An Apostille (a French word meaning certification) is an international certification comparable to a notarisation in domestic law. It came into being as a result of a meeting of a Hague Convention (No 12 in January 1965) which wanted to abolish the requirement of legalisation for foreign public documents. This used to be a complex and time consuming process and has been replaced by a simple certificate issued to a specific format.

Not all countries are members of this convention, but most will accept a foreign document once it has been issued with an Apostille Certificate and then legalized by their own Consulate in the foreign document’s country of origin.

In the UK the Legalisation office of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is the only authority competent to issue Apostilles in the UK.

An issuance of an Apostille is the official confirmation that a signature, seal or stamp on a UK public document is genuine. However, legalisation does not certify the authenticity of a document or give Foreign and Commonwealth Office approval of its content.

Before sending a document to be legalised to the FCO, it is necessary that organizations/individuals first check the legalization requirements of the relevant authority in the country in which their documents are to be presented before submitting their application.

The FCO can legalise most UK documents as long as they bear an original signature or seal from a UK public organization. However, an Apostille cannot be attached directly to a document produced or executed in a foreign country, although a photocopy of this document, if certified by a UK notary public or UK solicitor can be legalised. This is also the case if the original document issued overseas is attached to a UL notarial certificate.

Some documents may have to be certified by a UK notary public or UK solicitor before being submitted for legalisation. Please note that in some countries, such as the USA, Canada and Australia, they may only recognise documents notarised by a qualified notary public and may not accept a document certified by a solicitor who is not a qualified notary public.

Some original documents, such as those issued by a Government Department, may not need to be notarized but can just be presented as they are for the Apostille stamp. Copies, however, nearly always need to be notarised first.

Applicants can legalise documents in Milton Keynes by visiting the office in person (there is a 24 hour turnaround counter service for business customers) or by posting the applications to Milton Keynes. It is also possible for applicants to use the premium same day service in Central London.

This involves registering for the Premium service with the FCO through their website (www.fco.gov.uk), obtaining a registration and password and then paying on-line for the documents required. A voucher is then issued to verify payment and this, along with the documents can be taken to the Central London office (a time slot is given of 90 minutes) and the documents are stamped immediately. Although this is more expensive than the Milton Keynes service, it does provide a faster service.

Alternatively, there are other organizations which will assist applicants with obtaining an Apostille for their documents, such as solicitors and specialist consular agencies who deal with this type of document and it is always useful to check with them first in case they can offer a more competitive service.

Maria Narancic from Point to Point Export Services is an independent international trade adviser who assists organisations world wide with their international trade projects, documentation, Documentary Credits and import/export training.  She is based in the United Kingdom.  If you require any further assistance with the matters mentioned above, please do contact us by e-mail on info@point-point.com or check out other international trade articles on the Point to Point Export Services website at www.point-point.com

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