China’s Hague Convention Accession eases document authentication



The Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (‘Apostille Convention’) came into force in China on 7 November 2023, replacing the traditional ‘two-steps’ authentication of diplomatic and consular legalisation with a ‘one-step’ apostille certificate.

This change benefits both businesses and individuals who need to use foreign public documents in China or Chinese public documents abroad. 


About the Hague Apostille Convention

The objective of the Apostille Convention is to simplify the process of authenticating public documents for use abroad. The Convention was adopted by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) in 1961. The Apostille Convention has been ratified or acceded to by 125 countries or regions, including the major trading partners of China and most countries contributing to the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, such as EU member countries, the UK, the US, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Russia. 

The Apostille Convention eliminates the need for consular authentication and streamlines the authentication process by providing a standardised certificate called ‘apostille’ that is recognised by all contracting states. The ‘apostille’ certificate allows foreign public documents issued in one contracting state to be certified for legal use in other contracting states after being notarised by a competent authority designated by the issuing state. 

The apostille is a form of authentication that verifies the origin, signature, seal, and stamp of a document. However, it doesn’t verify the content of the document. The Apostille Certification has the same effect as the traditional consular authentication among the contracting states. 


What are the benefits?

One significant benefit is to save time and cost. As per the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of China, it is estimated that this will save companies and individuals more than CNY 300 million annually in processing expenses. The time taken for processing and circulating documents between contracting states is expected to be reduced by an average of 90%.

Previously, individuals had to go through a lengthy administrative process of legalising documents through multiple authorities. Foreign documents must first be notarised and authenticated by local authorities, and then authenticated by the Chinese embassy or consulate in the country where the documents were issued. The process of obtaining a document for use overseas used to take approximately 20 working days, but can now be completed in just a few working days. 

Chinese citizens can easily and quickly apply for various documents, including health certificates, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and degree certificates, which may be required overseas. Similarly, foreign nationals can use their public documents with an apostille to apply for visas, work permits, marriage registrations, or other matters in China.

This also helps to improve the business environment in China, particularly for foreign direct investment (FDI). The MFA reports that around 70% of commercial documents required for investment into China or export from China would benefit from the Apostille Convention. 

This means that businesses engaged in international trade can have a smoother process for using invoices, contracts and other documents with the apostille certificate. Foreign companies can now more easily apply for business licenses in China as new documents required for company registration, such as business registration certificate and articles of association, only need to get an apostille certificate. 


What are ‘public documents’?

Before requesting an apostille certificate, it’s important to understand which documents fall under its scope. The Apostille Convention only applies to public documents, including:

  1. court documents
  2. administrative documents, such as birth, marriage and death certificates
  3. notarial acts
  4. official certificates that are placed on documents signed by persons in their private capacity, such as official certificates recording the registration of a document

The determination of whether the document is considered a public document is defined by the law of the State in which it was issued. The need for an apostille certificate depends on whether the document requires traditional consular legalisation in its country of origin before the Convention takes effect. The Convention typically excludes administrative documents related to commercial or customs activities, as well as diplomatic or consular documents. 


Key considerations and good practice

Since the Convention came into force in China, we have helped foreign invested enterprises with their business registration using the apostille certificate. Below, we have summarised real-life examples to provide companies with good practice for future applications.  

Firstly, it is highly recommended that companies and investors understand China's laws and regulations on governing notarisation and apostille for document authentication. Applicants should familiarise themselves with the requirements and procedures for obtaining an apostille certificate, such as the criteria for public documents in China. Companies can seek advice from international business law specialists and use official government resources.

When preparing the documents and materials, applicants should pay close attention to additional document verification requirements. Chinese authorities typically require a certified Chinese translation of the original document. Applicants should also keep a copy of the original documents and materials for audit and verification purposes.

It is recommended to plan a reasonable timeline and budget in advance and ensure that all submissions are completed on time. Efficient processing can help companies and individuals receive the apostille within the expected timeframe.



China's accession to the Apostille Convention is expected to increase FDI by streamlining investors document authentication and augmenting predictability and transparency. The Chinese market is now even more attractive to investors due to the lowering of administrative hurdles, which creates a favourable atmosphere for international commercial operations. The action demonstrates China's commitment to responsible global involvement and legislative harmonization and is in line with international standards. 


How we can help

To simplify the process of establishing businesses for our clients, we provide an in-depth analysis of China's regulations governing notarisation, legalisation, and apostille processes for document verification.

Our local team can assist you with administrative work, making it easier for you to navigate the apostille application procedure. By partnering with legal experts in international business law, we ensure that your on-going business administration remains compliant with local regulations. 


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