Need to Send Public Documents to a Foreign Country?
You will first need to certify the documents and show proof that the certification and any seals are legal and valid if you plan to use or transfer them overseas.
Certification of documents for foreign use typically follows one of two paths:
- Between countries party to The Hague Convention*, documents can be certified through a streamlined process known as apostille (pronounced “ah-pa-steel”).
- In countries that are not party to the Hague Convention, which require apostille certificates, documents must undergo a more involved process known as authentication and legalization of documents.
In both cases, government agencies must review the notary acknowledgments or signatures on the documents in question. In the U.S., offices of county clerks, secretaries of state or equivalent state filing offices, and even some courts, may be involved in the certification process. Documents that require legalization are routed for certification by the U.S. State Department’s Office of Authentications before continuing on to the embassy or consulate of the country of intent.
* What is the Hague Convention?
Prior to 1961, the process of legalizing foreign public documents was exceptionally cumbersome and complicated. Thanks to The Hague Apostille Convention of 1961, a more streamlined, simpler method was agreed upon and established between 110 participating countries. In accordance with this international treaty, your public documents should be accepted by the county of use with only an apostille, as long both countries (of document issue and document use) are party to The Hague Convention (Member Country List) and the apostille was issued by the appropriate Authority.
Apostille vs. Authentication?
There are two main ways to provide proof that a documents’ certification and any seals are legal and valid: Apostille and Authentication.
An Apostille is a certificate (a piece of paper), often attached to a document, that validates the document for use outside the United States. There is a distinct process for how to obtain an apostille. First, a competent authority in the country of origin affixes its seal to the document (or a certified copy of it). In the U.S., competent authorities include the Secretary of State or equivalent in U.S. states and the District of Columbia, the clerks and deputy clerks of U.S. federal courts, and the U.S. Department of State Office of Authentications. Once a document is fixed with an apostille, it is acceptable for use in the foreign jurisdiction. Note, though, that for an apostille to be accepted, the document must have been issued in one country party to the Hague Convention for use in another country party to the Hague Convention.
(*Applies Only When Both Country of Document Issue and Country of Document Use Are Party to The Hague Apostille Convention.)