Apostille Certificates: Legalisation of documents for use overseas

Legal and some other documents required for use outwith the UK may need to be authenticated (‘Legalised’) in order to be recognised by a foreign jurisdiction. This is achieved by arranging for an Apostille Certificate to be issued and attached to the document.

When is an Apostille Certificate usually required?

Examples of situations where an Apostille Certificate is required include foreign property purchases or sales, marriages overseas, registering births outwith the UK, working abroad and certain business transactions.

Are Apostille Certificates universally recognised?

Most, but not all, States recognise an Apostille Certificate. Those that do have signed the 1961 Hague Convention on Private and International Law, which is designed to harmonise different legal jurisdictions, even where each may have otherwise conflicting legal rules, with regard to the formalities of signing and witnessing certain documents.

There are currently more than 60 signatory States to the 1961 Hague Convention, and an Apostille Certificate issued in one signatory State will usually also be recognised in all other signatory States. Most European States and the USA are signatories to this Convention, as are many current or former Commonwealth Countries.

Signatory States will not usually require diplomatic (consular) authentication of foreign public documents, the Apostille Certificate being sufficient for most purposes. Nevertheless, it is sometimes necessary for the document to be translated into the language of the foreign State by a duly qualified translator. However, and by way of example, a Spanish Power of Attorney authorising a person other than the owner of a property in Spain to sell that property will usually be drafted to incorporate a translation from English to Spanish prior to signing.

What are the limitations of an Apostille Certificate?

An Apostille Certificate does not legalise or authenticate the actual contents of the foreign document, which is the function of the person who actually prepares the document within the foreign State. The Apostille Certificate is designed to legally validate the signature and witnessing of the document, so that it is acceptable within a foreign State being signatory to the Hague Convention without further legal proof of this being necessary.

What is the procedure for obtaining an Apostille Certificate?

A duly qualified and authorised lawyer or other official of the foreign State where the document is to be effective prepares that document and sends it to you. A solicitor, who must usually also be a Notary Public, will witness your signature to the document, and explain the Legalisation procedure.

The solicitor will then send the document with a special application form to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) along with the fee payable (currently £34.50). The FCO will usually return the document with an Apostille Certificate attached within a few days, which the solicitor will check and send to you for your use in the foreign State.

What is the procedure for jurisdictions not being party to the Hague Convention?

In non-signatory States the Apostille Certificate will often still be required. However, the additional step of having the document further and specially legalised by the Consular section of the foreign Embassy in question will sometimes be required. The document may also need to be translated into the foreign language by a duly qualified translator.

It is always advisable to enquire of the foreign State’s Embassy as to their specific requirements before proceeding. Examples of non-signatory States include the United Arab Emirates (where Sharia Law may apply), Egypt, Kuwait and Quatar, as well as the Philippines, Jordan, Bahrian, Vietnam, Algeria and China.

What information is contained within an Apostille Certificate?

An Apostille Certificate will incorporate details of the country of issue, the signatory/ies to the document, the capacity on which the signatory has signed the document, details of any seals affixed, the place and date of issue, the issuing authority, the Apostille Certificate number, the stamp of the issuing authority, and a signature of the representative of the issuing authority.


This Briefing has been produced for information purposes only and is based on the law and other information available at the time of writing. We cannot be held responsible for any losses incurred through acting or failing to act on the basis of anything contained in this Briefing.

If you require advice on any of the matters referred to, please contact us so that we can advise you, taking account of your own particular circumstances and requirements.

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