The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, the Apostille convention, or the Apostille treaty is an international treaty drafted by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. It specifies the modalities through which a document issued in one of the signatory countries can be certified for legal purposes in all the other signatory states. Such a certification is called an apostille(French: certification). It is an international certification comparable to a notarisation in domestic law.
Apostilles are affixed by Competent Authorities designated by the government of a state which is party to the convention. A list of these authorities is maintained by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. Examples of designated authorities are embassies, ministries, courts or (local) governments. For example,
- In Hong Kong, the High Court acted by the Registrar.
- In the United States, the Secretary of State of each state and his or her deputies are usually competent authorities.
- In the United Kingdom, all apostilles are issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Milton Keynes.
To be eligible for an apostille, a document must first be issued or certified by an officer recognised by the authority that will issue the apostille. For example,
- In Hong Kong, the High Court maintains specimen signatures of all notaries public, so documents that have been notarised are eligible for apostilles.
- Likewise, courts in the Netherlands are eligible of placing an apostille on all municipal civil status documents directly.
- In some cases, intermediate certifications may be required in the country where the document originates before it will be eligible for an apostille. For example, in New York City, the Office of Vital Records (which issues, among other things, birth certificates) is not directly recognised by the New York Secretary of State. As a consequence, the signature of the City Clerk must be certified by the County Clerk of New York County to make the birth certificate eligible for an apostille.
- In Japan all the official documents are issued in Japanese language, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA, JAPAN) then provides an apostille for these documents.
- In India the apostille certification can be obtained from the Ministry of External Affairs.
The apostille itself is a stamp or printed form consisting of 10 numbered standard fields. On the top is the text APOSTILLE, under which the text Convention de La Haye du 5 octobre 1961 (English: Hague Convention of 5 October 1961) is placed. In the numbered fields the following information is added:
Country ... [country name]
This public document
has been signed by ... [name]
acting in the capacity of ... [function]
bears the seal/stamp of ... [authority]
at ... [location]
the ... [date]
by ... [name]
No ... [apostille registration number]
Seal/stamp ... [of the authority giving the apostille]
Signature ... [signature of authority giving the apostille]
The information can be placed on the (back of the) document itself, or attached to the document as an allonge.
Not all documents are accepted for Apostille service.
Documents accepted for apostille service are broadly classified into the following two categories :
- Public documents bearing the true signature of an official party such as a Hong Kong SAR Government recognized officer. For example, - Marriage Certificate, ie. certificates signed by Deputy Registrar of Marriage (For certificates signed by civil celebrants or issued by the church/temple, please obtain a certified true copy from the Record Office of the Marriage Registry) - Certificate of Absence of Marriage Record - Birth and Death Certificate - Certificate of Registered Particulars - Business Registration Certificate - Certificate of Incorporation
- Documents signed by a notary public or a Commissioner for Oaths in Hong Kong. For example, (a) Notary Public - Power of Attorney - Certified true copy (b) Commissioner for Oaths - Declaration
States that have not signed the Convention must specify how foreign legal documents can be certified for its use. Two countries may have a special convention on the recognition of each other's public documents, but in practice this is infrequent. Otherwise, the document must be certified by the foreign ministry of the country where the document originated and then by the foreign ministry of the government where the document will be used; one of the certifications will often be performed at an embassy or consulate.
In practice this means the document must be certified twice before it can have legal effect in the receiving country. For example, as a non-signatory, Canadian documents for use abroad must be certified by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa or by a Canadian consular official abroad and subsequently by the relevant government office or consulate of the receiving state.