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Getting married in China: The paperwork in Finland

chinese marriage certificateOur quest for Chinese marriage certificates

Me and my Chinese fiance are getting married in China this Spring. We will get out marriage certificates on Valentine’s Day (if everything goes as planned) and have a Wedding party in the beginning of May. Getting married abroad to a foreigner means there is paperwork to be done. I have now luckily finished the first step and got my papers in order here in Finland.

The first thing was to get a Certificate of capacity under Finnish law to contract marriage before a foreign authority. It takes a week to get this documents which is in Finnish, Swedish, English and German. You get this document from the Local Register Office and with 11 euros they will notarize it as well.

Next seal has to come from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland which will certify the Local Register Office’s signature and seal. As I was running out of time, my plane leaving next Tuesday I decided to go to Helsinki my self to get the seals from both the ministry and the Chinese Embassy.

I took a 5.35am bus to Helsinki from my hometown and arrived early to get some breakfast and tea before taking a tram to the ministry. I was the second in line and got my document legalized in ten minutes.

Next I took the tram back to the city center and changed to a metro to Kulosaari. It was easy to find the Chinese Embassy with Google Maps downloaded the day before to my iPhone. As I have always gotten my visas through an agency, this was the first time I visited the embassy my self. Nothing special really, but it was nice to see other Finns going to China and even hear some of their stories.

It wasn’t possible to get the final seal to my document right away, instead I had to wait until the next morning. When I went back I noticed that they had written the wrong date on the paper and the legalization wasn’t done when I arrived. Luckily I got it after waiting for half and hour or so. The man behind the glass even congratulated me for getting married!

Getting the paperwork done in Finland was quite easy and straightforward:

  1. Certificate from the Local Register Office with a notarization signature and seal (11 euros)
  2. Legalization signature and seal from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (20 euros)
  3. Legalization signature and seal from the Chinese Embassy (43 euros for next day rush service)

It’s always important to check your own embassy, consulate or other office what kind of paperwork you need to get married abroad. Also remember to check the “marriage office” in China where you plan to get your marriage certificates as well. The correct paperwork always depends on your own nationality and the city you will get married in.

The next step for us is to get our documents and papers to the marriage office few days before The Day. Then on Valentine’s Day I will go there first to get our waiting number and my fiance will hopefully arrive on time from his business trip.

I have already planned a surprise for my fiance on Valentine’s Day, but our Wedding in May still needs a lot planning and mediating with the parents before everything is perfect.

I would love to write more about the Wedding planning, would you be interested in reading about it?


  • Anna Zech

    Wow, that was fast? So you didn’t need any paper work from your fiance to get the “single certificate” in Finnland? Lucky you then :D

    For us the whole paper work actually took over half a year and was incrediblly expensive! For the “single certificate” I needed my than fiance’s International birth certificate, a copy of his passport, and his “sinlge certificate”. And all of it had to be translated in to German, notarized and legalized. You can imagine that his documents took aaaages, and it was so expensive (especially the translation and the notarization) as they have random prices in the countryside and the people there were incredibly slow as well. So by the time his papers had finally arrived in Germany, more than six months have past. But after that everything was really quick. I was able to get “single certificate” notarized and legalized within a day.
    As the certificate was in German (and a bunch of other European lnaguages) but not Chinese, we needed to get it translated as well. But we did that in China because there it is way cheaper.
    We couldn’t get married at his birth place, because I am a foreigner. We had to go to the capital of the province where his hukou is. Hefei in our case. We didn’t need any appointment or anything. Just took a train there and went in and told them we want to get married. They send us to take photos for the marriage certificate, we came back, gave him my passport, and my translated and legalized “single certificate, and his ID. Signed a paper, and 30 min later they handed us the 结婚证 (marriage certificate), freshly printed with our pictures attached. It was drier than getting your visa done. The best the lady could get our was a “Take your certificates. Now you are husband and wife. You can leave now.”

    haha not the most romantic thing I have ever experiences xD I hope yours will be better. Maybe take some family, or take a few pictures… We didn’t do anything… Do regret it a bit… but well. In the end what matters is the love, not the papers, right?

    Really looking forward to your wedding preperations, and the actual wedding! I am sure it will be beautiful! Try to stay true to yourself and don’t let the Chinese side force you into anything (I wasn’t that strong. I had a wedding totally planed and executed by my in-laws… I am planning on having a “real” wedding in Germany later, with my mother and actually people I know haha)

    Congratulations again to your engagement!


    Alva Reply:

    Same in our case, we were very shocked with the prices. Not only the cost of notarizing but also the price we needed to pay to get all done. T needed to go to 3 different places in his province. He started going to the hospital where he was born, then went to Linyi then to Jinnan. All that with a combination of buses/trains/hostels…and lots of money to pay for the documents.
    Each sheet (each copy) was 400rmb. Each! And you need at least 3 copies of each even when the content is the same.
    The hardest one: His birth certificate, they just gave him both papers writen by hand! by hand in a small sheet of paper. They did not want to do anything else than that..
    Getting our marriage license in China was easy but getting his papers for legalizing in the Consulate a nightmare.
    I can’t imagine for couples that change surnames.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Oh my what a bunch of expensive paperwork! I hope there aren’t any big surprises for us in China to get things legal in Finland as well.

    I can’t even think of changing my surname as it would be such a headache! I’m happy to continue using my rare surname without hassle.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Anna, I really have to ask what is the logic behind needing your fiance’s paperwork for your own single certificate? I would imagine that you are single no matter if you have your fiance’s papers or not :D I only wrote my fiance’s information by hand and that was enough.

    Yeah, I think it’s not going to be that romantic to go to the marriage office. But I did book a nice room from a five start hotel as a surprise to my fiance ;)

    Thank you for your encouragement, I really want this one wedding to be the real wedding for us both. I have my family coming so it’s going to be our only wedding so it has to be perfect and I mean perfect by our standards :)


    Anna Zech Reply:

    yeah haha I know what you mean… but so many things I have experienced in connection with China didn’t make any sense. Logic does not go with China. I guess for the German side, they were afraid if they give me the “single certificate”, and my fiance is not actually single, well then they would have get problems for giving me the certificate in the first place. Well, actually, it makes no real sense, but I figured no matter if Chinese or German, bureaucracy is a pain in the ass all around the world -.-


    chinaelevatorstories Reply:

    @annazech:disqus : You’d need to do it that way even if you were getting married in Germany I think.

    My husband and I married in Austria (but we would have needed exactly the same documents if we were getting married in China + even one more document if I remember correctly).

    I needed all my husband’s documents (including his single certificate) with translations, notarisations from the Austrian embassy and foreign ministry of China and translations from a law translator in Austria (in addition to the ones we already had, they wouldn’t accept translations from a translator in China, but in order to get them notarised at the Austrian embassy in Beijing we already needed them translated into German) and in addition to that I needed a few of my own documents to get my single certificate. Our mothers helped us out a lot, otherwise my husband would have had to spend even more money on all of this by flying from Shenzhen to Jilin province. He did have to go to Beijing personnaly for the visa though.

    I remember his international birth certificate being particularly expensive. It was something like 200 USD with an included translation. The hospital he was born at has been torn down some time in the past, but luckily we were still able to get the birth certificate.

    It took us 3-4 months to get all the paperwork done for our wedding and I think that we were already fast at handling things from afar!

    Btw., I’d love to read more posts about your wedding preparations. Good luck with your further planning and organising!


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I guess it’s called paperwork as it really feels like work ;)


  • Jim

    Number 2 is an apostille right? The one from the foreign ministry.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Jim, it’s not Apostille because China doesn’t approve that. Apostille would be enough in it self to many countries. But for mainland China you need this three step legalization process instead of Apostille.


  • Chris_Waugh

    When we were getting our papers together, I got really jealous of my American and Canadian friends, because they could get their “single certificate” from their nearest embassy and consulate, whereas I had to get mine from Wellington. I seem to remember (but memory… not so reliable) a Canadian telling me that the letter his consulate gave him even said only words to the effect of “we don’t have any such certificate in Canada”, which I thought was pretty funny – imagine going to the registry office in China and having to explain that your government simply can’t provide proof that you’re not married already. And my “single certificate”, from memory (but again, memory… ) was much more expensive than the documents you just got.

    And then when we got to the registry office, we found that we didn’t actually have a notarised translation of my “single certificate” – we thought the Chinese embassy in Wellington had done that, but no. So we had to jump in a taxi and race from the North Fourth Ring Road down to an office in a side street off Tiananmen Square to get that done, pay for the super-quick service, then race back up to the registry office. But we managed to get everything done and our matching his-and-hers marriage certificates by lunchtime.

    And yes, I would be curious to read about wedding preparations for two reasons. First, there is so much variation in customs and traditions across China’s regions. Secondly, I would be curious to see how you work any of your own Finnish traditions in to the wedding, if you’re planning on doing that.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I will definitely bring lots of Finnish flavors to the wedding! My maid of honor, my little sister, will also help me to do that. She will surely choose some Finnish songs to be played for example. Actually it’s possible me who will be planning the whole things as my fiance doesn’t really excel in this kind of planning :)

    So great to have you and others to share your experiences in getting married in China. This is going to be valuable information for others planning to marry.


  • Timo

    I am so glad that we married in Finland and that she could get all neccessary papers from China without much efford. Her mother got all the papers, when translation was needed it was done right away so we had costs around 20$ for the whole process.
    All in all it was a fairly easy procedure but then again it always depends on the Chinese side how willing they are to provide all the needed papers without giving them any special envelopes…


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Great to hear you didn’t have much hassle with the paperwork! There haven’t been big problems with my paperwork either but it just feels like a lot when I have to handle it all my self.


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