The Apostille and its Importance to International Document Legalisation

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Posted: 30th June 2023 by
Mihail Florin Gavrila
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In the modern legal landscape, there are a great many instances where an organisation or individual will require the use of the apostille.

In this article, Lawyer Monthly hears from experienced notary public Mihail Florin Gavrila, who discusses the vital role played by the Apostille Convention and skilled notaries in international document legalisation.

Can you outline the role and functions of notaries public in England, in the context of international documents acceptance?

A notary public in England is a public officer appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, regulated by the Court of Faculties.

In England, one of the primary responsibilities of a notary public is to confirm the authenticity of documents intended for use overseas. They accomplish this by validating the identity, capacity and willingness of the individual involved in the transaction. The purpose of the notarization procedure is to prevent fraud and ensure that documents are legally recognised in other countries.

If they wish to purchase property in Spain, for instance, British nationals are required to present specific legal documentation. Before these documents can be recognised in Spain, they must first be notarised in England. Here is where a public notary enters play. After verifying the legitimacy of the documents and the individual's identity, they notarise the documents.

In England, the notary public is also responsible for administering oaths and declarations and producing legal documents for international use. A nApotary public is essential to the procedure, even if they do not issue the apostille themselves. After the document has been notarised by a public notary, it is sent to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in England for the apostille to be affixed. The apostille validates the document for international use by confirming the authenticity of the notarization.

Can you please give a broad summary of the obstacles that may prevent some documents from being legally recognised internationally?

In the first place, the disparity between national legal systems is one of the greatest obstacles. Countries with civil law, common law, hybrid, or traditional legal systems have distinct requirements for document recognition. Other jurisdictions may not require notarisation.

Next, problems associated with the authentication of authenticity present yet another formidable barrier. Even if a document has been notarised by a notary public, it may still require additional authentication for foreign recognition. This procedure may require an apostille, a certification under the 1961 Hague Convention, or consular legalisation in countries that are not party to the Convention.

In the first place, the disparity between national legal systems is one of the greatest obstacles.

Additionally, language barriers pose a substantial barrier to the international acceptance of documents. A certified translation may be required if a document is written in a language not comprehended in the receiving jurisdiction.

Beyond this, document submission timeliness can impact international legal recognition. In some jurisdictions, documents must be issued recently or notarised to be considered authentic.

Lastly, changes in the legal status or personal circumstances of the parties involved may prevent international legal recognition of a document. For instance, previously issued documents may no longer be valid if a person gets married or divorced, changes their name, or if a business alters its organisational structure or ceases to exist.

What is the Apostille Convention and how does it help to rectify the issue of international legalisation?

The Apostille Convention is an international agreement formulated by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. It was intended to end the need for foreign documents to be authenticated by diplomatic or consular officers of the receiving country. The origin of the term ‘apostille’ is French, where it refers to a certification or annotation. It refers to the certificate issued in accordance with the Convention that verifies the origin of a public document.

According to the Apostille Convention, public documents issued in one signatory country and intended for use in another signatory country are recognised without the need for consular legalisation – the traditional method of validating documents for international use. This substantially simplifies the process of document legalisation by eliminating the previously required authentication steps.

The process begins with the issuance of the document in the country of origin by an authorised individual or entity, such as a notary public. The apostille is affixed to the document by a designated competent authority, such as the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in the United Kingdom. The apostille certifies the signature's authenticity, the signer's capacity, and, if applicable, the identity of the seal or stamp affixed to the document.

The Apostille Convention has had a transformative effect on the international exchange of documents, with several substantial advantages. Eliminating the need for multiple authentications or legalisations will save time and simplify the process.

Expenses are also reduced. Multiple authentications and legalisations can rapidly add up in cost, especially if translation or international shipping is required. By requiring a single certification, the Apostille Convention reduces these expenses. This increases the legal certainty. The apostille ensures that public documents are acknowledged expeditiously, and that the possibility of documents being denied due to doubts about their authenticity is minimised.

The Apostille Convention has had a transformative effect on the international exchange of documents, with several substantial advantages. Eliminating the need for multiple authentications or legalisations will save time and simplify the process.

How far does the Apostille Convention apply? What countries are not subject to the Convention?

The 1961 Apostille Convention or Hague Convention standardises the process of document authentication among member nations, enabling the free and efficient transfer of public documents across international borders.

However, many countries are not subject to the Apostille Convention. Various examples include Afghanistan, Canada (The Apostille Convention will come into effect in Canada on 11 January 2024), Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Zimbabwe.

The expedited procedure of the Apostille Convention does not apply to documents destined for use in these non-participating nations. These documents must instead undergo consular legalisation, a more traditional and frequently complex procedure.

Consular legalisation necessitates multiple verification procedures. After notarisation in the country of origin, the document must be legalised by the department of foreign affairs in the country of issuance. Following this, the document must be legalised by the embassy or consulate of the destination country. Particularly for first-time participants or organisations, the process can be time-consuming, expensive, and occasionally perplexing.

The distinction between Apostille Convention participants and non-participants regarding the simplicity of document legalisation highlights the Convention's vital role in facilitating international transactions. However, it also highlights the challenges faced by countries that are not signatories to the Convention.

Nonparticipation can be caused by a variety of factors. Some nations may not have joined the Convention because their legal systems are fundamentally distinct or incompatible with its principles. Others may be unable to utilise the Convention's streamlined procedure due to administrative or practical constraints.

Despite these obstacles, overall participation in the Apostille Convention is rising. This trend is fuelled by a growing awareness of the Convention's benefits, which include reducing the costs and saving time associated with international document exchange.

When it comes to these countries, what other options would an individual or organisation have for ensuring that a key document is recognised?

The Apostille Convention has significantly streamlined the procedure for signatory nations to recognise foreign documents. Individuals and institutions from countries that are not signatories to the Convention, however, must rely on alternative means to ensure international recognition of their most vital documents.

Countries that are not signatories of the Apostille Convention require consular legalisation to recognise documents. In contrast to the streamlined procedure outlined in the Convention, consular legalisation involves multiple stages and multiple authorities, thereby increasing the procedure's complexity and duration.

The distinction between Apostille Convention participants and non-participants regarding the simplicity of document legalisation highlights the Convention's vital role in facilitating international transactions.

Typically, the process of consular legalisation begins with the notarisation of the document in the issuing country by a notary public. The document is then legalised by the country's foreign affairs department. The final step is for the embassy or consulate of the country in which the document will be used to authenticate it.

This procedure may appear daunting, but it can be navigated in a variety of ways. Many nations provide online access to distinct guidelines and procedures that assist individuals and organisations in understanding and traversing the consular legalisation process.

Second, there are services available to assist with the legalisation of documents. These services can manage the entire process, from notarization to embassy legalisation, thereby saving time and decreasing the likelihood of error. Some of these services also offer document translation, which may be necessary if the document is to be used in a country where the official language differs from the document's language.

A chain of authentications, also known as the ‘Chain Authentication Method’ or ‘Chain Attestation Method’, is an alternative to consular legalisation in certain circumstances. The document is ultimately authenticated by the embassy or consulate of the country where it will be utilised. This procedure can be even more time-consuming and costly than consular legalisation, but it may be the only option if consular legalisation is not feasible.

In the UK, what is the process involved in arranging for a document to be legalised via an apostille certificate?

Formerly known as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) administers the apostille certificate application process in the United Kingdom. The FCDO issues an apostille certificate to legalise United Kingdom public documents for use in apostille Convention member countries.

The first step in acquiring an apostille certificate is establishing that the document is a UK public document. The FCDO can only issue an apostille for original or certified copies of British documents. Documents that can be legalised include birth, marriage, and death certificates, court documents, and documents issued by a notary public or government agency.

After obtaining the appropriate document, it must be evaluated to ensure apostille eligibility. The FCDO verifies that the document bears the signature, stamp, or seal of a public organisation or official in the UK. This may be a registrant's signature on a marriage certificate or the notary's seal on a document.


The document must then be transmitted to the FCDO. This can be done by mail or with a premium same-day service.

The FCDO then verifies the document's signature, seal, or stamp and, if everything is in order, issues the apostille certificate. The certificate is a small piece of paper that is affixed to the back of your document. It contains information such as the document's country of origin, who signed it and in what capacity, any seals on the document, the place and date of certification, the issuing authority, the apostille certificate number, and the issuing authority's insignia.

Are there any potential obstacles or pitfalls to watch out for during this process?

The eligibility of the document for an apostille is one of the initial and most significant obstacles. Not all documents are eligible for an apostille certificate. Prior to initiating the procedure, it is necessary to verify the document's eligibility to avoid disappointment or delay.

Another potential pitfall is the authenticity of the document. The apostille certificate is affixed to the original or a certified copy of a document bearing a recognised signature, seal, or stamp. Photocopies are typically not acknowledged unless they are authorised by a recognised authority. Rejection of a submitted document lacking a recognised seal, stamp, or signature is common.

Timing is another crucial consideration. The apostille certificate process can be time-consuming, especially if conducted via mail. It is crucial to consider these deadlines, particularly if the document must be completed by a certain date.

A second potential issue is the failure to determine whether the recipient country is a member of the Apostille Convention. The apostille certificate is legitimate only in countries that have signed the Hague Convention. If the document is destined for a non-member state, a consular legalisation process may be required.

Remember that the apostille certificate only verifies the origin of the document and the authenticity of any signatures, seals, or stamps it exhibits. It does not validate the content of the document. This distinction may be relevant when the document's content, rather than its origin, is at issue.

What kinds of documents are most commonly brought to by legalised internationally, whether through the apostille or other means?

Birth certificates, passports and other identification documents must typically be legalised for international travel. Frequently, these identification documents are required for international transactions, immigration procedures, and employment abroad.

Remember that the apostille certificate only verifies the origin of the document and the authenticity of any signatures, seals, or stamps it exhibits. It does not validate the content of the document.

Marriage and divorce certificates are frequently required to prove marital status when applying for a spouse's visa or immigrating with a spouse. When applying for certain categories of visas or remarrying abroad, divorce certificates are required.

Diplomas, transcripts and other academic documents must often be legalised for study abroad programmes, international employment and immigration purposes. It verifies that the credentials were earned from a reputable institution and are genuine.

Documents such as articles of incorporation, meeting minutes, powers of attorney and contracts are included in Business and Corporate Documents. Businesses extending abroad or engaging in international transactions frequently require these documents to be legalised to establish their business legitimacy.

The authentication of court orders, affidavits and other legal documents may be necessary for their use in international legal proceedings or business transactions. Documents pertinent to international adoption, guardianship and inheritance disputes may fall under this category.

If a property is being purchased, sold, or transferred internationally, deeds, land registration documents and mortgage agreements may need to be authenticated.

Certain medical records or health certificates may require legalisation for travel or relocation, especially if a specific medical condition must be declared.

In cases of international probate disputes or repatriation of remains, it may be necessary to authenticate a death certificate.

Each of these documents has its own procedure for notarisation and legalisation, based on the regulations of the issuing country and the country where the document will be used. All such documents are required to bear the original signature, mark, or seal of a recognised authority.

What would your first piece of advice be for a UK company looking to legalise multiple sensitive documents internationally?

Before commencing the notarisation and legalisation process, it is essential to determine which documents, if any, require legalisation. This may include corporate documents, contracts, financial documents and other confidential data. Understanding the specific requirements of the foreign jurisdiction where the documents will be used is also crucial, as different countries have variable recognition procedures for foreign documents.

Employ a notary public. A notary public is a public official authorised to authenticate and certify signatures, authority and capacity on international documents. The notary will ensure that your documents are correctly signed and that the signers are authorised to do so. In addition, they can provide certified copies of documents, which may be required in specific circumstances.

Before commencing the notarisation and legalisation process, it is essential to determine which documents, if any, require legalisation.

Consider using a legalisation service. Employing a legalisation service could be advantageous for businesses handling numerous sensitive documents. These services handle the entire process, from notarisation to acquiring the apostille Certificate from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and any additional embassy or consular legalisation that may be necessary. This can save the company significant time and effort.

Ensure document security. Sensitive documents often contain confidential information. It is essential to collaborate with dependable professionals who will securely manage your documents. Consider using secure courier services to reduce the risk of document loss or damage.

Notarisation and legalisation can be time-consuming processes, particularly when multiple documents or countries are involved. Consider these timeframes when planning international business activities to avoid unanticipated delays.

Legalisation of international documents is subject to alterations in international law and treaties. It is essential to stay abreast of any developments that could affect your business. A professional legalisation service will keep abreast of these changes as part of their service, making them invaluable in this regard.

Do you have any further comments to give regarding international document legalisation?

Given that each nation has its own legal system and requirements, it can be challenging to grasp the complexities of notarization and legalisation. Whether you are an individual or a business, you must familiarise yourself with these procedures if you want your documents to be acknowledged in foreign jurisdictions.

Given the complexity of the system, it is often advisable to consult with specialists, such as legalisation services or international solicitors, to navigate it effectively. This is especially true for organisations that deal with a significant volume of sensitive documents.

While the Apostille Convention has simplified the legalisation process for its member nations, the situation is different for non-member countries. For these jurisdictions, the process can be more complicated and often requires additional steps, such as embassy or consular legalisation.

Some nations have begun to recognise electronically notarised and legalised documents, also known as e-apostilles, as the world shifts towards digitalisation. Currently, however, not all jurisdictions recognise these. It is essential to keep abreast of these trends and alterations in the countries where your documents will be used.

In addition to this, for notarisation and legalisation processes, original documents or certified copies are required. Always maintain the originals of important documents and handle them with care throughout the process.

Due to the lengthy nature of the legalisation process, planning is essential. Whether you are studying abroad, conducting an international business transaction, or dealing with international legal issues, you must allot sufficient time for the notarisation and legalisation of documents.


Mihail Florin Gavrila, Notary

Unit 1, The Gatefold Buildings, 36 Blyth Rd, Hayes, London UB3 1AG, UK

Tel: +44 07853 430310



Mihail Florin Gavrila is a notary public and advocate (Higher Rights Criminal Proceedings), regulated by The Faculty Office and the Solicitors Regulation Authority and a member of The Notaries Society. Mihail is qualified in three jurisdictions: England, the Republic of Ireland (non-practising) and Romania (non-practising).He currently works as both a solicitor and a notary, with a focus on his notarial practice, offering a full range of notarial services to personal and business clients.

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