Deciding to get married in China, the thoughts in your mind might not be only of conjugal bliss, but of what kind of wild legal hassle it will be to get two different countries to recognize the civil marriage. Will contact sports with two different bureaucracies be involved? Will I be going from office to office for years? Will the fees be as life-changing as marriage itself? As I found out myself, getting married in China couldn't be easier. I was expecting about several months of annoying paperwork, but in fact got through the legal process within a week.
Photo: Jakob Montrasio
Your consulate, of course, is the first place to go. In fact, your embassy’s website is a good place to start, followed by calls to the local civil affairs office to make sure you know exactly what paperwork is required before you show up. You want to set up an appointment first to get a Marriageability Affidavit, which some consulates will encourage you to do online. As long as you've got your passport and your fiancé's ID, you can get the affidavit within an hour, just by filling out the form, doing a brief interview, and paying around 30 USD. They will give the affidavit a lovely stamp and give it back to you. This process is essentially the same for two foreigners wishing to marry in China: the main difference is just the paperwork needed – foreigners will clearly don’t need to present the Family Registration Book and some of the other paperwork discussed below.
Your second step is to head down to the Chinese civil affairs office (Ming Zheng Ju) to register there. We didn't need an appointment to do so in Guangzhou, but the practice may vary by province. You want to have your stamped copy of the Marriageability Affidavit with you here, along with three photos of the couple together (you can bring them with you or, often, have them done there), a residency permit and a health certificate. If you work here in China, you should already have them. Your Chinese partner will need not only a residency permit, but also the Family Registration Book (Hu Kou Bu). The offices generally require that you get a Chinese translation of the affidavit, done by them, so be prepared to wait about twenty minutes and pay their fee (ours was a hefty 150 RMB). The fee for the Marriage Certificate itself was a very modest 9 RMB.
The fellows at the civil affairs office don't want to leave you out in the cold regarding ceremony, so you'll get your picture taken together with a nice bouquet of fake flowers. They'll also have you agree to be married under the law of China and then have you say your “I Dos.” Don't forget to collect your photographs right away or they'll delete them. You've just gotten married in a total of two hours (consular and civil offices included). It's cost you between 50 and 60 USD. You may now kiss the bride.
There are some other logistical factors to consider before heading off to tie the knot. Chinese citizens working sensitive jobs – in embassies or other branches of government – may not be legally allowed to marry foreigners. This often holds true for foreigners doing similar work – foreign embassy workers are often not even allowed to date locals. Chinese college students are also discouraged from marrying. In general, Chinese are not allowed to marry until they’ve reached a certain age – usually 22 for men and 20 for women. According to the American Embassy, Chinese students who get married are often expelled after marriage and sometimes required to pay back their tuition. If either partner has divorced before, official proof of the divorce is required. The Embassy also recommends dressing for the occasion – apparently couples that dress formally have their marriage registration process handled much more expediently than those who don’t.
Note too, that just because you’re married in China doesn’t mean that a Chinese person married to a foreigner can automatically return with them to their country. Many countries require the Chinese partner to apply and receive a visa before they move, or even visit, their spouse’s home country.
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