Legalizing Foreign Documents for China

Legalizing Foreign Documents for China

Moving to China often requires a large number of documents to prepare, some of which must be done well ahead of time. The most important is definitely the visa, whichever one it might be, without which you won’t be able to enter the country.

To get a Chinese visa, you’ll often need other documents to attach to the application or to present in China for study, work, tourism, visiting relatives, internship, etc.

When I say documents, I mean any type of legal document required from someone in the destination country, in this case the People’s Republic of China: certificate of study, diplomas, degrees, work contract, birth, marriage and relative certificates, commercial certificate, authenticated statements, medical certificates, criminal record, power of attorney, et cetera.

These documents, which have a legal value and are recognized in your country (the place where they were issued), usually don’t have the same value abroad, and as a result, need to be legalized so that they might regain their legal value in a country other than the one where they were issued.

Fortunately for many countries, there’s a loophole for this “problem”, namely being a member state of the “Convention of the abolition of the legalization of foreign public acts” better known as “the Apostille Convention” or “Hague Convention” drafted and adopted at Hague October 5, 1961.

This specifies the way by which a document issued by one of the enrolled countries can be certified for legal purposes in all other member states without long and tedious bureaucratic procedures.

Alas, China is not a member of this convention… and so the reason for this article. I’ll explain how to proceed with legalizing the documents that you need to present in China, what types of documents the procedure might require, where to go, what to do and all the necessary steps you’ll need to bring your mission to an end.

Realize that you don’t always have to legalize the documents when you go to China, but whatever you might need will be indicated to you ahead of time by the Chinese authorities or the one handling your arrival in the country. Often, presenting legally valid documents in China is required to complete the procedure for getting a Z work visa, but it’s not the only case.

Who needs to request the legalization of documents for China

Generally, those needing their documents legalized in China are those looking to live, study and or work in the country for a specific period time, regardless of how short or long it might be.

Among these, those who most often require this procedure are people who intend to work in China and need for their official documents issued in their own country to also be legal in China.

Even those who are in China with an X visa for students or visiting relatives (Chinese or foreigners) with an S or Q visa may have to legalize some documents to show to the Chinese authorities.

Types of documents that could require legalization in China

As was said before, there are many cases where you’ll need to legalize documents for China. Let’s look specifically at some of the documents that may be included:

  • Birth certificate;
  • Adoption certificate;
  • Marriage certificate;
  • Certification of singleness, marriage, or widowhood;
  • Certificate of divorce;
  • Death certificate.

As you can see from this and the next lists of documents, there are many varied cases where you might be required to legalize documents for China.

These steps might be necessary for “personal” documents as those just listed and may be necessary if you should have to prove, for example, your relationship for someone who legally resides in China (Chinese or foreigner with a permanent or temporary resident permit).

  • Certificate of graduation (of any level) and/or certificate that attests to a different level of training (Master, Doctorate, language course, etc.);
  • Diploma degree, Doctorate, etc.;
  • Certificate of service (or “Certificate of work service”);
  • Authenticated statement;
  • Medical certificate;
  • Criminal record;
  • Police record;
  • Certificate of ongoing charges.

These documents may require legalization for China in the event that you move there as a foreign worker with a Z visa: in fact these are required documents from your future employer to prepare the work permit and documents you’ll need once you get to China to finish the procedure to get your “Resident Permit”.

It also might happen that the documents regarding your degrees may be needed if you should enroll in a Chinese university for an advanced degree, a doctorate or specialization.

Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, it’s not necessary to legalize your degrees because just an authorized certificate (prepared in English) from your university is more than enough to enroll in a course of study with an institution.

In any case, you’ll be informed in a timely manner which documents you’ll need to have legalized.

  • Certificate from the Chamber of Commerce;
  • Notarized power of attorney;
  • Authenticated translation;
  • Exportation invoices;
  • Letter of credit;
  • Certificate of origin;
  • Contracts;
  • Company documents;
  • Certificate of incorporation;
  • Proxy;
  • Lawsuit documentation;
  • Compliance copies;
  • Certificate of professional respectability;
  • Other.

Lastly, the legalization of these documents can be required for various reasons.

These are commercial documents in case your company, or the one you work for has to conduct business in China or could be non-commercial documents such as proxies, certificates of incorporation, etc.

In any event, you’ll always be (or one would hope) informed by the Chinese about the documents you’ll need that will require legalization so that they have the same legal value in China.

Remember that just about any document can be legalized so long as you go through all the steps that I’ll shortly explain.

General procedure for legalizing documents for China

Legalization is the process of certifying a document or record that validates the authenticity with full legal value on an international level, passing through the diplomatic-consular representatives, such as the Consulate or Embassy of the foreign country concerned.

Basically, the procedure to follow to legalize documents so that they are valid abroad are the same everywhere. As I explained at the beginning of the article, the People’s Republic of China is not part of the Hague Convention, and as a result, the procedures to follow are varied and slightly more complex than those that have to be taken for countries that are part of the previously mentioned convention.

Note that the Hague Convention is valid in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, despite the transfer of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China on July 1, 1997.

Similarly, the Convention is also applicable in Macao despite the transfer of sovereignty from Portugal to the People’s Republic of China on December 20, 1999.

Not being part of the convention, to legalize the documents for China it’s necessary that you go through three different phases, which include an “internal” path and an “external path”.

“Internal” path

By “internal” path I mean all the steps that you need to complete with the help of national entities.

Before moving on to the legalization for the foreign country (in this case, China) which I will explain in the next section, it’s necessary to request authentication and legalization with the appropriate authorities in your own country.

I recommend that you ask first at the Chinese consulate or embassy in your own country: they will definitely know the necessary steps you’ll have to take before presenting them the documents to legalize for China.

What I’m going to explain next about the “internal” path, are general procedures that could change slightly from country to country.

First of all, it’s necessary to retrieve the document from the specific institute that issues it: for example, a diploma from your university, a medical certificate from the center where you decide to go for your visit (remember to choose well which center you visit that will issue the certificate because not all are accepted by the consular officials; I recommend that you check in advance which institutions are compliant and accepted by the consulate or Chinese embassy), a criminal record from your city or province, et cetera.

The documents should usually also include a signature and official stamp. These documents should be legalized by the Ministry responsible for the particular document: for example, the Ministry of Education is responsible for everything having to do with study, training, and education.

Lastly, to complete the “internal” pathway you’ll generally need to request the legalization on the part of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of your own country.

“External” path

By the “external” path I mean the last step of going to the Chinese authorities in your country. You can no longer go to your national authorities but to the Chinese responsible for your area.

To legalize a document for the People’s Republic of China, you’ll need the intervention of the Chinese consulate or embassy in your home country, because they are the ones that will make sure that your documents gain legal value in China.

Remember that:

  • The Chinese consulate and embassy only legalize already authenticated and legalized documents by the appropriate national authorities; the ones you finished in the “internal” path that I just showed you;
  • If the document is made up of more than one page, there will have to be stamps indicating the pages are from the same document (or, as an alternative, the officer’s signature). What I’m referring to is a single stamp or signature placed in a way that it touches each page of the document
  • Documents will not be legalized if they are labeled apostille (this is a specific annotation that has to be made on the original certificate issued by the authorities of the country concerned that has ratified the Hague Convention) since China is not a member of the Convention;
  • The Chinese consulate or embassy will verify the authenticity of the signatures of national authorities and issue their own legalization, making the document legally valid in China;
  • The Chinese consulate or embassy will verify the signatures made by national authorities are filed with the Chinese consulate or embassy;
  • Consular legalization doesn’t have the function of certifying the facts attested by notaries or other certificates. The authenticity and validity of the document’s contents are not the responsibility of the consulate but is exclusively attributable to the office that has issued the documents;
  • Legalization only applies to public documents. As a result, you can’t legalize private documents if they weren’t previously “transformed” into public documents through the channels proscribed by law: authentic, certified copy, registration, a certain date, etc.;
  • The certificates must be true and legal, must not violate Chinese law or damage the social, public or national interests of the People’s Republic of China. In these cases, the request for legalization may be refused by consular officials;
  • Consular legalization refers to the practice of confirming the authenticity of the last stamp and signature on the documents issued by other countries and is performed by consular legalization authorities on the request of the person themselves, legal representatives or other organizations. Therefore, consular authorities legalize the stamps NOT the document;
  • The legalization of a document doesn’t have a specific expiry, as this depends on the nature of the document itself. If the certificate has a limited validity in terms of time, then its legalization would also be subject to such limits. For example, if a medical certificate issued on January 10, 2020 is valid for 12 months, then its legalization would have the same time value and expire along with it on January 10, 2021.

At this point you can now go to the Chinese consulate or embassy responsible for your area, and bring along with you:

  • 1. The original document or a certified copy legalized by the respective national authorities;
  • 2. Copy of the already legalized document from the respective national authorities (if required);
  • 3. Copy of an identification document (passport, identity card, license etc.) of the interested person, and if necessary, the delegate;
  • 4. Application form for the legalization for China completely filled out and signed (generally you can download it on the Chinese consulate or embassy’s website that you’ll be dealing with, or you can get one onsite by the same officials);
  • 5. Other documents required by consular officials.

After handing in all the documents, all you can do is wait on the consular officials’ timetable and pick up your documents that will now be legally valid in China.

Timetables for the consular legalization of documents for China

Before undertaking any legalization procedure, calculate the necessary time for each step.

Consider the amount of time it will take to receive the document from the issuing institution and the “internal” legalization procedure with the national authorities.

When it comes to the “external” route with the Chinese consular officials, the estimated time for the legalization procedure is about 7 business days starting from the day your request is received, but it could vary slightly on a case by case basis.

You can also request the legalization of a document with an urgent procedure, but you’ll generally be asked to provide “proof” that shows the urgency of your request (airline or train tickets, etc.)

Obviously this will cost more than the prices I’ll list in the next paragraph.

Costs for the consular legalization of documents for China

For the majority of cases, requesting a document from the issuing institution has certain costs and voids (for example, to issue a graduation certificate authenticated by the university you’ll generally need to pay for a stamp or something similar).

The cost to issue it will vary on the basis of which country (yours) you request the certificate and the national authorities who will legalize it.

According to the latest information found at the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in New York, which could vary slightly from country to country (keeping in mind the exchange rate as well), here are the costs for legalizing various types of documents:

  • Legalizing a civil document: 25.00 USD;
  • Legalizing a commercial document: 50.00 USD.

As mentioned before, there is an urgent procedure option. This obviously has an additional cost of:

  • 25.00 USD for the Express service (2-3 business days);
  • 37.00 USD for the Rush service (1 business day).

The price of the urgent procedure is in addition to the regular legalization costs of the document. If for example, you have to legalize a civil document like a birth certificate with the express procedure, the total cost of legalization would be 50.00 USD (25.00 USD + 25.00 USD).

If you decide not to use the express procedure option, you’ll only pay the normal legalization cost that takes 4 business days from receiving the document.

If you use an external agency to legalize your documents (they would go to the Chinese embassy or consulate in your place) you have to add service costs and the price of shipping your documents to the total.

Lastly, if you need translations certified or “legal”, you’ll also have to consider the cost of translation generally based on the number of lines, words or type of document.

Is it possible to legalize consular documents in China?

Sadly, this is not possible. Legalizing foreign documents for China can only be done in your country (or the country where the documents were issued) at a Chinese consulate or embassy (after being legalized by the national authorities).

The consulate or embassy for your country in China can only legalize Chinese documents to be valid in your home country and not vice versa.

So before arriving in China, make sure all the documents you need legalized are taken care of.

Translation of documents to be legalized

In many cases, you might need to have the documents to be legalized translated since the counterpart in China may require documents written in Chinese.

For this type of document is not just a “simple” translation but rather a “certified” or “legal” one, that is an official translation of a legal document or any document that must be accepted in a legal situation.

There are translations that conserve the same legal value of the original where the translator assumes full responsibility for what is translated, declaring in good faith and above all not having any doubt from a technical point of view.

I recommend that you ask your Chinese counterpart in advance if it is necessary to have the documents translated before legalization, because in such an event the procedure changes into the following:

  • 1. Request an authorized document with the issuing institution;
  • 2. Translation of the document on the part of a professional and authorized translator;
  • 3. The translator swears to the truthfulness of the translation in court, making it a “certified” or “legal” translation;
  • 4. Legalization by the national authorities;
  • 5. Legalization by the Chinese consular officials.

As you can see in this new procedure, the documents translated into Chinese are first legalized by the national authorities and then the consular officials. The Chinese consulate or embassy will legalize any document legalized by the national authorities regardless of the language it is prepared in.

Note that you should also keep in mind the cost of the legal translation of the document. I recommend that you ask the translator first for an estimate.

Generally, for documents translated into Chinese, there’s double legalization: one of the English document (the original) and the other on the translation.

Reverse legalization: from China to places abroad

Obviously, the procedure that I just explained can also be done in reverse: from the People’s Republic of China to places abroad.

If in fact there are no more advantageous accords for the validity of Chinese documents to other countries, in this case too you’ll have to go through the legalization process for documents by means of an “internal” path and an “external” one.

This doesn’t count for Hong Kong and Macao since as was explained before, they are members of the Hague Convention.

The procedure for legalizing Chinese documents to be valid in foreign countries, since there are no other more advantageous ways, can be broken down into two “paths”.

For the “internal” path, the specific Chinese authority will legalize the signature of the Chinese official that issued the document.

For the “external” one, the authorities of the foreign country requiring the legalization will proceed to check the Chinese document before its sent to their country; in this case, too, the respective authorities in this phase are the foreign consulate representatives in China.

Legalizing documents for China isn’t impossible – not at all. All you have to do is follow all the steps I listed while giving yourself a sufficient amount of time.

The secret for success in this is to arm yourself with massive doses of patience to handle each step and unexpected possibility. Remember, patience is a virtue of the strong! And…have a great stay in China!

Photo Credits: Photo by Xan Photography on Pixabay

6 thoughts on “Legalizing Foreign Documents for China”

  1. Good day sir

    I have an issue at hand and would like to know if you could assist me.

    I am in the process of applying for work visa to re-enter China. I need to have my Portuguese criminal clearance certificate authenticated by a chinese authority in order for my boss to apply for my work permit notification. The chinese consulate in lisbon has unfortunately stopped authentication of documents to only resume in July and I just don’t have the time.

    My criminal clearance certificate has already been authenticated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here in Portugal.

    Please advise me if possible

      1. hello
        I am living China as a foreign student.I want to get married my chinese boy friend.For get married I need to submit my unmarried certificate.I already got unmarried certificate and as far I know I need to take some signature or sort of things from chinese embassy in my country.But Chinese embassy said now they are not working for anything so I should wait.In this situation is it possible to suggest me what should I do?
        thank you

  2. Hello.
    My Wife sand I need to get our sons birth certificate legalized to be able to apply for a visa for Taiwan. I am British and my wife is Taiwanese and my son was born in China/Shanghai. The Taiwanese embassy in the UK have told us that we need to get my sons birth certificate legalized in China. We are in the UK at the moment so we can’t come to China.
    Can you deal with this matter?

    Hope to hear from you soon

    Many thanks

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