So, I just got married in China. It’s actually a very simple process, but I went through a few preparatory months of hair-pulling, stressing about the various legal angles involved. To save you, dear mixed-nationality lovebirds out there in radioland, from tripping on these stress points, I’ve nailed together a quick little guide on how to tie the knot in the PRC.

Disclaimer: The scope of this guide is pretty specifically limited to a U.S. citizen marrying a Chinese national. The bureau at which you’ll need to file your license also depends on your spouse’s hukou: unless s/he’s from one of the four administratively autonomous municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing), you’ll be filing in the capital of your spouse’s hukou-registered province. (E.g. My wife’s hukou is from Suzhou, so we filed in the Jiangsu provincial capital, Nanjing.)

The bureaucratic particulars shouldn’t vary too much from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but be sure you’ve checked in with the relevant organs before taking the plunge.


My editor said I should add here, “Get drunk at Dada a lot.” Hey, worked for me, but your mileage may vary. SmartShanghai dating is another option.

If you’re not into the love thing, find someone to whom you want to be legally wed, for visa purposes, or tax purposes, or to get your parents off your back or whatever. It’s 2015. No judgement.

(For the record, though: as of this writing China only legally permits “one husband to one wife” unions.)


The U.S. Embassy has a helpful little webpage spelling out what you’ll need to bring to the table to get legally married in China. Besides the obvious (valid passport, valid Chinese visa), you’ll need to get something called a Marriageability Affidavit, which is a notarized document saying you are not currently married. To get this you make an appointment at the Embassy, show up, swear before an officer that you’re not currently married, and pay 50 USD. (Marriage is a business.) You get this 50-dollar piece of paper in return:

If you have been married before, you’ll also need “a clear photocopy of either the divorce or annulment decree or the death certificate which shows how the marriage ended.”

Your spouse will need to bring her or his official ID (shenfenzhen 身份证) and household register (hukoubu 户口簿).


So you have all your documents in hand, and the big day has arrived. Make sure you’re in the right city, and hunt down that corner of the bureaucracy that deals specifically with “Foreign-Related Marriage.” It’s actually the same corner of the bureaucracy that administers “Foreign-Related Adoption,” so prepare yourself for a string of hilarious WeChat jokes about how you’re being adopted because you’re a big baby. (Funny ’cause it’s true!)

Don’t go in expecting some kind of grand marriage hall or anything like that. This is a highly efficient, civil union type of deal. We were married in an antiseptic room by a middle-aged woman in a smart pant-suit.

Once you get in there, you sign a few more documents, which lay out the law of the land vis-a-vis two humans uniting as one in holy socially harmonious matrimony. I assume. Skimmed these to be honest.


Marriage is a business, after all. The base fee for filing your marriage license is a few hundred kuai, but you probably want to tack on an extra 450 to get a government-notarized marriage certificate mailed to you after the fact. This will be necessary when your spouse is applying for a visa/green card to your homeland down the line.

You can also purchase a plastic hologram marriage book holder for a nominal fee. I passed because I’m a cheapskate.


Almost there! One last photograph as an unmarried couple, on the State-mandated red background. You can get these done yourself at any third-party photo shop, but they’ve conveniently in-housed the procedure and you can get the snaps on-site for a nominal fee (as agreed upon in Step 4).


Now’s the big moment. Pretty anti-climactic, really, but not without its share of peculiar, Kafka-esque charm. You stand on this VERY RED dais and each sign your official marriage document. For an extra 30 kuai, you can have the civil officer present read you some “vows” while a staff photographer captures the moment for the scrapbooks. But this is purely a paid add-on and has no legal ramifications whatsoever. Marriage is a business y’all.

You can also ask the marriage officer to snap a cellphone photo of you two on the dais for free.

Pro-tip: don’t wear red. If you’ve a ruddy complexion like mine you’ll disappear entirely from your own wedding photos!

That’s it! They give you these two marriage books and send you on your way. Congrats!