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This Is How To Get Married in China

We go through it step-by-step with a professional.
Last updated: 2020-03-25
From the directly and minutely useful to information on living your best self in the world. How To is our regular column on how to accomplish things in the city.

Marriage is what brings us here today.

Marriage, that blessed arrangement, that dream within a dream. And love, true love, will follow you forever. Like herpes.

We were unclear on how things have changed since the last time we tied the knot, so we reached out to Steve Li, an attorney at Sinopar Law Firm, who walked us through the steps. It's pretty straightforward, actually. Here's how to get hitched up in China.

Step 1: Find Someone To Marry

How hard could it be. Here are the basic conditions for getting married in China.

  • Legal minimum age for marriage in China is 20 for women and 22 for men
  • You can't get married if you're already married
  • Only a man and a woman can get married in China :(
  • No polygamy
  • You can't get married if you're lineal relatives or collateral relatives within three generations. It's bad for the genepool, and a little gross. Also, some genetic, infectious and mental diseases may also be "deemed inappropriate" for marriage.

Important: It is not possible for two foreigners to get married in China since 2019 per Notice #456 issued by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. However, Li thinks that might change soon.

Step 2: Gather Your Documents

If you're the Chinese partner, you're going to need:

  • your ID (shenfenzheng)
  • your household registration book (hukou)

Note: Marriage registration has to take place where the Chinese partner's hukou is registered. If you don't have a Shanghai hukou, you can't get married in Shanghai.

If you're the foreign partner, you're going to need:

  • a valid passport with a valid visa (any will do)
  • a notarized, authenticated certificate of marriage status from your government proving you're not currently married to someone else. It needs to clearly specify "Not Married," "Single," "Divorced" or "Widowed." Getting this certificate is different from country to country. Check with your consulate. The certificates are usually valid for 6 months.
  • Chinese translated copies of your Single Certificate (the Bureau's name for it) from a translation company, which must include a copy of their business license. We recommend the SISU Translation Service Company, they have a ton of experience with this stuff. If you get it done overseas, it'll have to be authenticated by the Chinese embassy in your country.

You will also need to provide three copies of a color photo of you and your spouse-to-be. Two-inch, bare headed and full face, like a passport photo for two. This is traditionally done with a red background, but can be blue or white. It'll go into your marriage certificate, so maybe wear something your in-laws won't hate.

Other documents might be required, like a residence permit or health certificate. Check with the local registration office for specific requirements.

Step 3: Make An Appointment At The Marriage Registration Office

This isn't Vegas, baby. You can't just rock up and get married. You have to contact the registration office and make an appointment at least one working day, and up to one month, in advance. No appointment, no marriage.

The Civil Affairs Bureau handles the administrative part of marriages and the relevant marriage registration offices take care of the process. They might have specific document requirements so reaching out first is a good idea.

You will have to go to the office in the jurisdiction of the Chinese partner's hukou. Let me stress again: if your partner doesn't have a Shanghai hukou, you can't get married in Shanghai. The marriage registration office will almost certainly have a section for foreigners.

The Shanghai Marriage Registration Office is on the third floor of the Everbright Exhibition Center. Check the venue listing for hours; they're a little weird. You can book an appointment on the Civil Affairs Bureau website (in Chinese). Click the boy and the girl and it'll give you two options: marriage on the left, divorce on the right. Make sure you pick the right one. On the left.

You can also book through WeChat. Search Official Accounts for suishenban (随身办). Once you've found that account, hit the 便民服务 (citizen services) button, then scroll down to the 结婚登记预约 (marriage registration appointment) logo. You'll have to sign in.

If all that fails, or your Chinese isn't up to the task, you can call them at 6432 5088 during working hours to get a time slot. They speak English.

Step 4: Hand In Your Paperwork And See The Registrar

Both partners have to stand before the marriage registrar to get married. No proxies, no WeChat video calls, no life-size cardboard cut-outs. You'll also have to fill in a form stating that you are getting married of your own free will, and that the conditions to marriage are satisfied.

The last step is the actual marriage registration before the registrar. It's like a civil marriage in many western countries, but the process is administrative, and a ceremony isn't necessary. You could be in and out within an hour. Sometimes it'll just take fifteen minutes. The marriage registration is a little red booklet, and the whole thing won't cost you a penny.

Step 5: You're Married!

The marriage relationship is officially formed when the marriage certificate is issued, which is generally the same date of the registration application. Congratulations! Get a room!

Optional Step 6: The Wedding Ceremony/Ceremonies

If you want the fanfare, the march, the flowers and the locked-eyes, high-stakes baijiu drinking competition with your new uncle-in-law, you'll have to organize it yourself. It's pretty common for couples here to have two weddings, one Western-style, with the white dress and the vows and so on, and one Chinese-style one, usually in a hometown. It is an exciting endeavor, fraught with peril and opportunity.

Optional Step 7: Take It All Back

Just going to leave this here.

Looking for more legal advice about marriage and divorce? Find a family law firm in our Business Directory.