China Joins the Apostille Convention: Major News for Chinese Work Visas and Immigration Documentation

Earlier this year, China officially acceded to the Apostille Convention in a landmark development for international business operations. This significant move promises to revolutionize the process of legalizing documents for use abroad, marking a transformative shift for businesses and individuals alike.


The Chinese legalization process has often been a source of complications for people looking to do business in China, sometimes taking months to complete the necessary steps. This shift will vastly speed up immigration and business processes.


This article will examine China’s journey towards this accession, compare the previous and new processes for document legalization, and explore the profound impact on companies needing to send employees to China. Let’s jump in.


What is the Apostille Convention?

The Apostille Convention —  formally known as the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents — facilitates the use of public documents, such as diplomas, abroad. The apostille itself is a specific certification recognized by countries that are members of the Hague Convention, often simply called the Apostille Convention.


It’s a simplified method of legalizing documents that expedites the otherwise lengthy and costly authentication process between other non-Hague Convention countries. The primary function of the apostille is to ensure that a document is genuine and valid and meets the requirements for immigration and business purposes. With over 120 member countries, the Apostille Convention has become a cornerstone of international document exchange.


It’s estimated that several million apostilles are issued worldwide each year.


China’s pre-apostille document legalization process

Before China acceded to the Apostille Convention, the process of legalizing documents for use in China was notoriously complex and time-consuming. Companies and individuals had to navigate a multi-step process which typically involved:

  1. Notarization: After procuring the required documents, they needed to be notarized by an approved notary.

  2. Authentication: These notarized documents then require authentication from relevant authorities, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

  3. Consular legalization: Finally, the documents had to be legalized by the Chinese consulate or embassy in the document’s country of origin.


This process could take several months from start to finish, creating significant challenges for businesses and individuals. Traveling to different cities (and even countries) to get documents legalized at Chinese embassies was not uncommon. The lengthy timeline was particularly problematic in scenarios requiring urgent filings or court proceedings, where Chinese courts often impose strict deadlines for accepting foreign documents and evidence or when specialized personnel need to be transferred urgently.


The new apostille process for documentation from China

China’s accession to the Apostille Convention marks a pivotal change in its approach to international documentation. This move followed a series of legal and administrative reforms to align China with international standards and simplify business operations. With the new process in place, obtaining an apostille in China is significantly streamlined and reduced to two rather than three steps. 


First, the document is issued by a relevant authority, and then a relevant Chinese authority issues an apostille certificate. This new process eliminates the need for multiple levels of notarization and authentication, reducing processing time and costs while simplifying the overall procedure. Chinese authorities can directly recognize the apostille on foreign official documents without requiring further legalization by a Chinese consulate. This means certification can be obtained within three to ten working days, depending on the document to be apostilled.


Impact on businesses travel and visa documentation

From a global perspective, this change is seen as a significant step in China’s integration into the global business community. It aligns with China’s efforts to improve its business environment and attract foreign investment. This change will have a significant impact across the majority of business sectors. 


Industries that are expected to feel the benefits most significantly are the technology and IT services sector, where companies can expect faster deployment of specialized personnel and a reduction in project delays due to visa processing. The manufacturing industry will also benefit from a streamlined process for sending technical experts and trainers, potentially increasing short-term assignments. The education sector will see simplified documentation for international students and faculty, likely leading to increased educational exchange programs. Professional services firms will also experience easier movement of consultants and specialists and reduced administrative costs related to document legalization.


As companies adapt to this new system, they will likely experience reduced bureaucratic hurdles, faster processing times, and lower costs associated with document legalization. This development not only streamlines administrative processes but also has the potential to foster increased international collaboration and business growth.


Get help with Chinese business visa applications

Chinese visas and business regulations require very specific documentation. Some of these are personal documents, such as copies of passports and completed applications. However, other supporting documents must be obtained from various places and, of course, must be apostilled. These documents may also need to be officially translated, in this case, into Mandarin Chinese.


As businesses navigate this new landscape, expert assistance becomes invaluable and can further speed up the process. Specialized service providers — such as Lex Documents — offer comprehensive support for business visa processing and documentation. They can ensure documents are procured and handled efficiently and accurately, minimizing delays and reducing costs.


With feet on the ground and one point of contact, working with a specialized document service, companies can seamlessly adapt to the new apostille process and ensure compliance with all legal requirements.


Lex Documents can help you get Chinese business visas and handle all documentation and apostille services

At LEX Documents, we offer services ranging from visa application and processing to document procurement, legalization, and translation. We have experience working with Chinese documents, applications, and embassies and can help make the process as smooth and efficient as possible, from strategizing what documents are needed to obtain those documents in a timely manner to translating, legalizing, and certifying those documents.


Whatever your needs are, we offer a personalized service with a single point of contact to quickly navigate the complex Chinese bureaucratic systems, even if you need an immigration partner in your country of origin.


Contact us to find out how our globally connected service can help you with your international and Chinese documentation!

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