When presenting a document originating in one country for use in another, often the receiving party requires legalisation of the document. This is to verify the authenticity of the signature and seals of the public official who executed, issued, or certified a copy of the document. On 5 October 1961, the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, or Apostille Convention, simplified the process through a document called an apostille, which eliminates the need for embassy or consular legalisation; there are currently 115 countries participating in this 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 legalise a document (as outlined below). The process varies depending on whether you are legalising 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 legalisation scenarios.
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.
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 legalisation 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 legalisation requirements.
In some countries, it is required for documents to be presented to certain consulates based on where in the U.S. the document originated. Others have specific forms to be completed, or will not legalise a document based on the 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.