Getting married in Russia is a time-consuming and incredibly frustrating process, thanks to the complete idiocy and disorganization of the individual bureaucrats who run the Department of Public Services, called ZAGS (Zapis Aktov Grazhdanskogo Sostoyaniya).
ZAGS is where all births, deaths and marriages are registered, and where I taught one particular old hag a few unpleasant words in English.
In order for a foreigner to get married in Russia, there is a lot of red tape to cut through and quite a few hoops to jump through. First, you must get a letter from your embassy stating that you are free to marry. For different countries this is called a "Certificate of Non-Impediment to Marriage Abroad", basically stating that you are not married back home and that you are not wanted by the FBI or Interpol. Canada never signed on to this international agreement which standardized these forms, so I had to get, from the Canadian embassy, a "Declaration In-Lieu-of Certificate of Non-Impediment to Marriage Abroad". I had to find the embassy (tucked on a side street 1/2 a mile from Propotkinskaya Metro station) and then swear an oath in front of the woman at Consular Services (who was a Russian, because the Canadian government is too cheap to pay expat salaries) that I have no impediments to marriage.
She signed and stamped a form and gave me a translation of my passport, all for the price of 2,000 roubles ($60).
Then I had to take this "Declaration" to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Consular Services Department, on a side street called "Neopalimovskiy Pereulok", another 1/2 mile from Park Kultury Metro station, to have this document "legalized". This cost 400 roubles ($12) and took 5 days.
Then, armed with my "legalized" declaration and the translated copy of my passport, Katya and I went to the local ZAGS in her town. Of course there was a problem. The stamp the Canadian embassy had put on my passport translation was in English (Embassy of Canada in Moscow), which made this document invalid in Russia. So I had to go and get the stamp translated and notarized. 600 roubles ($18).
We went back to ZAGS. There was a new problem. The letterhead was in English (it reads "Canadian Embassy"). I had to get that translated and notarized. We went back to ZAGS. There was another problem. The "legalization" stamp from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was on the untranslated version of the the paper with the English letterhead. Fucking idiots.
So we left that ZAGS and went to the central ZAGS in Moscow where tens of thousands of foreigners have been married before. Everything was in order and the English letterhead wasn't a problem. What was a problem was that on the translation it reads "Citizenship: Canadian" and not "Citizenship: Canada". The old bitchy bureaucrat at the Moscow ZAGS acted as if though I was a criminal of the worst kind for this. I opened my passport and showed her that it also reads "Citizenship: Canadian" and this was a direct translation. She said she didn't care. Rules were rules.
A few days later Katya and I went to another ZAGS office in Fryazino, near her town, and the letterhead was alright and the translation was alright, but there was a new problem: they didn't have any forms for foreigners to get married. They told us to come back in a week.
A week later we went back and they had the correct forms, but there was a new problem. I didn't speak Russian and couldn't prove that I wasn't being tricked into marriage! Oh! This is a marriage place? I just wanted a cheeseburger! Fucking morons.
Katya and I had to take the ZAGS form to a notary and in front of them sign it and then they had to notarize that I had indeed signed it. 500 roubles ($15). We brought the form back to the Fryazino ZAGS and now there was a NEW problem! I had to fill out the form in English, have it officially translated and then that translation notarized! Also, I had to have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs "legalization" notarized! What the hell?
Up until that point I had been sitting quietly through every hellish translation and notarization and lecture by ZAGS bureaucrats, but I lost it on this machine-like woman. "Are you a fucking idiot?!!!???" I screamed, standing up. I don't actually remember exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of "Why the fuck didn't you just tell me all this at one time? Why the fuck does every stupid bureaucrat in this Department have different rules? Do you think I'm the first foreigner to ever get married in Russia?!!!?????" Then, turning to Katya, I ordered "Translate!"
Katya didn't and the woman starting talking again. "Hey!" I shouted at her. "Stop talking! Katya, translate everything I just said!" With a very embarrassed and shaky voice Katya translated, although I have no idea if she included my cursing and insults. Before the woman could answer I snatched up all the copies, notarizations, original documents and my passport from the woman's desk and said "Come on." to Katya and then stormed out of the office.
I dragged Katya onto a bus and Katya started to explain that we needed to get more translations and more notarizations. "I am getting no more translations and no more notarizations." I told her with finality. "We're going back to the Moscow ZAGS and that's where we're digging in."
"Digging what?" Katya asked, puzzled.
"Digging in. If we're going to fight, it will be there."
"But what about your passport translation?"
"I don't care. I just will not deal with this stupid bitch any more. I want a new stupid bitch."
It has taken us nearly 2 months and cost me nearly 5000 roubles (over $150) for a process which, according to the Russian government, is supposed to involve two pieces of paper and 200 roubles, and we are no closer to getting married than we were five months ago. Time is of the essence now, too, because my visa expires in 8 weeks and I have to leave the country.
I can't speak for others who have been through the ZAGS bureaucracy, but I can give this advice: get EVERYTHING translated and notarized, and then go to Greece to get married.