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Family Members and Marriage for Expats in China

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2013

Family Members

Ideally, when you immigrate to another country, you are able to bring your partner and children with you at the same time. If this is not financially or otherwise possible, you may need to spend some time working in China, and possibly sending money to your home country to help support your family. Once you have started to familiarise yourself with China, and found some suitable family accommodation, and perhaps looked into schools and such things, you may find it easier to move the rest of your family into the country.

The visa you will require to visit or live long-term with a family member in China is a Q1 or Q2. The Q1 visa is for people coming to China to live permanently, with either a Chinese national or a foreigner who has acquired permanent residence. The Q2 visa is similar but is for short-term visits.

If you have children of school age, you may need to obtain X (student) visas to allow them to study at a Chinese school. This depends on which region of China you are in. Most larger cities have international schools, but these can be expensive. Chinese schools tend to have classes of 50 students or more, but putting your children in such a school will give them the opportunity to learn Mandarin and make adapting to the local culture easier.

In northern China, your health and especially your children’s is a concern. The air in the major cities in the north of the country (north of the Huai River, a tributary of the Yellow River) is highly polluted in the winter, mostly because citizens are given free coal to burn. Smog was problematic in Beijing in 2002 when the current writer lived there, and it has certainly multiplied since then (as has public dissatisfaction about it.) Wearing face masks in Beijing and other northern cities is common and may be worth considering.


The minimum age limit for marriage in China is unusual in that it is 22 for a man and 20 for a woman. If you want to marry a Chinese national in China, the documents you need will depend on your home country. At minimum, you will need a Marriageability Certificate and a Certificate of Marriage. Before you can obtain the former, you will need to stay in China for at least 21 consecutive days if you do not hold a residence permit.

The Marriageability Certificate, which you can apply for at your nearest embassy or consulate, is a document that certifies that you are not married, i.e. single, divorced or widowed. You must provide a Chinese translation of the Certificate; this can be provided by a notary at a government office. In addition to your passport and your partner’s ID card and regional residence permit (hukou), you will need to provide notarised evidence that you are not currently married. This may include divorce papers or your late spouse’s death certificate.

Once you have obtained your Marriageability Certificate, you need to apply for a Marriage Certificate at a Marriage Registration Office in the city where your partner’s hukou was registered. Note that most of these offices are only open on weekdays. To complete the registration process, you need to take three photos of you and your partner together, fill in some forms and answer some short questions. You are then each presented with a Marriage Certificate. The actual wedding celebration, which can last up to three days, normally comes later.

If neither you nor your fiancé(e) holds a Chinese residence permit, getting married in Mainland China is technically a legal possibility but is hardly ever done. It may be slightly easier in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, but generally it is advisable not to bother due to the red tape involved. Bear in mind that Hong Kong and Macau are far more accommodating to engaged couples.




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