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Apostille and document legalization

An apostille is a certification for authenticating documents to be used in foreign countries. The sole function of the apostille is to certify the authenticity of one or more signatures in a document. The certificate is around 15 cm2 in size and is permanently attached to the document which authenticity it is approving.

Once attached, both – the apostille and the document are embossed with an official government seal. Apostilles can be issued for commercial documents, documents related to adoption cases, official documents related to vital statistics, land records, court records as well as patent applications and school documents.

Content of apostille certificate

Generally, the apostille contains numbered fields with the information below:

  1. Country (name of the country that is issuing the apostille)
  2. This public document

  3. Has been signed by…
  4. Acting in the capacity of …
  5. Bears the seal/stamp of … (issuing authority)
  6. At … (place of issue)
  7. The … (date of issue)
  8. By … (issuing authority)
  9. No … (number of registration)
  10. Seal/stamp
  11. Signature (of the issuing authority’s representative)

Apostille Treaty

An apostille as a certification was provided by the Hague Convention of 1961 in order to specify how a document issued by one country can be certified by another country. This international certification can be compared to a notarisation in domestic law and normally supplements a domestic notarisation of the document.

An apostille can be issued and will be accepted only by countries that are parties to the convention. Currently, there are 115 parties to the convention and all except 10 are also members of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. All members of European Union are parties to the convention and the most recent country joining the convention is Guatemala.

In case a country has refused to sign the convention, it has to specify a procedure how foreign legal documents can be certified – the process of legalization. If also this is not in place, the document has to be certified by the foreign ministry of the state in which the document originated and afterwards by the foreign ministry of the state in which the certified document will be used. Generally, it means that the document has to be certified twice before it can have a legal effect in the country it will be used. For example, Canada has not signed the convention, which means that all documents to be used abroad must be certified by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs or by a Canadian consular official abroad and afterwards by the consulate or government office in the receiving state.

Apostille certification procedure

Apostilles are issued by the competent authority appointed by the government of each member state of apostille convention. The first thing to do in order to certify your document is to find out whether your country has signed the convention and which authority is appointed to issue apostilles in your country. This information can generally be found on the internet or by consulting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, for the document to be eligible to be certified with an apostille, it must be issued or certified by an official notary beforehand. When submitting the document for certification with apostille, you need to show a personal identification document, a filled-in application form and a proof that you have paid the state fee. All countries may have slightly different procedures of issuing an apostille including the fee and within how many working days the apostille is issued.