Document Authentication – What is it and why is it a multi-step process?

In recent years, more and more foreigners have gone to China to start a business, get married or look for jobs. For all such purposes, legal documents of one kind or another are required by Chinese authorities. For example, an American company wishing to open a branch office in China must provide proof that it is legally registered in America and is in good standing. For a US citizen to get married in China, he or she must prove he/she is single. For a foreign worker to seek employment, he/she must prove that he/she is qualified and does not have a criminal background.

Whatever the case, the applicant must go through a process called Document Authentication, or Legalization, or Legal Certification. Whatever the term is used, it always means the same thing and has the same purpose – to make a US legal document acceptable in China. For Chinese authorities to accept an American legal document, the document must be proved valid by the Chinese government representative in the US, namely the Chinese embassy or consulate. This is easy to understand, right? After all, Chinese authorities are not subject to, or familiar with the American legal system. They will only trust their own government representative to validate an American legal document.

For the Chinese embassy or consulate to validate a US legal document, it must rely on a relevant US government agency, with which it has a business relationship, namely the US Department of State, in the case of Chinese Embassy in Washington DC, and various secretary of state’s offices at the state level. It is important to understand that each Chinese Consulate works with only a number of secretary of states (SOS) in its jurisdiction. For example, the Chinese Consulate in Houston can certify the signature of SOS for the state of Texas, but it cannot do so for the state of New York, only the Chinese Consulate in New York can.

To elaborate further on the previous point, the Chinese embassy or consulate can only authenticate the signature of various SOS within its jurisdiction. In the case of Chinese Embassy in Washington DC, it only recognizes and authenticates the signature of the US Secretary of State. In fact, that’s all they do in the legalization process. Therefore, before a document can be authenticated by the Chinese embassy or consulate, it must be certified by the SOS first. SOS can certify a government-issued document without it being first notarized, such as birth certificate, death certificate, articles of incorporation, etc. For a non-government issued document to be certified by SOS, for example, diploma, power of attorney, single status affidavit, it must be first notarized by a local notary public. All notary publics work under SOS’s commission in the state where they are allowed to practice, and SOS relies on them to prove the truthfulness of civil documents.



This explains why the document legalization process is a multi-level, multi-step procedure. To sum it up, here are all the steps you need to take to have your documents authenticated, or certified, or legalized:



1. Get your document notarized by a local notary public

You must complete this step on your own.

2. Get your notarized or government issued document certified by the Secretary of State

This step can be completed by yourself, or by CVSC for a fee.

3. Get your SOS certified document authenticated by the US Department of State if your document was issued in states that are under the jurisdiction of Washington DC

Unless you live in Washington DC, it’s easiest to have CVSC complete this step for you.

4. Get your SOS certified document authenticated by the Chinese embassy or consulate.


For more details on the meaning of authentication of documents and how to utilize CVSC’s document authentication service, please contact CVSC customer service by phone or email.



Need Assistance?

Our team is at your service to help you with your passport and visa issues, or to answer any related questions


You can also find answers to frequently asked questions on our FAQ page