China's accession to the Hague Convention: Simplified international document exchange


published on 16 November 2023 approx. reading time 2 minutes

On 7 November 2023, the 1961 Hague Convention came into force for the mainland of the People's Republic of China (Apostille Convention), which eliminates the legalization of foreign public documents in all 126 current member states. Instead, only the so-called “apostille” is required. 

Public documents and apostille

Public documents are documents that have been issued by a court, a public authority or a notary (or a comparable “person of public trust”) . The affixing of the apostille establishes the authenticity of the signature and, if applicable, the seal of the signatory as well as the signatory's authority to issue the document. The apostille replaces the legalization process, which was previously more time-consuming for China. 

Countries which are party to the apostille convention

Examples of countries to which the Apostille Convention applies
  • Africa, z.B. Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa
  • Asia, z.B. China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea
  • Europe, z.B. Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland 
  • North America, z.B. Canada, Mexico, USA 
  • South America, z.B. Argentina, Brazil 
  • Australia und Oceania, z.B. Australia, New Zealand

China's accession could lead to considerable time and cost savings. The Shanghai Daily, for example, estimates a 90 percent reduction in time and savings of around CNY 300 million (approx. 40 million Euro) per year.

Significance in practice

But what does this mean in practice for German documents that are to be used in China, and vice versa? For German documents, the apostille is issued by the competent German authority. The involvement of a Chinese consulate general or the Chinese embassy is no longer required and is in principle not been offered since 7 November 2023 (exceptions may apply). In China, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the local foreign offices are responsible for apostilles on Chinese documents. The involvement of the German consulates general or the embassy in Beijing is no longer necessary. China also now offers the option of online verification of the apostille, which should increase legal certainty if implemented accordingly.

Authorities responsible for issuing apostilles

​Documents of the Federal Republic of Germany
Federal Office for Foreign Affairs (BfAA) in Brandenburg a.d. Havel – for example for non-criminal records
Exception: for documents of the Federal Patent Court, and of the German Patent and Trademark Office: President of the German Patent and Trademark Office
​Documents of a federal state of the Federal Republic of Germany
To be checked in individual cases! 
Documents from administrative authorities (excluding the judiciary): e.g. local ministry of the interior, regional president or district government
Documents from the judicial administration, ordinary courts, notaries: e.g. local ministry of justice, or regional (district) court president - this includes, for example, extracts from the commercial register, notarized powers of attorney or contracts  
​Documents of the People's Republic of China
To be checked in individual cases! 

At provincial level the foreign offices in the following 25 provinces: Anhui, Chongqing, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Inner Mongolia Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Jilin, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanghai, Shanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Zhejiang, 

At city level the foreign offices in the following six cities: Changchun, Harbin, Jinan, Ningbo, Qingdao, Shenzhen
Overall, China's accession to the Hague Convention promises to significantly simplify and speed up the international exchange of documents and potentially offer considerable savings for companies operating between China and the Convention member states concerned.
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