What Are Legalisations and Apostilles?

This is the fourth of a series of six short articles by Sophy King of Peregrine Immigration Management Ltd, covering some of the key areas of basic global immigration management. A basic understanding of how immigration processes work is vital in order to manage international assignments and projects efficiently and effectively. Peregrine Immigration Management Ltd is a young company founded by Sophy King specifically to address this need. Peregrine provides global immigration consultancy, training and knowledge transfer and management services, including via its revolutionary immigration knowledge database, Immiguru.

Document legalisations and Apostilles (aka Apostils) are one of the most administratively tiresome aspects of global immigration. Apart from anything else, the language and terminology in this area of immigration is not particularly clear, and it is common for companies and employees to be very confused about the difference between a legalisation, a notarisation, an Apostille, a certified translation, and so on.

Essentially, document legalisation is a process that exists in order to prove the authenticity of a document. When applying for immigration work or residence permission, it is generally necessary to prove the applicant’s skills by means of presenting qualification certificates, and his/her family ties (so he/she can bring his/her dependents) by means of marriage and/or birth certificates. The authenticity of these certificates may need to be provide by means of legalisation or Apostille (Apostil).

So, for example, in order to obtain a work permit for an Indian national moving to the UAE, it is necessary to provide the Indian national’s degree certificate. Since the UAE authorities have no way of knowing if the Indian degree certificate is genuine or not, they ask for its authenticity to be attested (legalised) by the UAE Embassy in India. The UAE Embassy in India can’t be responsible for knowing all about all educational institutions in India, so they will only accept the document for their legalisation if it has first been verified by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi. The MEA in turn requires the Home Department from the state where the certificate was issued or, in some cases, the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) to confirm that the certificate is genuine. So, in order to be able to submit this degree certificate in support of the work permit application, it must be legalised by the Home Department, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the UAE Embassy in New Delhi.

This is how the process works in all countries – in order for the Embassy of the foreign country to legalise the document, it must be attested by the issuing country’s Foreign Ministry; in order for the Foreign Ministry to legalise the document, they may require a prior certification from a specific department or authority within their own country.

The Apostille (Apostil) arrangement is a simplification of the legalisation process. Certain countries signed the Hague Apostille Convention in 1956 agreeing that they would accept one another’s documents without the need for their own Embassies to legalise them – i.e. they would accept the legalisation from the Foreign Ministry without the need for the final step of Embassy certification. For this process to be available, both the country where the document was issued and the country where the work permit is being applied for must be signatories to the Hague Convention on Apostilles. So, for example, to use a UK degree certificate to apply ofr a work permit for Italy, there is no need to have the Italian Consulate Genera in London attest to its authenticity – having the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issue an Apostille is enough. However, note that the FCO will not accept the degree certificate unless it has first been notarised by a notary public, meaning that the notary should contact the educational institution to verify the authenticity of the document before anything else can be done. Public records (e.g. birth certificates, marriage certificates) can be accepted by the FCO and, indeed, by most Ministries of Foreign Affairs, without prior notarisation, since they are government issued documents in the first place.

The process is made even more complex by the fact that, most of the time, documents need to be translated as well as legalised. This throws up the question – should the document be translated prior to legalisation, so that the translated version is legalised, or should it be legalised prior to translation, so that the legalisation is translated? The answer is – check with the authorities in the country where the work permit application will be made. Generally speaking, it is sensible to have the documents translated first and then submitted together with the translations for legalisation so that both the original documents and their certified translations can be legalised together as one bundle. One thing to watch out for here, though, is that if submitting a certified or notarised translation alone for legalisation, the legalisation will be on that translation only – i.e. the only thing the legalisation will be attesting to is the genuineness of the translation and not of the original document. However, in many cases, this is the process carried out because a “true” legalisation is simply too complex. For example, most Congolese consulates around the world refuse to issue legalisations on any non-Congolese documents. The Congolese consulate in London is an exception, so is common to have documents in support of Congolese work permit applications, wherever they were issued, translated into French and notarised in London and then to have those notarised translations legalised here in the UK. Technically, the resulting legalisation is simply a confirmation of the reliability of the translation and not of the authenticity of the original document itself.

Complicated enough yet? There’s one more layer to think about. Since the legalisation process involves the Embassy of the destination country attesting to the authenticity of the document in the country where the document is issued, it follows that to have this done, there has to actually be an Embassy of the destination country in the sending country location. However, not every country has Embassies in every other country. What do you do if you need to legalise, for example, an Iranian degree certificate for use in Angola? There is no Angolan consulate in Tehran. The answer here is – find the Angolan consulate which has jurisdiction over Iran, and ask them what they need to see. In this case, the Angolan consulate in question is the one in the UAE, and before they will legalise the document, they need to see certifications from the UAE Embassy in Tehran, who in turn need a stamp from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran and the judiciary.

So, in summary:

  1. Legalisations and Apostilles are a process whereby the authenticity of a document is proved by means of a rubber stamp from the Embassy of the destination country located in the country where the document was issued
  1. In order to achieve that rubber stamp, a complex, multiple step process must be gone through, generally consisting of Ministry of Foreign Affairs approval and, in some cases, notarisation or other home country government department approvals
  1. Apostilles are somewhat less complicated than legalisations but require both document issuing country and the receiving country to have signed up to the Hague Convention on Apostilles;
  1. Translations should generally be done prior to legalisation, but care should be taken to make sure that the legalisation itself is on the document itself rather than the translation thereof;
  1. Where there is no receiving country Embassy or Consulate in the document issuing country, additional steps are necessary as the documents will need to be sent to the Consulate of the receiving country with jurisdiction over the document issuing country.

As always, we have tried to keep this article short, but it is almost impossible to do the subject credit! Contact Peregrine directly if you have any questions on this subject and we will be glad to help.


Why Visa Executive

At Visa Executive, we provide our clients with:

  • An efficient and transparent service
  • One point of contact for both the client and employee throughout the whole visa process
  • A unique on-line system that enables clients to track the progress of applications
  • A flat structured fee for each visa category
  • Updates on frequently changing immigration laws
Complete an online initiation form

Subscribe to Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up to date with the latest developments.