The "Service Convention" is an international treaty concerning how to serve process in international civil litigation.
The Convention applies whenever litigation is taking place in one signatory state, and documents must be served on a party in another signatory state. The signatories to the Convention include the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, China and Russia. However, a number of large economies are not party to the Convention, including India, Australia, Nigeria, South Africa and Brazil.
Under the Convention, each state designates a central authority to receive requests for service of documents from other countries. In most countries, this authority is a division or office of the attorney general, ministry of justice or analogous department, although some countries ask for documents to be sent to the ministry of foreign affairs or the supreme court. Once the central authority receives a request, it then serves the documents following domestic law. A state may specially prescribe other methods for Hague Convention service which bypass the central authority.
The Convention also allows documents to be "sent" by mail "provided the State of destination does not object." However, many states (including China, Japan and Germany) have objected to this provision and still require personal service to be made through the usual government channels. Some U.S. courts have also interpreted this provision as being distinct from service of process (e.g., Bankston v. Toyota Motor Corp., 889 F.2d 172 (8th Cir. 1989)).
In the United States, the United States Marshals handle both inbound and outbound Hague Convention requests. If a foreigner is a party in a U.S. court case, the Marshals receive all service requests on a Form 94 (a three-page form listing basic information about the document and its addressee) and transmit the documents overseas through a private contracting firm, Process Forwarding International. Incoming service requests arrive at either the Department of Justice (the central authority) or Department of State, and are then given to the Marshals for personal service on the U.S. party.
It is occasionally possible to serve process on a foreign person without going through the Hague Convention: in the U.S., for instance, this can happen if a foreign individual visits the United States, or if a foreign corporation has a wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary which can be considered its alter ego under the theory of piercing the corporate veil (Volkswagenwerk v. Schlunk, 486 U.S. 694 (1988)). Such strategies can cause problems later on, however, if the final judgment is to be enforced in their home country. The home country's authorities may cite defective service as grounds for denying comity and therefore refusing to enforce the American judgment.