The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents is one of a series of conventions of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. It was signed by the original signatories on October 5, 1961. It specifies the modalities through which a document issued in one of the signatory countries can be certified for legal purposes in all the other signatory states. Such a certification is called an apostille. It is an international certification comparable to a notarisation and is often added to documents that have been in some manner signed by a Notary, lawyer or other public official such as the clerk of a court of record in their official capacity.
States which have not signed the Convention must specify how foreign legal documents can be certified for its use. Sometimes two countries will have a special treaty concerning the recognition of each others documents, but this is not common. When the country issuing or receiving the document does not recognise an apostille, usually the document will have to be taken to the consulate of the foreign country you need to certify it. It may need to be certified by the highest government official in the country where it originated, such as the Secretary of State or Minister of Foreign Affairs, before being accepted by the consular officer of the foreign country, this process is known as chain authentication as an unbroken chain of government officials each certifies the signature (and seal in some cases) of the prior official in the first country and the consular officer then certifies that the document should be recognized as authentic in the country of destination. Usually that consular officer's signature can be authenticated in the country of destination as well.
In the United States, apostilles are usually affixed by the secretary of state in each US state or territory. It may be necessary for an intermediary official to affix a certification that the original signatory (notary or clerk) was authorized to sign the public document, leading to a complex process for obtaining the apostille.
Parties to the convention
A full updated list of signatures can be found at the web site of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. Note that not all members of the Hague Conference have contracted into the convention and some non-member states have contracted into it!
- Hague Conference: full text of Convention #12
- What is an "Apostille"
- The complexities of getting an apostille in New York
- How to obtain in person or by mail in Massachusetts
- British Foreign and Commonwealth Office website on Legalisation
Adapted from the Wikipedia article, "Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hague_Convention_Abolishing_the_Requirement_of_Legalisation_for_Foreign_Public_Documents, used under the GNU Free Documentation License.