What is an Apostille?
An Apostille is a certificate issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that states my signature and seal are genuine. Other than for lawyers, an Apostille is the same as legalisation: confirmation that my signature and seal are genuine.
Is there a difference between obtaining an Apostille and legalisation?
Yes. Legalisation means taking a document to a country’s embassy (after, usually, first taking the document to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office). Obtaining an apostille means taking the document only to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The reality of legalisation
Where legalisation is required (and it is not possible to get just an apostille), the reality in many cases is that the document must first go to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and then to a country’s embassy/consulate.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office first place a certificate (a piece of paper together with their seal) on the notarised document to confirm that the notary’s signature and seal are genuine and then the embassy/consulate put their own stamp to confirm that the signature of the official at, and the seal of, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are genuine.
This double requirement is required for almost all countries were legalisation is required. There are a few exceptions where it is possible to just send a document to a country’s consulate/embassy (such as Brazil).
Prior to 1961, to have a notary’s signature and seal confirmed as genuine it was necessary to take the notarised document to the country’s embassy where the document was going. The Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents was introduced to removed this requirement. Instead where confirmation of the genuineness of a signature and seal is required the document is taken to a country’s authorised representative instead (in the UK, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office). The aim was to simplify procedures (i.e. replacing different procedures (and prices) for each country with just one.
How to know whether obtaining an apostille or legalisation is required (or no legalisation etc is needed at all)?
The simplest way is to consult the list of members of the 1961 Convention. If the country is listed then usually only an apostille is required. But here is a summary:
- most European countries are members
- most Arab countries are not members
- many Latin American countries are members but Argentina, Brazil and Chile are not members or have not implemented the Hague Convention fully
- many Commonwealth countries (whether or to members) do not require legalisation (or an apostille) at all
- many Asian countries are not members but India is a member (but an apostille is not always required)
- China is not a member (other than Hong Kong)
- Some states in the United States of America require an apostille (California, New York, Pennsylvania, plus others)
Last modified: 29 October 2014