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.
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.
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!
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!
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. 🙂
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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)!