China – Important Announcement of Major Changes
As a leading provider of notary public services in Sydney, we help many clients to notarise, authenticate and legalise their documents for China. Here are some major changes to the way documents for China will be processed now and into the future.
Changes for non-Chinese citizens
If you’re sending documents to China and you’re not a Chinese citizen, you must now lodge your documents with the China Visa Application Service Centre.
Since January 2023, the Centre has taken over all legalisation processing for non-Chinese citizens on behalf of the Chinese Consulate. The following announcement now appears on the Centre’s website.
From January 9, 2023, the Chinese Visa Application Service Center (CVASC) will provide the authentication service on behalf of the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Sydney. The service provided by CVASC includes receiving applications, fees collection, document release and inquiries. Application assessment and issuance of the authentication certificates remain in the authority of the Chinese Consulate General.
The applicants whose document is notarized or issued in NSW should submit their application documents to the CVASC in Sydney. All applicants need to book an appointment online in advance. Applications without an online appointment will not be accepted. The booking procedures and the authentication requirements are stated on CVASC’s official website:
Chinese citizens may choose to submit their application to CVASC or the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney. The application to the Consulate-General must be submitted by mail temporarily due to the current COVID-19 situation.
The CVASC will provide applicants with a more comfortable environment, timely inquiry services and longer opening hours, whilst conforming to the laws and regulations of both China and Australia to ensure the security of applicants’ personal information and the contents of the documents submitted. To maintain regular operation, CVASC will charge a service fee according to the Schedule of Fees Schedule of Fees mentioned on CVASC website.China Visa Application Service Centre
Is this a good change?
In short, no – we don’t think so.
As much as the Centre promotes that it has a “more comfortable environment, timely inquiry services and longer operating hours”, the process is substantially more troublesome and time-consuming.
- You must lodge your documents with the Centre in person. You cannot lodge your documents by post, and you cannot just arrange for a courier to drop off your documents. You must have an appointment to lodge your documents in person and if you send a representative, they must be properly authorised.
- The Centre only schedules appointments for Wednesday mornings, limiting the available appointment times. This means that you must book your appointments weeks or even months in advance. The Centre will not serve you if you show up in person without an appointment.
- Even with an appointment, expect to wait in line at the Centre before you can be served. Waiting times at the Centre are notoriously long. It’s common to see allocated seats filled, and people standing along the walls or even sitting on the floor. Sometimes, people even have to wait in the lift lobby or outside on the street. You can often be waiting all day just to lodge your documents.
- Even with an appointment and even after waiting in line, the Centre’s counter staff can choose to not serve you without reason. You’re probably reading this with disbelief, but it happens and the look of disbelief on the faces of people who have been refused service would be the same as yours as you read this.
- You won’t know whether your documents will be accepted by the Centre until you present them to the Centre. Technically, neither the Centre nor the Consulate are responsible for the contents or purpose of your documents. Although they shouldn’t be reading your documents, they usually do. Like the Consulate, the Centre also reserves the right to refuse to accept documents on a range of issues (ie, from national security or national interest to typographical errors and mistakes). Even if your documents were prepared by a lawyer in China, the counter staff may still reject your documents and tell you how to re-write them (despite not being legally qualified).
- If your documents are rejected for any reason, it’s likely that you’ll have to restart the process from the beginning (ie, with notarisation and then DFAT authentication).
- If you’re lucky enough to not have your documents rejected, your documents still won’t be processed on the day of your appointment. The processing time is about 1 week. The Centre will not send your documents to you by post. You must return in person to collect your documents. If the Centre rejects your documents, you’ll need to restart the process.
- Collection times and options are limited. The Centre won’t return your documents to you by post. You must return in person to collect your documents. Appointment times to collect your documents are limited to Wednesday afternoons and again, you must wait in line.
- If you have any questions for the Centre, it’s unlikely that you can contact them by phone or by email. In most cases, if you want to contact the Centre, you must take an appointment and visit them in person. Unfortunately, unless you get a very friendly or helpful person at the counter, most counter staff will refuse to answer any questions and direct you to their website stating that their website contains all the information that you need.
- Finally, if you manage to successfully navigate all of these issues, the end result is that in addition to paying the Consulate’s legalisation fee, you must also pay a service fee to the Centre. This just means that non-Chinese citizens, aside from everything else they must go through with the Centre, non-Chinese citizens also pay more for legalisation with the Consulate.
At this point, it just sounds like we’re “complaining”, but we’re not. This is just the way it is and we’re informing you to manage your expectations. While we haven’t had these problems ourselves, we’ve seen other people go through it at the Centre and we’ve also had to assist our clients with notarising documents that have been rejected.
What about the Chinese Consulate?
On the other hand, the Consulate’s processing for legalisation (especially since COVID with their postal service) has been more efficient.
You can submit your documents to the Consulate by email for checking and approval. Once approved you can lodge your documents by mail with a return paid envelope. A much more simple, more convenient and less time-consuming process – but now it’s only available to Chinese citizens.
Like the Centre, the Consulate may also reject your documents at its discretion. However, with their email checking and approval process, you don’t have the time and hassle of waiting in line for hours and hours just to find out.
Although the Centre has implemented the Consulate’s pre-COVID process, they should have just mirrored the Consulate’s current email and postal service. Creating a two-system process that disadvantages non-Chinese citizens encourages some people to find ways to avoid the Centre. For example, some clients have approached the Chinese Embassy in Canberra – but that’s another process and a level of complication.
What does this mean now and in the future?
In the short term, if you’re sending documents to China and you’re not a Chinese citizen, be prepared for a long and troublesome process. Planning ahead is key since appointment times aren’t easy to come by, especially on short notice.
For example, make appointments with DFAT and the Centre as soon as you know you must send documents to China. Allow for time to visit DFAT and the Centre in person. Be prepared to wait in line for hours, especially at the Centre (for both lodgment and collection).
If you don’t want the hassle of doing these things yourself, you can always ask us for our assistance. We regularly help clients with processing their documents through DFAT. We can also help with the Consulate and the Centre if required.
In the long term, these issues will be irrelevant in light of the following announcement of changes…
China becomes a member of the Apostille Convention
On 8 March 2023, China became the latest member of the Apostille Convention. The apostille in China comes into full force on 7 November 2023.
Is this a good change?
YES! Once China recognises the apostille (海牙认证), the legalisation process (through the Consulate or the Centre) will no longer be required.
Changing to the apostille process will be a huge relief for many people. Considering the challenge of having documents legalised, the apostille process will be faster, less expensive and substantially less time-consuming. It will also make our processes faster and less expensive – a win for you and our clients.
What does this mean now and in the future?
DFAT has advised us that they will issue (and they have been issuing) the apostille on documents intended for China.
You can still elect to have your documents authenticated by DFAT. This will be necessary if you intend to follow the established process of legalisation by the Consulate.
In the short term (at least until 7 November 2023), we recommend following the established process. This means DFAT authentication followed by Consulate legalisation. Do not follow the apostille process unless you’re sure it will be accepted in China.
If you stamp your documents with the apostille, you may find that they won’t be accepted in China. Always ask the intended recipient first. They should be able to tell you if they’ll accept your documents stamped with the apostille. Don’t be surprised if they’re not familiar with the apostille or what it is (yet). If in doubt, always follow the established process.
In the long term (especially after 7 November 2023), ALL documents intended for China will be stamped with an apostille. There’s no reason for the apostille to not be accepted in China once the Apostille Convention is in full force. We’re really looking forward to this change.
We regularly notarise documents and obtain the apostille on public documents or notarised documents. We can help you to send your documents to Apostille Convention member countries all over the world, including China. With regular appointments with DFAT, we can sometimes even process your documents faster than you if you made your own appointment and visited DFAT yourself.
Hong Kong and Macau
On a side, note, these changes don’t affect documents intended for Hong Kong or Macau.
Hong Kong has recognised the apostille since 25 April 1965 and Macau since 4 February 1969. Both regions continue to recognise the apostille despite being handed back to China.
Despite China becoming a member of the Apostille Convention, China will not recognise the apostille issued by Hong Kong or Macau.
Recent articles relating to China, Hong Kong and Macau
Do you have any questions?
Sending documents from Australia to other countries can be complicated. We make it simple.
If your documents must be stamped with an apostille or authenticated and then legalised, we can help with that too. We've also created a flowchart to explain the process.
So, what's next?
Why choose Phang Legal for your notary public services?
We're a leading provider of notary public services in Sydney. We're known for our experience and expertise in notarising documents for other countries, our low-cost fixed fees and service offering, and our availability to help on short notice.
Our office is conveniently located in Parramatta, the geographic centre of the Sydney metropolitan area. We help clients from across Sydney and beyond with personal, professional and timely notary public services.
This website is maintained by Phang Legal, a boutique law firm in Parramatta and a leading provider of quality notary public services to satisfied clients across Sydney.
Ern Phang is a director of Phang Legal and a notary public (since 2005). Ern regularly writes about his experiences as a notary public and the issues faced by his clients in sending documents to other countries.