Hong Kong – Apostille or Authentication?

What do you need to do when you are sending documents to Hong Kong?

Hong KongMany of our clients send documents from Australia to Hong Kong. Sometimes those clients also receive different advice regarding the formal requirements for documents that have been notarised in Australia. In this article, we try to clear the confusion and provide some guidance based on our experience in assisting clients with sending documents from Australia to Hong Kong.

We assist many clients by notarising all kinds of documents for Hong Kong. Some common documents include:

Generally, any kind of document that has been signed, witnessed, or originates from Australia and intended to be used in Hong Kong will need to be notarised by a notary public. This is what we do.

Aside having a document notarised by a notary public, the notarised document also needs to be legalised, which may involve either obtaining an apostille or authentication from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Sometimes this level of formality is not required and just having the documents notarised is enough, but if in doubt then it is always safer to have the documents properly legalised.

The formality of legalisation applies to documents intended for countries all over the world, including Hong Kong. However, clients have been confused about what kind of formalities exist between Australia and Hong Kong in terms of legalisation – perhaps because they receive different and conflicting advice from their lawyers or from various government offices. While it is important to obtain the right advice for documents intended for Hong Kong, especially if that advice comes from a lawyer or government office in Hong Kong, it is also important to ensure that whoever has provided that advice is aware of the practice adopted in Australia and the internationally recognised apostille.

Sometimes our clients are asked to have their documents notarised, authenticated by DFAT and then legalised by the Chinese Consulate. This is the normal legalisation process that clients must follow when they send their documents to China, and even though Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, the Chinese Consulate website suggests that documents intended for Hong Kong (and Macau) do not need to be legalised by the Chinese Consulate. Instead, documents intended for Hong Kong must be notarised and then stamped with an apostille from DFAT. The Chinese Consulate is not involved.

This is important information because many people (including lawyers in Australia and in Hong Kong and China) assume that since Hong Kong is now part of China, the formal processes that exist in terms of authenticating and legalising notarised documents with China also extend to Hong Kong. This is not correct, or at least it is not correct from the Chinese Consulate’s perspective.

The Hague Conference on Private International Law is the authority responsible for drafting the Apostille Convention, and it confirms that:

“When Hong Kong and Macao were restored to the People’s Republic of China on 1 July 1997 and 20 December 1999, respectively, China declared that the Convention will continue to apply for Hong Kong and Macao.”

Fortunately, all this means is that the legalisation of documents for Hong Kong will be cheaper and faster – all good news for our clients.

If you are in Australia and you are sending your documents to Hong Kong, ask for clear instructions from your lawyer or the appropriate government office in Hong Kong first. But if they advise you that you need to legalise your document through the Chinese Consulate in Australia, provide them with a link to this article and suggest that legalisation of documents for Hong Kong only requires an apostille from DFAT.