This post is written to help any US citizen navigate the process of getting documents authenticated if that need arises. I’m sure the process is similar for other countries, I just have no personal first hand experience with other countries.
When does one need documents authenticated?
When you apply for a S1 visa for your spouse or children, when you register a business, and, as with everything else in this country…whenever they say 🙂
What is document authentication, anyway?
This is a process by which China can certify that the document is legitimate, and legitimately yours.
Here’s a picture of what the offices here need to see:
a document authenticated at the Chinese Embassy will have this stamped on it
What is the process for getting a document authenticated?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just getting this stamp. First, you have to go to the issuing authority of the document. For a marriage license or birth certificate in the US, that would be the state. You need to get the document notarized or get an apostille (different states have different names for this process). Basically, the state will certify that the document is true. In the state of Oklahoma, it looks like the photo below, where they attach another full piece of paper to the document itself. I’m sure every state is different.
Once you have this step done, you can send that document to the Chinese Embassy to get their stamp. You bring that document with you to China to present at the employment bureau, gong an ju, or whichever office it is that needs it.
Reading the above, you may think this process is easy. And it can be. It you are still in America and all your documents were issued by the same state. It gets more complicated when you are dealing with multiple states. (or multiple countries, or countries at war with no process to validate anything).
It gets even more complicated if the document you have to authenticate is your passport. This is a federally issued document so instead of going to the state, you have to get it notarized by the US Secretary of State. (that’s right, a copy of our passport is signed by John Kerry).
It’s even more complicated if you are in China when you need any of these documents authenticated. It means first, you’ll be emptying your pockets for lots of postage and without your documents for the better part of a month. I think most states allow someone else to notarize it for you, but you should confirm.
If it’s your passport you need authenticated (this is rare), it requires an additional step whether here or in your home country. Because they can’t affix something to your passport or stamp random things in it, you first need a certified copy of your passport. If you’re in China, this means a trip to the US Embassy or Consulate for get an official copy made and notarized that it really belongs to you. If you’re in the US you still have to get a certified copy made and have it notarized as a true copy.
Then you send that document to the Secretary of State, then that document to the Chinese Embassy, then present the final stamped document to the office here. (Let’s say this another way: instead of just accepting my passport which already has multiple visas and other trackable date, the gong shang ju and shang wu ju both preferred us to mail a copy of our passport around the world and then accept that copy instead of just using the actual document itself).
Using an agency or service company
Yes. They can generally get it done more quickly and efficiently than you. Normally the same companies that help get Chinese visas can do authentications as well.
Here’s the link to the information about the process from the Chinese Embassy website. You’ll notice that they no longer accept mail-in applications with means unless you plan on hand delivering it yourself, you have to use a service company.
Have you had to go through this process before? Was it smooth or a headache? What tips do you have for someone else doing it?