In March 2023, China submitted its instrument of accession to the Apostille Convention. China’s accession is expected to take effect in November 2023.
The simpler procedures under the Apostille Convention will save U.S. colleges or universities with China-related educational activities time and money.
On March 8, 2023, the Chinese ambassador to the Netherlands submitted China’s instrument of accession to the Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents (also known as the Apostille Convention). At a regular press conference on March 10, 2023, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said that the Apostille Convention will enter into force in China in early November 2023. She noted that the main purpose for China joining the Apostille Convention is to simplify procedures for the use of public documents abroad and facilitate international trade and people-to-people exchanges.
According to Mao, “Firstly, it will significantly reduce time and cost and will become easier for Chinese citizens to complete relevant procedures for the use abroad of such documents as health certificates, driver’s license certificates, household registry certificates and certificates of academic degrees. It will only take a few days to get one document ready for use abroad, compared with around 20 days previously. With the cost greatly reduced, it will save Chinese and foreign individuals and businesses more than RMB 300 million every year. The time required to complete relevant procedures between China and other contracting states to the Apostille Convention will be slashed by about 90 percent on average. Secondly, it will help improve the business environment. With China’s accession to the Apostille Convention, foreign companies investing in or exporting to China will no longer need to seek consular legalization for commercial documents. There will be similar benefits for over 70 percent of China's export-related commercial documents.”
After the Apostille Convention comes into effect in China, it will be sufficient to obtain an apostille from the relevant state or federal authority rather than undergo the legalization process. As a result, the process that U.S. colleges and universities must undergo to establish a subsidiary (i.e., a wholly foreign-owned enterprise (WFOE)) or representative office (RO) in Mainland China may be significantly reduced, as legalization of public documents for incorporation of an entity in China may take only a few days to complete as compared to the current timeline of several weeks. Reduced timelines will also benefit Chinese students applying to study in the United States. However, only “public documents” apply to the Apostille Convention, including, for example: a) documents emanating originating from an authority or an official connected with the courts or tribunals of the State, including those originating from a public prosecutor, a clerk of a court or a process-server; b) administrative documents; c) notarial acts; and d) official certificates which are placed on documents signed by persons in their private capacities, such as official certificates recording the registration of a document (or the fact that it was in existence on a certain date) and official and notarial authentications of signatures.
The extent to which China’s joining of the Apostille Convention will benefit U.S. colleges and universities will depend on what China considers to be “public documents” under internal law. As a next step, it will be important to observe how the Chinese government implements the Apostille Convention within its borders.