Getting married in China

Updated 2022-09-18 12:53

If you've lived in China for a while and are planning your life in the country, you may be considering getting married here. However, before you can start planning the festivities, there are the formalities. In this article, find out what it's like to get married in China, what legal procedures you will need to go through, and how traditional weddings are celebrated.


Can foreigners get married in China?

This is important. As of April 1, 2019, two foreign nationals can't register their marriage at Civil Affairs offices in China. This means that if you and your partner are both expats in China, you are no longer able to obtain a Chinese marriage certificate.

It was once possible for foreigners to get married in China if both of them had residence permits. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible as the necessary provision has been canceled by the Civil Affairs Department.

So, as of now, you can only get married in China if at least one of the partners is a Chinese citizen or a registered permanent resident in China.

Who can get married in China?

So, who can get legally married in China?

As of now, you can get legally married in China if:

  • You and your partner are both citizens or permanent residents in China, or one of you is a Chinese citizen or permanent resident in the country
  • You and your partner are of the opposite sex
  • You and your partner are of legal marrying age (22 for men and 20 for women). Marriages at a younger age are also possible with parents' permission.
  • Both partners also have to be entering the marriage voluntarily.


Note that currently, only couples of the opposite sex can get married in China. Same-sex marriage is not legal in China. The closest country to China that officially recognizes same-sex marriage is Taiwan.

What are the options for foreigners who want to get married in China?

If you and your partner are expats who want to get married in China, you will need to look for other options. One of these options is to simply get married somewhere else.

Getting married in Hong Kong

A lot of expat couples residing in China choose to get married in Hong Kong. This was the case even when expat marriages were still possible in the mainland.

The procedures for getting married in Hong Kong are much simpler. Plus, there are a number of one-stop marriage registration services in the city that make the process of making your marriage official very straightforward.

Getting married in your home country

Another option is to get married in your home country. In most cases, to do this, you will need to travel back to your respective counties of citizenship and go through the process of registering your marriage there. Depending on where you or your partner are from, this may involve additional expenses and time.

Having a destination wedding

If you don't want to travel back home to register your marriage, consider a destination wedding. In this case, you will be getting married in a third country of your choice. Southeast Asia is home to a large number of picturesque wedding destinations where foreigners can register their marriage. Consider Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Maldives, etc.

Getting married in China to a Chinese resident

While two foreigners can no longer get married in China, you can still register your marriage if you are getting married to a Chinese citizen or permanent resident. In fact, marriages between foreigners and Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly common in the country. However, the legal procedures for registering the marriage still require quite a bit of red tape. The specific documents that one will need to obtain to get married in China may differ depending on one's country of origin. With that, there are two key documents that both parties will need to procure: the Certificate of Marriageability and, finally, the Certificate of Marriage.

The Certificate of Marriageability is proof that you are not married in China or your home country and can get married. To obtain the Certificate of Marriageability, you will need to go through the following steps:

First, you will need to apply for written proof from your home country (typically, you can do that in an Embassy or Consulate of your country in China).

Then, you will need to get a notarized translation of the document into Chinese (if your Embassy or Consulate can not provide a bilingual document)

You can now apply for the Certificate of Marriageability at the Civil Affairs Bureau. You will need to provide the following documents:

  • your ID or passport
  • a document proving that you are not currently married, its notarized translation and officially notarized copies
  • your partner's ID card
  • your partner's 'hukou' or residency permit

You will then need to wait for a few days for the Certificate of Marriageability to be ready. Note that the Certificate of Marriageability is valid for six months, and you will need to apply for the Marriage Certificate within this period.

After you have received the Certificate of Marriageability, you will be able to apply for the Marriage Certificate. Note that to do so, you will need to go to a city or town where your Chinese partner's hukou is registered. Once there, you will need to make an appointment at a local government office to register your marriage. The procedures for this are quite simple: you will need to fill out a few forms, answer a few questions, and present three formal photos of the two of you together, as well as the Certificate of Marriageability obtained earlier (within its six-month validity period).

Good to know:

While this is relatively rare in big cities, if you are getting married in a smaller town, both you and your partner may be required to provide a medical certificate.

Finally, you will recite the vows and be pronounced husband and wife. The procedures should not take more than an hour and require a payment of a small fee.

What visa can you apply for if you marry a Chinese citizen?

Being married to a Chinese citizen entitles you to a one-year L Visa. Here are the documents you will need to apply for an L Visa:

  • a valid passport
  • your Chinese partner's ID
  • marriage certificate
  • registration of residence certificate

With an L Visa, you can reside in China legally — for the amount of time that your visa allows. Note that you won't be able to study or work on an L Visa. If you want to be legally employed in China, you will need to apply for a Chinese work permit.

Being married to a Chinese citizen also gives you the ground to apply for permanent residency. However, the process for becoming a permanent resident in China is exceptionally complicated, and very few Chinese Green Cards are actually issued to foreigners. In fact, Chinese permanent residency is considered to be one of the hardest residence permits to obtain. Since the introduction of the Chinese Green Card in 2004, only a few hundred applications have been approved.

What are the grounds for applying for permanent residency in China?

In February 2020, the Chinese government introduced a number of updates regarding the eligibility requirements for permanent residence in China. According to the new regulations, you can apply for permanent residence in China if:

You are in good health, have no criminal record, and meet one of the following requirements:

You are a direct investor in the Chinese economy and have committed at least $500,000 in western or poor regions of China, $1 million in central areas of China or $2 million in other areas. You should also have been an investor in the country for three consecutive years.

You hold a Ph.D. holder or are an alumnus of an honored academic institution with:

  • three years of work experience in China
  • or three years of experience working in key industries or fields that receive state support
  • or four-eight years of work experience with an income that is no less than four times the average local salary.

You are exceptionally talented in a specific field and can make a substantial contribution to China's economy and social development.

You are a foreign business professional with internationally recognized achievements and contributions.

You have come to China to reunite with your family and or have been married to a Chinese citizen for at least five years or have dependents who are Chinese citizens.

If you are married to a Chinese national, you may be able to qualify for permanent residency. However, as we've mentioned earlier, the chances of that are quite low.

A more certain strategy for arranging your stay in the country would be to apply for a work permit so that you can live and work in China legally.

Chinese wedding celebration

A traditional Chinese wedding is a long and complicated undertaking with many rituals and customs to abide by and rules to follow for the bride, groom, their families, and guests.

However, these days most couples opt for simpler, westernized weddings, often combining the elements of European and local cultures. The way the marriage is celebrated will also depend on the regions the bride and groom are from. Some of the key aspects of a modern Chinese wedding include:

  • Taking romantic photos before the ceremony, which will then be displayed at the wedding venue.
  • Many brides choose to wear more than one dress: a traditional qipao, a western-style white wedding dress, and a ball gown.
  • During the ceremony, the groom would walk around and drink shots of baijiu (traditional rice wine) with the guests (some switch to water after a few rounds).
  • Red envelopes with money are traditional wedding gifts in China. Make sure to avoid the number four in the gift amount of banknotes, as this number is considered unlucky.

Typically, foreign nationals or international couples celebrating their wedding in China would go with a traditional wedding ceremony, a ceremony related to a particular region of China (or ethnic group), or a western-style banquet.

The cost of wedding festivities in China depends on what type of ceremony you have. If you are going with a traditional Chinese wedding, note that you will probably need to invite a lot of guests: relatives, friends, etc. A Chinese wedding ceremony presupposes a large banquet with several courses and often a generous serving of deli sticks from the region. In Chinese tradition, it is the groom's family who pays for the wedding. However, in a foreign-Chinese wedding, your ceremony can be a mix of traditions, and you will be able to adjust your spending to your budget.

Having a wedding in a small town is generally cheaper than holding a banquet in an expensive hotel in one of China's major cities. Note that if your Chinese spouse comes from a village or small town, you will most likely be celebrating your wedding in their hometown.

Destination weddings are always becoming increasingly popular. Traveling to neighboring Vietnam, Thailand, or Indonesia can be an alternative way of celebrating your wedding if the family of your spouse doesn't insist on a hometown wedding.

Useful links:

State Council of People's Republic of China

US Embassy and Consulate in China

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.