In order to give legal effects to an Italian document in the territory of the People’s Republic of China, it is necessary to perform a particular procedure known as “consular legalization”. Generally speaking, such a procedure has the effect to make a document valid in a country different from the one where it is formed. Therefore, a document written in Italian language and signed by a Public Official must, to be valid in China, be subject to the consular legalization procedure.

However, this is not always the case. When the 1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents applies, the consular legalization procedure is substituted by a faster and easier certification, called apostille. The apostille is a stamped official certificate attached to the original document to be legalized, affixed by the Competent Authorities designated by the government of a State which is party to the convention. The Convention applies to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China.

For the countries not party to the convention, including the People’s Republic of China, consular legalization is nevertheless the only applicable procedure. Therefore, in order to legalize an Italian document to be valid in China, it is still necessary to make an inquiry to the Chinese Embassy or Consulate in Italy.

Is it important to note that the consular legalization and apostille only apply to public documents and acts, as defined by the applicable national and international laws: thus, private acts and documents cannot be legalized or apostilled unless they have been previously “converted” into public documents or acts, by any means provided by the applicable laws (e.g. authentication, certified copy, registration etc.).

In case the document is written in a foreign language, before proceeding to its legalization it would be necessary for it to be translated by a legally authorized professional. Once the translation is complete, the accredited translator proceeds to the so-called “asseveration”, a declaration through which he affirms to be in good faith, to not have any doubt on the conformity of the translation, and thus personally assumes all responsibilities in this respect.

Where no more favourable international agreement is applicable, such as in the present case, a “two-steps” legalization procedure applies for the Italian documents to become valid abroad. This means that the act or document should be firstly legalized by the competent Italian authority, and only afterwards by the competent consular authority of the State where the act or documents should acquire validity (in the present case, China).

Competent for the “first step” of legalization is thus the local Procura della Repubblica (Public Prosecutor’s Office), in case the document is issued by a judicial authority or by the Ministry of Justice (e.g., a criminal record); or the local Prefettura della Repubblica (Prefecture) in any other case, provided that the document is signed by a Public Official.

As for the “second step” of legalization, the competent office is the Embassy or a Consulate of the People’s Republic of China in Italy. In order to proceed, the applicant must present (1) the original and a copy of the act/document; (2) a certified translation, when the original act is written in a foreign language, plus a copy; (3) a valid ID.

The procedure is subject to fees, varying on the basis of the kind of act/document, and the documents can be picked up within a few days after they are deposited to the consular authority.

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