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Document Authentication and Legalisation in the US: Step-By-Step Guide

By: Teri Mayor, COGENCY GLOBAL, on Jun 7, 2023 6:35:59 AM


What this is: A step-by-step guide to document authentication, legalisation, and where to authenticate documents in the US. 

What this means: Documents originating in the US destined for a country that is not a party to the Hague Apostille Convention have many more steps involved in the document legalisation process. 

When presenting a document originating in one country for use in another, often the receiving party requires proof of authenticity for 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 Legalisation 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 an embassy or consular legalisation. Over 120 countries are now parties to the convention.

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

Let’s take a look at how the legalisation and authentication of documents works in different scenarios.

apple-touch-icon-120x120Need help legalising documents such as notarised contracts or court judgements? Visit our document legalisation page to learn more.


Document Authentication and Legalisation in the US

authentication of documents


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

Where to Authenticate Documents


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


document legalization

The steps in the flow charts above show the process for the authentication of documents, as well as the legalisation requirements for public and private documents in the US. Please note that there can be variations in this basic process not shown here, often relating to embassy or consulate legalisation requirements.

Where to Authenticate Documents in the US

Some countries require documents to be presented to certain consulates based on where in the US the document originated. Others may not legalize a document based on whether specific forms have been completed or if they find certain content within the document 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 / Legalisation