Haven’t we all heard of how marriages between members of different nationalities can result in rather shocking experiences? Well, here is a live reportage of how horrific it really can be!
Vietnam is a country with good experience in marrying citizens to ‘foreign elements’, therefore it has a well-established portfolio of laws, regulations and institutions to deal with the issue. Like with so many other topics, the ‘Law on the marriage and family relations involving foreign elements’, has willingly been formulated such as to allow the establishment of processes that generate an extra income for those with access to the institutions controlling the rents they create. Depending on the nationality of the ‘foreign element’ things can then easily turn into a nightmare for those intending to get married with a Vietnamese citizen and vice versa.
First of all, both partners have to produce a number of papers that would be most normal in other countries as well, such as a document showing the ‘civil status’, place of residence, passport etc. However, if your residence is in Vietnam, to obtain that paper will be the first burden and most likely subject to some anger and delay, as any paper that you need from Vietnamese authorities or your own when living abroad.
The next big burden is more a question of patience and psychological strength: the psycho test. While it changed in its design over time and with it the rents involved as this blog post illustrates, in HCMC the medical test nowadays needs to be done in the hospital for ‘mental illnesses’ in District 5 and only involves filing papers, paying a bribe and waiting – nothing really challenging. If anything at all, the weak-hearten might get ill from visiting the hospital as such. Definitely not a place to get well and the only question I had was ‘are patients there because of their illness, or the illness because of them being there?’
Probably the most burdensome paper is the ‘certificate of capacity to marry’, a document that as such doesn’t exist, but which apparently has been introduced as another innovation of international cooperation and which has successfully established itself as a real panacea of rent generation for hungry officials. Although this paper is nowhere mentioned in the Vietnamese marriage law, the government has introduced yet another Decree No. 24/2013 and with it Article 7, 2d) which stipulates that foreigners which are not permanent residents in Vietnam must prove to be ‘eligible for marriage according to law of that country.‘ Now, while Swiss law is very simple in terms of ‘who is allowed to marry’ –namely every person that has reached the age of consent– it is probably part of Swiss diplomacy to bill their citizens for another idiocy rather than consulting with their Vietnamese fellows. One assumes that issuing a simple letter explaining Swiss law might do, but such a paper wouldn’t make marriage another business case for governments. True, structural reforms take time and not much can be achieved with only 24 million USD, less so a statement facilitating the lives of simple citizens!
Citizens are anyway generally left alone in the battle against corruption and discrimination while Swiss officials hide behind such empty shells as ‘diplomacy’ when rubbing shoulders with all the bad guys on the planet. Agreeing with barbarism is easy when having tea on red carpets and much less demanding at levels that are used to be served rather than asking to be granted access to basic human rights. It then comes with a smile on the face to tell fellow citizens that a ‘certificate of capacity to marry’ was not a standard document of the Swiss civil registration process and therefore comes at a cost of roughly 700 USD or two month of average Vietnamese salaries – the same time it takes to elaborate the two-page paper and to check if an adult is indeed an adult.
So much as regards the documents. It all wouldn’t be that bad if processes wouldn’t be involved. However, in addition to have those papers, they also need to be translated in each direction. That requires another set of skills and patience. Whereas Swiss authorities require all Vietnamese documents to be legalized by the competent Vietnamese authority before translation, they are not willing or ‘authorized’ to do the same with the documents issued by the competent authorities back in Switzerland. However, since Vietnamese require exact the same legalization for documents issued in Switzerland, the whole document scam then becomes even a discussion of very stupid administrative details and eventually, the marriage applicants find themselves mediating between authorities from two countries – the ultimate bummer indeed!
One thing is for sure, marrying a ‘foreign element’ in Vietnam is the biggest pre-marriage stress-test you’ll ever get. If you manage to survive this horror, nothing should bring you ever apart! And considering how much effort, money and time it takes to achieve a very basic need, we shouldn’t be surprised that international cooperation is maybe one of the emptiest promises of humankind.
 Costs vary according to the place of origin of the Swiss ‘element’ involved in the transaction.