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Making Apostilles Work

Every year, millions of notarized documents connected to business and personal transactions are sent across international borders. But this global interaction does not always flow smoothly. The International Sectionrecently spoke at length with Christophe Bernasconi, First Secretary of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, about the issues surrounding the international acceptance of documents. The following is an abridged version of his comments.

Apostilles have become critically important in getting documents that are notarized in one nation accepted in another. Established by international treaty, apostilles are certificates issued by governments verifying a Notary Public’s standing. But it isn’t always easy to obtain one.

Bernasconi: Some countries only issue apostilles through a single government office, which might not be accessible to people in remote areas. Other countries require some type of intermediate certification before an apostille may be issued, which might not be convenient to those with time or mobility restraints. The Hague Conference is urging all countries to remove unnecessary obstacles.

In the U.S., apostilles generally are issued by each state’s Secretary of State’s office and are obtained by signers. So the biggest issue for American Notaries is making sure they execute the notarization correctly.

Bernasconi: There are a number of instances where apostilles issued in one country have not been accepted in another country because they do not meet the receiving nation’s standards of notarization. While each U.S. state prescribes its own requirements, in general the notarial act must be signed and sealed by the Notary to be acceptable in other countries.

Currently, most apostilles are provided as paper documents. But the Hague Conference is spearheading a pilot program to issue them as electronic documents.

Bernasconi: The eApostille Pilot Program (e-APP) is designed to streamline the international circulation of documents by taking advantage of new developments in information and communication technologies. Twelve jurisdictions around the world have now implemented at least one component of the pilot program. This includes three U.S. states (Kansas, Rhode Island and Texas). In addition, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Minnesota and Delaware are actively considering or implementing a component of it. The European Union has awarded substantial financial support to a project that aims at expanding the e-APP across Europe.

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