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China adopts Apostille Convention to simplify authentication of foreign documents

The Chinese government officially adopted the Apostille Convention, an international treaty that simplifies the process of authenticating public documents for use in foreign countries. The treaty, which came into effect on November 7, 2023, will save time and money for companies and individuals, using foreign documents in China.  

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China acceded to the Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, also known as the “Apostille Convention”, in March 2022. However, the document didn’t come into effect until last November.  


China’s accession to the Convention will “simplify the procedures for the transnational circulation of official documents and facilitate international economic, trade and personnel exchanges,” according to local authorities.  


Apostille Convention background 

The Convention was adopted by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) in 1961, and it has since been ratified by over 120 countries and territories worldwide, including Hong Kong and Macao.  


Under the Convention, a public document that has been issued in one member country can be certified for legal use in any other member country by obtaining an “apostille” certificate from a competent authority designated by the issuing country. 


The apostille, a form of authentication, eliminates the need for further certification or legalization by consular or embassy officials, simplifying the process and saving time and money to individuals who need to use foreign public documents for legal purposes.  


Before the apostille came into effect in China, foreign documents had to first be notarized and authenticated by local parties and then be further authenticated by the Chinese embassy or consulate in the country in which the documents were issued.   


Impact on business and foreign trade  


China’s accession to the convention “will bring two major dividends”: reducing time and economic costs of cross-border circulation of documents and optimizing the business environment, according to the Chinese government.  


This would mean easier and faster applications for documents, such as criminal records, healthcare certificates, driver’s licenses, degree certificates, and birth certificates, that may be required for administrative reasons. 


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The adoption of the Apostille will be most beneficial for companies that frequently have cross-border dealings, whether that is domestic companies hiring foreign employees, import-export businesses, or multinationals with cross-border operations.   


Human Resource departments will be able to streamline and speed procedures for visas and work permits for foreign employees.   


Entities will also enjoy faster application processes for business licenses and company registration in China. The documents required, such as articles of incorporation, bank statements, and certificates of status now only need to be apostilled. 


Approximately 70% of commercial documents required for import and export with China are covered by the Apostille Convention and therefore no longer require consular certification.  


Documents under the Apostille Convention  


Not all documents are covered by the Apostille Convention.  According to the HCCH, the convention is usually applied to:  


  • Documents of an administrative nature, including birth, marriage, and death certificates;   

  • Documents emanating from an authority, or an official connected with a court, tribunal, or commission;   

  • Extracts from commercial registers and other registers;   

  • Patents;   

  • Notarial acts and notarial attestations (acknowledgments) of signatures; and  

  • School, university, and other academic diplomas issued by public institutions.   


The convention generally does not apply to diplomatic or consular documents, as well as certain administrative papers related to commercial or customs operations.

  

In China, certain customs documents may still require additional authentication procedures.  

The other contracting states of the Apostille Convention will now have a six-month period in which to object to China’s accession. However, if a contracting state objects, it will only mean that the convention will not apply between China and that specific state. 


It is possible that the apostille procedures cannot be used in China for documents from certain countries, even if they are members of the Apostille Convention, and vice versa. 


Document legalization  


Since the Apostille Convention took effect, documents leaving and entering in China will no longer require additional legalization, and will only need an Apostille Certificate from the document’s country of origin. 


Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin confirmed that “official documents sent between China and other contracting countries for use require only an Apostille Certificate issued by the countries they come from”. He added that “Consular authentication is no longer required”. 


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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) will be the authority responsible for managing Apostille Certificates and issuing them for public Chinese documents for use abroad. Local foreign affairs offices may be entrusted by the MFA to do this work within their jurisdiction. 

 

Local authorities may require some time to adopt the new rules. Foreign companies that are in the process of submitting foreign documents to Chinese authorities should therefore take into consideration potential delays for document acceptance and should consult the agencies in question on whether documents will still require consular legalization. 


China’s accession to the Apostille Convention is part of China’s efforts to improve business relations and reduce red tape in the country. 


 

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