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Notary Basics: Understanding Apostilles And Authentication Certificates

Apostilles-resized.jpgUpdated 6-26-18. When notarizing documents to be sent to foreign countries, you may be asked if you can provide something called an "apostille" for the document. 

An apostille is a certificate — often attached to the document by an appropriate government official after it is notarized. While you are not responsible for obtaining an apostille, signers often ask about them, so it's helpful to understand what they are and how they work.

Apostille Or Authentication Certificates?
 

Apostilles and authentication certificates validate the seal and signature of a Notary on a document so that it can be accepted in a foreign country. Both verify that you held a Notary commission at the time you notarized the document.

Apostilles are used when public documents are being transferred between countries that are party to the Hague Apostille Convention of 1961. This international treaty streamlined the cumbersome, traditional procedure for authenticating documents.

An apostille is issued by your Secretary of State's office or Notary commissioning agency. The single apostille is the only certification needed. Once prepared and verified, the apostille is attached to and sent along with the notarized documents. Notaries cannot issue apostilles themselves. This all happens after the notarization, and requires no action on your part.

Authentication certificates are used for destination nations that are not part of the Hague Convention. Instead of a single apostille, the document needs several authentication certificates, including those from your commissioning agency, the U.S. Department of State, the consul of the destination country and potentially another government official in the destination country.

The requirements and processing time for authentication certificates will vary from country to country.

Getting A Notarization Authenticated
 

According to the U.S. Department of State, documents that may require authentication for use abroad include: affidavits, agreements, articles of incorporation, company bylaws, deeds of assignment, diplomas, home study, income verification, powers of attorney, single status, transcripts, trademarks, warrants, extraditions, certificates of good standing and other general business documents. Also, parents wanting to adopt a child living in another country must have their adoption dossiers properly authenticated.

But your client is responsible for requesting the authentication — not you.

Requests for an apostille or authentication certificate are generally submitted in writing to your state's Notary commissioning authority (usually the Secretary of State’s office) and should contain:

  • An explanation of why the apostille or authentication is needed.
  • The original document, including the Notary’s completed notarial certificate.
  • The final destination of the document.
  • A postage-paid return envelope addressed to either the document custodian or the document’s final destination.
  • The required fee (varies by state). 

The commissioning office determines whether the document requires an apostille or authentication certificate, based on the document’s final destination.

What’s The Notary’s Role?
 

Your only responsibility is to notarize the document itself. Because the document is destined for another country, the notarization must be performed perfectly to ensure that there aren’t any problems on the receiving end. For example, some judges presiding over adoption cases in other countries may reject documents not properly notarized.

Keep in mind that with any notarized documents passing through a Notary regulator's office, the paperwork will be closely scrutinized. Any notarial errors may result in an enforcement action against you.

Can Notaries Provide Apostille Services?
 

Some enterprising Notaries who live near their Secretary of State’s office offer "apostille services" as a way to generate additional income. They essentially provide a courier service to deliver and return the paperwork to customers. These are not considered "notarial" acts, so the Notary may establish any relevant service fees with the client.

If you have questions, the NNA Hotline can answer them.

Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.

29 Comments

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Joan A. Baffa

03 Aug 2015

It has been my experience that the process is as follows: the notarized document is taken to the county clerk where the notary is qualified and a Notarial Certificate is attached (authenticating the signature of the notary public). The then the document is taken to the Department of State where the Apostille is attached (this authenticates the signature of the County Clerk). Then, as stated, the document is complete unless the receiving Country has not signed the "1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents." If that Convention was not signed, then the Apostilled document will need to be legalized or consularized at the appropriate Consulate General.

Julie S.

03 Aug 2015

I work for a university and a former student who had moved back to Spain asked me to notarize at least 40 pages of documents. The documents included syllabi and pages from our catalog. He then said he needed an Apostille but he did not specifically ask me to obtain it. I spent a few hours making copies and notarizing all the pages and he needed 2 copies. I also had to have our Registrar's Office place our official seal on a few pages. I sent him the documents (we paid the postage) and he refused to pay me for my services stating "I did it incorrectly" therefore he didn't have to pay. He expected ME to get the Apostille! If this occurs in the future, I will be sure I clearly explain that it is not my responsibility to obtain the Apostille and I will also expect payment in advance. Of course, I would be happy to obtain the Apostille. What is the amount a Notary can charge to get the Apostille? The Secretary of State's Office that issues these is approximately 5 miles away.

Elaine McKenna

03 Aug 2015

This article about notary authentication was very timely. In my 25+ years of being a notary here in Arizona, it's only been this last month that I've been involved in having my notarization certificate authenticated through both the Secretary of State's office and now the U.S. Department of State is validating that. My only comment is that an average client would not know how to do all of this, so I believe it is still up to the notary to handle this. Also this is time-consuming so it must be done well in advance of any document deadlines.

Lisa L. Frazier

04 Aug 2015

In over 33 years of being a Notary, I recently had to have a personal Affidavit apostilled and found out that in California, the County Clerk no longer needs to sign off on the document, and I was able to take it directly to our local Secretary of State's office in Los Angeles to have the Affidavit apostilled. It was quick and easy!

Hipolito A Rizardo

25 Aug 2015

I am a practicing California notary public and I am also an accredited notary by the Consulate General of the Philippines in Los Angeles. For a General or Special Power of Attorney, for example, which would be used in the Philippines, here are the steps that generally take place. After I notarize said document, my client will take this document to the Consulate General of the Philippines in Los Angeles for authentication, for which my client pays a fee of $25.00. Then my client takes this authenticated document to the Philippines where it is needed.

Judi Mosso

08 Aug 2016

While the average client may not know how to go about obtaining an apostille, I don't believe it's automatically up to the Notary to handle it! It's our duty to *educate! As a Public Administrator for a municipality, I often guide/educate citizens about a process. Obtaining an apostille is no different. If a Notary is willing to offer the service then so be it, but it's more our duty to educate.

Carrie

06 Apr 2017

As a notary having never notarized a document that needed to be sent out for an Apostille. I'm a little confused as to what I'm notarizing. Am I certifying the documents that they are a true copy? Thanks

National Notary Association

10 Apr 2017

Hello Carrie. You do not have to perform any special type of additional notarization if a signer needs an apostille. An apostille is simply an official authentication that the Notary's commission is current. If a signer needs an apostille, the signer must submit the notarized document to request the authentication from the appropriate government agency. You are not required to provide any additional services or documents to the signer.

Jennifer

25 Apr 2017

I am notarizing documents that are going back to Italy and they have asked for apostille. Does my client have to send it to Sacramento? It sounds like it might be obtained locally.

National Notary Association

26 Apr 2017

Hi Jennifer. If you're in California, an apostille would have to be obtained from the CA Secretary of State's office. However, the signer may also be able to obtain authentication from the regional SOS office in Los Angeles if that is closer. More information is available here: http://www.sos.ca.gov/business-programs/regional-office/

Sergio Musetti

07 Jul 2017

Jennifer, your client can send the documents to the 2 offices that can process the authentication, or you, same as other notaries, can send the notarized docs to people that take care of remaining part of the transaction. If it is an emergency Or not, I usually provide same day service: Sometimes a receive a Procura, or POA, so I get the Apostille and ship everything directly to Italy. In other cases, I do the translation for Spain or Latin American countries, Mexico, Venezuela Argentina, etc, by the time I receive the originals, the translation is ready and I process( in Sacramento, CA) and ship the legalized documents(with Apostille) the same day so the client receives a couple of emails from the courier/shipping company, the first one when the documents enter the shipping system, and the second message when they hand-deliver the documents in the country of destination.

Audrey

12 Oct 2017

If you are getting an apostille in Ecuador for an Ecuadorian birth or graduation certificate, would a notary still be the one to sign it, or do South American countries do that differently?

National Notary Association

13 Oct 2017

Hello. You would need to contact the agency in Ecuador to find out what their specific requirements are.

Nancy

20 Nov 2017

We need to return 2 notarized durable powers of attorney back to the US (our address is South Carolina and our financial adviser is in Kansas). These have been notarized in London. Do we need an Apostille from our end?

National Notary Association

20 Nov 2017

Hello. You should contact the agency that will be receiving the powers of attorney and ask them if they will require an apostille in order to accept the documents.

Elizabeth

20 Dec 2017

I’m in Arizona , and i am confused about getting a power of attorney apostilled, do i have to take it to the county clerk and to the Secretary of State to get it apostilled? I’m getting a power of attorney and its going to Mexico. I myself am a public notary and i am trying to lear how to do this.

National Notary Association

20 Dec 2017

Hello. Please see this link for information: https://www.azsos.gov/services/authentication-and-apostille

Rushda

28 Mar 2018

Can my friend have a copy of my Degree and Transcripts notarized on behalf of me since I am not in the country? Where is Michigan can my friend go am get it notarized? What do I need to send with my friend? Besides my original and copy of Degree and Transcripts? How long will the process to notarize these documents take? How long does the process for an apostille take? Thank you for your help.

National Notary Association

29 Mar 2018

Hello. Michigan Notaries are not authorized to certify copies of documents. You may wish to contact your school directly to ask if they can provide you with a certified copy of your degree and transcripts.

Mark

17 May 2018

Hi, I have a degree i did as part of distance learning online in the states. However my middle name is missing and as i now require thr mistake rectifying via an affidavit by the u.s. consulate in vietnam where i currently live. I am not a us citizen. I have my degree and transcripts already apostilled. Am i to merwly take my apostille copies to the embassy to carry out the affidavit or is it more complicayed than that? Thanks, Mark

National Notary Association

18 May 2018

Hello. You would need to contact the agency you are submitting these documents to and request that they provide you with instructions.

Melvis

12 Jun 2018

I need some documents that need apostille, to get marry in another country my question is where do I get the documents apostille where I live or the foreign country and of course I need them to be notarized and to be translated to Spanish where do I need to do it though.

National Notary Association

13 Jun 2018

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you please tell us where the documents are being notarized? For example, are the documents requiring an apostille being notarized in a U.S. state? If so, which one?

Jayne Leaf

07 Aug 2018

I’m trying to assign a proxy to deal with the sale of my property in Costa Rica. Im familiar with having documents notarized but have no idea how to obtain Apostille. I live on Martha’s Vineyard. What do I need to do 🤔😢😬

National Notary Association

08 Aug 2018

Hello. Authenticating certificates for Notaries, including apostilles, are issued by the office of Massachusetts’ Secretary of the Commonwealth. You can contact them for assistance at 1-617-727-2836.

Russle

23 Aug 2018

Hello, I was international student, recently graduated from US university. I need to send a copy of my diploma to my home country and it needs to have apostille. Can I get apostille for the original diploma ind for its copy? What should I do? Tx!

National Notary Association

24 Aug 2018

Hello. You may wish to contact a local consulate or embassy of your home country to see if they can assist you with this.

Cristina

27 Sep 2018

I am designating my cousin in Italy as my power of attorney so that I can sell some land there. She states that a power of attorney form or procura from Italy has to be notarized here in the US and apostilled before I mail it back to her. How does this work if I live here in the US and this is a foreign document needing notarization? Do I bring the procura to the Italian Consulate general for notarization?

National Notary Association

28 Sep 2018

Hello. You would need to contact the consulate to ask if they are able to notarize the document for you. If you have the document notarized by a Notary commissioned in your state instead, you would need request an apostille for the notarized document from the agency that issues apostilles in your state.

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