China officially implemented the Apostille Convention on November 7.

China officially implemented the Apostille Convention on November 7

China’s accession to the Apostille Convention has been formalized, and as of November 7, 2023, the convention is now operational within the country. This development is expected to streamline processes for businesses and individuals, eliminating the need for extensive authentication from various authorities when using foreign documents in China. The discussion explores the anticipated simplification of specific administrative procedures following China’s participation in the Apostille Convention.

What is the Apostille Convention?

The Apostille Convention, officially known as the Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, is an international treaty aimed at simplifying the authentication process for public documents intended for use in foreign countries.

Established by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) in 1961, this convention has received ratification from over 120 countries and territories worldwide, including Hong Kong and Macao. According to the provisions of the Convention, a public document issued in one member country can be validated for legal use in any other member country by obtaining an “apostille” certificate from a designated competent authority in the issuing nation.

The apostille serves as a method of verification, confirming the genuineness of a signature, the role the signer played, and, if applicable, the presence of a seal or stamp on the document. It eliminates the necessity for additional certification or legalization by consular or embassy authorities, streamlining the procedure and reducing time and expenses for those requiring foreign public documents for legal purposes.

Presently, to utilize foreign documents in China for various administrative needs such as visa applications or business establishment, they must undergo notarization and authentication by local entities. Subsequently, further authentication by the Chinese embassy or consulate in the document’s country of origin is required. This process proves to be both costly and time-intensive for the applicant.

What are the implications of China's accession to the Apostille Convention for foreign trade and business?

According to spokesperson Mao Ning, China’s entry into the convention is expected to yield two significant benefits: a reduction in the time and economic costs associated with the cross-border circulation of documents and the optimization of the business environment.

This development means smoother and quicker application processes for various documents, including but not limited to criminal records, healthcare certificates, driver’s licenses, degree certificates, and birth certificates, which are often required for administrative tasks by both foreign and Chinese citizens.

Mao Ning highlighted that joining the convention drastically cuts down the time to prep a document for global use, slashing it from around 20 working days to just a few. This move is projected to save over RMB 300 million (approx. US$43.6 million) annually in processing fees for Chinese and foreign workers. The expected drop in the average document transfer time between contracting states is around 90 percent.

The impact on the business scene will be most significant for companies with frequent cross-border dealings, including local firms hiring foreign staff, import-export businesses, and multinational corporations operating across borders.

For HR departments, this means smoother processes for obtaining visas and work permits for foreign staff. Simultaneously, the procedure for foreign companies applying for a business license or company registration in China is set to become more straightforward. Now, only documents like articles of incorporation, bank statements, and certificates of status need to be apostilled.

In the press meeting, Mao Ning estimated that the Apostille Convention would cover about 70 percent of the commercial documents needed for import and export with China, eliminating the need for consular certification.

Which documents fall under the scope of the Apostille Convention?

The Apostille Convention specifically applies to certain public documents, as outlined by the laws of the issuing country. According to the HCCH, the convention typically covers:

  • Administrative documents, including birth, marriage, and death certificates.
  • Documents originating from authorities or officials associated with courts, tribunals, or commissions.
  • Extracts from commercial registers and other similar registers.
  • Patents.
  • Notarial acts and attestations (acknowledgments) of signatures.
  • Academic diplomas issued by public institutions.

However, diplomatic or consular documents, as well as specific administrative documents linked to commercial or customs operations, are generally not covered by the convention, as specified by the HCCH. Consequently, certain customs documents for China may still necessitate additional authentication procedures.

Other contracting states of the Apostille Convention have a six-month window to object to China’s accession. If a state objects, it means the convention won’t apply between China and that state, not that China cannot accede. Consequently, there remains the possibility that apostille procedures may not be applicable in China for documents from certain countries, even if they are members of the Apostille Convention, and vice versa.

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