After moving to the UK from China to study at the University of Birmingham and then working in Birmingham for the year afterwards, I had grown to like the UK. I had also fallen in love and formed a strong relationship with someone from the UK and after he proposed to me on a holiday to China we decided that the time was right for us to married.
We had planned to get married at the Birmingham Registry Office and had given our ‘notification of intent to marry’. To get married in the UK, you need to give the ‘notification of intent to marry’ twenty-eight days before arranging a date for the marriage with the registry office. Unfortunately, halfway through our notice period my Tier 5 Internship Visa was revoked. The company that had sponsored me after I had finished studying had had their sponsorship license revoked. This meant I had to return to China almost immediately and we didn’t want to be apart and so we decided to both go to China and get married.
My hometown of Anqing is a city of around 800,000 people in Anhui province. Normally the process of getting married in China is fairly simple and involves bringing the family hukou book to the local registration office. After doing some research I found out that marrying a foreigner is not as straight-forward and that you have to go to a special registration office in the provincial capital which for me meant going to Hefei. When going to the registration office in Hefei, a certificate proving that the foreigner is single must be presented. This meant that my fiancé and I had to make a trip to the British Consulate in Shanghai before we went on to Hefei to swear an Affidavit that he was single.
We had to book the appointment at the consulate which was easily done on the uk.gov website a few days before we went. It was located in the centre of Shanghai, near a metro stop and so was easily accessible. After going through a tight security check we were brought to a waiting room which was eerily empty. The one member of staff sat behind a large glass window talking to the only other person apart from us. We waited for about ten minutes until the staff member called my finance over. She checked the forms that he had prepared and then disappeared behind a door for five minutes. She then returned with a print out of a statement for my fiancé to read out as she held it against the glass screen. He read the statement and after he paid ¥500 he was given a stamped piece of paper to prove that he was single. We asked the staff member if we would require anything else when we got to Hefei and reassuringly she said that this is all that we would need.
On the train journey to Hefei we were full of excitement, finally ready to get married after all the visa issues we had faced. Contrary to the process in the UK, we did not need to give notification of intent to marry or even book an appointment at the registry office, all we needed to do was show up on the day. The morning after we arrived in Hefei, we got a taxi to the registry office which was located in the north-east of the city. The building itself looked like any other on the street, and after confirming with the security guard that this was actually the correct place, we went upstairs. The room was full of couples, waiting their turn to get married. There was one member of staff sat behind the desk, responsible for checking paperwork and issuing certificates, after a few minutes waiting, our turn arrived, and the guy asked both of us to fill in a form and hand over the relevant documents. We obliged and he told us to come back in about half an hour.
Rather than sitting in the waiting room, we decided to venture out to find coffee, not knowing if our social status was still single or married. After toasting our marriage with slightly cold Americanos in the local Starbucks, we headed back. In the waiting room, the atmosphere was low key in contrast to the excitement we were feeling. My fiance commented that it felt more like a doctors than a place to get married. We went back to the desk and the staff member promptly handed us our two certificates and proclaimed that we were officially husband and wife. We had been hoping that there might be a place to take official picture of us on our wedding day, however we found out this was not the case. We noticed a another couple sat there waiting and decided to ask them to take a picture of us. Their faces lit up and after taking our picture they asked if we could do the same for them. Despite the atmosphere in the waiting room maybe we weren’t the only ones who felt excited after all.
After everything, we were eventually married and able to start our life together. We had been expecting the process of getting married in China to be more complicated especially given the long process we had researched in the UK. Although it was a bit underwhelming on the day, we were finally married and ready to start our life together.