The Complete Guide to International Marriage in Korea

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The Complete Guide to International Marriage in Korea

How did we do that? Here’s your copy of The Complete Guide to International Marriage in Korea

On March 29, 2015, I became a wife to somebody, and I gained a husband and a family. I’m officially a married lady now. Even with a wedding band on the fourth finger on my left hand, I still can’t quite grasp that fact. I guess little Jiyeon never saw this day coming.

Since Stephen and I are from two different countries, the wedding preparation was a bit different from other couples’. Combining two cultures was definitely one of the hardest things to go through. Thankfully, we both have generous, loving, and supportive families. However the paperwork to become a married couple was a bit hard to follow. So I decided to make a complete guide on what we did, for future Korean/ non-Korean couples.
 

Stephen and his two dads

Stephen and his two dads


 

First, the rule of all cultures: seek permission from the father of the (hopefully) bride-to-be

This is a crucial step if you (a foreign male) wish to marry a Korean woman. Asking the father’s permission is important in many cultures, but in this case, especially if the bride’s family is conventional, can be a lot harder than you imagined. Fathers are protective of their daughters. Even now, in the 21st century, the opinion of older males (fathers, older brothers, or even younger brothers) in the family is not to be disobeyed. They have actual power to break up the couple. They just want to make sure their daughters won’t have a difficult marriage by asking many (sometimes inappropriate!) questions. It’s important not to make an enemy at this stage. It will be over soon. Focus on the prize!

 

Notify both families

Once you’ve got an affirmative “Yes”, now is the time to notify both families! I can hardly imagine life before Skype.
 

The wedding day!

The wedding day!


 

Decide the venue – set the date at the same time

There are many choices – school auditoriums, churches, professional wedding halls, hotels, and so on. But the important question is if you want a traditional Korean ceremony, or a western style one. Here’s the thing – couples do get married here with white dresses and tuxedoes. But the white dresses doesn’t mean anything significant in Korean culture. Girls don’t dream of getting married in the prettiest white dress and a veil whilst playing with their pillow cases. Nonetheless, I have to admit that brides in their wedding dresses are quite beautiful.

We chose Korea House because we wanted a traditional Korean wedding. Korea House is the best option if you are considering a traditional ceremony in Seoul. If the bride or groom is deeply involved with their alma mater, the school auditorium would be a fine option. But arranging food and interior decoration can be a hassle. Religious families always go with churches. For Western-style weddings, wedding halls and hotels are the two most popular options.

The wedding date might not be completely up to you. Korean weddings are not about ‘whatever the bride wants’. It’s more like asking everyone’s opinion and compromising. We had to change the date we’d discussed because of my brother, who was scheduled to leave to the U.S. in April. Because of his unique situation as an army officer, it would have been impossible for him to come for the wedding. In addition, depending on the month you want, the venue’s availability changes. Compromise!

 

Invite international guests

Notify your international guests – families and close friends. Assist them to get the cheapest tickets to fly halfway across the globe. We also introduced them to great guesthouses near my parents’ house. I highly recommend Birds Nest Hostel and Namu Guesthouse. Their rooms are clean, hosts are super friendly, and it’s conveniently located in Hongdae area!
 

With my friends!

With my friends!

Korean mineral water!

Korean mineral water!

 

Order the invitations – with time for a dozen edits

There are lots of places that make great wedding invitations. Wedding venues usually have affiliated greeting card companies. There are tons of designs that are already pre-made, but you can choose to customize the greetings. We were pretty happy with ours.

 

Hanbok fitting – both for traditional and Western-style weddings

A Hanbok fitting is one of the most important steps for a Korean wedding. Regardless of your ceremony style, you need to have a hanbok. For a traditional wedding, this hanbok will be the ceremonial dress.

Where to go to find this? There are more than enough places to make hanbok (i.e. Seoul – Jongro Gwangjang Sijang, Dongdaemun Sijang, etc.). The best is to find someone who knows someone. It’s always best to work with a friend – it means extra care and extra stuff!
 

Michael fitting for hanbok

Michael fitting for hanbok


 

For a traditional wedding, I strongly suggest getting a red skirt for the bride. Not only is it the traditional dress color for a wedding, but it also goes the best with the ceremonial cloak you’ll be wearing. The hanbok-makers can recommend great color schemes depending on your skin tone and figure. Listen to their words!

How about families? Do they wear a hanbok? It’s common for mothers to wear a hanbok, but fathers usually wear a suit. Some men don’t enjoy wearing hanbok with lots of colors. But in the case of a multi-cultural marriage, I recommend putting both families in hanbok (although only if they want!). It might be awkward and uncomfortable, but this is one of the ways of inviting them to share your culture. We had a long discussion about it for months, but finally both of our parents and even Stephen’s brother wore a hanbok. Everyone was happy with their decision.

We were VERY happy with the service we got from our hanbok maker (she is a friend of a friend). If you don’t have any connections, here is one of the best places you can go in Gwangjang Sijang. Tell her Jiyeon and Stephen sent you. 🙂
 

The day we officially registered for marriage

The day we officially registered for marriage


 

Getting married for real – don’t forget two witnesses

This is the tricky part. So here is the thing – if you are registered as a married couple in one country, it works anywhere in the world. A lot of people asked me the same question, and I myself did too before the research. Thanks to the internet and Stephen’s friend who works at the State Department of the US, we got some pretty good guidelines.

Getting married on paper doesn’t give citizenship automatically. Signing the paper means you’ll be a married couple with two different nationalities. If a couple wants to settle down in one of their home countries, the other has to get a residence permit (by marriage) which is well-known as a green card. Getting citizenship takes more time and paperwork. Often times, several interviews are involved (especially in the US). Since Korea doesn’t allow a double citizenship, I would have to drop my citizenship status as a Korean if I decided to gain U.S. citizenship. We haven’t made the decision yet.

a) Embassy

The first step you need to do is to go to the embassy of your home country in Korea, and get an “Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage”. This will prove that you are not married in your home country, and are eligible to get married. This is a requirement from the Korean government.

It sounds like a lot of work, but the process was actually breezy. This is how we did it at the U.S. embassy in Seoul:

First, make a reservation through their website. You can’t visit without a proof of appointment. The embassy’s work hours are different from normal offices, so be careful with the schedule (and public holidays!). Once you are at the office, you’ll fill out an “Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage” and pay $50 for the notarization. Then you have to take an oath in front of the representative of the embassy that you only spoke the truth. When he stamps the document, it’s an official document.

This document is only for proving that you’re eligible to get married, not the actual marriage license. The real registration has to be done in the local office.

b) Local office

Don’t forget:

1) A translated copy of the “Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage”
2) Two witnesses

Now, take the signed and stamped “Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage” to the local office for the real thing.

Any guchung (office of the administrative district of Seoul) will do (from the U.S. Embassy, Jongro-gu chung is nearby). One very important thing to bring is the translated copy of the “Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage”. Handwritten is fine, but it just has to be directly translated word by word. Remember to write everything (including names and addresses) in Korean.

Fill out the “Report of Marriage” form in Korean. Address and name also have to be written in Korean. If you have a middle name, it has to go on as a part of the first name (ask the staff). Here you need to put information of two witnesses. If you have their official stamps (it works as signature in Korea) and personal information, they don’t have to be present. We used my parents’ information and their stamps. A couple who weren’t prepared asked us to be their witnesses at the office. That also works.

 

Order wedding bands

We had simple gold rings with our names and the date written inside, so it would be easy to wear and travel. Local jewelry maker who has been known my mom for a long time helped us.

Except for making the arrangements, visiting relatives, sending out the invitations, and a million other things to do, the hard part is almost over.
 

Touring Seoul with the Bugnos!

Touring Seoul with the Bugnos!


 

Be a tour guide for the groom’s family and international guests

Stephen’s family was very much on board with our Seoul wedding. I’ll be forever grateful for that. They took weeks of their time to come visit us in Seoul. Stephen’s parents arrived two weeks before, and his brothers came five days before the wedding. Some of our good friends decided to fly in for the wedding from New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and LA. There are many others who wanted to be here but halfway across the world is quite far to travel. We prepared tour itineraries to show them the best of my hometown. There was another “Complete Guide” for our activities.

It was fun to show them my version of Seoul at its best.

 

Dinners with family and friends

Since we invited the Bugno family to the Land of Morning Calm, we hosted many dinners for them. It was first time the two families met, and it went very well, I might add. We had language barriers, but we were all happy with this wonderful occasion. I’m so lucky to have two loving families.
 

The night before the wedding

The night before the wedding


 

The wedding day

The big day! It flew by and we enjoyed every minute of it. The biggest focus for me was not to fall while bowing.
 

Wedding day photo with Stephen's family

Wedding day photo with Stephen’s family


 

Now all that’s left is our honeymoon and back to work, which I am now. Because we have two different nationalities and don’t have a home to settle down in, the preparation was a lot simpler than your average wedding. We didn’t need to register for wedding gifts and to decorate the house whilst preparing a wedding for 200 people. We will make a home eventually, but I’m happy it didn’t happen simultaneously.

Preparing a wedding between two cultures was definitely not easy. I was not only translating the languages, but also the culture. But we couldn’t have done it without our families and friends. Even though not everyone from the other side of the world could make it to the wedding, they’ve been sending their love, even ‘til now. It feels really good to realize how loved and fortunate we are.

 

I gave you the guide – now go get your Korean bride (or groom)!

 

Juno Kim
Juno Kim
Juno Kim, a happiness-seeking storyteller. Photographer, writer, and trained mechanical engineer. Life-long nerd. I left the cubic farm to follow my true love: the world. A firm believer of serendipity, astronomy enthusiaster, and living by passion and love in life. Currently, on a quest to discover stories and find the place where I can call 'home'. Follow my journey through @RunawayJuno and Google+ .

40 Comments

  1. This is so cute! Congratulations 🙂

  2. Priya says:

    Looks like one hell of a wedding! congrats, Juno!

  3. Carol says:

    Congratulations! My lovely niece married a Korean Man in Canada. They had the most beautiful wedding and now have two children. All the best to you!

    • Juno Kim says:

      Did they do the Korean traditional ceremony? Congratulations on their wedding, and marriage! 🙂

      • Carol says:

        Yes, they did. They had both on the same day. First the church wedding and then at the reception hall they had the Korean ceremony. It was exquisite. The only thing was, my sister (mother of the bride) refused to be carried piggyback by the groom – haha.

  4. What a great thorough list! I’m sure this will help others in the future.
    Congrats to you both – you both look over the moon happy and glowing. x

    • Juno Kim says:

      Thanks Colleen! It was a great ceremony. Short and sweet, and also it was quite meaningful for everyone. We were deep in our culture! 🙂 Good times.

  5. Oliver says:

    Congrats and best wishes to the both of you in your new union. I married my Korean wife 18 years ago in Malaysia and the process of registering the marriage with the Korean Embassy was relatively painless. Although the Embassy staff did mess up the Korean transliteration of my name and now I’m stuck with a rather weird name on the family register in Korea!

    • Juno Kim says:

      How did they mess up the name? I’m curious. 🙂 올리버 is the first name they wrote? It was fun and weird to write my husband’s name in Korean as well!

      • Oliver says:

        I don’t think there’s anyway around 올리버, which is accurate. It was my last name ‘Khaw’ (pronounced as kawr) that got mangled up. It should have been simply transliterated as “허”, which was what my wife wrote on the registration form but the lady at the Korean Embassy decided to replace it with “간우”. My wife was laughing hilariously when we first saw the family register, that it until she was reminded that she was in fact now Mrs.간우.

        • Juno Kim says:

          Hahaha! That’s indeed hilarious! 🙂 간우 is way off! But I’m sure she had a good reason. 간우 sounds like a name of an ancient warrior though!

  6. bob says:

    What is the process for getting your wife to take your last name in Korea ?

  7. Joe says:

    Hi Juno!
    I will be marrying a beautiful Korean woman in Sept of this year. We are in the process of trying to figure out all the small details of registering and visas and residency (oh my! ㅋㅋㅋ). I saw this super helpful post and thought maybe you could fill in the gaps if you would be so kind. =P

    Was you husband in Korea on a tourist or work visa?
    Did he need to get a wedding visa before you got married? Or just apply for a residence visa after the wedding?
    Also he got the affidavit of eligibility of marriage from his home embassy in Korea?

    Seems like either we’ve been given bad information or the law has changed in the last few months.
    I hope you can shed some light on an otherwise confusing and frustrating time.

    Thanks!

    • Juno Kim says:

      Hey Joe! Congratulations, and good luck! International marriage is not easy. 🙂 No, my husband never stayed in Korea extended time. I haven’t lived there for many years now. So he was always on a tourist visa. When we decide to settle down in Korea, he will have to get a residence visa. He got affidavit of eligibility at the US embassy in Seoul. In case of getting married in Korea, you don’t need a marriage visa, I don’t think. However if you are US citizen and want to marry in the US, and traveling to the US for the purpose of wedding, you need to get a special visa for that. We had our wedding in Seoul, so we didn’t need to get through that. Good luck! Hope this is helpful.

      • Joe says:

        Juno,
        Thank you so much for you’re help! Its really a relief not to worry about the marriage visa just yet.
        We will be marrying in Cheonan, so it looks like we will have the same conditions as you.
        Good luck to you and your new husband!
        Thanks again for your help!

  8. Joe says:

    Hi Juno!
    In Sept of this year I will be marrying a beautiful Korean woman (I’m obviously not Korean), and we have had a hard time trying to figure out the finer details of registering, and visas, and residency (oh my! kkk). I cam across your super helpful post and thought that maybe I could ask a couple questions that might help shed some light on an otherwise confusing and frustrating time if you would be so kind.. =P…

    Was your husband on a tourist or work visa when you married?
    Did he ever have to get a marriage visa? (I was under the impression we needed this before marrying)
    Did I understand you correctly when you said he got the affidavit of eligibility of marriage from his home embassy in Korea?
    Was there any issues about him needing a certificate of Korean ability?

    Sorry for all the questions, but we keep getting different information from different places. Being that you were just married, unless the law has changed in the last couple months, I think this little bit of information would be super helpful to many.

    Thanks!

  9. lois says:

    Hi! May I inquire how long does it take for two foreigners (non-Korean couple) to prepare for a civil wedding in Seoul? (While on vacation/tourist visa).
    Would 10 business days be enough? Thanks!

  10. Lahncey says:

    This was actually a lot of information. I am a Canadian and my Korean boyfriend and I are thinking of getting married. We currently both live and work in Canada but want to move to Korea. Any advice? would what you did work?

    • Juno Kim says:

      Hey Lahncey, since your boyfriend is Korean, there shouldn’t be any problem. I’m assuming the process is similar for you — going to the Canadian embassy in Korea and get the document (which proves you that you are not married anywhere else), and get “married” in the local office. Your embassy website should have all the info you need. Hope this helps!

  11. Richard says:

    Hi Juno. Someone asked this question and you didn’t answer it. how long does it take for two foreigners (non-Korean couple) to prepare for a civil wedding in Seoul? (While on vacation/tourist visa).
    Would 10 business days be enough? My girlfriend is an asylum seeker in Korea waiting for her case to be heard and i live in Denmark. Do you know any rules or regulation baring her from doing so?You may ask how we met, internet though we are originally from the same country. Thanks!

    • Juno Kim says:

      Hi Richard, a civil wedding in Seoul doesn’t take a long time to prepare. The ‘wedding’ itself doesn’t have any authority to announce your marriage like church weddings. The wedding is strictly ceremonial. What makes the marriage real is the paperwork which you have to do it through a local government office. If you prepare your paperwork right, you can do it in 10 days. If both of you are not Korean citizens, I’m not sure what you have to prepare. But in my husband’s case, he had to get the Affidavit of Eligibility of Marriage from the embassy in Seoul. So you might want to look into that. I wish you both good luck!

    • Kat says:

      Hi Richard,

      I’m interested in your case. We are also planning to get married while on a vacation. Do you have any information on this? Thanks!

  12. Sooj says:

    Hi Juno!
    Congratulation on your marriage – great pictures indeed!
    I’m getting married soon in Korea, to my fiance from the US. I started researching the procedures and paperwork for the marriage certificate and I found it quite confusing. It seems that my situation is very similar to yours. Please let me know if I listed it correctly here:

    1. Make an appointment with the US embassy in Korea and get an affidavit there. Notarize affidavit at the US Embassy (US 50$). Translate that into Korean (unofficial translation is acceptable).
    2. Go to city hall and fill out the form. Bring two witness or stamps/info instead. They will give you a receipt of the application.
    3. Wait for 3-5 days, then go back to the city hall, and pick up the marriage certificate. (Did you receive your certificate right away or did you have to wait?)
    4. Bring that document to the MOFA Apostille office in Jongno. They will Apostille it for you (Do you need to make an appointment for this? Or can I just walk in?)
    5. With the No. 4 document, you can go back to the US and start the I-130 petition. (Is this possible? Do I need anything else?)

    We have such short time in Korea and it is extremely important to us to have it all done while we were there (and squeeze in honeymoon somehow). Thanks a ton in advance.

    • Juno Kim says:

      Hey Sooj,

      Congratulations. Hope things are going well with you! Number 3, you don’t need to pick up anything. I actually got a text message that our marriage is now official. If you want you can get the official document at the office. All you said is correct, but I didn’t proceed the petition right away. We waited about 1.5 years because we didn’t need to have the US permanent resident for me at that point. But what you said is same as what I’ve heard.

      Hope you can make it all happen within time!

  13. Hayeon says:

    Dear Juno,

    Congratulations on your marriage! I would also like to thank you for putting up this helpful post to hopeful couples like me and my boyfriend.

    I just have a few questions and hope you can help us.

    1. Translation of Affidavit of Elgibility of Marriage

    Who can we approach to do the translation (English to Korean) in Korea? Are there such companies or ciuld I do it by myself if I feel competent about my Korean language? I am from Singapore and the original copy of Affidavit of Eligibility of Marriage will be in English.

    2. Residence Visa in Korea

    I understand after doing some research online that after the registration of marriage is completed at the local district office, I need to leave Korea and apply for the Korean Spouse Visa (F-6 Visa) at the Korean Embassy in Singapore.

    In the case of your husband, did he have to leave Korea and apply for the Spouse Visa in the Korean Embassy in US? This is pretty confusing and I hope you could share more detailed information with us.

    Thank you.

    • Juno Kim says:

      Hi Hayeon!

      Thank you for visiting! Good luck with your preparation. 🙂

      1. You can do it yourself, but make sure you translate word by word. They don’t want any mistake in there. You don’t need to approve the doc by someone else if you are confident!

      2. He didn’t need to leave but he doesn’t have a spouse visa. We travel often, we don’t have a house here, so we are currently staying via tourist visa. But yes, it is customary to leave the country if you want residence visa (same as employment visa).

      Hope this answers your question!

      Juno

    • pingo says:

      Hello

      I like to know what are the documents required for the marriage registration? I have the affidavit of marriage eligibility already, what else is required? Can I use my birth cert or passport is required?

      I am a singaporean by the way.. thanks and really hope to hear some comments so I know what to expect.

      Is the whole process fast or slow?

    • Pingo says:

      Hi. I’m from Singapore too. May I know which letter you get for the eligibility of marriage? Is it from ROM? (Paid service) I got mine from there and also got it notorized at ministry of foreign affairs. But there are some explanatory notes below the letter which I’m afraid will confuse the Korea people?
      Can shed some light please? Thanks! I just hope everything will go smooth!

  14. Jho says:

    Hi.. Can I ask some favor pls.? I don’t know what is the first thing to do in order to get married in korea I am a filipina.. My boyfriend can’t marry me here in Philippines that’s why we are planning to get marry in his country.
    Would you guide me for the process if you know? And is it allowed to get marry in korea but not yet married here in Philippines?
    Thank you.please reply me

  15. Tania says:

    Hello
    I hope everything is going ok and i send my best wishes on your future .
    I just wanted to ask how do you think the process goes as im Portuguese even though i live in UK but my passport is Portuguese and my boyfriend is korean …we live in England at the moment he is just studying but goes back next year because he has a studend visa and i want to go back with him so i need to take like a working holiday visa or something but in the future i would need a permanent visa but we are searching more about how to actually Get married as we are from different countries .
    Many thanks

    • Juno Kim says:

      Hey Tania, it depends on which country that you wish to get married. If you want to get married in Korea, then you can follow the process I mentioned here. But if you wish to get married in Portugal or in the UK, you will have to search for the information in each embassy. They will have a page about international marriage. In either case, it would be good to reference both Embassy of Korea and Portugal. Hope this helps!

  16. Melody says:

    Hi Juno,

    Thanks for sharing your journey! 🙂 It’s very detailed and I enjoyed reading about this. I found your blogs very useful as my boyfriend and I are looking into getting married. I’m currently residing in South Korea for work. I’m an American and my boyfriend is Korean. As far as going to the US Embassy, did you and your husband both have to be present there to fill out and obtain the Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage? Or would it just be me going there? Will I need to give or write down any information about his side of the family when filling out the form?

    Thanks a bunch! 🙂

    • Juno Kim says:

      Hi Melody, hope you are enjoying Korea! For getting the Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage, we went together because we were in Korea anyway. You need to make a reservation through the US Embassy website. I don’t think your boyfriend is required there but I could be wrong – please double check. The Affidavit of Eligibility itself doesn’t require any information about your boyfriend. It’s you, swearing in front of an official person from the US Embassy, that you are not married anywhere else. This document is required by Korean government. To officially register your marriage, you will have to go to a local office in Korea.

      If you are planning to move to the US with your boyfriend (future husband), this might help you: http://runawayjuno.com/runaway-tips/guide-international-marriage-us/

      Hope it helps!

      • Melody says:

        Hi Juno,

        Yesss! I love Korea! I’m actually planning to stay for another year. I’m currently working in Jinju and in September, I’ll be moving to Bucheon! Much closer to Seoul and boyfriend! 🙂

        Thanks for info! I was able to make an appointment to visit the Embassy! Do you know how long the Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage is valid for? We were looking to marry in Aug and my appointment at the Embassy is the end of June.

        Oh, also…when I bring the notarized form and translated version to the local office, will he need to bring an documents.

        Sorry, one more question! Lol! It’s probably a silly question, but the day that we plan to register our marriage, that’s the day we are officially married?

        I read your other blog post on the steps to apply for the visa! We’re not sure yet about moving to America or staying in Korea. He definitely wants to move, but he’s a little hesitant because he needs to improve his English more to find a job in the field he’s working in.

        Thanks again, Juno! Hope you’ll have a great week ahead!

        • Juno says:

          Hey Bucheon is not bad! 🙂 I’m sure the validity of the document is long but you might want to double check. They should say something at the embassy’s website. But two months should be okay.

          Tell him he doesn’t need to ‘pay’ someone to translate and notarize his documents. A lot of people say he will have to have someone ‘official’ to do the translation but all he needs is add a line at the end of each document that he is confident that this translation is correct. Have him email me and I will send him the template of those documents (marriage relation document, basic certificate, family relation certificate, etc.).

          Yes, the date you are registered at the local office is the official marriage date by the document. Our ‘wedding’ is strictly ceremonial. There’s no religious aspect to it in Korea.

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