I got married at Cotton Tree Drive Registry Office in Hong Kong Park because, back then, outside of a licensed place of worship, Cotton Tree Drive was quite simply the prettiest place to legally get married in Hong Kong. Then, in 2006 the Government decided that it would no longer restrict people to choosing between getting married in a place of worship or a characterless registry office, but that it 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.
The Legal Stuff
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 are under 21 years old, guardian or parental approval is required. And you and your partner must not be too closely related by blood.
The marriage can take place in a government registry office with a Registrar of Marriages officiating, in a licensed place of worship with a ‘competent minister’, or any other location in the territory of Hong Kong in the presence of an appointed civil celebrant.
There are three stages to getting married:
- Giving notice of your intention to marry
- You can lodge the Notice either by yourselves, or through a civil celebrant. A government fee of $305 is due. If one partner can’t make it, that’s fine because at this stage, only one person needs to sign the Notice.
- The date of giving Notice is important as you are required to get married within three months of giving the Notice, but you can’t get married until you have your Certificate of Registrar of Marriages which you will not receive until the 17th day after lodging your Notice, assuming there are no objections. Adding another layer of number crunching, you can only book your appointment to give the Notice no earlier than the 12 clear working days before your intended Notice date.
- If you are planning to have your wedding in one of the five marriage registries there is less flexibility as you are required to make your appointment within the 14 days before the 3-month period before the date of marriage. Visit the government website for examples and to access a tool where you can type in your intended wedding date and get the earliest booking date. You can also check availability at the marriage registries.
- You can book by telephone (+852 3102 3883) or online, and submit your data at the same time to save time in the appointment.
- A celebrant will look after all this for you, at a fee.
2. Collecting your Certificate of Registrar of Marriages
- 15 clear days after the Notice has been given at the marriage registry, and assuming there are no objections, the Certificate of Registrar of Marriages can be collected.
- If you are getting married in a licensed place of worship, you will normally need to obtain the Certificate of Registrar of Marriages yourselves and hand it over to the place of worship so they can prepare the marriage certificate.
3. The Marriage ceremony
- The marriage ceremony has three statutory components which must be witnessed by two witnesses: the celebrant’s reminder of the binding nature of the marriage contract; the couple’s vows, which must at least include the statutorily required phrases, and the signing of the marriage certificate in duplicate by the bride, groom, two witnesses, and the celebrant. That’s it. The groom may now kiss the bride.
Choosing the Magical Spot
Marriage Registry – Getting married at a marriage registry is one of the more economical ways to get married with fees of only $715 during normal office hours, and $1,935 on Saturday afternoons or Sundays.
The downside is that you are truly processed, with marriages taking place every 15 minutes or so. You are also limited by location as Hong Kong only provides five marriage registry offices where you can get married, namely, City Hall, Tsim Sha Tsui, Sha Tin, Tuen Mun, and Cotton Tree Drive, although at the time of writing, Cotton Tree Drive is undergoing refurbishment.The registry offices themselves are quite small, so you can only invite a limited number of guests. When booking your appointment to give Notice, you will be given a priority number, and when giving Notice you will be able to select the exact time and registry office.
After the ceremony it’s up to you whether you head on down to McDonald’s, or arrange for limo transfer to your wedding party at The Peninsula.
Place of Worship – 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 – we are a diverse culture after all. However, from a ‘getting married in a church’ perspective, if the last time you went to church was as a child, it is unlikely that you will be able to get married, or have your civil marriage blessed in a Christian church in Hong Kong without spending some time revisiting your Christian roots.
Unsurprisingly, the churches that we checked out require that at least one party, and sometimes both, are baptised, and at least one party is an active confirmed member in good standing of a Christian church in Hong Kong.
Fees are also steeper than a registry office wedding with Union Church charging $22,000 on weekdays, and $27,500 on public holidays. But you certainly have more space and a prettier ceremony.
Anywhere else in Hong Kong – A wedding officiated by a civil celebrant is 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 opulant venues. Or even outdoors.
The Government has provided a list of close to 2,000 appointed civil celebrants to choose from, but for more information on the ‘ins and outs’ of a celebrant-type wedding, we turned to Google and found Raymond Tse of Raymond T. L. Tse & Co, Solicitors who, having married nearly 500 couples in Hong Kong, is clearly a man of experience on these matters.
Tse explains the procedure, “The couple will usually come to my office where we’ll discuss the type of wedding ceremony they would like. I have a ‘suggested rundown’ list which can be used by the couple to help plan their wedding ceremony, but it is only a guide. Every culture has different traditions, and it’s not just the difference between religious traditions; North Americans do things differently to their British cousins with the groomsmen and bridesmen entering in pairs, whereas in British tradition, the groomsmen wait at the front of the room with the groom.”
Whatever the tradition, there are three statutory elements to the marriage ceremony that must be included, which are the reminder by the celebrant of the solemn and binding character of the marriage, the vows between the groom and bride, and the signing of the marriage certificate.
“Some people have three pages of vows, most have a lot less, but the couple must include the statutory phrases for the marriage to be valid,” says Tse.
Although couples have the opportunity to get married anywhere, Tse explains that most people get married in a hotel or restaurant. However, he has officiated at ceremonies that have been held in more unusual locations, including a helicopter. “As interesting as the idea sounds, the ‘venue’ is tightly packed and everyone is strapped in, wearing a helmet, and talking through an intercom,” he comments.
Tse also tells of several outdoor weddings, including a damp wedding on the promenade at Repulse Bay where the viola player played on bravely through the shower, and the bride sheltered under a clear umbrella so the photographer could still get his shots.
Talking of aesthetics, Tse’s wedding kit includes a fabulous white feather pen for the signing of the marriage certificate, and a shiny official seal. “The photographers love the props,” he says.
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 or both couples live abroad. Tse explains that although there is a lot of paperwork, and the overseas couple must make use of a notary public to get documents validated, it is possible to organise a marriage for a couple residing abroad. Experience has made Tse wise, so he has prepared a detailed checklist with images highlighting exactly where the overseas couple should sign before the notary public. “Mistakes can be very costly in terms of time,” he warns.
Couples might worry that their celebrant will not have a passion for the job, but it is evident that some civil celebrants have embraced the role, stopping just short of being wedding planners.
Read more! Explore our Affairs of the Heart section, and discover the best date spots, the benefits of matchmaking services, how to get married overseas, and more.