International Service 101: Everything You Need To Know To Get Your Documents Served Anywhere In The World!

Getting legal service on someone in the United States—whether a company or an individual—is a pretty straightforward process. But when the other party is outside of the US, it’s an entirely different matter, and depending on the country, the process can take as long as a year or more.

Since the company or individual overseas may not fall under US jurisdiction, you and your legal counsel will have to follow certain rules. This makes service more complicated, but it is not impossible.

Different countries subscribe to different service methods, and it’s important to know which one you’ll need to follow. It starts with what country the party lives in.

The Three Methods

There are three ways to serve a company or individual in a foreign country, depending on where they are.

1. The Hague ConventionThe Hague Service Convention is a multilateral treaty that simplifies the international service process so that defendants are notified of suits and other legal actions against them and facilitate proof of service in another country. Begun in 1965 and effective as of 1968, it establishes an effective system for parties to render service in a large number of member countries. Under the Hague Convention, the application which is necessary is the USM 94. Normally, the USM 94 is executed by the attorney of record, however, in some instances, some countries require the USM 94 to be executed by the Clerk of the Court or the Judge assigned to the pending matter in the United States.

Civil and commercial matters are handled, but not criminal. A request is sent to the country’s Central Authority, the designated bureau that is set up to receive and handle these requests. 

You can find a complete list of countries served by the Hague Convention here.

2. The Inter-American Convention — similar to the Hague Convention, this one is signed by the US as well as a dozen countries in Latin America:

        • Argentina
        • Brazil
        • Chile
        • Colombia
        • Ecuador
        • Guatemala
        • Mexico
        • Panama
        • Paraguay
        • Peru
        • Uruguay
        • Venezuela

When serving legal documents through the Inter-American Convention the Requests from the US are executed by a US judge and the Central Authority in the US. Once received by the foreign court, the judge will review and approve the request before service is rendered.  The major difference in serving through the Inter-American Convention is that the USM 272 is signed by the Central Authority in the United States and sent directly to the Court in a foreign country bypassing the Central Authority. Also, in the USM 272, the attorney of record in the United States can assign local counsel in the foreign country “to act in connection with the Letter Rogatory”.  The information of the local council is placed at the bottom of page 1 to the USM 272. We like to refer to this as “boots on the ground”. 

This process generally takes four to six months, depending on the country. Like the Hague Convention, documents must also be translated into the country’s official language.  

3. Letters of Rogatory — In the absence of one of the conventions, the US Department of State can help. If the other party is not a member of the Hague or Inter-American Convention —  a Letter of Rogatory can be issued to accomplish service. This is a request from a US judge to a foreign authority in another country requesting service or other acts. Without the foreign court’s permission, the act would violate the country’s sovereignty.

These letters are usually sent through diplomatic channels, which can be time-consuming and take a year or more. A major difference with serving Letters of Rogatory is that all the documents being served must be certified by the Clerk of Court and then an Apostille would be necessary to authenticate the documents. A Certificate from the United States Department of Justice and an Apostille from the US Department of State are necessary in Federal matter. 

Note that if your case involves monetary damages, these are your only options for service. Using a private process server and bypassing the Central Authority of the foreign Court means that any judgment you receive will not be enforceable.

Will You Need Translation?

In countries where English is not the official language, a legal translation is generally required, even if the party speaks English. The Central Authority will review your case documents in the country’s native language, so it has to be translated from English in order to be reviewed.

The more difficult or complex the documents are, the more time will be needed for the translation. However, we translate over 100 languages and can offer you a quote to ensure your documents are accurately translated.

Caveat — The Correct Address

It seems like a simple thing, but if you do not have the correct address and the exact name of the company or individual you are serving, there’s a good chance your service will not happen.

You may be able to Google an address, but it’s also best to confirm the address with the company or individual directly. The full address must be listed on the summons. If there is any problem with the address, delivery will be denied.  

Private Process Servers

Question: Is it possible to bypass the governmental agencies and just find someone to perform service?
Answer: Yes, but as a rule, we do not recommend it.

Private process servers are available in many countries, at a cost of five to ten times what the standard formal process costs. However, some countries, like China, will not allow any form of informal process service—you have no other choice but to go through the Central Authority.  

In most cases, you will need permission from a US judge to attempt a private process server. Once granted, you can proceed.

More than 90% of service cases use the standard formal process. Private process service is an informal service, your party may be served faster, but the higher expense and the possibility of an invalid service mean that it may be better for the client to be extremely patient and use the country’s standard process for service. If you truly wish to use a private process server, contact us and we can advise you on which countries allow service through a private process server.

International Service When You Need It

Process serving in another country can be daunting, but it does not have to be difficult. Let us help facilitate service wherever the defendant is located.

Since 2000, Judicial Support has offered efficient domestic and international process service to law firms of all sizes, as well as non-law firm clients. We work with clients nationwide for process service anywhere in the world.  We can make sure your process service is done correctly, in accordance with the state or country’s requirements.

A Complete Guide To International Service in China

It’s not unusual for a US company to be involved in litigation with non-US based trade partners. Increasingly, it’s also more common for individuals to be involved in multinational cases for family law matters including divorces and child custody. In a domestic case with a US Court, a Summons is served, the other party is notified of the litigation, and the case proceeds. This is true of any type of litigation in the United States.

The rules change when the defendant is in a foreign country, and where US law doesn’t apply.

If your other party is in China, regardless of whether it’s a business or an individual they must be served using the Hague Convention process. Process serving is a completely different ballgame in this country.
When serving legal documents in China – the foreign authorities will follow the local rules and regulations set out by China. If you’re planning to have service on a party, whether an individual or an entity in China, the rules are very specific, and you must follow them exactly.


I. The Hague Convention
China is a country that is under The Hague Convention on Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters. In order to serve a party there, your request for service must be done by the Hague Convention Treaty.

All English documents must be translated into Simplified Chinese (Mandarin). Without legal translation, the Central Authority will reject your request. The translation is required under China’s declaration to Article 5(3).

It’s a good idea to hire a private investigator to locate the correct address for service. This is extremely important—if the address isn’t correct, your request can be rejected by the Central Authority, local authorities, or anyone else involved with the service.

You’ll also need to fill out a US Marshall’s Service Form 94, (USM-94) also called a Hague Service Request. This is the form for an Article 5 request under the Hague Convention. Although it comes in English and French, if you’re serving a party in China, you will need to translate this Form as well.


II. The Central Authority
This is the country’s office that is designated to receive and process the paperwork for your request for service. They are also responsible for deciding whether to send your information to the Chinese Supreme Court.

Your paperwork must contain:
• A filled out USM-94
• The original English version of documents to be served on the party, with the court’s seal on the summons
• All documents translated into Simplified Chinese (Mandarin)
• Photocopies of these documents

The Chinese Central Authority’s address is:
Ministry of Justice of China
International Legal Cooperation Center
No.33 PingAnLi XiDaJie
Xicheng District, Beijing, 100035
People’s Republic of China

Once the Chinese Supreme Court receives the paperwork, they will assign a case number and submit it for review by a judge. The judge reviews your request and then decides whether or not to order service.

After service has been made, the affidavit will be returned to the U.S. If you hire Judicial Process and Support to take care of your international service to China, it will be returned to us. At that point, we will hand it over to the attorney handling the case here in the U.S. The attorney will request a legal translation from our offices, and then submit it to the U.S. Court for filing in the Court’s docket.


III. Paying For Your Service
Although the Convention prohibits charging a fee, the US government charges $95. The Chinese government requires a fee of $95 “reciprocal fee” for the execution of service requests from the U.S. in order to process your service.
This fee must be sent to Beijing by wire transfer to the Central Authority. They will accept funds in no other fashion. If you don’t, your service will not happen, and your documents will likely be returned to you.
Your wire confirmation must also be submitted with your Hague request. A bank draft is no longer accepted.

IV. Hurry Up And Wait
One of the biggest components of process service to China is that you must have patience—quite a bit of it, in fact.
While Judicial Process and Support works hard to provide fast, efficient service, the Chinese government does not. It may be as long as 6 months or more before you receive your proof of service from the Chinese government.

V. Are There Any Alternatives?
Unfortunately, the answer is no–there aren’t. China objects to any other method of process service, including in-person and by mail. Any attempt to go around their prescribed method of requesting service will be denied.


By Legal Pros. For Legal Pros.
Need to serve someone in China, in another city, or right in your city? Judicial Process and Support is ready to help no matter where you need service of process.

We’ve worked with small, medium and large law firms and other clients, offering five-star service in international service of process and translation into over 100 languages. Although we’re based in Miami, we work with clients worldwide to ensure that your service of process is completed in accordance with the State or Country’s requirements.

Service of process is important, especially with overseas parties, so don’t take chances. Make sure that your service is completed the right way, no matter where it is. You can call us today at 1-800-852-5002, or email us at

We’re happy to answer all your questions and get you the services you need quickly.

Take a look at this successful Chinese Service of Process we have on our YouTube Channel.