Document Authentication and Legalization: Step By Step Guide

By: Teri Mayor, COGENCY GLOBAL INC. on Thu, May 10, 2018

Apostille and Document Legalization StepsWhen presenting a document originating in one country for use in another, often the receiving party requires legalization of the document to verify the authenticity of the signature and seals of the public official who executed, issued, or certified a copy of the document. The October 5th,1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, or Apostille Convention, has simplified the process a great deal through a document called an apostille, which eliminates the need for embassy or consular legalization. Currently 115 countries are parties to the convention.

For documents originating in the U.S. destined for a country that is not a member of this Hague Convention, there are many more steps involved to legalize a document (as outlined below). The process varies depending on whether you are legalizing public documents, such as certified copies or court documents, or private documents, such as corporate bylaws for a U.S. company or a private contract.

Let’s take a look at a few authentication and legalization scenarios. 

Authentication & Legalization: Public State or Local Document

As what is being legalized is actually the signature and stamp or seal of a public official, the first step for a private document is to notarize an individual’s signature on the document. Since a notary is a public official, their signature and seal can then be authenticated and legalized. 

Authentication & Legalization: Non-Public Document

Documents issued by a federal agency, such as the Patent and Trademark Office or the Comptroller of the Currency, follow a slightly different process.

The steps shown above provide basic authentication and legalization requirements for public and private documents. Please note that there can be variations in this basic process not shown here, often relating to embassy or consulate legalization requirements. 
cropped A & L yard photo from Bruce Gallo
Some countries require that documents are presented to certain consulates based on where in the U.S. the document originated. Others have specific forms to be completed, or will not legalize a document based on content they find objectionable. A service company with experience working directly with these embassies and consulates can help you avoid problems and speed up the process.


This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered, or relied upon, as legal advice.

Topics: Authentication / Legalization