You bought the ring, you popped the question, you asked the parents and they told you that Aunt Bertha would be happy to sing at the event. Everything is going as it should – well except for that Aunt Bertha thing. As you happily stroll down the path, patting yourself on the back for being so organized your soon to be spouse smiles up at you and says “So this is going to be a fantastic party but do we have to do something to make this legal?” Legal? Oh man. You hadn’t thought of that. You were so focused on the party you forgot that marriage is actually a legal contract. It’s not really a marriage if it’s not legally registered with the state.
So now you’re in a panic… how do I make this legal! You try to think fast. You would ask your friend, cousin, aunt or sibling but they all got married back in the states and you’re fairly certain that as an American in a foreign country the process is probably going to be different. Fortunately for you the American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy has some information for you.
The first thing you should know is that the United States is a bit different than many other countries. Most countries, Korea included, have a central registry for vital documents like births and marriages. These centralized registries maintain all sorts of vital statistics about the citizens of that country. In Korea for example, information about when a person was married or when a child was born is all maintained by the ward offices. In the United States the Federal Government does not maintain records of these vital statistics. Maintenance of these records is the responsibility of the individual states and territories that make up the USA. So in the United States if you want to get married in Virginia you need to get a marriage license from the state of Virginia and after you’re married you need to register your marriage with the state of Virginia. If in the future you want a copy of your marriage certificate you’ll need to request a certified copy from the State of Virginia. The Federal Government does not have this information.
The second thing you need to know is that most countries in the world, the United States and Korea included, give full faith and credit to each other’s vital records documents. So… if you get married in Korea you are married in Korea, the United States, Greece, and just about everywhere else. Once you’re married, you’re married…. Everywhere (or most places)! As I regularly reminded my husband after our wedding in Greece, once we filed the official registration we were married everywhere and forever! No escape!
So keeping the above in mind, what do you need to do to get married in Korea? Because you’re a U.S. citizen you’ll need to come to either the U.S. Embassy or your U.S. military legal office (if you work for U.S. Forces Korea) and obtain an affidavit of eligibility to marry. The Korean ward office (guchung) requires this document of U.S. citizens because we have no federal marriage registry in the United States. If you were a Korean citizen the ward office would just look up in their central database and verify that you have never been married before. Since no such database exists in the U.S., the Korean government accepts a notarized statement from you swearing to the fact that you’re not currently married. If you’ve been married before you’ll need to bring proof that your previous marriage has been terminated, which usually means presenting a certified copy of your divorce decree(s) so we can see that you’re indeed eligible to get married.
Once you have the affidavit of eligibility to marry you’ll need to go to a Korean ward office and get married. The ward office will hand you a document in Korean – this document is your official Marriage Certificate(Verification of Registration of Marriage). CONGRATULATIONS!!! You’re now married. In Korea, in the US, everywhere!!! That’s all there is to it. Nothing more required for your legal marriage.
The “Verification of Registration of Marriage ” document will be in Korean. If you need to have the “Verification of Registration of Marriage” document translated into English and notarized, please note that the Embassy cannot provide this service. The Korean Government will apostille marriage documents at their MOFAT Annex located near the Embassy.
Please contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Republic of Korea directly for more information on Apostille.
So that’s it. You are married and you have the paperwork you need. See… getting “legally” married in Korea as a foreigner wasn’t that difficult! Now you can relax and enjoy that happy newly married glow…. Well at least until you forget the date of your anniversary!