Should I arrange for legalisation myself?
Obtaining legalisation (or an apostille) at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not complicated or difficult. Anyone who can make a payment online and send documents through the post will have no difficulty in getting their documents legalised.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office claim a 2 working day turnaround for documents they receive. Anecdotal evidence among notaries suggests that for the majority of documents received by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a 2 to 3 working day turnaround is achieved. Although there appears to be:
- a minority of documents where the 2 to 3 working day turnaround is not achieved (and where it can take a week to two weeks for documents to be returned); and
- a few (odd) weeks in a year where the majority of documents are not dealt within 2 to 3 working days.
In recent years the service offered by the legalisation office at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has improved compared to the period prior to 2010. Until the middle of 2012 the Legalisation Office displayed where they were at with their work. This no longer appears on their website.
Given the generally decent service that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office offers, why use any other method than dealing directly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Here are some arguments both pro and con.
Why you might wish to arrange legalisation yourself?
- Cost It is cheaper to arrange it yourself. In addition to the normal legalisation fee(s), the FCO only charge £6 to return the document(s) to you
- Easy to arrange As stated above, ‘ordering’ legalisation is really no more difficult than ordering and paying for goods from Amazon. It involves nothing more complicated than filling in a form and sending the documents to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by post. To start the process visit the following FCO page
Why you might wish my agent to arrange legalisation
- Convenience My agent handles the whole process, including payment and delivery to and collection from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (and delivery to you). That is, if you do not wish to spend the time in filling in forms, making the payment, obtaining the right postage for the documents etc and visiting a post office (if you wish to send the documents by Recorded Delivery or Special Delivery)
- Reduce the chances of legalisation taking more than 3 working days As stated above most people using the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s postal service get a quick service, but since my agent’s business is obtaining legalisation and because it takes the documents to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s office and collects them personally there is a better likelihood there will no delay
A health warning
Whichever method you use it is never possible to guarantee how long the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take. This is because of the following factors:
- computer problems Typically a few times a year the Legalisation Office’s computers stop working. When this occurs no legalisation work is carried out (i.e. the Legalisation Office has no manual backup procedure)
- staff shortages Typically a few times a year the Legalisation Office has a shortage of staff and legalisation work is delayed or it takes longer for them to deal with documents than the stated 2 working day turnaround
- inadequately trained staff The Foreign and Commonwealth Office rotates its staff among various departments, so that from time-to-time new clerical staff arrive who have not been properly trained or are not sufficiently experienced to recognise acceptable or non-acceptable documents for legalisation. For example, notaries report some documents entirely in a foreign language are rejected even though they are properly notarised
if a problem is identified by the FCO (whether genuine or not) it is not possible to deal with the FCO in a timely manner Where a problem occurs it is difficult to speak to anyone at the Legalisation Office (the telephone lines is only open from 12 noon to 4pm) and the Legalisation Office can take up to 5 working days to respond to emails (and if they fail to respond it is necessary to send another email)
On the one occasion I telephoned the Legalisation Office, I made 3 calls each lasting approximately 30 minutes, and on each occasion other than being told how important my call was to the FCO, I was not able to speak any one.
- if you have a document such as a birth certificate or court document which requires an apostille but not notarisation, the FCO may not have a note of the signature on the document In such cases the Legalisation Service will need to call the government department, local authority or court etc to establish whose signature it is etc
All of the above affect the speed in getting your documents back from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by whichever method you choose to get legalisation done.Last updated: 14 August 2013.