What is an Apostille and how to obtain an Apostille?
Written by: Andrea Johnson
There are not many people who are aware of the full legal definition of the Apostille. In this in-depth article we will endeavour to explain what Apostille is when and how it started and why and how you get your documents Apostillised? And try to answer all your unanswered questions about Apostille. lets start with very basic and most commonly asked questions,
What is an Apostille?
An Apostille is a form of authentication issued to documents for use in countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961. It’s also known as Hague Apostille Convention or “Apostille Convention” in short which resulted in abolishment of the requirement to legalisation of foreign public documents.
According to the “OUTLINE HAGUE APOSTILLE CONVENTION” which can be found on HCCH website,
“The Convention applies only to public documents. These are documents emanating from an authority or official connected with a court or tribunal of the State (including documents issued by an administrative, constitutional or ecclesiastical court or tribunal, a public prosecutor, a clerk or a process-server); administrative documents; notarial acts; and official certificates which are placed on documents signed by persons in their private capacity, such as official certificates recording the registration of a document or the fact that it was in existence on a certain date and official and notarial authentications of signatures. The main examples of public documents for which Apostilles are issued in practice include birth, marriage and death certificates; extracts from commercial registers and other registers; patents; court rulings; notarial acts and notarial attestations of signatures; academic diplomas issued by public institutions;2 etc. Apostilles may also be issued for a certified copy of a public document. On the other hand, the Convention neither applies to documents executed by diplomatic or consular agents nor to administrative documents dealing directly with commercial or customs operations (this latter exception is to be interpreted narrowly).”
Who may issue an Apostille and how to verify the origin of an Apostille?
Each state that is a party to the Apostille Convention designates one or several authorities and authorises them to issue Apostilles. These designated, authorised and approved authorities are called Competent Authorities (See list of the countries that have Competent Authorities) only these Competent Authorities designated, approved and authorised by the state from which the public document is originated can issue the Apostille. Find the list of Competent Authorities by clicking on the link above. Or you can visit Hague Conference website HCCH for the full list of the Competent Authorities.
Any documents that are issued by the private authorise for example educational certificates, diplomas, degrees etc. may not be Apostillised directly, a privately issued document may, however, have an official attestation issued by a notary or an agency or by a solicitor or any other body, organisation or authority which is authorised and considered competent under the law of the state of the origin of the said document to authenticate approve the signature on the diploma or educational certificate including degrees. Once that is done then that the said document can be treated as a public document under the Hague Convention and may be Apostillised. If that was to happen then Apostille will not confirm or relate to the diploma or educational certificate or degree itself but instead it will certify the authenticity of the certificate on the diploma, educational certificate or degree.
Apostille Convention requires each Competent Authority to keep a register (See list of the countries that have online register) of all Apostilles that are issued by the said registry. These registers should be made available to the public or anyone who is interested and wishes to view or verify the Apostille. This is a very helpful tool for the authorities to verify authenticity of the Apostilles.
Why do I need Apostille?
Apostille verifies and confirms the authenticity of the signature on a public document and the capacity and authority in which the person signing the document has acted and where applicable it also confirms and certifies the identity of the seal or stamp which the document bears. The Apostille does not relate to the content of the underlying document itself and will not confirm the contents.
How is the use of Apostille monitored?
The operation and practical use of the Apostille Convention is observed, monitored and regularly reviewed by Special Commission meetings of the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference.
The findings in 2009 by special commission confirmed the “wide use and effectiveness” of the Apostille convention as well as the “absence of any major practical obstacle” was confirmed.
This finding was also confirmed by recent international Fora on the e-APP (electronic Apostille Program)
What is e-APP (Electronic Apostille Program)?
Electronic Apostille Pilot Program was officially launched In April 2006 by the HCCH and the National Notary Association of the United States of America (NNA.
Below were the aims and objective of the launch of e-APP
- Promote and assist with the reducing the operational costs
- Secure software technology for issuance of the e-Apostille
- Trialling the e-Register, so that authenticity of an Apostille can be verified online
This proved to be a major success and as a result word “Pilot” was removed from the title of the e-APP in January 2012 and e-APP was officially launched.
e-APP proven to be an effective tool to further enhance the secure and effective operations and implantations of the Apostille Convention. Security of Apostille Convention was significantly improved e-APP also offers a very powerful and effective deterrent to fraud. The e-APP and e-Register has been implemented in several states around the globe with other states actively pursuing or considering to adopt.
Apostilles can be verified online if you know the issue date and Apostille number. To verify your Apostille please select the issuing country form the list below, follow the link by clicking and enter Apostille issue date and Apostille number.
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- New Zealand
- Republic of Moldova
- Russian Federation
- United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- United States of America
The Permanent Bureau has published three publications on the practical operation of the Apostille Convention.
We will give you overview of all these three publications these are available to download from HCCH website free of charge if you need a copy.
The first publication “The ABCs of Apostilles” is a brochure that is primarily aimed at end users of Apostilles with short answers to frequently asked questions, including when, where and how Apostilles are issued and what their effects and uses are. Click the link to read more about “The ABCs of Apostilles”.
The second publication “How to Join and Implement the Hague Apostille Convention” is aimed at the countries that wish to john Apostille Convention, it’s a brief guide that explains the rules, regulations and requirements for joining the Apostille Convention and provide guidance for the potential Contracting States in implementing the Convention. Click the link to read more about “How to Join and Implement the Hague Apostille Convention”
The third publication “The Apostille Handbook” is aimed at the Competent Authorities, it’s a comprehensive reference tool and guide that is designed to assist Competent Authorities in performing their functions and issuing Apostille correctly under the Apostille Convention. Click on the link to read more about “The Apostille Handbook”.
These three publications can be downloaded from HCCH website.
Below is the overview of all three publications, for further details visit HCCH website.
A few questions about Apostilles that have been addressed in the booklet The ABCs of Apostilles listed below. We have provided brief answers to these questions; booklet can be downloaded if you require detailed answers.
- What is an Apostille and when do I need one?
- In which countries does the Apostille Convention Apply?
- What do I do if either the country where my public document was issued or the country where I need to use my public document is not a party to the Apostille Convention?
- To which document does the Apostille Convention apply?
- Where do I get an Apostille?
- What do I need to know before requesting an Apostille?
- How much does an Apostille cost?
- Do all Apostilles have to look exactly the same?
- How are Apostilles affixed to the public documents?
- What are the effects of an Apostille?
- Once I have an Apostille, do I need anything else to show that the signature or seal on my public document is genuine?
- If the recipient of my Apostille wants to verify my Apostille, what should I suggest?
- Can Apostilles be rejected in the country where they are to be used?
- What about electronic Apostilles and electronic registers of Apostilles?
What is an Apostille and when do I need one?
An Apostille is a certificate that authenticates the origin of a public document for example birth, marriage or death certificate, a judgment, an extract of a register or a notarial attestation etc.
In Which countries does the Apostille convention apply?
The Apostille Convention applies if both the country where the public document was issued and the country where the public document is to be used are parties to the Apostille Convention. It does not apply if either country is not party to the Apostille Convention. You would need to contact the local authorities to confirm if they accept the Apostille if they are not party to the Apostille Convention.
Full list of the participating states can be found by following this link
What do I do if either the country where my public document was issued or the country where I need to use my public document is not a party to the Apostille Convention?
Contact the Embassy or a Consulate of the country were you intend to use the document in order to find out what your options are and what you should do, do not apply for an Apostille unless you have a confirmation form the authorities of the said country that they would accept it. They may or may not accept the Apostillised document. It’s very important that you get a clarification form the country you intend to use the Apostillised document.
To which documents does the Apostille Convention apply?
It only applies to public documents. How do you know if you document is a public document? It is determined by law of the country in which document was issued. Countries apply the Convention to a wide variety of documents most Apostilles are issued for documents of an administrative nature, including birth, death, marriage, wills, court orders educational certificates, diplomas and degrees etc. it’s important to know that Apostille Convention does not apply to the documents executed by diplomatic or consular agents. If in doubt, contact the relevant Competent Authority of the country that issued the document to confirm if a document is a public document or not.
Where do I get an Apostille?
Each country that is party to the Convention designates one or several authorities that are entitled to issue Apostilles. These authorities are called Competent Authorities. Only Competent Authority is permitted to issue an Apostille. The full list of competent Authorities can be found by following above link. If there is more than one Competent Authority in your country then ensure that you contact the most relevant Competent Authority. Contact details of all Competent Authorities can be found by flowing the link above. You can always obtain an Apostille by hiring third party services if you are unsure how to request an Apostille. There are numerous websites that offer their services to help you to obtain an Apostille, they will charge for their services but if you would rather pay for the services than having to do all the leg work then these website can be useful. Here is the link to order Apostille from one of these website, you can always use Google to compare prices etc.
It’s worth remembering that a public document can only be Apostillised by the Competent Authority of the state that issued that public document.
What do I need to know before requesting an Apostille?
Before you apply for an Apostille ask yourself below questions
- Are both countries parties to the Apostille Convention? (the country which issued the document and the country you intend to use the Apostille in) here is the full list of the countries.
- If the country that issued the public document has designated several Competent Authorities which one is the relevant Competent Authority to issue an Apostille for my public document?
- Is my document considered a public document? Contact your local Competent Authority if you are unsure.
- Is your Competent Authority able to issue e-App? This is very important especially if you are living in a country other than the country that issued your public document.
- If I have multiple documents, would I need multiple Apostilles?
- What other documents that I would need to provide to get an Apostille? For example Address and ID verifications?
- How much does it cost to get an Apostille and what forms do I need to complete? Is there any Apostille form?
- How long does it take to get the Apostille?
You should be able to find answers to all these questions in this publication from HCCH, you can always obtain further information from your local Competent Authority.
How much does it cost to get an Apostille on your public document?
The prices are set by the Competent Authorities prices vary greatly so we strongly suggest that contact your local Competent Authority for the pricing.
Do all Apostilles look exactly the same?
No, we have attached below a sample picture of the model Apostille but they do not look exactly the same, however, they should conform closely to this model.
Specifically, an Apostille must:
- Be identified as an Apostille
- Include the short version of the French title of the Convention (Convention de la Haye du 5 October 1961)
- Include a box with the 10 pieces of information as shown in the sample picture above
An Apostille occasionally provides additional information such as:
- An Apostille may also provide additional information about the public document to which it relates to.
- Recall the limited effect of an Apostille for examples it can confirm that it only certifies the origin of the public document in which it relates.
- Provide a web address of a register where the origin of the Apostille may be verified for authentication purpose.
- It can also specify that the Apostille is not to be used in the country it was issued.
It’s important to note that while an Apostille should confirm as closely as possible to the model certificate (see picture above), generally Apostilles issued by different Competent Authorities vary greatly, these variations could be in design, size and colour etc.
How are Apostille affixed to the public documents?
An Apostille is placed directly on the public document itself or on a separate attached page called “Allonge” Apostilles may be affixed through various means including rubber stamps, self-adhesive stickers or impressed seals etc.
It’s important to note that an Apostille should never be detached regardless of whether it’s placed directly on the public document or not (Allonge)
What are the effects of an Apostille?
An Apostille only certifies the origin of the public document to which it relates. It certifies the authenticity of the signature or seal of the person or authority that signed or sealed the public document and the capacity in which this was acted.
Apostilles are not grants of authority and do not give any additional weight to the content to underlying document.
Once I have an Apostille, do I need anything else to show that the signature or seal on my public document is genuine?
The answer is no, you don’t. A correctly issued Apostille is all you need to certify that your public document is genuine. You should not need anything else.
How can I confirm the authenticity of my Apostille?
This can be done online each Competent Authority is required to keep a registering which it records the data and number of every Apostille it issues. If you have your Apostille number and date of issue then all you need to do is visit the website of the issuing Competent Authority and enter the date and Apostille number to verify the authenticity of the Apostille.
Can Apostilles be rejected by the countries?
All verifiable and correctly issued Apostille should be and must be recognized in the participating countries. An Apostille can only be rejected if its origin is not verified or it is not correctly issued (if it differs significantly and radically form the model shown in the picture above)
What are Electronic Apostilles (e-APP) and electronic registers?
Competent Authorities are allowed to issue Apostilles in electronic forms (e-Apostilles) and to maintain electronic register of Apostille called e-Register. Full list of participating Competent Authorities further details and can be found on HCCH website
The second publication “How to Join and Implement the Hague Apostille Convention” is a brief guide that is designed to assist authorities in new and potential Contracting States in implementing the Convention.
This publication outlines the rules, regulations and requirements that countries have to meet to join Apostille Convention.
Before we start we would like to explain the difference between the legalisation and Apostille through a simple flowchart picture below that outlines how easy the Apostille is compared to legalisation.
Apostille is considered to be most widely used Hague Convention, there are several million Apostilles issued each year around the world. States that are not party to this very useful and effective Convention are very strongly encouraged by HCCH to join it and this publication provides those states guidance on how to join Apostille Convention. This publication also answers below questions so don’t forget to download and read it if you wish to do so.
Some of the questions are listed below
How will the Apostille Convention be implemented?
What about inconsistent internal Law and international obligations as well as other implementing measures?
What is accession, who should be informed of the accession and why?
What are public documents?
Which authorities should be designated as Competent Authority?
What are other certifications that are required before issuing an Apostille?
All these questions and many more are answered and explained this publication. Get your copy from HCCH website.
The third publication “The Apostille Handbook” is a comprehensive reference tool that is designed to assist Competent Authorities in performing their functions under the Apostille Convention, as well as address issues that arise in the contemporary operation of the Convention.
This is complete handbook on the practical operation and implementation of the Apostille Convention.
This publication covers below in great details and a must have for all Competent Authorities to ensure that Apostille is correctly applied and accepted without any unnecessary delays.
- Explains the Apostille Conventions
- Explains the Competent Authorities (roles, function and changes etc)
- Provide details surrounding applicability of the Apostille Conventions. (what, where and when Apostille Convention apply)
- Confirms the Apostille Process (verification, issuance and registration)
- Confirms the acceptance and rejection of Apostilles (obligation to accept Apostille, grounds for rejection and also explains the invalid grounds for rejection)
- It also provides great details about e-APP including introduction, benefits and how to implement.
Below is map coverage of the members states / countires of the Hague Apostille Convention.
and here is the full alphabetically ordered list of the member countries.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Burkina Faso
- China, People’s Republic of
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- European Union
- Korea, Republic of
- New Zealand
- Russian Federation
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
- United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- United States of America
- Viet Nam
Non-Member States that have Competent Authorities.
Global coverage of the Apostille Convention.
Here is the alphabaticlaly ordered list of the non member countires that have Competent Authorties but are not members of the Hague Apostille Convention yet.
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Brunei Darussalam
- Cape Verde
- Cook Islands
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Holy See
- Marshall Islands
- Republic of Moldova
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- San Marino
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Trinidad and Tobago
All countries listed above will accept the Apostille that is verifiable and correctly issued.
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