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International marriages are increasingly common:  those between foreigners and Chinese citizens are no exception. The laws and procedures for an international marriage are those of the country you are marrying in, and in most situations there is no need to marry in both as a marriage in one country is normally recognised in all others. However, there are a few issues such as the minimum age a person may marry and the possibility of having multiple spouses in some cultures which can cause a marriage to be invalid elsewhere. You should also remember that even though your country recognises your overseas marriage, it typically does not provide an automatic right for your spouse to enter your country: that is normally subject to a separate application and far from certain to be approved.  In the same way a foreigner has no automatic right to live in China because he or she has married a Chinese.  However, starting from June 1, 2010, foreigners who have Chinese spouse living in China are eligible to apply for a Family Visit Visa/Residence Permit with longer duration of stay here.

This article will explain the basic rules that foreigners need to know about marrying in China and also consider some related topics such as some of the customs associated with marriage registration.  

Administration of Marriage 
This is handled by municipal Civil Affairs Bureau (Minzheng Ju 民政局). Normally, you will have to go to the office in the jurisdiction in which the Chinese partner is registered on her or his hukou (户口) though there are a few reports that couples have been able to marry in an office local to where the Chinese partner is living.  It is in the nature of the Chinese system that there can be such variations in the implementation of the rules, so it is always worth checking on procedures when you visit to collect an application form.

The persons marrying must reach the required minimum age: for men that is 22 years and for women 20 years old, except that persons may marry younger with parental permission. Persons must not be married to another person who already has a husband or wife: having more than one husband or wife in any country is not permitted under Chinese law. Only a male and a female, not two persons of the same gender, can get married here.

Application
The application is equivalent to a civil marriage in many western countries but it is entirely administrative, there is no ceremony at all. The event normally takes well under one hour, sometimes as little as 15 minutes.  

You should obtain the forms and complete them in advance.  So then you can attend the Civil Affairs Bureau – and in some cities you will have a special section for 'international marriages' - and submit the application with the following (there are notes and explanations after the list): 

• Both:  Single Status Certificate, If applicable, finalised divorce papers  or death certificate of ex-spouse for the widowed

• Both:  Birth certificate

• Together:  Three official style photos of the couple together – generally, the civil affairs office provides this service.

• Together:  The fee

• Chinese person: Household registration book (hukou) 

• Foreigner: Passport

• Foreigner: Notarised translations in Chinese of all originals not in Chinese (except the passport. There are official translators who provide this service in China.

When everything is completed satisfactorily, you will leave – as a married couple!  You will either be given you marriage certificate as you leave or you might be asked to collect it in a few days.

Some notes on the procedures:
1.Single Status Certificate for the foreigner

• The Single Status Certificate (also known as: Affidavit of Single Status, Certificate of No Record of Marriage, Certificate of No Impediment, Single Status Statutory Declaration, Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage,  etc).  This is intended to show that you are not currently married. Each country has its own way of providing this, and some countries offer the service via an embassy or consulate in China, so you should check your own country' s websites to find the relevant procedures.  

In some countries it is possible for persons to obtain a certificate form stating they are eligible to marry, Australians can obtain a 'No Record of Marriage (Single Status) Certificate.  However, many countries cannot provide this so you must make a formal statement, often known legally as an 'affidavit', that you are single. This is the way in the USA, please read more information about the "Marriage Registration in China for US Citizens" at http://www.chinaconsulatesf.org/eng/lszj/rz/t42743.htm. If you cannot obtain a standard form, you should draft your own affidavit, if possible using the preferred style of your country, stating your full name and address, occupation and employer, and your passport number.  State that you have never been married before, or that you have not remarried since your divorce or became widowed on whatever date.

• Typically, the next step is to have the affidavit notarised according to the law of the local jurisdiction.  This includes signing the document and having it witnessed by a notary public or an equivalent in your legal system.  However, in some jurisdictions there can be extra steps.  In the USA you must send the notarised affidavit to the Secretary of the State Office of the state in which it was executed although in some states you must first send it to the notary public's county clerk. 

In Australia, in cases where a person cannot obtain a  Single Status Certificate they can obtain a form called a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – in essence it is a structured affidavit or 'statutory declaration'.

Even just considering two countries we can see there are many variations on the basic idea.  In Canada and Britain the requirements are similar to what has been described here. Clearly, you will have to check exactly what the requirements are for where you live.  Remember that in many countries a certificate of single status is not part of its system, so you use the general purpose affidavit or swearing on oath.  If you are not truthful, you are breaking the law where you made the affidavit, and you will probably break the heart of your loved one when you are found guilty of bigamy!

• You must complete the Application for Authentication of Notarisation form at the local Chinese Consulate and submit it to them for authentication.  You must submit it with the legal document from overseas (typically, the notarised affidavit) and pay the fee.  The handling time is normally four working days but for an extra fee it can be processed quicker.

2. The hukou 户口is the family book which records all important family matters and importantly the holder' s official place of residence.  It is not always easy for Chinese to transfer this to the new city so it is quite common that a  Chinese is considered a non-resident of the municipality and you will probably have to go to her or his registered city.  However, there are some reports that couples have married locally and simply had to attend at a different section of the local office.

3. You will probably need to make an appointment for the marriage in advance, but if you are arriving from overseas and in a hurry, the Chinese partner can do this before you arrive.  It is reported that some offices require the application to be lodged 21 days in advanced.

4. You commence the application in your home country: you can take any required documents to the consulate where you apply for your visa.  You can complete an Authentication Form obtained from the consulate (or download it from some Chinese consulate websites) and submit it to them with your foreign documents. This might also assist if you are seeking a long duration tourist visa so that you can stay with your spouse – it would provide evidence of your intents and purpose of travel, or if there is any extra complexity with your documents or situation they can be resolved more easily at this point.

5. Notarised translations: if you need help finding an approved translator, ask at the Civil Affairs Bureau or the Chinese consulate in your home country if you are applying in advance.

6. Minimum age: Parental permission for persons below the age of consent can be presented as a letter which includes the index fingerprint of each parent below their signatures and date).

 Tips: 
The Chinese Marriage Customs can help you to understand the difference of culture and society between you and your Chinese fiancee/fiance.

Please share opinions and tips on how to date and marry Chinese in our International Marriage Forum.