Getting married in Hong Kong

Hong Kong cityscape

Assume for a moment you want to get married in Hong Kong. Maybe the country you’re living in has silly restrictions on foreigners marrying its nationals, or requires you follow a convoluted paper-chase with generous helpings of tea money along the way. It could be you don’t fancy the local wedding customs with fifteen changes of costume over two or three days with loads of sitting around on the floor listening to monks drone on and on, dodgy catering and crap music played continuously at ear-splitting volume. Perhaps you fancy a destination wedding but don’t like sand between your toes. Possibly you just want something simple. For whatever the reason you’ve decided on Hong Kong. Now, how do you go about it?

The paperwork is simple and there’s not much of it, the requirements are almost non-existent and it’s pretty cheap. Here’s a description of the process and how I did it in November 2016. By the time you read this things may have changed so do your research carefully, just in case.

The process is simple, starting with giving Notice of Intended Marriage. Either partner can do it in person or by post.

Assuming you are over both over 21 years old the only things you need to give notice are:

  1. a copy of the ID page from each of your passports
  2. a Notarised, completed Notice of Intended Marriage (application) form
  3. for any divorcees:
    • original divorce certificate or Notarised copy
    • Statutory declaration
  4. for widows/widowers:
    • proof of former marriage and death certificate of former spouse
  5. a bank draft for the fee (HKD 305 at the time of writing)

Yes, that’s it. The documents must be in English or Chinese or be certified translations to one of those languages. No certificate of non-impediment (unlike say, Thailand), no birth certificate, no proof of income, no residence requirement (unlike say, Singapore), no spurious random junk that is designed to make the process hard. You have to complete the process and get married within three months of the date of giving notice. If you don’t then you have to start over (assuming you still want to). You can read about the process and download the Notice of Intended Marriage form from the Hong Kong Immigration department website.

You give notice to the Registrar of  Marriages in person, or by post, or through a civil celebrant. I applied by post so that we would only need a single visit to Hong Kong and for the shortest time possible. You could conceivably make a single trip and give notice in person, but you might run into visa issues and you’d have to be in Hong Kong for a minimum of about one month. If applying by post it’s a good idea to use a tracked service so you know when the Notice is received.

After the Registrar receives the Notice they display it publicly for at least 15 days if you meet the requirements. If no-one objects then after 15 days the Registrar issues a Certificate of Registrar of Marriages (confirmation notice). You then have until three months after giving notice to be married in a marriage registry, or in a religious ceremony or by a civil celebrant. There are two marriage registries on Hong Kong island: City Hall and Cotton Tree Drive. There are at least 3 other registries scattered around Hong Kong but they are probably not very popular with foreigners. For the sake of simplicity I chose City Hall (it makes getting additional copies of the marriage certificate easier). If you applied by post you can ask to receive the confirmation notice by email. If you haven’t received your confirmation email 4-5 weeks after posting the application (allowing a few days in the post, a few days processing before displaying the Notice, displaying it and a few days afterwards for processing) you might want to chase them. They’ll probably reply that they’re busy and process applications strictly in order and the confirmation will be sent about a month before the wedding date. Hopefully they’ll also tell you what that date, time and place will be. You can now book flights and accommodation, or wait for the actual confirmation notice email if you want to be really safe.

If either of you need a visa for Hong Kong you can use the confirmation email as your “invitation”. You’ll also need the travel and accommodation bookings, and possibly proof of sufficient funds for the duration of your visit to support your visa application.

When completing the Notice you need to state where and when you intend to get married. If you opt for a religious ceremony or civil celebrant you will need to have scheduled the actual marriage before giving notice. If you opt for a marriage registry you can ask for the first available slot at either of the registries on Hong Kong island, or specify the office you prefer and give first and second choice dates. If you apply in person and you want to use a marriage registry they will tell you which slots are available and you can choose.

I specified City Hall and two date ranges in the two weeks before the three month expiry of the notice. This allowed plenty of time for the processing steps and for us to arrange a visa.

The confirmation email states the date, time and location for the marriage and gives some instructions regarding the steps you have to take in Hong Kong before the actual marriage. The steps are very simple:

  1. go together to the Government Office on the specified date (probably 2 working days before the marriage) during office hours with your confirmation notice and passports (which must match the copies you submitted with the Notice)
  2. check and confirm all the details on the Notice are correct since these will appear on the marriage certificate
  3. receive back any original documents you submitted with the Notice

You tell them you’re there and then wait to be processed. The office was not busy and we waited about 10 minutes. The actual processing took about 15 minutes.

Assuming you opted for a marriage registry, on the day of the marriage arrive there at least 15 minutes early with two witnesses and all your passports. They’ll check all the details again and take payment for the ceremony (HKD 715 at the time of writing). The ceremony is conducted by a Registrar and an assistant in a large plain room with seating for about 40 guests. It’s all over in 10 minutes which leaves a few minutes for you to take some photos before they kick you out for the next one.

You get one original marriage certificate. If you want certified copies you can buy them after the ceremony from the admin desk where they checked your details and took the fee. Each copy was HKD 280 if requested immediately after the ceremony. If you request copies later you’ll have to pay a search fee too. Copies can be collected in person from the City Hall marriage registry. Normal processing is at least seven days. After I explained we weren’t going to be there for another seven days they agreed to next day collection instead (at no extra charge). If you want to get the original or any certified copies Apostilled you can request that at the High Court next door to the Government Office building where you went two days previously. The Apostille service usually takes two working days and costs HKD 125 per document. I asked nicely and they agreed to try for, and did provide, next day service.

How long do you need to be in Hong Kong for?
You can do everything in a week. We arrived in Hong Kong on a Sunday afternoon. We did the paperwork at Government Office on Monday morning. Got married on Wednesday morning. Collected certified copies of the marriage certificate on Thursday morning and took them to the High Court to be Apostilled. Collected the Apostilled copies just after 12:00 on Friday on the way to the airport and left Hong Kong that afternoon.

How much did it cost?
About USD 2000 including

  • notary fees for the application
  • application fee
  • visa fee
  • return flights from Cambodia
  • 5 nights accommodation on Hong Kong island, about 20 minutes from the Government Office and City Hall marriage registry
  • marriage fee
  • certificate copies and apostille
  • food and transport

Obviously flights, accommodation, food and transport will vary but USD 2000 is about the minimum you could get married for.

What about witnesses?
You need to bring two witnesses to the ceremony and they need to bring either Hong Kong ID cards or their passports. Easy if you know two people in Hong Kong, or take two people with you. On the day before our marriage I asked random people if they’d like to be witnesses for us the next morning until I found two who said yes.

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