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Getting married in China

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Travellers in China may decide to marry a local. Quite a few foreign men marry Chinese women and some foreign women marry Chinese men.

Marriage customs, like almost everything else in China, are changing. In traditional Chinese society, marriages were arranged by families and matchmakers. Later, in early Communist China, marriages were arranged mainly by Party officials and one could not marry without permission from one's workgroup (roughly the Chinese equivalent of a Soviet). Today there is considerable movement toward free choice, and considerable movement toward women's rights. However, there are still matchmakers and both family and Party may still have considerable influence, at least in some cases.

As anywhere, some caution is necessary for anyone contemplating marriage. A particular risk in China is the "visa hound", the woman who pursues a man mainly because he has the right passport; if she marries him, she gets a visa. That said, most people are just looking for Mr. or Ms. Right, and many people do form happy cross-cultural pairs.

Procedure in general[edit]

Getting married in China can be time consuming and expensive. There are numerous bureaucratic hurdles to leap before a marriage certificate will be granted. The obstacles may seem daunting, but if you follow the rules and have a little patience you and your partner will be able to tie the knot in China with minimum hassle.

While the process of getting your paperwork together can differ from nationality to nationality, there are two important documents any foreigner will need to get in order to get married in China: a Certificate of Marriageability and a Certificate of Marriage. (Important: some countries issue one certificate for the two people who want to get married, the Chinese officials want one piece of paper for each of them). Conceivably, both of these certificates could be obtained in a day or two, but in practice it often takes much longer and often requires some travel; see below for details. If getting married in mainland China is too time consuming and cumbersome for you then consider the option of getting married in Hong Kong or Macau; see below for more on that as well.

Note that the Chinese government regulates the age at which Chinese can get married. In general, women can’t marry until they're twenty and men must wait until they are twenty-two. Despite this, there are persistent reports of girls in their early teens being married off by their families in some rural areas. Until a few years ago, universities would expel undergraduates who got married, but this policy has changed. Two foreigners are allowed to marry in China, but the paperwork may be overwhelming and the Hong Kong option might be more suitable.

Same sex marriages is not recognised in China. It should be possible to get married at your embassy if you come from a country that recognises same sex marriage.

Certificate of Marriageability[edit]

The first thing that any foreigner needs to wed a Chinese national in China is a Certificate of Marriageability. The certificate is proof that the applicant is not currently married, a fact reflected in the Chinese danshenzhengming (单身证明), which literally means “single certificate.” A certificate of marriageability is obtained from your government, usually from an embassy or consulate, and then presented to the Chinese government upon application for a marriage certificate. One thing to bear in mind when getting a Certificate of Marriageability is that you must present a copy translated into Chinese to the Chinese government when applying for your marriage certificate. Some countries, such as the United States, provide a bilingual English/Chinese certificate, but if your embassy/consulate does not then you must obtain a notarised translation from a Chinese government office.

In general, if you are applying for a certificate of marriageability in China it is important to remember to bring the following items when applying at your embassy/consulate:

  • your passport.
  • notarised proof that any previous marriage has been terminated. Put more simply, you must obtain from the local or national government in your home country officially notarised copies of official documents stating that you are divorced. It is not uncommon for foreigners in China to have to fly back home to get their divorce paperwork sorted out!!! To save yourself this hassle make sure that you have the correct paperwork before you come to China, or have it sent to you in China.
  • your partner’s national ID card, or shenfenzheng (身份证).
  • your partner’s hùkǒu (户口), or residency permit, which every Chinese citizen has. It may come as a shock to many foreigners that officially Chinese need permission from the government to relocate within China. An individual’s hukou is proof that they have permission from the government to live in a certain area of the country. Millions of Chinese migrate from their home districts to others areas of the country, but their hukous remain in their home district in the possession of family, the local police, the last school attended or the last place of employment. This is a problem because the hukou must be presented to the embassy or consulate in order to receive a Certificate of Marriageability. Therefore, if you're applying for a Certificate of Marriageability outside of your Chinese partners home district, then their hukou must be sent to your current location, which will take at least a couple of days.
  • your partner does not need to present their passport, but if available it may help to bring it to speed up the process.

Marriage Certificate[edit]

After a Certificate of Marriageability has been obtained you must go to the city or town that your Chinese partner’s hukou is registered at, and apply for a marriage certificate (结婚证 jiehunzheng. If this is outside of the city of the embassy/consulate that issued your Certificate of Marriageability then this means you will have to do some traveling. In your partner’s hometown you must go to the local government office that registers marriages, which in a small town would be the minzhengju (民政局) and in a larger city the minzhengting (民政厅). In the past both partners had to undertake a medical examination before a certificate of marriage was issued, but this is no longer necessary in most areas. Remember that, typically, marriage registration offices are only open Monday to Friday during certain hours, and are closed Saturday, Sunday and holidays. At the marriage registration office you and your partner will be asked to present the Certificate of Marriageability and three formal photos of the two of you together, to answer a few simple questions and required to fill out some forms. The final act is for each partner to read a form and swear under oath. One marriage certificate will then be issued to each partner in the form of a red booklet with the couple’s picture inside. The entire process should only take about an hour and the cost is quite cheap, only a few dozen renminbi or less. It is customary to wear informal dress when applying; even jeans and a t-shirt will do. Don’t worry, your new Chinese husband or wife will certainly insist on having an expensive and elaborate wedding on a later date.

Getting Married for Foreigners[edit]

Two foreigners can get married in China if both of them meet the marriage requirements in China (see above at #Certificate of Marriageability and at least one of them has a Chinese residence permit. The marriage is to be documented in Marriage Registration Office, Bureau of Civil Affairs. There is no preliminary sign up for the registration, the registration itself takes about 30 minutes. This includes filling out the application (in Chinese; the assistance from a Chinese speaker will be required, the officials at the Marriage Registration Office not necessarily speak English); entering by the official your data into the database; and printing out two Marriage Certificates. The list of the documents includes:

- a valid passport with the valid Chinese visa. China doesn't issue a "fiancée" visa; the marriage can be executed with a "tourist" ("L") visa;

- a Chinese residence permit for at least one of the marrying parties; this includes the little piece of paper you get when you register at the police station, not just the page in your passport that says "residence permit"

- a certificate of marriageability obtained at the parties' Embassy/-ies. The certificate must be issued in Chinese or to be translated and notarised at one of the Municipal Public Notary Offices. (Important: each of the persons need one certificate, where it clearly says: not married, single, is allowed to marry)

- as well as the certificate of marriageability stating that you are single/free to marry each person also needs a letter from their embassy stating that the marriage between you and your partner will be recognised by your country, this too needs to be translated

- three photos of the marrying couple taken together. There is special format for such photos, the Chinese photo shops should know that;

- a registration fee (¥9 as of June 2010).(there was no fee as of May 2018)

Some countries require additional steps to be taken to allow using the Chinese Marriage Certificate on its territory. For example, Russia requires

1) translation and notarisation of the Chinese Marriage Certificate at the authorized Government Notary Office.

Beijing Fangyuan Notary Public Office notifies the documents and translate them into English or German. Take with you weddingpasses, 900 yuan and wait 1 week.

Beijing Fangyuan Notary Public Office BeijingInn, Chaowai Dajie 206, Jixiangli subwaystation: Chaoyangmen

新址: 北京市方圆公证处 北京市东城区东水井胡同5号北京INN大厦1 地铁站: 朝阳门

2) verification of the translated and notarized copy at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs;

. CTS, China Travel service this agency sends the documents to the foreign ministry for certification (you can also tell them also to send them to you embassy for further certification = next + last step, +1000yuan)

take: certified wedding documents 1000 yuan 3 days

adress: China Travel service Dong Jiao Min Xiang 8 subwaystation: Chongwenmen

中国旅行社总社 北京市东郊民巷8号 地铁站: 崇文门

3) legalization by a Russian diplomat at the embassy of the translated, notarised and verified copy.

Getting Married in Beijing[edit]

Beijing is convenient due to compact location of the embassies and Chinese governmental offices that will be involved into the paperwork. The marriage for two foreigners is to be registered at Marriage Registration Office, Bureau of Civil Affairs of Beijing Municipality, 1st FL., No. 8 Huayanli, Chaoyang District Beijing 100029, Telephone: 6202-8454, 6203 5724. Translation of affidavit can be done at one of those translating companies called 双雄对外服务公司 (Shuang Xiong Dui Wai Fu Wu Gong si)and located at 安定门东大街3号 (An Ding Men Dong Da Jie #3), 在公安局外国人出入境管理处东侧 100米 (located about 100 m east of Administration of Exit and Entry of Beijing Public Security Bureau ) with operation hours: 08:30-11:30; 13:00-17:00.

Getting Married in Hong Kong or Macau[edit]

The Hong Kong option for marriage is most suited for two foreigners, especially those who don’t have all their divorce papers on hand. The process is more expensive than in mainland China, but is quicker and easier, with most couples getting married on the spot. For those wishing to marry a Chinese mainlander the Hong Kong option will probably not be any more convenient and will almost certainly be more expensive.

Macau might be a nice place to get married. There are a lot of beautiful old buildings for the photographs, and some utterly stunning Catholic churches if you want that sort of wedding.

Keep in mind you must have a Macau Blue Card in order to get married in Macau. If you are just a student in Macau you wont be able to process wedding papers in Macau.

Taking the Chinese partner home[edit]

Getting married does not automatically get the Chinese partner a visa for the foreign partner's home country. Bogus marriages for visa purposes are common enough that the embassy or consulate may be somewhat suspicious or may give you a bit of a hard time.

  • you may need to bring photos of you and your partner together.
  • for some nationalities, such as Americans, it may also be necessary for your foreign spouse or fiancée to appear in person and be interviewed by embassy/consulate officials. During the interview your partner must show proof of a relationship, which usually means presenting several photos of you and your partner together on separate occasions, correspondence between both of you, and any other documents evidencing a stable relationship. Your partner should be able to answer basic questions about you, including if you have any children from prior marriages.

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