Tag Archives: International wedding bureaucracy

It’s here – The Chinese-German Marriage Process Infographic!

It’s finally here – get married as a German to a Chinese in China  in 10 not so simple steps!

It took us six months, two attempts and much scouring through disheartening forum threads to figure out how to get legally married in China; me a German national, my husband a Chinese.

I figured it was time for a step-by-step infographic. German and Chinese versions are in the works. I hope this helps you from making the same mistakes we did. Best of luck!

get married china germany deutschland  ehe

If you want to read in more detail the hair-pulling frustrations of dealing with wedding-related red tape, check out some of these posts:

Bureaucracy Part 1

Towel Brain, Legalese & Endurance

Jet-Set Wedding

Translator by Name, Not by Profession

Part-Time Bureaucrats & the King of Pandas

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 6) – Inner Mongolia and the Rest of China

Inner Mongolia weddingAnd so it was done. We were officially married; well in the province of Inner Mongolia that is. You see, since Chinese administration is largely decentralised, Jiangsu province has no clue whatsoever what those people up in Beijing or Hohhot are up to and vice versa. In terms of our little wedding booklets, that means they are not valid in other parts of China but need to be notarized by the notary office so that we are legally married in the rest of the country, further proving my point that a province in China might as well be an independent country.

This idea is further enforced by the fact that our little booklets are bilingual, featuring both Chinese and Mongolian characters. I could not be happier about this, I mean not many people get to say they have a wedding booklet with Mongolian on it! The sad truth is of course that this is mostly for show; while most parts of Inner Mongolia feature bilingual signage and documents, barely anyone is able to read it anymore. Even the spoken language is finding less and less regular use on a daily basis, as an increasingly shrinking pool of “pure blood Mongolians” exist in the province. In Inner Mongolia, the Chinese government has pretty much succeeded where it has not in Xinjiang. While Mongolian tradition is being kept alive in the grasslands as a means of making money on tourism, the Han assimilation in cities is pretty much complete. Much like the Roman empire did in the past, the Chinese government’s strategy after claiming territorities inhabited by non-Han people has been to settle Han Chinese in this region in the hopes of the local people mingling with their new rulers, ending in a peaceful acceptance of their presence. Much like Greek gods have found their way into Roman mythology, the presence of the Mongolian scripture suggests at least a slight tip of the hat to the original inhabitants of the region. While a small group of nationalistic Mongolians, who communicate in their native tongue most of the time, do exist, in a majority of cases, both cultures have mingled and now tolerate each other’s presence. One of Mr. Li’s relatives by marriage is Mongolian, yet the only time when he truly shows that he is any different is when he sings Mongolian songs to much applause of the listeners; Mongolian culture seems to have become something special to be marvelled at possibly due to its near extinction rather than remaining a major part of this region’s culture.

On one of my flights back from Hohhot I struck up a conversation with my seat neighbour, a young girl who as it turned out was of Mongolian descent. In truth, except for the little character on her ID card, which under the category “people” says 蒙 where it normally reads 汉 one could barely tell. She could understand the Mongolian language, yet was unable to speak it. Especially since she worked in Shenzhen, where Mandarin or Cantonese are the common languages of communication, she now barely uses her second language. She is one of many young people who move into big cities in hopes of better work opportunities, unwittingly aiding the loss of her native culture.

While the positive side to this is that Inner Mongolia is a relatively peaceful province compared to Xinjiang, it does come at the slow loss of a culture. Calling IM entirely peaceful is not entirely truthful either, in 2011 unrests occurred when in the first instance a Mongol herdsman was run over by a Han truck driver. However, the government was eager to make concessions, affording the family damages and sentencing the driver to death. Last year’s altercation involved the detainment of protesting herdsmen, who are seeing their lifestyle encroached upon as their lands are grabbed by Han forestry and mining companies and attempts by the government to persuade them into settling in one location. To a nomad people, this is unthinkable, and has led to discontentment around the fact that their traditional life style is not being respected. That being said, Xinjiang provincs is far less stable, with clashes between Uighur and Han people occurring on a regular basis and even terrorist activities such as the train station knife attack in Kunming in 2014 and the Tian’anmen Square incident in 2013 taking the conflict outside of the region.

Hohhot, as the capital of Inner Mongolia, is very similar to most other Chinese cities, except for the aforementioned bilingual signage. Interestingly, many people do not seem to think so, as when I or Mr.Li tell people of his origins, you would be surprised how often they inquire in ernest whether he grew up in a yurt and how many ponies and sheep his family owns, while obviously wondering simultaneouslt how his family managed to afford to send him abroad for studies. In conversation with Chinese people, though, the reaction is rather different. Upon hearing my partner is from Hohhot, the first question is whether he is Mongolian. When I respond that he is Han, many say “Oh, of course, the Han are rich in Inner Mongolia.” Well, that explains everything, doesn’t it?

Somehow I feel I have slightly departed from the topic. Long story short, we had to get our certificate notarized; but not before we stood in the middle of the street and popped open our celebratory Italian sparkling wine and got our afternoon buzz on. The effect was only increased by the fact that MiL and her partner were waiting in the car and so to the slightly astonished and confused looks of some construction workers, Mr. Li and I chugged the red liquor as if there were no tomorrow.

Jet-Set Wedding

Beijing cctv Tower

Wow, so I have not written in a while and now I need to try and catch up! A lot has happened in the last weeks; in fact so much I have barely had time to digest it all.

It’s the typical long-distance relationship syndrome! Getting used to your boring life and as soon as you meet up with your partner you feel the need to squeeze all the excitement you missed out on into a couple of days; in our case combined with Chinese New Year and Valentines Day this has equalled trekking to seven different cities in three weeks. I still have a week to go and already feel exhausted. Even more so, because in our case the squeezing in part included getting married.

YAY, we did it, isn’t that unbelievable?!

Of course it took another couple of runs to offices of any form and description and a lot of grey hairs appearing from nowhere until we managed to beat the system. Buckle up and get ready for a long ride!

I will not go into detail on the exact route the documents we needed to get my single certificate took, as I hope to provide a detailed infographic at some point. Suffice it to say it took three attempts for the documents to be verified, since the German’s followed the official Chinese standards which the notary translator in Hohhot did not.

Luckily, the town in Germany I am registered in is so small that the registry office know us well enough now to allow for me to submit my documents while I was in Germany and to hand in Mr. Li’s later, once the Chinese and German embassy in China finally managed to sort out their s..tuff.

This all happened with amazing efficiency. We got the documents approved in the way the Germans required, they in turn issued my single certificate, which my mother, after saying good bye to another €80, quickly sent to Beijing.

Once the documents arrived, I boarded the next possible high-speed railway to Beijing in order to get the final document issued by the German embassy. This went as smoothly as I could have ever wished for, as I popped in and back out and then as a reward went on a little spree at the international supermarket down the street. After moving to China, visiting supermarkets that sell cheeses, sausages and German bread becomes as exciting as front-row tickets to the Backstreet Boys to my 12-year old self (yes, I admit it and no, I am not ashamed).

After a Chinese New Year’s Party and an enjoyable weekend in Beijing, we then jetted off to Hohhot on Sunday evening in order to attempt to get married the following Monday. And with that, stay tuned!

The Bureaucracy (Part 2) – Towel brain, legalese and endurance

International wedding bureaucracy

“This is a lot easier than I thought it would be” I knew the instant the thought flashed through my mind that I was kidding myself and sure enough…

The countless horror stories on German forums I had read should have been a warning, they should have prepared me for certain failure and yet, I was naive enough to hope that my case would be different, that somehow through a miracle, we would make it through the jungle of bureaucracy and come out the other side unscathed and married.

So, after I described in the first post of this series, I had done some research and found out which documents Mr. Li was going to need in order for me to apply for my certificate of nubility.

After scrolling for hours and hours through even the last corners of the German embassy website and going through a number of documents in legalese that twisted my brain so much, it resembled a wrung-out towel, the conclusion I came to was that if we asked the German registry office about what was needed, they would know (after all the embassy website in China said to check with them for local variances in the requirements).

My mother went to the registrar in Germany and was told about the four documents and that they had to be translated in Germany by a certified translator. That, according to them, was it. After Mr. Li’s mother used her connections to get the usually impossible to get birth certificate and all the other documents, she sent it to me and I DHL’d it to my mother in Germany (I figured the only ones I can trust to deliver documents to Germany and not lose on the way is a German company, right?). My mother received them and brought them to a certified translator, who took her time and 170€ to write up the German versions. Then my mother dragged the documents to the registry office, where, because the colleague my mother had been in touch with was on holiday, they lay around for a week.

At this point it was mid-December, I was set to go to Germany in one week, during which time I was supposed to get my certificate. After all it’s not like Germany is just around the corner and I can’t pop by just anytime I feel like it.

Thursday afternoon my mother gets a call.

“These documents are not valid,”

the lady who has just returned from her relaxing holiday tells her.

“They have to be legalized by the German embassy in Beijing.”

Thank you lady on a holiday, you just ruined my entire family’s Christmas. In all fairness, my parents live in the tiniest town in the South of Germany, where international weddings are a rare thing and so these people usually do not have to deal with all the rules and regulations involved in a Germano-international marriage. So, who can I blame; as obviously I wouldn’t want to blame myself? Let’s blame the government and their stupid, stupid rules.

So after we found out that we had wasted valuable time, we were trying to figure out what exactly it was we had to do. Because getting Chinese documents legalized might sound easy in theory. In practice, it really isn’t.

What the embassy legalize is in fact merely the signature of Mr. Li and of the person who issued the official documents. Furthermore, they do not legalize original documents but only notarized copies that have been stamped and translated into German (or English, I hope; we will have to send an email as the embassies NEVER answer the phone and pray for a response).

So, once we have issued notarized copies of the original documents in Hohhot and sent them from Inner Mongolia to Beijing, Mr.Li has to run to the embassy to get them legalized; this means taking a day off work and losing that day’s salary, as his company is run by Ebenezer Scrooge.

Once he has gone through this process, he has to send the documents to my parents’ in Germany and then we can only pray that we don’t need to get them translated in Germany again. Otherwise, I might just get violent.

We were debating whether to send the original documents my mother had back to Hohhot for Mr.Li’s mother to get the notarized copies; however we also found out that the documents are only valid for 3 months and the birth certificate runs out on 10th January. Hardly enough time with all the running back and forth that is involved.

Also, the original documents had been signed by the translator to prove their authenticity and the translations stapled to the back, ruining them for any official purposes in China.

So, now my poor future mother-in-law (well, if we ever get through all this a nonsense anyway) has to do the whole thing again; including using her connections at the hospital to get the birth certificate, they are technically not allowed to issue.

A not so global village – making international marriage as impossible as possible

This experience of bureaucratic hell just makes me think how ironic it is that every day we speak about how small the world is becoming and how international borders are breaking down and all the “one world, one love” prophecies and how far from the truth this is in relation to our legal situation.

I understand that there need to be laws in place to ensure a person cannot marry as many people as they want in different countries or simply marry for visa purposes, but I think that current laws in Germany are just absolutely outdated and unreasonable.

I mean I already commented on the irony that to get my certificate of nubility I need to get Mr.Li’s – so what if the Chinese said the same. But overall this whole jumping through hoops is just absolutely over the top in my opinion. There is a very vivid German idiom that describes perfectly what we are currently going through:

“It’s as if someone is laying stones in our way”

to make things as difficult as possible. Well, to be honest, I feel as if I am drowning in a sea of stones (ah, so melodramatic).

But let’s be serious, my mother told me of a Russian-German couple that went through the same hassle and in the end just gave up and didn’t get married because it was just not worth it. A German-Chinese couple in my parent’s town had the same problems we did with the three month validity and also had to get the documents issued a second time before succeeding. Luckily, my mum is a tough cookie and a challenge such as this will only make her more determined to beat the system and get me that bloody certificate (I was just about ready to call the whole thing off when she told me).

The thing that irks me the most though, aside from this ridiculous labyrinth of legal ludicrousness, is the fact that a couple of weeks ago I spoke to a young guy from Australia who told me that after going through all the motions to get the certificate, when he got married to a young Chinese girl in Nanjing, they didn’t even need the silly piece of paper at all. Sadly the Inner Mongolians, where we need to get married due to Mr. Li’s hukou, insist on the certificate.

While again there is always the possibility of bribing them to turn a blind eye, we do want to one day return to Europe and it might get a little awkward explaining to German authorities how we have a marriage certificate without them ever having issued a certificate of nubility for me. Yes, they are that organized they would know. In conclusion, no corrupt wedding for us.

The one lesson I have learned from this is to never trust anyone who gives you “official” information as probably they have absolutely no clue what the heck they are doing. Oh yes, and that my mum is awesome, but I knew that already.

In honour of this painful procedure and hopefully to help any of you, who are facing the same issues, to not fall in the German legal trap, I plan on making a little infographic, which will hopefully help you to not make the same mistakes we did (once I know for certain how this whole confusions process works). If you are facing the paper wars as well, good luck!

Here’s to showing those bureaucratic buggers that they can never stop a determined English woman and her Chinese in-laws.

The Bureaucracy (Part 1)

The one thing we don’t consider amongst all the gushy gooeyness of getting married is the bureaucracy. When it comes to international marriage law there is a lot of bureaucratic nonsense to weed through before you get to say “I do”; although, technically, we won’t be saying those words in either of our ceremonies…anyway, you get where I am going with this. Of course one can rely on the Germans to make this process as complicated as possible with just a hint of ludicrousness; although to be fair the Chinese side is giving us Kraut’s a run for our money.

The first order of business is the certificate of nubility, or in laywoman’s terms, proof that one is not attempting to lead a polygamous lifestyle; yet in other words, a paper proving that when filling in official forms you still need to tick the box “single”.

Right from the onset, it is a challenge to fight back the feeling of incredulity that overcomes one upon reading the requirements for said certificate. First of all, as a German national resident in China, I have no way of obtaining this legal document via the embassy; instead I, or a legal representative of mine, who through some miraculous turn of fate managed to receive all my documentation via post, (it is not uncommon for letters and packages to take up to three months to arrive in the Middle Kingdom, if they care to show up at all – and you thought your post office is slow?), have to go to the local registrar’s office to apply for this lamentable legality. I mean, squeezing in a short trip across the world shouldn’t be a big deal, right?

Then, of course, one cannot forget the whole host of documents needed to apply for the aforementioned attestation:

One of the most entertaining pieces of information I received on the matter is that the birth certificate I need to provide on my part is currently out of date. Curious, I wasn’t aware such documents could be updated, nor that the Germans now seem to believe in reincarnation. So, on my side, we somehow need to get to Frankfurt for an “updated” birth certificate (my parents now live in the Southwest near the French border and I am just around the corner in China).

However, besides birth certificate 2.0, all I need to provide is my passport and the filled out application form; my inofficial fiancé on the other hand is a lot worse off than me.

In order for my application to go through, he needs to supply

Passport (or certified copy)
Police registration
A certificate of nubility
Birth certificate

…all of which need to be translated into German and notarized, which will cost masses of time and money; not to mention the frayed nerves. So, let’s have look at this fun list, shall we?

Since he will not be joining me on the Christmas trip back to Germany, which as luck would have it is coming up in only two month’s time, he needs to provide a certified copy of his passport. Well, at least the notarization business doesn’t need to worry about its income with all the notarizing we will be doing in the coming months.

Now then, certificate of nubility. Please explain to me how it makes sense that to get my certificate of nubility, it is a prerequisite to show my fiancés certificate of nubility? How does that even work?! What if he needs my CoN to get his? It’s a catch 22, a vicious bureaucratic cycle with no escape; does no one share my disbelief at how non-sensical this is? Apart from the fact that it is a mystery to me, how it is relevant whether Mr. Li is single when applying for proof that I am. Anyone care to enlighten me, be my guest!

Next issue, the birth certificate; this is another question altogether. The Chinese administration differs substantially from the German one due to the “hukou”, a family registration system. While Chinese do have birth certificates, they are legally of little consequence; it is the family hukou that has legal ramifications. Ironically, I only just published an article on that topic in the Oktober 2014 issue of the Nanjinger magazine (shameless plug). The birth certificate, though, is just a meaningless piece of paper from the Chinese point of view; and so it is not uncommon that the document in question is “misplaced” as was of course the case with Mr. Li.

While some German offices do accept the hukou instead of a birth certificate, after perusing a number of German-Sino marriage bureaucracy forums (the fact there are forums entirely devoted to this topic is all the proof necessary of what a hassle it is; and if you don’t believe me just read a few of the dispiriting comments on there), I found that some registrar offices insist on an actual birth certificate issued by the hospital that witnessed the event in question. Since we would like to try and get this sorted on the first attempt, my future mother-in-law has the ungrateful task of acquiring a new version of the lost document.

This is where it gets really interesting. Because the acquisition of birth certificates is actually closely linked to illegal practices with the aim of transferring one’s hukou, it is now incredibly difficult to obtain one in China. This means, the family has to use their Guanxi (connections) in order to even be able to get the certificate, ironically for legal purposes.

But wait, there’s more. Lady Luck also decided that it was her day off when my future Chinese mum went to the hospital, in which Mr. Li was born. They have all the information about children born between now and 1990 on record; anything earlier than that is stashed away in some type of archive. Mr. Li was born in December 1989. Oh, the irony; here I was joking all along how glad I was, he wasn’t a “90后”, which translates to Post-90’s kid, a generation that has difficulty in being taken seriously by their older peers for their techy, geeky upbringing at the turn of the millennium, and as it turns out, it would have been so much easier if he had been. Then again, I am already 2.5 years older than him, a concept many Chinese find strange at best, and concerning at worst, so let’s keep the unconventional age difference to a minimum.

Therefore, for now all we can do is wait until the archives have revealed that, yes, Mr. Li was in fact born in that hospital, and we may continue our travels on the road to bureaucratic hell.

I wonder if Germany and China are just such a terrible pairing due to their love for time-wasting bureaucracy. According to my sources, a British friend was able to get their CoN from the embassy in Shanghai. What are your experiences with international marriage bureaucracy? I would love to know, whether you are also caught in this documentation djungle!
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