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What is an Apostille?

An apostille is a certificate of authentication verifying the authenticity of a document to be used in one of the 120+ countries that are part of the Hague Apostille Convention.
December 2, 2021
3 min

Notarizations play a critical role in helping companies conduct business and supporting individuals through life’s most important moments.

But notarizations in the United States are limited to interstate and intrastate use. So what happens when your document is being used overseas? You may need to get an apostille.

Here’s what you need to know about apostilles, and why they are so important to international commerce.

What is an apostille and where are they used?

An apostille is a certificate of authentication verifying the authenticity of a document to be used in one of the 120+ countries that are part of the Hague Apostille Convention.

Apostilles allow for the recognition of documents that are used internationally, promoting greater collaboration and less friction between nations. Apostilles come in handy for a number of use cases and may cover a range of documents for both personal and business use.

In business, apostilles help streamline operations by eliminating the need for companies to recertify their documents in other countries. The same can be said for many personal documents, including birth and death certificates, powers of attorney, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, school transcripts, or diplomas.

Depending on the country and your specific situation, you may need original public documents for the apostillization process. This may require you to notarize your documents first, if you haven’t already.

Documents handled by nations outside of the Hague Apostille Convention typically require authentication certificates, and therefore must be certified twice – once by a designated competent authority in the country of origin, and once by a designated competent authority of the receiving nation.

Which documents need an apostille?

According to the Hague Apostille Convention, there are loosely four categories of public documents that may require an apostille: 

  1. Court documents, including documents originating from a court, court clerk, public prosecutor or process server.
  2. Administrative documents, such as civil status documents.
  3. Notarial acts, used to authenticate the seal and signature of the notary public on the document.
  4. Official certificates placed on documents.

Where do I get an apostille?

Apostilles are issued by a competent authority in the document’s country of origin. So long as the receiving country is also a member of the Hague Apostille Convention, validation by the competent authority allows the document to retain its trustworthiness in the receiving country.

The United States has several competent authorities, each responsible for a different subset of documents. This includes Secretaries of State, who are the competent authorities for all notaries.

Can a notary public issue an apostille?

According to the National Notary Association, some notaries may offer an “apostille service” as a way to generate additional income. These notaries essentially provide a courier service to deliver and return the paperwork to customers. 

In other words: A notary public may not issue an apostille, but they may facilitate the process by offering document delivery. 

Where can I learn more?

For more information about apostilles, authentication certificates, and other matters of international document management, visit your Secretary of State’s website.

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