. They would be required to pay certain fees for the marriage license and marriage certificate, which must be obtained after the ceremony has been held.


In Zanzibar, the duties of the husband and wife are equally distributed according to traditional gender roles. The husband and wife have a duty to perform these roles in order to ensure the family functions as the foundation of society. Couples have a duty to mutually respect one another, trust each other, ensure that there is cooperation, be committed to the marriage, and ensure that there is mutual respect. The duties of couples in Zanzibar include the responsibility to maintain the household and provide for the needs of the family. 

While the husband is responsible for the financial wellbeing of the family, the wife is responsible for maintaining the home. She is obligated to take care of the children, cook, clean, and ensure that the resources in the home are properly managed. The husband and wife are obligated to prioritize the welfare of the children at all times. They are expected to provide a proper and sound education for the children. They should endeavor to instill good moral teachings and practices in the children.

Final Thoughts 

Zanzibar is a perfect romantic destination for weddings and honeymoons. It is possible to kill two birds with one stone by having a beautiful wedding ceremony and a memorable vacation honeymoon experience on the island. Couples may perform symbolic weddings on beaches or any of the stunning spots for weddings in the country.

Some of the top resorts to get married in Zanzibar include Tui Blue Bahari, Baraza Resort and Spa, The Residence, and Kiwengwa Beach Resort. Families typically plan for several months to decide on the attire to be worn by guests, as well as other wedding preparations such as food, music, and gifts to be given to guests. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Zanzibar.