When sending a legal document abroad, you will often be asked to get an apostille on the document. For many, this is the first experience of an apostille. The immediate question is: “what is an apostille?”
Once you get past the unusual name, they are fairly easy to understand. In this article, we will be clarifying exactly what an apostille is, why it’s needed and how you can obtain one.
What Does Apostille Mean?
To define apostille, one could say it is an international certification. An apostille is used for authenticating public documents and providing an added layer of authentication.
The meaning of apostille in the UK would refer to the act of certifying a document by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). Once a document has been apostilled, it can be defined as an apostilled document.
What Is the Purpose of an Apostille?
In 1961, an international treaty known as The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents was drafted by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH). Given its long name, it is often called the Hague Apostille Convention or Treaty for short.
The purpose of the treaty was to simplify the process by which contracting member states accept legal documents issued in other member states. The treaty specifies exactly how these documents should be certified to be valid. Certification given under the treaty is called an apostille.
Where Does the Word Apostille Come From?
The word is derived from the French word “apostille” meaning “a marginal note” – itself derived from the Latin post (“after”) + illa (“these”).
What Does an Apostille Look Like?
In the United Kingdom, an apostille is printed on a piece of paper and attached to the notarial certificate or document itself. It will be signed by the individual issuing the apostille, and will be embossed by the seal of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
The look of an apostille varies according to country. Some are simple ink stamps and the information written by hand, adhesive stickers or a separate paper glued to the actual document. Generally, each apostille – regardless of the issuing authority – will provide the same information, always consisting of the ten points agreed by the convention.
What Must It Contain?
Every apostille must contain the following ten fields:
- COUNTRY (e.g. UK)
- HAS BEEN SIGNED BY (e.g. the name of the notary public)
- ACTING IN THE CAPACITY OF (e.g. notary public)
- BEARS THE SEAL/STAMP OF (e.g. High Court of Justice)
- AT (e.g. either the authority giving the apostille or municipality, e.g. High Court)
- THE (e.g. the date the apostille is issued)
- BY (e.g. person at FCDO signing the apostille certificate)
- NO (e.g. unique reference number for the apostille)
- SEAL/STAMP (e.g. of the FCDO)
- SIGNATURE (e.g. of the FCDO official signing the apostille)
The title of the apostille must be written in French. The rest of the information can be in the official language of the issuing authority. Some member states use multiple languages in their apostilles.
The attached example is of an apostille issued by the United Kingdom authorised department. All apostilles issued in the UK will follow this template.
When Would I Need an Apostille?
If sending a document abroad, you will need an apostille for most countries.
Here is a list of the most common documents that need to be apostilled:
- Powers of Attorney – personal or commercial intent
- Companies House documents
- Certificate of Good Standing
- Educational certificates issued in the UK
- Birth/Death Certificates
- ACRO/DBS certificates
- HMRC certificates/documents
- Medical certificates
- Pet certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Statutory Declarations
- Certificates of No Impediment
Many of these documents will need to be notarised first before they can be apostilled. However, some documents don’t need to be notarised, and can be apostilled directly. These are typically public documents issued by UK government departments/bodies, for example:
- ACRO police certificates
- Birth, death and marriage certificates
- Certificates of No Impediment
- Certificates of Good Standing / certified Companies House documents
- Court orders
These documents will need to have a wet-ink signature from the issuer on them. If they do not, they will need to be notarised first.
Some countries are happy to accept documents notarised in England and Wales without an apostille. These countries are typically Commonwealth countries, such as Australia, Canada and South Africa. However, it’s important to note that some Commonwealth countries may still insist on your document being apostilled despite being notarised in the UK.
We always recommend checking with the person/organisation requesting the document to see whether they would be fine accepting the document without the apostille.
To Which Documents Does the Hague Apostille Convention Apply?
Typically, if a country has signed up to the Apostille Convention, any document going to that country will need to be apostilled.
Which Countries Have Signed up to the Hague Apostille Convention?
At present, 121 countries are member states of the Hague Apostille Convention. A full list of the countries can be found here.
Check our Country Requirements List for more information on individual countries.
Once I Have an Apostille, Do I Need Anything Else to Show That the Signature or Seal on My Public Document Is Genuine?
Once a document is apostilled it will be legally valid in any country which has signed up to the Hague Apostille Convention.
If a country has not yet signed up, the document will need to be legalised by the Consulate/High Commission of that country. Once this step has been taken, the document will be legally valid.
How Can I Verify an Apostille?
An apostille is issued with a unique apostille number. To verify the authenticity of an apostille, you can go to https://www.gov.uk/verify-apostille.
Can an Apostille Be Rejected in the Country It Is Going to Be Used In?
If an apostille is issued correctly, it will not be rejected. An apostille may only be rejected if it has been incorrectly filled out (e.g. it is missing a signature, or has not been embossed with the seal of the FCDO).
How Can I Get an Apostille?
To get an apostille you need to submit your document to the FCDO Legalisation Office. In the UK there are two Legalisation Office counters – one in London (Premium Service) and one in Milton Keynes (Standard Service).
We can help apostille your documents on either service. We will handle the application and payment for you, and personally submit and collect the documents from the FCDO.
Apostille Services from Experienced Notary Publics
An apostille is an internationally recognised certification used to authenticate public documents. It is issued on documents daily across the globe. It is required for documents that have been notarised, and any other public document issued by a UK governmental body/department.
We help both individuals and businesses get documents apostilled. We offer a fast, discreet and cost-effective service, taking the hassle out of the process. Our agents will personally deliver and collect your documents from the Legalisation Offices in London and Milton Keynes.
For businesses doing work internationally, we believe it is imperative to work with a trusted notary and apostille service. By offering a combined service we can ensure that you are advised correctly, and your documents processed as quickly as possible.
We handle the entire process, offering guaranteed lead times and a fast turnaround. Whilst there are many legalisation companies out there, many outsource notary services, meaning the apostille process can take longer for documents that need to be notarised before being apostilled.