Monday, October 19, 2009

Getting Married - The Vietnamese Way

I'm sure you've all been eagerly waiting my long overdue post and finally my writing inspiration has returned! For all of you single guys, and girls, who fancy a trip over to Vietnam, end up falling in love and staying, here is a guide on how to get married in this wonderful country!

For those of you I've kept in touch with a little better than others, you'll know that I'm technically married, even though we haven't actually celebrated our wedding party. How can that be? I hear you ask....Well, let me tell you!

In Vietnam, there are 2 steps to the marriage process. One is the legal side, which goes through the local courts, and the 2nd stage is having the family ceremony (wedding party from now on), where the family officially recognise the joining of the families and the new son/daughter in law is accepted into the family. As not to tempt fate, I'll write about the legal side today, and the wedding party with pictures, shall appear in the next couple of weeks.

So the legal stuff. This was rather tiresome but as I don't speak much Vietnamese, most the pressure was on my wife. On the face of it, the list of documents required didn't appear to strenuous, but I forgot about one thing, this aren't as easy as they first appear.

The list comprised of:

1) Single Papers - stamped by the British Embassy
2) A Mental Health Check - issued by a hospital
3) Marriage Application and Fee
4) Certificated Copy of my passport and Visa
5) Proof of address in VN

So, first of all I went to the British Embassy to ask them for a form, I filled it out, I pay the fee and true to their word I received my single papers 3 weeks later. Simple. Great. Next I needed a mental health check. When I say mental health check what I mean is go to a hospital and answer a few questions after paying the nice doctor a couple of quid. So, we rock up at hospital and the doctor asks my name (toughie) and then for my address. So far 100% . Then my occupation... I'm on a roll! 3 from 3. Then the check my mental state....'Do you like beer?'. I'm stomped! How do you answer that question. Several answers went through my head:

1) Well dur, I'm British - What do you think?
2) No, I'm tea total
3) I think the occasional pint at the weekend

I'll go for 3, correct, I passed!

The certified copy of my passport and proof of address were 5 minute affairs. In VN your landlord/lady is required to keep a book of tenants and she had it, so that was the matter of a phone. The passport copy was also easy. Hanh took my passport to the solicitor and got it copied and stamped. Now in the UK this would cost about £70. In Vietnam it cost £1. Bargain, I'll take 5.

So the final part was the Marriage Application. Firstly, to apply you needed all of the afore mentioned documents, which we now had. I also needed numerous passport photos. This form needed to be filled out correctly to the letter. When I say to the letter, if you used a correction pen to correct something and the clerk noticed, you'd have to fill it out again, unless of course you paid a small fee. Now, I don't like paying for anything, so again we filled out the form. 5 times in the end. And when I say we, I mean Hanh. But it was relatively painless.

We live in HCMC but Hanh's from a small town called Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta, 2.5 hours from the city. Hanh went to her hometown and filed the application. Now we had to wait for an appointment to be interviewed through the courts. Firstly they check the docs and once they're satisfied they're correctly completed, they invited us for interview. When invited, being a Government office, they told us when we had to go and it was anytime during the week, 9-5. At the time, I'd just started my new job and taking time off wasn't really on the cards. What to do! Well fortunately my school closed during that week because of H1N1 so someone was obviously taking care of me! On the Friday of that week we drove to Ben-Tre for an interview. Firstly, Hanh's dad was interviewed. I'm not sure what about. Presumably about his daughter and about my frequent visits to their home. Then Hanh was interviewed about our relationship and myself likewise (with the help of a translator who didn't appear to speak that much English, certainly not enough to understand what I said - God knows how she translated). I kinda liked the process to stop false marriages but at the time it was a bit annoying. It was the final test....had we passed.

You might think I'm being a touch sarcastic but I'm not. It was an anxious month wait. I'd heard stories of marriage between Vietnamese and Vietnamese let alone Vietnamese wuth a foreigner being denied so it certainly wasn't a foregone conclusion. However, one month later we received a call inviting us to Ben-Tre to sign our marriage certificate. We were legally married, but not so in the eyes of the family. For that we needed the wedding party and family ceremony which I'll write about soon.

This is the process as it should be. However I've heard horror stories from others. We managed to get everything through first time without meeting any obstacles or corruption from greedy officials. Others haven't been quite so lucky and have spent a lot of time and money trying to get to this stage. It took us about 3 months and that's pretty swift to collect the documents together and the interviews over and done with.

I started writing this in September and finished today (Feb 21st) so we've been through the whole process. The legal side is a pretty simple process which has been made difficult by bureaucracy and the unavoidable human elements. However, it's not as complex as it first appears. Let's hope marriage is so simple!!!

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