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Section II: Living in China continued

Getting Married in China

This chapter discusses the legal requirements and procedures in China for marrying either a Chinese national or another foreigner.

Marrying a Chinese National

Mr. and Mrs. Stanosheck Mr. and Mrs. Stanosheck, courtesy of

If you do decide to tie the knot, getting married in China is a relatively simple affair although procuring all the necessary paperwork can be a time-consuming pain in the neck. Chinese nationals can register a marriage with a foreigner in their hukou (户口: a hukou is essentially an official document that indicates where the citizen's recorded place of residence is—China is one of the few countries in the world to have such a system in place and it is intended to control mobility). So, for example, if you are living with your girlfriend in Shanghai and her hukou is in Hunan province, you will either have to return to Hunan to register the marriage or have her hukou transferred to Shanghai (much easier said than done).

A citizen can transfer his or her hukou if an apartment is purchased or a position is held that is not considered to be a transient one (for example, a position as a hotel clerk would not qualify for a hukou transfer but a position as a senior middle school teacher at a government school would). Many real estate companies sell extra hukou transfer documents, in what could be described as a "gray market," that were procured after a building was constructed (where the number of apartments in the original blueprint actually exceeded the number that were eventually built-out)—these generally sell anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 yuan depending on the desirability of the new hukou. Just look for posters or billboards in your neighborhood advertising this service.

The foreigner will have to obtain, by appearing in person to his embassy or consulate, a "certificate of marriageability" (the foreigner's equivalent of the Chinese dan shen zheng ming, 单身证明, or "single certificate"). This document essentially certifies that the foreigner is either single or legally divorced (and you will need an official and certified copy of your divorce papers if this applies). When you appear in front of an embassy or consulate official, in addition to your divorce papers, you will need to present your passport as well as a copy of your fiancée's national ID card (or shen fen zheng, 身份证) and hukou registration. You do not need to present her passport and she does not have to appear in person (in fact, most Western embassies and consulates will not even admit her). Contact your particular embassy or consulate for specific details.

Once you have all the paperwork, you'll need three photos of the two of you and you'll take these down to the local marriage bureau, pay a fee and that's that: You are legally married. There is no civil type of wedding ceremony in China: You just register the marriage with the proper office. Usually, some weeks or months later, the couple will throw a wedding party to celebrate the marriage fully dressed in Western wedding attire (i.e., wedding gown and tuxedo). To most foreigners, this way-after-the-fact celebration seems anticlimactic but it is the customary practice in China.

Marrying Another Foreigner

Under the strictest letter of the law, two foreigners may technically register a marriage in mainland China, but, as a practical matter, most will find the paperwork involved to be far too overwhelming. In addition, many provinces, as a matter of practice (such that the government officials have never done it before, and would likely be entirely unfamiliar with the law and the required procedures involved in such a matter) will simply inform you, in all earnest, that two foreigners cannot get married in mainland China (although this may not be the case in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, where there are far greater percentages of foreign residents).

Hong Kong Civil Wedding Ceremony American/Filipino couple getting married at the Tsim Sha Tsui Marriage Registry in Hong Kong.

The easiest and simplest solution for two foreigners who want to get married is to do so in Hong Kong, where there are no residency requirements involved. Technically speaking, a foreigner may also marry a Chinese national in Hong Kong (for example, in the case where a church wedding is sought), but securing a travel visa to Hong Kong for a Chinese national may prove to be more cumbersome in the long run than simply returning to the bride's hometown of record, especially once the foreigner is in possession of all his required documents from his respective embassy or consulate.

You will have to request a notification of marriage packet from the immigration department of Hong Kong by simply sending an e-mail to their intake department. You will receive a full application packet, containing forms you may not need (such as consent from a parent for a minor to marry) in two or three days, via e-mail, and the entire process can be handled through express mail (see the section, on the HK website listed below, for giving "overseas notice"). You will need to sign all required forms in front of a notary of the public and will have to return the forms and payment (a money order from the Bank of China in the amount of 305 HK dollars) via DHL (express mail service). If you are divorced, you will also need to include a certified copy of your divorce papers (Photostat copies of court dockets and decrees, and others not containing official seals and a signature will not suffice). All State Departments issue certified copies of vital statistic records, and most have mechanisms in place for ordering these documents via the Internet.

Once the application (notification of marriage and any other necessary forms) is received, the immigration officer will post a 14-day public notification of marriage, and, at the same time, will make an appointment for you on one of the dates you had specified on the application at the marriage registrar of your choice. However, arrangements for religious (non-civil) ceremonies will have to be made directly by the bride and bridegroom at the place of worship of their choice. You can get married as early as 15 days after the notice of marriage has been posted (assuming no one has objected), and up to three months thereafter. The cost for the civil ceremony and registering the marriage at a marriage registrar is HK$715, Monday through Friday, during normal office hours, and HK$1915 on weekends and holidays.

For more information, please visit the Hong Kong Department of Immigration website.


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Middle Kingdom Life is the premier award-winning educational website for foreign teachers and Western expats in China. It was founded by an American professor in psychology and sociology for the purpose of disseminating valid and reliable information about living and teaching in China. The site's mission is to protect and enhance the interests and social welfare of foreign teachers and Western expats in China.

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