Expats can no longer get married in China

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Published last week

A new legal notice issued by the ministry of Civil Affairs will prevent two foreign nationals to get married in China. Here’s what expats think about this.

Whether you are an expat living in China and planning to get married or have been considering the country as a wedding destination, you may need to change your plans.

Before the announcement, foreigners who wanted to get married in China had to go through a few bureaucratic steps but could still register their relationship in the country (can add link to Getting Married in China article).

So, what does this mean for those expats who are eager to proclaim their love for one another officially?

The simplest way around the new regulations would be getting married in the neighbouring Hong Kong, which still issues marriage licenses to all, regardless of nationality. In fact, the process for getting married in Hong Kong is much simpler than what it used to be in the PRC and quite a few expats living in the mainland opted for a Hong Kong marriage even prior to the new regulations.

The new law will not affect expats marrying Chinese nationals. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, a marriage license can be issued as long as at least one of the marrying parties has a Chinese hukou (household registration in mainland China). Note that the process of marrying a Chinese citizen also involves a set of formalities (can add link to Getting Married in China article).

No official reason has yet been given for the change in marriage policy. Some expats hope that this is just a transitional stage to new legislation — however, according to Guangzhou’s Haizhu District Ministry of Civil Affairs Marriage Registration office, there have been no indications that the new limitations will be lifted in the near future.

How do the expats living in the country feel about the new law?

According to the majority of the people we've talked to, they don't consider it "a big deal" but are concerned about the implications.

"As far as I know, most foreigners living here chose to go to Hong Kong or other nearby countries to tie the knot, it's simply easier with paperwork", says Jennifer Moors, a long-time Shenzhen resident.

"I've been married for six years now", says Walter Kees, an American expat living in South China. "The new regulations will not affect me personally, but I still wonder why the local government would choose to do so [implement the new law] after so many years of having this process in place".

The most recent National Census of China was conducted back in 2010 and stated that there were over 600,000 officially registered expats living in the country. Today, that number is expected to be much higher. However, the number of expats leaving the country has also increased in the last couple of years. Those leaving China cite high pollution levels in some cities, bureaucracy and changes in the visa application policies as their primary reasons for departure.