Header image courtesy of Samantha Gades (via Unsplash)
Originally published by Julie Magno. Last updated by Celia Lee.
In the past, people could only get married in a licensed place of worship or a registry office for their marriage to be acknowledged by law. In 2006 though, the government decided that it would no longer restrict people to choosing between getting married in these two places but would “outsource” the business of legalising marriages to civil celebrants.
Today, if you pay your celebrant enough, you could tie the knot (literally) at the top of Lion Rock, on a deserted beach in Sai Kung, or even in a helicopter. Wherever your heart takes you, the logistics of legally getting married in Hong Kong are relatively straightforward, it’s just the extras of your own choosing that can make getting married take on the dimensions of a full-scale Hollywood production. Or not.
You do not need to be a resident of Hong Kong to get married here. You do need to be over 16 years old, and the union must be between an unmarried man and woman. If you’re under 21 years old, guardian or parental approval is required.
The marriage can take place in a government registry office officiated by a Registrar of Marriages. If your ceremony is going to be in a licensed place of worship, a “competent minister” must be present. In any other location in the territory of Hong Kong, the presence of an appointed civil celebrant is required.
Now that you know the basis of getting married in Hong Kong, let’s run through three key stages.
This notice can be lodged by the couple or through a civil celebrant. Only one partner needs to be present at the signing but of course, it would be nicer if you were both present. You can’t get married until you have your Certificate of Registrar of Marriages, which will be issued 17 days after you lodge your notice. Once you have it, you will need to get married within three months but at least 15 days after receiving the certificate. With all this number crunching, be sure to plan your big day with a clear head!
If there are no objections, your Certificate of Registrar of Marriages can be collected at least 15 days after the notice has been given at the marriage registry. If you are getting married in a licensed place of worship, you will normally need to obtain the certificate personally instead of through a celebrant and hand it over to your place of worship of choice, so they can prepare your marriage certificate.
Your ceremony has three statutory components that must be observed by two witnesses: the celebrant’s reminder of the marriage contract’s binding nature, the couple’s vows (which must include the statutorily required phrases), and finally, the signing of the marriage certificate in duplicate by the bride, groom, the two witnesses, and the celebrant.
That’s it. The groom may now kiss the bride.
As we’ve mentioned, you can get married in more places than just the marriage registry or a place of worship. So, which should be your magical spot?
Marriage registries are perfect for quick and economical registrations. Marriages usually take place every 15 minutes or so, you would be limited to the number of guests you can have at the ceremony, but getting married at registries does help you save up for that long-awaited honeymoon, as fees are usually much lower.
If you’re set on getting married in a registry, you will be given a priority number when you book an appointment to give notice, and when you’re giving notice, you can select the exact time, date, and registry office for your ceremony. After the ceremony it’s up to you whether you head down to McDonald’s or arrange for limo transfer to your wedding part at The Peninsula.
If you are practising any particular religion, it’s likely that you already know, or can easily find out, the rules and guidelines for getting married in your faith. It’s certainly beyond the scope of this article to cover every religious option in Hong Kong, as we are a diverse culture after all.
But if you are considering a church wedding, remember that at least one party (sometimes both) should be baptised, and at least one party is an active confirmed member in good standing of a Christian church in Hong Kong. Expect the fees to be steeper than a registry office wedding, but you do get more space and a prettier ceremony.
A wedding officiated by a civil celebrant is by far the most flexible option as the couple can choose any location, from a simple wedding ceremony at the celebrant’s office to a grand affair at any one of Hong Kong’s more opulent venues or even outdoors.
Besides flexibility in planning your wedding, a good civil celebrant can also make things easier for the couple as the celebrant’s office will submit the forms and cross-check the certificates before the ceremony. This assistance can also come in handy if one party or the couple live abroad. Yes, it is possible to organise a marriage for a couple residing abroad, although you need to be prepared for the amount of paperwork lining up for you.
Finally, before we send you off on your wedding planning extravaganza, here are a few useful tips to keep in mind.