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Guide to LEGALISATION & APOSTILLE of documents

If you want a document of one country to be legally acceptable and recognizable in the other country, you need to legalise that document in the UK.

Now, this process of legalising and apostille of a document usually involves a kind of certificate or stamp which is provided by the country to which the document originally belongs to and that certificate should be acceptable and recognizable in the country where the document is intended to be used. In a very simple way this means that you cannot use a government document of one country in another country without a certification from the country where document has originated.

Some type documents that require authentication may include: birth certificates, death certificates, powers of attorney, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, property deeds, incorporation papers, corporate legal documents, contracts, adoption papers, affidavits, and school transcripts, diplomas, degrees. Also, if a document has been translated, you need to legalise the translated document also.

In UK there are two ways in which this ‘recognition’ of a particular document can be done: Apostille and Legalisation. Certification of documents for overseas use typically follows one of the two paths. If the document is to be used between the countries that are part of the Hague Convention #12, certification of the documents can be done through a streamlined process known as ‘Apostille.’

Having said that, there are countries that are not the part of the Hague Convention #12, in such countries documents must undergo a more involved process known as ‘Legalisation.’ However, in both cases, government agencies are required to review the notary acknowledgements or signatures on the documents in question. You can also get your documents authenticated by ‘Notarisation,’ that is done by a public notary who ensure the authenticity of the signatures, facts, affidavits, declarations made, power of attorney etc. in the documents.

Let’s take a look as to how the Apostille, Notarisation, and Legalisation differ from one another:

Apostille is a form of authentication or certification issued for such documents that are to be used in the countries that are a part of Hague Treaty of 1961. Apostille authenticated documents can only be used in a foreign country that accepts such documents without any further authentication needed on such documents.

Notarisation or notary refers to a process in which a public notary formally attests to the authenticity of the document by inspecting the sign or any facts laid in the document. After affirming the document, the notary public sign and stamp the document only after your signing the document to verify your identity. A notary public is a person, usually a solicitor but not always, who is officially authorised to undertake certain legal formalities.

Legalisation is a process followed by those countries that are not a part of the Hague Treaty of 1961. To present a legal document in such countries you need to authenticate whether the notary’s signature and seal are genuine. This is called legalisation. Legalisation can only be done at an embassy or consulate of the country in which the document will be used and requires an authenticated document bearing a signature, seal and/or stamp of a Notary Public.

Let’s discuss each type in detail-

Apostille:

Apostille is a form of certificate which is used among the countries that are a part of the Apostille Convention to get the certification recognized in those countries. Apostille is an easier way to verify and legalize a document between the countries. But, this method of certification can only be used among the countries that are a part of the Apostille Convention. 

When a country issues an Apostille for a document intended to be used in some other country which is a part of the Apostille Convention, then no further authentication of such document is requested or required. The authority receiving the document accepts the seals or signatures as true and valid.

In the United Kingdom Apostille is issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office based in Milton Keynes which is also known as the legalisation office which can legalise any UK document with an Apostille certificate. It should be noted here that the process of legalising your UK document that is intended to be used in a country that is a part of the Apostille Convention, the terms ‘Apostille’ and ‘Legalisation’ stands for the same process.

Before going further, here is the brief as to what is does an Apostille Convention refer to and which countries is a part of it. In 1961, in Hague, Netherlands, many countries came together to create a simplified method of ‘legalising’ documents for universal recognition. Also known as Hague Convention, the participating members of the conference, adopted a document known as an Apostille as the only form of legalisation required for any document among the member countries.

Apostille Certificate:

An Apostille certificate is attached to the validated UK documents that are needed to be used in a foreign country. This certificate is attached to such document whose validity of official signatures or seals has been confirmed thereby making it acceptable in a foreign land that has agreed on the Hague Convention. In UK, you get apostille on most of the documents in a day or two.

The Apostille contains the following information:

· Country which has issued the Apostille

· The person who has signed the document

· Date of issue

· Place of issue

· If there is any seal on the document the Apostille gives the details of that seal

· Apostille issuing authority

· Certificate number of the Apostille

· Stamp of the issuing authority

· Signature of the issuing authority’s representative

Documents that require Apostille Certificate include:

· Students studying overseas need to provide Apostille certified education certificates, attendance proof for further studies or work visas

· Passports

· Birth Certificates

· Government identification cards

· Death Certificates, Power of attorney in such cases where property is owned in a foreign land and the property owner has died

· Marriage Certificates

Corporate documents such as Business permits and letters of incorporation also require Apostille Certificates.

Procedure to obtain an Apostille Certificate:

In order to get an Apostille certificate, you need to provide your original document or a copy for review and approval of the issuing body. While it is suggested to provide an original document but some countries do not require original copies of the document, so a copy will suffice. 

To provide an Apostille certificate to any document, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office needs the document to be in their original format and in English. If the submitted document is in any other language, you are required to provide for a certified English translation attached with the document. To make it easier, below are the steps to get an Apostille certificate:

· You need to be aware of the requirements of the requesting authority for legal documents and make sure to submit all the supporting documents

· Fill out the application form in the format accepted by the FCO. The application form is to be submitted along with the documents to be legalised

· Fees to get an Apostille certificate can be paid either online, UK postal order or bank cheques

How long does it take to get an Apostille certificate?

There are two ways to get your Apostille certificate: Standard Service and Premium Service. In case you choose Standard Service, you will get your Apostille certificate in 2 working days excluding postage times but if you are applying through Standard Service during peak months, it might take longer. 

An Apostille is given on the same day if you choose Premium Service but you will have to pay more in this case. So, depending upon the urgency you can choose any of the method to get your certificate.

How long is an Apostille valid?

All the Apostille certificates bear the date of issue but they do not bear any expiry date. Most of the time an apostille is accepted at any time after the date of issuance but under some circumstances a recent apostille may be requested on a document. One such case is criminal record check. In this case, the visa authority may ask for a recent apostille that has been issued within 3 to 6 months.

Certificate of no impediment is another such document that requires an apostille that has been issued within 3 to 6 months.

Can a document be legalised and issued a certificate of Apostille at the same time?

Yes, you get both the things done at the same time. Legalisation basically means that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has validated that all the signatures and stamps found on a particular document are genuine, while by issuing of a certificate of Apostille the document is exempted from legalisation. 

In special cases when a particular document is required to be legalised as well as be certified by an Apostille certificate, then this is permitted by the British embassy and other governing authorities.

Notarisation:

This involves verification of the authenticity of the facts laid out in a document. Some countries require notarisation of the documents before they are presented in those countries. Notarisation is done by a public notary to ensure the authenticity of the signatures, facts, affidavits, declarations made, power of attorney etc. It should be noted here that some countries require notarisation of the Apostille certified documents for international acceptance.

A notarised document means that the identity and signature of the signatory has been verified and witnessed by a Notary Public at the time of signing. Such documents are by an impression of the Notary Public’s stamp or seal to indicate that the document is that of the person who signed the document. 

It is obligatory on the Notary Public to verify the identity of the signatory in order to ensure that the document is signed or executed under the signatory’s free will.

In some countries such as Australia, South Africa, Canada and Bahamas, a notary signature is accepted without any further authentication.

Documents that are needed to be certified by a Notary Public before getting legalised-

Some documents that are required to be certified by a Notary Public before they proceed for the legalisation process. Such documents include:

· Such copies of legal documents that are without actual signatures or stamps

· Documents issued by private individuals need to be notarized

· School grades from compulsory school

· Marriage certificates

· Invoices and VAT (Value Added Tax) Certificates

Legalisation:

Most of the countries have joined the Apostille Convention but there are still some countries which are not a part of the Hague Treaty. In such cases, if you want to produce your UK documents in a foreign land you need to legalise that document from the respective embassy. 

The process is almost same as that of the Apostille but is used for the countries that are not a part of the Hague Treaty. To make it clearer, let’s just say that while an Apostille makes your document legal in all the participating countries of the Hague Treaty, legalisation will make your document valid and authenticated only in the country the consulate of which has legalised your document. 

Legalisation can only be done at an embassy or consulate of the country in which the document will be used, can only be done with authenticated document bearing a signature, seal and/or stamp of a Notary Public.

If your document is legalised, it means:

· The document has been issued by a competent and expert authority

· The signature, seal and/or stamp on the document are genuine

· The document is in correct format

It is important to note here that every embassy has its own specific requirements for legalising a document. After making sure that the documents and requirements are met correctly, the embassy or consulate verify the authentication stamp of Foreign Affairs and stamp, seal and sign the document. Now the document is valid for legal purposes in the country that legalized the document.

What are the documents that can be legalised?

The documents that can be legalized through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) include:

· Any Government document such as passport copies, Visas, naturalisation certificate, birth certificate, death certificate etc

· Bank documents such as account statement, mortgage certificate etc

· Corporate documents such as incorporation certificate, Companies House documents etc

· Civil documents including marriage certificate, separation / divorce certificate etc

· Religious documents

· Medical reports, sick note, prescriptions by doctor etc

· Education certificates, attendance certificates, diploma, certificate of completion etc

· Employment certificates, utility bills, wills etc

There are various methods by which your document can be legalised:

Authentication- Authentication and legalisation are generally used in the same sense. This refers to verification of the genuineness of a document or signature, to make it valid to be used in other country.

Attestation- Attestation refers to a document being stamped or in some cased the signature on the document being witnessed by an embassy.

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