No matter where you are in the world, getting married is a big to-do. In Korea, however, the experience is different in many ways but, it’s also very much the same in others.
Of course, you have to get a bridal gown, groom’s suit, and rings, but there are slightly different customs, many of which focus on children.
This guide will dig into how to get married in Korea for foreign nationals. While there are plenty of excellent reasons to get married there, there are several pitfalls in doing so.
If you want to tie the knot, especially with a spouse who’s Korean, consider the following discussion before you begin planning your special day.
Organizing a Korean wedding is no easy task. If you peruse individual experiences through online forums and social media pages, there are some horror stories.
But, if done correctly, it can truly be a magical event, not only for the bridal couple but also the couple’s family and friends.
Overview of How to Get Married in Korea
Having a successful wedding in Korea means educating yourself on all the major aspects as best you can outside of what your Korean spouse, friends and in-laws provide.
It means understanding the legal requirements around getting married along with traditional customs.
We will give an overview and discuss the following components:
- Legal Documentation
- Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage
- Other Documentation
- The Type of Wedding
- Ceremony & Customs to Observe
- Length of Time
- Deciding on the Right Venue
- Parking Is Important
- Guest Numbers Influence Venue
- Consider a Wedding Planner
- Food Service
- The Importance of Photography
- What to Look for in a Photographer
- Taking Care of All the Guests
- Keeping Overseas Guests Occupied
- Seating Arrangements
- What to Wear
- Covering the Bride & Groom
- Wedding Garb
- When It’s All Over
- Grand Total of a Korean Wedding
The most important and pertinent aspect to getting married in Korea is acquiring a marriage certificate.
For foreigners wishing to wed a Korean national, they have to show proof of their home country and identity. So, a passport and birth certificate will be crucial.
Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage
Also, an “Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage” is a requirement for the foreigner. This comes from the home-country consulate, where they issue and notarize it.
If the foreign national has a criminal history in Korea or their home country, they may not be able to get married in Korea. While there are some exceptions, it is the general rule.
Then, most foreigners will have to submit their affidavit to various institutions in their home country.
This may require obtaining a translation of it. The good news is you can have anyone proficient at both Korean and English do it – they don’t have to be certified and there are no legal requirements.
You may also have to provide other documentation depending on previous marriages and ages of the bridal couple.
For instance, you will have to demonstrate your current marital status in the event you had a previous marriage. This means you must submit a certified and sealed copy of your divorce decree.
Additionally, if either person is underage – in accordance with the laws of their country, then there must be evidence of parental consent for the marriage.
In South Korea, anyone under 20 years old must get parental approval prior to getting married.
The Type of Wedding
Once all the documentation is in place and good to go, you then must decide on the type of wedding you want.
For international marriages, there are abundant questions you need to answer together as a couple. Then you have to balance that with the wishes of the Korean national’s family.
This is because weddings in Korea are a highly revered event that bases heavily on familial hierarchy. While some families are more liberal, others are very traditional.
So, it’s imperative you find a balance between the desires of the kind of wedding you want with the requests of older Korean in-laws.
Ceremony & Customs to Observe
For weddings including a foreign national, it’s not uncommon to have a blend of both traditional Korean customs and foreign marriage conventions.
But, if budget is a pressing factor, then people will do something understated, keeping it straight and simple.
Most Korean weddings will incorporate a concept called, “Pyebaek.”
This is when the bride presents the groom’s parents with jujubes and chestnuts, symbolizing the idea of children. Some variations consist of giving cups of wine or Soju (distilled rice spirit).
Here the bride gives the cup to the father of the groom and the groom gives the cup to the mother of the bride.
Jujubes and chestnuts are a big deal at many traditional Korean weddings.
Sometimes, the groom’s parents will throw these at the bridal couple in the same way Westerners throw rice. It’s an act of fertility, wishing the newlyweds healthy offspring.
Length of Time
Most Korean weddings take place in a gorgeous hall and the whole ordeal lasts only two hours. This includes the ceremony, food and other customs.
Wealthier couples will have a swankier hall with a longer ceremony.
In the event friends and family will be flying into Korea from other parts of the world, then a two-hour shindig will not be worth their time.
The speed will be shocking and it will leave guests with much to desire.
Therefore, you may want to opt for something that will take a little longer, like in a church or hotel.
Deciding on the Right Venue
However, the wedding hall option is the least expensive when compared to a hotel or restaurant. Their business is weddings, so they put on about three or four per day.
They know how to make a wedding run smoothly, knowing exactly what to anticipate and expect.
But, it stands to note that hotels often give big discounts when you book your wedding along with rooms at their establishment.
Weddings at a church or temple are often quite inexpensive, but prices vary and depend on whether you’re a member or not.
Parking Is Important
One of the most important aspects to selecting the right venue is ensuring there’s plenty of accessible parking for your guests.
You will put a major burden on your Korean wedding-goers if parking is sparse. Also, it should be at a location that’s easy to find and access, especially for overseas guests.
Guest Numbers Influence Venue
Additionally, you will need a concise estimate of how many guests you expect. This will influence the venue you’re able to get and the price.
Most can accommodate 100 to 150 people since that is the usual number. If you have more than that, you will have to do a detailed dig into several venues.
Consider a Wedding Planner
But it may be best to also hire the help of a wedding planner. While it will make things a little more expensive, they will take care of everything you’re going to need.
This is ideal, especially if the non-Korean of the bridal couple doesn’t speak Korean very well.
You’ll only have to talk to one person and they’ll be able to speak English (or another language).
If you and your spouse-to-be are having a difficult time making solid wedding plans, there are wedding expos and shows throughout Korea.
Not only can you find a potential venue, but also wedding planners, photographers, ateliers, jewelers, caterers, florists and etc.
The next order of business in planning your special day is deciding on food.
This will impinge on the venue, the kind of wedding you’re going to have and the dietary requirements of your guests.
Ceremonies that are more casual have a Korean BBQ buffet and others offer a restaurant-style fixed menu. This is also true of drinks and cocktails.
The Importance of Photography
While photography is a very important facet to getting married anywhere in the world, it takes particular importance in Korea.
You will need to have a pre-wedding photoshoot along with devising a schedule for picture taking on the big day.
The worst thing anyone can do for their wedding, especially if they’re going all out, is to cheap out on the photographer.
Finding the right one can be like a needle in a haystack, especially if you are not privy to what defines “good” photographs.
What to Look for in a Photographer
Your potential photographer should have some experience photographing weddings, with a plethora of samples to peruse.
They should be able to define their price tiers on the spot along with providing the means and methods for getting your photos to you.
These can be actual prints, digital files or some other arrangement.
When you go to your pre-wedding photo shoot, most studios/artists include the price of wedding costume rental.
This means you’ll be taking these pictures in outfits that will be different from what you’ll actually get married in.
Some couples see this as adding some excitement and dynamism, while others find it awkward.
Taking Care of All Guests
Because your guests are a major focus of the wedding, you will have to make massive arrangements for them. This will be especially true for the family of the foreigner coming in from faraway places.
You have to decide on where they will stay and this will depend on the kind of budget you have. As an example, they can stay at a hotel or with Korean in-laws (if they’re amenable and have the space for it).
Most people hope to get a room for their families at the same hotel they’re getting married at. But this isn’t always feasible.
You then have to consider how you’re going to entertain them before and after the wedding until they take their return trip home.
It’s not right, polite or socially acceptable to leave your friends and relatives to their own devices.
Keeping Overseas Guests Occupied
At Korean weddings, many guests will mingle with each other of their own accord. But, your foreign guests won’t know anyone, they probably can’t speak Korean and they don’t know their way around.
So, you will have to keep them occupied and entertained throughout their stay, including the day of the wedding.
Looking into shopping opportunities, local entertainment and some tourism& giving them a taste of Korean culture prior to the wedding is an ideal primer.
If there are many relatives coming from quite a distance, you could arrange for a private tour bus. You can also consider incorporating some games, a raffle or other fun event.
There’s also the matter of seating arrangements for your guests. You want to ensure you put people together who will interact well and this is more difficult than it sounds.
It’s also important to abide by the social and hierarchical standards of age, maturity and status.
For instance, all grandparents and older family members should sit together.
But this isn’t going to work if your Korean in-law doesn’t speak a lick of English and vice versa for your English-speaking family.
So, ensure you seat foreign families with those Koreans that can speak their language.
What to Wear
It’s also important for foreign family and friends to understand the clothing requirements at a Korean wedding.
Koreans don’t have to think about how men wear suits and women wear traditional garb called “Hanboks.” These are full dresses with large, long skirts, usually made of silk.
However, your foreign guests don’t have to wear Hanbok. They can come in what they would normally wear to a wedding in their own country, unless you’re going for the full traditional Korean experience.
Covering the Bride & Groom
Once you have your guests taken care of, then it’s time to consider you and your spouse.
This will include obtaining wedding rings, the wedding officiates (called a celebrant), a dress for the bride, a suit for the groom and, of course, the honeymoon.
There are several options for the bridal couple’s wedding garb.
The groom can opt for a premade suit and have it altered or go to a tailor and have one custom-made.
The same is true for bridal dresses. However, the classic Hanbok starts at $230 (around $300,000 won) and goes as high as $765 (about $1,000,000 won).
The honeymoon can take place within the bounds of South Korea or you can go to somewhere exotic, such as Japan or even New Zealand.
It will all depend on the budget and how long you can be away from home.
Many people go to Japan as it offers beautiful vistas, excellent shopping and many romantic getaways within your honeymoon.
When It’s All Over
Once you and your new husband or bride return home from the honeymoon, you must send thank you cards to your guests.
This is imperative if they give a gift and/or money. Your female siblings-in-law should have been the ones to collect the gifts and write down the names of the gift givers.
Grand Total of a Korean Wedding
Because weddings vary greatly, the list below is a general estimate of the average cost to get married in Korea. Many factors affect the price, especially when it comes to flying in overseas with relatives and friends.
It used to be that the groom’s parents would pay for the wedding, but, as in Western countries, that standard is changing.
Sometimes the wedding couple will go “Dutch,” where both parties pay for it. But, more traditional families will abide by the standard.
However, it’s not uncommon for the bride’s family to pay, as is the custom in Europe and North America.
While the method for planning weddings is a major undertaking anywhere in the world, it’s a different creature in Korea.
Not only are the customs and traditions different from what you find in Western countries, but it’s only two hours long. For foreign guests, this may seem rather underwhelming.
As you can see, getting married in Korea has its benefits and disadvantages.
In the case you have many family members overseas, you may want to get married elsewhere and register it with the South Korean government.
This may be particularly useful if your Korean partner is over 18 but younger than 20 years old.
So, it’s imperative that you and your partner sit down and ask the tough questions. Write them down, devise a flexible budget and hire a wedding planner.
If you do this right, it will be an enchanting and magical experience for everyone involved.