On March 8, 2022, China officially acceded to the Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, also known as the “Hague Apostille Convention.” The Apostille Convention will officially go into effect in China on November 7, 2023.
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, the United States, the Philippines, United Kingdom, and Australia.
For a complete list of countries and territories that are party to the Convention, see the HCCH | #12 – Status table.
For countries that are not party to the Apostille Convention, the current authentication process will remain in place. This includes Canada (for which the Convention will enter into force on Jan. 11, 2024), Rwanda (for which the Convention will enter into force on June 5, 2024), Thailand, and Vietnam.
Note that India has objected to China joining the Convention, so apostilles issued in India cannot be used in China, and vice-versa.
What Is an Apostille?
Generally speaking, in international legal proceedings, when a document from one country is going to be used in another country, “legalization” is the process of proving the authenticity of the signatures, stamps, and seals that appear on the document.
Previously, the type of legalization required if the document was issued in China or to be used in China was “consular authentication“ (领事认证), meaning that a document issued in China had to be legalized by a foreign embassy or consulate in China, and that a document issued abroad had to be legalized by a PRC embassy or consulate in the country where the document was issued.
For example, our firm helps clients get documents legalized in China, such as:
- China police certificates
- China birth certificates
And our firm asks clients to get documents legalized abroad for use in China in situations such as:
- A person outside China applying for a China police certificate may be required to submit a legalized power of attorney or copy of their passport or evidence of a name change to the public security bureau or notary.
- A person outside China applying for a China birth certificate may be required to submit a legalized power of attorney or copy of their passport or evidence of a name change to the notary.
The purpose of the Apostille Convention is to make the procedure for legalizing documents from one country for use in another country easier and faster. Under the Convention, an embassy or consulate no longer needs to be involved in the legalization process. Instead, each country can designate authorities who can legalize documents issued within their jurisdiction through use of an apostille (附加证明书). See generally, HCCH, The ABCs of Apostilles (last visited Oct. 27, 2023).
Sample PRC Consulate Authentication the Chinese Consulate in New York: “兹证明前面文书上美国纽约州州政府的印章和该州副州务卿James Bizzarri的签字均属实。该文书内容由出文机构负责。Translation: “This is to certify that the seal of the New York State Government of the United States and the signature of James Bizzari, the Deputy Secretary of State, on the attached document are true. The content of the document is the responsibility of the entity that issued the document.”
Sample apostille from the California Secretary of State.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already shared a sample apostille:
For a gallery of apostilles from various countries, see Apostille Convention – Wikipedia.
How Will Apostilles Be Issued in Mainland China?
The Chinese government designated the Foreign Affairs Offices (FAOs) of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government to issue the apostilles to public documents emanated within their respective administrative areas. (In rare cases, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also has authority to issue apostilles.)
Here are some of the locally-published rules:
- Shanghai: 服务项目-上海外事服务中心 (sfasc.com.cn). An in-person appointment is required. The application cannot be filed by mail. Processing time is 4 business days (or 2 business days upon payment of an expedite fee).
For a complete list of Foreign Affairs Offices authorized to issue apostilles, see http://cs.mfa.gov.cn/zggmcg/fjzms/.
According to the MOFA rules, or notarized documents, the notary should seal the original notarized document in an envelope to be opened only by the FAO. The notary should include a translation to the language of the country where the documents are to be used.
China does not specify how long an apostille will be valid for. Instead, the country where the apostille will be used may specify the period of validity; for example, Italy specifies that marriage notarial certificates are valid for 6 months.
Note that documents issued in Mainland China for use in Hong Kong or Macau, or vice versa, will not need to be apostilled. Legalization of documents between these territories will continue to rely on the current mechanisms (e.g. attestation by a China-appointed attesting officer). See HCCH | Declaration/reservation/notification.
China’s Implementation of the Convention
Electronic verification of apostilles should be possible at https://consular.mfa.gov.cn/VERIFY/.
Chinese Embassies and Consulates in countries that are signatories to the Apostille Convention appear to terminating authentication services effective November 7. See, for example, Chinese Embassy in Australia, “Notice of Termination of Consular Legalisation by the Embassy after China’s Accession to the Apostille Convention (Oct. 25, 2023).