Apostille History

Since Oct. 15, 1981, the United States has been part of the 1961 Hague Convention abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents. The Convention provides for the simplified certification of public (including notarized) documents to be used in countries that have joined the convention. Under the Hague Convention, signatory countries have agreed to recognize public documents issued by other signatory countries if those public documents are authenticated by the attachment of an internationally recognized form of authentication known as an “apostille”.

The Apostille ensures that public documents issued in one signatory country will be recognized as valid in another signatory country.

The sole function of the Apostille is to certify the authenticity of the signature on the document; the capacity in which the person signing the document acted; and the identity of any stamp or seal affixed to the document.

An Apostille issued by the Secretary of State is a one page document embossed with the Great Seal of a State. The Apostille includes the facsimile signature of the individual issuing the certificate.

There are currently over 60 member states of the Hague convention and in addition to those countries many other countries will also recognise an Apostille certificate (follow the link to a list of these countries).
The Convention applies only to public documents. These are documents emanating from an authority or official connected with a court or tribunal of the State (including documents issued by an administrative, constitutional or ecclesiastical court or tribunal, a public prosecutor, a clerk or a process-server); administrative documents; notarial acts; and official certificates which are placed on documents signed by persons in their private capacity, such as official certificates recording the registration of a document or the fact that it was in existence on a certain date and official and notarial authentications of signatures. The main examples of public documents for which Apostille are issued in practice include birth, marriage and death certificates; extracts from commercial registers and other registers; patents; court rulings; notarial acts and notarial attestations of signatures; academic diplomas issued by public institutions.

Diplomas issued by private institutions may not be apostillised directly; a “private” diploma may, however, bear an official certificate issued by a notary, Solicitor, Agency or any other person or authority competent under the law of the State of origin of the diploma to authenticate the signature on the diploma. This official certificate is a public document under the Convention and thus may be apostillised. In such a case the Apostille does not relate to the diploma itself; instead it certifies the authenticity of the certificate on or accompanying the diploma.