10 Questions to Ask When You Need to Legalize a Document for Use Abroad

If you’ve ever had a client come to you with a document either from abroad that needed to be legalized for use in the US, or a US document to be used internationally, you know that the process is complex at its best, and frustrating at its worst. Fortunately there are some key questions to have in mind which, if considered from the outset, can save you and the client much time, energy and especially money!


  1. What kind of document is it? This will determine the next steps. Personal documents must often be notarized whereas corporate documents from official registries are sometimes ready to go straight to the proper authority to be legalized.


  1. Does the document need to be notarized? This depends on the type of document. Personal documents and Powers of Attorney must generally be notarized. One example with regards to corporate documents is that certified copies from Companies House in the United Kingdom are received as unbound papers and must be bound by a licensed notary in order to be legalized by the Foreign Commonwealth Office.


  1. Do all US documents need to go to their respective Department of State? Generally speaking, once a US document is notarized locally, it must be sent to the county where the notary is registered. From there a notary certification is applied to the document, and the document gets sent to the Department of State. Each state issues its own apostille (see below) but there is no need to get a further legalization in Washington DC. (If using a notarized document out of state but not internationally, generally a notary certification is enough to use between state lines, but it is worthwhile checking requirements based on the particular circumstances.)


  1. What are the origin and destination countries? The origin country would be the country where the document was produced and/or notarized. The destination country is the jurisdiction in which the document will be used. Each origin country and destination country will have specific requirements regarding legalizations.


  1. Is the destination country a member of the Hague Convention? This will determine whether an apostille will suffice, or further legalization is necessary. If the destination country is party to the Hague Convention, an international convention of 83 member states, all that will be needed is an apostille, the name for a legal certification under the terms of the Hague Convention, fixed by a competent authority in the country of origin. For instance, a document granted an apostille in the United States is considered legally valid in the United Kingdom. There is no need to take the document to the consulate/embassy of the United Kingdom in the United States for further authentication. Countries not party to the Hague will require additional steps to legalization, generally involving pre-certification by the origin country, which can often take a form similar to an apostille or be an apostille itself. The steps involved vary greatly by jurisdiction.


  1. Is there an embassy/Consulate of the destination country in the origin country? If the destination country is party to the Hague and the origin country can grant an apostille, then this should not be an issue. However, if the destination country is not party to the Hague and they do not have a consulate in the origin country, the legalization authority is generally the closest consulate—this should be verified by the destination country itself. In the cases of territories such as Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands, the document must be stamped by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the territory then sent on to the United Kingdom for apostille by the Foreign Commonwealth Office, then perhaps sent on for further legalization, depending on the destination country.


  1. Does the destination country have restrictions regarding the presentation of documents? This varies widely country to country and should be researched. The UAE requires a company’s memorandum and articles be presented as separate documents. One general note is that notarized documents should be bound by the notary’s seal and should not be presented as loose papers.


  1. What supporting documents do I need? It depends on the Consulate. It is recommended that all documents for legalization should also be presented alongside copies. Many Consulates require a cover letter from the client explaining the document’s purpose and why it must be legalized. Others require copies of identity documents. Please note that consulates reserve the right to request additional documents and that their requirements may vary from what is published online.


  1. What is the turnaround time? This depends on the jurisdiction and the number of steps involved. If it is a US document requiring an apostille from the Department of State, plan for about a week. That document would then be usable in any country party to the Hague Convention. If the destination country does not accept apostilles, plan for an additional 1 or 2 weeks turnaround time.


  1. What are the fees involved? Again this will vary country to country. In some countries notarial fees can be quite steep. For legalizations, countries such as the UAE charge hundreds of dollars per document, while other countries such as Argentina or Kenya charge much less. If the destination country is not party to the Hague (as is the case for the UAE and Kenya), then an additional legalization by the home country might be needed and will cost more. IBCF can advise on a case by case basis as the requirements vary widely by jurisdiction.


Still have questions? Or perhaps a specific case in mind but don’t know where to begin? Let the corporate specialists at IBCF guide you through the process. Email us at [email protected] or use our contact form and we will get back to you.

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