Marriage paperwork explained for international and foreign couples in Japan.
If one of the partners in your marriage is a Japanese national, permanent resident, or mid-to-long term resident (in possession of a residence card), then you are eligible to get married in Japan. Legalizing your marriage in Japan will make it easier to get a spouse visa for Japan or to change to a spouse residence status in Japan, simplifying your visa and renewal procedures, make more employment opportunities available, and make it easier to apply for permanent residency later.
Paperwork, Not Ceremony, Not Marriage Counseling
This guide is about submitting the paperwork to legalize your marriage, not about celebrating a wedding. If you’re an international couple, or a couple living internationally, there are advantages to going ahead with the legal paperwork first, even if you cannot have your ceremony, yet. That was what we did- we got married in Japan (though we weren’t there at the time) before I started applying for my visa to move there. There is no such thing as a fiance visa for Japan.
I do not support marriages of convenience, visa marriages or getting married prematurely. I am not going to write a guide about getting divorced in Japan. Make sure this is really what you want to do before reading on.
Get Married in Japan, No Matter Where You Are
First, a quick note: I will use “you” to refer to the foreign spouse or the spouse without a mid-to-long term residence status in Japan. “Your spouse” will refer to the one who is the resident of Japan. If you are both legal residents of Japan, choose your roles yourself. I recommend that the better Japanese speaker play the role of “your spouse” below.
If Your Spouse is in Japan
This becomes a very quick and easy process. You mail your passport copy and notarized affidavit of competence to marry (download from the US Embassy in Japan marriage information page) to your spouse, he or she fills in the paperwork at the city hall, and you’re done.
If you’re from a country that has a family registration system, then you can submit a Japanese translation of your family register in place of the affidavit of competence to marry.
For the affidavit of competence to marry, you are allowed to translate it yourself if you are getting it notarized at a US Embassy in Japan, since they have Japanese-speaking staff that can check your work (the same goes for the forms related to the Consular Report of Birth Abroad, but that comes later). However, if you are getting it notarized in another country, then you may need to hire a professional translator to do it, even though the Embassy is only going to notarize the English version anyway. Consult with your local embassy (if abroad) or notary for their policy on this.
Get Married in Japan, Even if Neither of You Are There!
It is possible to get legally married in Japan, even if neither you or your spouse are present in the country. However, you will need some help from your spouse’s parents to visit the city hall on your behalf. If you continue to the next steps of this process, getting the Certificate of Eligibility, you’ll need a lot more help from the parents, so it’s best to get used to asking – and to get on their good side – now. We got legally married in Japan despite the fact that we were both living and working in Thailand at the time.
Why register your marriage in Japan?
There are many advantages to registering your marriage in Japan, even if you don’t intend to live there:
- Save on duplicate paperwork: Japan requires its nationals/residents to legally register their marriage in Japan, even if it’s already been registered under another country’s laws. The United States (and many other countries) has no such requirement. So, if you get your legal marriage in Japan, you only have to do the paperwork once.
- Easy access to extra records: Chances are, you’ll need to get a duplicate of your marriage certificate at some point. It’s easy to do this from a Japanese city hall, especially if you have parents-in-law in the area.
- No requirement for physical presence: Neither spouse actually has to be present to get legally married. You can file all the paperwork by mail.
It’s not terribly romantic, but it will save significant hassle to get your legal marriage done in Japan before you start thinking about planning a ceremony. Trust me, planning a wedding is plenty stressful even when you have all the legal paperwork out of the way beforehand.
Married by Mail
This method is only going to be available if one of you (“your spouse” for the purpose of these instructions) is a Japanese national. Registering your marriage is the easiest part of the entire process of moving to Japan as a spouse, as long as you have a little help in Japan. All you have to do is collect the following documents and submit them by post.
Parental Assistance Required
The first two documents you need come from your spouse’s hometown city hall. Hopefully, your spouse still has family there, as you are going to need their help to get the first two items.
- Kon’in Todoke-sho (婚姻届書):
This is your marriage registration form. Your spouse’ parents will need to pick it up from the the city hall, complete the “witness” blocks, and mail it to you to complete the rest, along with,
- Koseki Tohon (戸籍謄本):
Your spouse’s family register. If your spouse has not been married before then he or she will still be listed on his/her parents’ family register. This is not a problem.
Documents You Need to Prepare Yourself
These are the same as the documents mentioned in the “If Your Spouse is In Japan” section above.
- Affidavit of competence to marry, or kon’in yoken gubi shomeisho (婚姻要件具備証明書):
If you’re from a country that has a family registration system, then you can submit a Japanese translation of your family register.
Otherwise, you will need to get an affidavit of competence to marry, or whatever the equivalent is for your country. The American version of the Affidavit of Competence to Marry form can be downloaded from the US Embassy in Tokyo’s website (opens in new window). There’s one page each in English and Japanese, and you can fill in both pages yourself. In Japan, it’s not necessary to have it officially translated, but if you’re trying to get it notarized while living abroad, then consult your local embassy or notary for their policy, first. The English page needs to be notarized by your embassy, but the Japanese does not.
Note: If you are not from America, you should still be able to use the form from the US Embassy site, but you should also check your own country’s embassy in Japan website to see if they have a preferred version of the form.
- Copy of the your government ID:
If you’re in Japan, then you’ll submit a Residence Registration or Juminhyo (住民票). If you’re outside Japan, a copy of the information pages of your passport will do.
Mail all of the documents to your spouse’s city hall and within a few days, you’ll be legally married!
Confirming the Marriage Registration
There is a chance that the City Hall will not contact you to confirm that they received your paperwork or to let you know what day it was approved. In Japan, no reply typically means “no problems encountered,” but it’s always best to double-check. After all, you’ll want to know what day to call your anniversary in the future. We decided that we would base our anniversary on the mailing day, but I do not recommend this since you’ll have to use the official approval day when you fill out official paperwork, and keeping the two dates straight can be a bother.
At a more practical level, you will need proof of your marriage to move forward with your visa application paperwork, which means you’ll need your parents-in-law’s help again. In our case, our marriage was approved within four days of our mailing it (not bad, considering international postage time). I recommend sending your marriage paperwork by traceable mail (EMS, DHL, etc.) and waiting five working days after it arrives, then asking your parents-in-law to go to the city hall and pick up your marriage certificate (婚姻届受理証明書・婚姻証明書, Kon’in todoke juri shomeisho or Kon’in shomeisho) as well as your spouse’s new family register or koseki tohon (戸籍謄本). I recommend getting several copies, then having one copy formally translated into English (with multiple copies of the translation printed) for use in paperwork in your home country. If you plan to change your name to match your spouse, or to apply for your spouse to get a visa for your country, then you’re going to need original and translated marriage certificates for each of those procedures, so plan ahead!
The next step: Applying for your Certificate of Eligibility (CoE)
If you plan to change your name to match your spouse, or anything like that, I recommend doing that before you move forward to apply for your CoE. You’ll also have to register your name change at your spouse’s city hall once you’re in Japan, but that isn’t as urgent.
The Certificate of Eligibility is the first, biggest, and most difficult step in acquiring your visa for Japan, but fortunately, we have a guide for that, as well. About four months before you plan to come to Japan, please read our guide on how to a apply for a Certificate of Eligibility and spouse visa for Japan (Japanese version.
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