What is an apostille? Procedure and application

updated on 26. August 2019 11 minutes reading time

In order for public documents to be internationally recognised, they must be notarised. However, this procedure usually takes a long time. For that reason, the Hague Apostille was introduced to speed up and simplify the legalisation procedure. Is this article, you’ll find out what an Apostille is, what it’s used for and how it differs from legalisation.

The apostille: A definition

An apostille is a special form of notarial certification in the international authentication procedure. It was adopted in the Hague Convention on the Exemption from Legalisation of Foreign Public Documents during the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) in 1961.

The apostille certifies the authenticity of a public document, signature or stamp. The process of authentication is called apostilisation.

Since the introduction of the apostille as a form of notarial certification, the international transfer of documents has become far easier and faster. For example, documents that are required for forming a company abroad must be legitimised by apostilisation so that they remain valid in other countries.

Summary: An ‘apostille’ is a public document, signature or stamp certification. It was adopted during a Hauge Conference on Private International Law to aid the international transfer of official documents. This is particularly relevant for founders forming companies in foreign countries.

When can the Hague Apostille be used?

An apostille may be used only between states which are members of the Multilateral Hague Convention. All states participating in this convention can be found on the website of the German Federal Foreign Office. As of August 2018, 115 states are members of the Apostille Convention. Almost all European countries are members of the Hague Convention, as are China, Australia, India, Canada, Japan and the USA.

Summary: Only member states of the Multilateral Hague Convention may issue and accept an apostille as an official certification.

What does an apostille look like?

An apostille is placed directly on the document to be authenticated in the form of a 9×9-centimetre stamp and must always be titled Apostille (Convention de La Haye du 5 octobre 1961). Everything else can be filled in in the respective national language.

Generally, the authorities in the designated country will require a translation of the original. In this case, the translation must be certified instead of the original document. Depending on the type of document, you may need a translation from a sworn translator. This process is necessary if you plan to set up a company in Germany from abroad, and for other things as well.

Differences between an apostille and legalisation

Although an apostille and legalisation differ in many respects, they have one thing in common. Both are forms of authentication for public documents, signatures or stamps. The purpose of authentication procedures is to verify the authenticity of particular documentation. The documentation also acquires the same evidential value as a document from the state in which it is to be used by authentication. The differences lie mainly in the authentication procedure and the time involved.

The main differences at a glance:

Apostille Legalisation
Use Use only possible between members of the Hague Convention Use between states of which one or both are not members of the Hague Convention
Administrative burden Lower
certification required only by the competent office in the country of issue
Higher
certification by several authorities necessary
Pre-certification Not necessary Pre-certification by the issuing authority required
Authentication by consular representation Not necessary Required

For an apostille, documents only need to be certified by a competent authority in the issuing country. Legalisation, on the other hand, requires the document to be authenticated by several authorities. Preliminary certification must first be issued by the competent authority in the issuing country. Subsequently, legalisation must be carried out by the consular mission of the country of destination.

The legalisation procedure was largely replaced by the Hague Convention (Apostille). For all member states of the Hague Agreement, apostilisation of the corresponding documents is sufficient, which represents an enormous simplification and acceleration in the international exchange of documents. All other states which are not members of the Hague Convention must continue to have the documents certified by the legalisation procedure.

Summary: Both the apostille and legalisation are official certifications. However, the apostille protocol was created to replace the arduous and time-consuming process of Legalisation.

Applying for an apostille

The application for an apostille must be made by the holder of the document in the document’s country of issue. Each member state of the Hague Convention determines which authorities are responsible for issuing the apostille. Which authorities are responsible for this in which country can be found on the official website of the Hague Conference.

The fees for issuing the apostille also depend on the respective country. In Germany, the fees per document range between €15 and €35, depending on the federal state.

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The countries in which a document is to be recognised often require a translation of the original foreign-language document. In this case, the apostille must be issued on the translated document, not on the original. Whether a translation of the document is necessary should, therefore, be checked in advance to avoid delays in having the document recognised. You may need to use a sworn translator.

Be careful: Even if two states are members of the Hague Agreement, this does not necessarily mean that the state in which the document is to be used will recognise the apostille. This is because a state is permitted to raise objections against another state. For example, both India and Germany are members of the Hague Convention, but Germany does not recognise apostilled documents from India. In this case, the legalisation procedure must be applied.

Summary: The application for an apostille must be made by the holder of the document in the document’s country of issue. Which exact authority to submit the application can be found on the official website of the Hague Conference.

Where can I get an apostille in Germany?

In Germany, various authorities are responsible for the apostilisation of documents. The type of document is the decisive factor:

  • Federal documents are apostilled by the Federal Administration Office (Bundesverwaltungsamt).
  • Documents from the German Federal Patent Court and from the German Patent Office are certified by the President of the German Patent (Deutschen Patentamt).
  • Responsibility for the apostilisation of certificates of the federal states is not uniformly regulated. As a rule, however, the issuer of the document can provide information on which office is responsible for certification. In most cases, jurisdiction is regulated as follows:
  • Documents from the judicial authorities, the ordinary courts (civil and criminal courts) and notaries: Ministries (senate administrations) for Justice; Presidents of (official) Courts.
  • Documents from other courts (excluding the ordinary courts): Ministries (Senate Administrations) of the Interior, the Presidents of the Government, the President of the Administrative District, the District Government, the Ministries (Senate Administrations) of Justice or the Presidents of the Regional (Official) Courts

Generally, documents to be apostilled or legalised may not be older than six months. In a few exceptional cases, the time limit may even be as short as three months.

The information published on our site is all written and checked by experts with the greatest care. Nevertheless, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information, as laws and regulations are subject to constant change. Therefore, always consult an expert in a specific case – we would be happy to connect you with the right professional.

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