Notarised versus Authenticated versus Apostille… ?!?!?!?!?!

These three words have almost turned me grey in the past week, trying to figure out the differences, what they meant for us and our visa application, and how the hell to go about getting them. Nick and I have come back to Wellington, NZ for ten days to sort out papers and medicals and other personal things in preparation for applying for our Chinese visa’s. We have had my Mum helping us figure out what to do (the voice of experience), as well as all the online research I have done on the requirements. These three words have been by far the most confusing part of the visa application process. And the wonderful woman we spoke to at the Authentication Unit in Wellington put it the best: “An “apostille” is something only used by countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961.” Since China is NOT a participant in the Hague Convention, then I can officially not worry about Apostille Authentication (If you’re a Kiwi, you can check if the country you are going to requires Apostille Authentication here. Such a useful resource. And just to clarify, I am talking from the perspective of going to China only. I have no idea about visa requirements for any other country!) So then I just have to worry about the whole authentication/notarised  process. Which for us, went like this:

  • Get official documents to be authenticated/notarised. Which in our case were four copies of our marriage certificate and one copy of each of our birth certificates. This was the easy part. We went to the BDM office in Wellington, filled in a form, paid our money (fee’s for certificates can be found here) and after a five minute wait, walked out with all the certificates we requested. A document issued by a government agency is classed as already notarised. A document not issued by a government agency (such as a Power of Attorney document, academic records, etc) needs to be notarised by a Notary Public in New Zealand.  Note: If you’re getting a birth certificate printed for use overseas, don’t get the pretty ones with the fancy designs on them. Especially not for use in China. Go plain and official looking every time!
  • Take official documents to the Authentication Unit. The woman we spoke to there was lovely and so helpful. We had no idea what we needed to do. I had two copies of the application form that I got off the website, but they weren’t completed because I didn’t know exactly what I needed to know to complete them. She came out armed with a mini form (much easier to fill out!), an EFTPOS machine and tonnes of useful information. If you click on the link for the Authentication Unit above, it also gives you prices for authenticating packs of documents. You can have a pack of documents authenticated as one, so long as there are only one copy of each document in the pack. For example, we got four packs authenticated: One pack with one copy of my birth certificate and  one copy of our marriage certificate, one pack with one copy of Nick’s birth certificate and one copy of our marriage certificate, then the last two packs just had one copy of our marriage certificate in each. Total cost $158. Ouch. We waited while she did her thing, and she came back with authentication certificates for each pack, with a red seal and blue ribbon on each. Very pretty.
  • The woman in the Authentication Unit advised us that we needed to take the authenticated documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to be verified. She gave us a form to hand over, the address of the Wellington office and called ahead for us so they were expecting us. I know on the website it says that this step costs more money. And maybe it does if you’re doing it all by post. But we were walking around, visiting all these places in person, and this step did not cost us a single cent. We walked in, advised the lady at the front desk that we had come from the Authentication Unit, she know what we were talking about and who to call, another lady came down, we handed over the documents and authentication certificates and the form, which were all packaged up together, she took the documents away and then gave them back to us. And then we left. Easiest (and cheapest) part so far!
  • We then needed to take the notarised and authenticated documents to the Chinese Embassy/Chinese Consulate-General to be authenticated again by them. Maybe it was because I didn’t read anything about this step, or maybe I wasn’t paying attention to this step when I read it, but I had no idea we needed to do this. So we drove up to the Consular Section of the Chinese Embassy (BEWARE! There is more than one address for the Chinese Embassy. We went to the one located at 4 Halswell Street, Thorndon. Take note that it is closed over lunchtime on certain days and after lunch time on certain days. I couldn’t find the hours online to link for you, so I’d recommend going up there and reading the hours off the gate) As I said before, we had no idea that we needed to do this, so we were totally not prepared. We filled out the form that the guy gave us, and he took that with our passports and authenticated documents package. Know what else we weren’t prepared for? The $40 per authentication pack fee (Remember how we had four packs authenticated?! Yup. $40 a pop) and the week that they needed to process the authentication…

So that’s where we’re at at the moment. For our Chinese visa application, we also need a copy of our criminal history (which you can apply for here) to go through the process outlined above. And I stuffed up. Ideally, in an organised world, I should have applied for this months ago online. And I didn’t. Now I am kicking myself because it takes a minimum of 20 days for the Ministry of Justice to process these requests. And we’re going back to Sydney on Wednesday. So we can’t do the fast walk around version of authentication that we did for our other documents. Learn from our mistakes!!! Do this part online waaaaaaaaaaay early and save yourself time and frustration! Like we should have.

Something we did do well was the physically being in Wellington part. Getting departments to send documents around and the organisation/time/cost involved is HUGE. Being able to hit the pavement and organise this stuff in person worked out great for the most part. This stuff is confusing, and different websites say different things about various parts of the process. Meeting with the guy behind the counter at BDM, talking to the lady at the Authentication Unit, asking questions (even the questions that feel really dumb!) and clarifying information over and over again are things that you can’t get if you’re not present. So I would totally recommend doing this stuff in person instead of sending stuff all over the show by post.

Getting all the visa requirements sorted is a HUGE undertaking. And this authentication process is only one part of it. As I have said countless times since we’ve been back in NZ, I am glad that China is cheap because getting there certainly isn’t!



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