Understanding Apostille and Authentication Certificates
Notarizing documents that will be sent to a different country requires an authentication or apostille. However, requesting for the apostille or authentication is up to your signer, not you (the notary). Before we proceed to look at the process of requesting an apostille or authentication, let's first explain what an apostille and authentication certificate is.
Apostille or Authentication Certificates?
An apostille is a certificate that is often attached to a document by an appropriate or authorized government official after the document has been notarized. The request for an apostille will be done by the signer and not you. In other words, you are not responsible for obtaining an apostille.
Both an apostille and authentication certificate is used to validate the signature and seal of a notary on a document in other for the document to be accepted in a foreign country. They verify that a notary commission was present at the time the document was being notarized.
Apostilles become necessary when public documents (see list below) are transferred between countries that are members of the Hague Apostille Convention of 1961. Authentication certificates on the other hand are used when public documents are transferred between countries that are not members of the Hague Convention.
An apostille is issued by a state’s Secretary of State’s office or by a notary commissioning agency. A document requires only a single apostille certification. Once the apostilled certificate has been prepared and verified, it is attached to the notarized document and sent along with it. Apostilles cannot be issued by notaries. The notary is responsible for notarizing the document, not issuing of the apostille.
A document requires several authentication certificates. These certificates include those from the U.S. Department of State, your commissioning agency, the consul of the destination country, and maybe another government official in the destination country.
Types of Documents that Can Be Apostilled or Authenticated
There are several types of documents that may require authentication or apostille services. Some of these documents are:
- Marriage Certificates
- Birth Certificates
- Death Certificates
- Probate Wills
- Divorce Decrees
- Power of Attorney
- Copy of Driver’s License
- School Transcript
In addition to the above-mentioned documents, some federal documents may also need to be apostilled or authenticated. Some of these federal documents are:
- Immigration Certifications, issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Animal/Plant Certifications, issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- Certificate of Foreign Governments and Certificate of Pharmaceuticals/Export, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- FBI – Background check, US Federal Court documents, and US Bankruptcy Court Check, all issued by U.S. Department of Justice.
- Other documents issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, Social Security Administration, or Office of Personnel Management
Process of Requesting for an Apostille or Authentication Certificate
The procedure for obtaining an authentication or apostille certificate requires that the document is first notarized by a notary public, reviewed by your state or county officials, and finally, certified by the U.S Department of State. Request for the authentication or apostille certificate will be done by your signer, not you. The requests are generally submitted in writing to your state’s Secretary of State’s office or notary commissioning authority and it should include:
- The original document as well as the notary’s completed notarial certificate.
- An explanation of why the authentication or apostille is needed.
- A postage-paid return envelope that is addressed to either the documents final destination or the document custodian.
- The required fee (this varies by state).
- The final destination of the document.
Based on the final destination of the document, the commissioning office determines whether to issue an authentication certificate or an apostille certificate.
The Role of a Notary in Obtaining an Apostille or Authentication Certificate
For a document to be accepted for authentication or apostille, it must first be notarized – sealed and signed by a notary public. In other words, an authentication or apostille certificate will not be attached to a document if the document does not have the seal and signature of a notary. The type of notarization a notary does on the document does not really matter. The most important thing here is for the notarization to be properly done. Since the document will be transferred to another country, the notary must perform the notarization properly to avoid problems on the receiving end. Note that the notarized documents or paperwork passing through a notary regulator’s office will be closely scrutinized and any observed form of notarial errors may lead to enforcement actions against you (the notary). It is not out of place to say that the only role of a notary in obtaining an apostille or authentication certificate is to notarize the document itself. The notary is not responsible for issuing out the apostille or authentication certificate.
For electronic documents, notaries can notarize them through electronic notarization (e-notarization) or remote online notarization (RON). For remote online notarization, the entire process of notarizing the document is done online. What this means is that the signer and the notary does not have to be in the same physical location before the document can be notarized. Instead of the notary’s physical seal or signature on the document, a special notarial digital certificate is put on the document. The process of notarizing a document remotely is as follows:
- The signer contacts a remote notary or remote online notary service provider to request for a remote notarization,
- The document to be notarized is uploaded to the technology platform used for the notarization.
- The notary and signer communicates via audiovisual technology like a webcam.
- The identity of the signer is screened and verified using knowledge-based authentication, credential analysis, or any method required by the notary’s commissioning state.
- If the verification of the signer's identity is successful, the notary and signer proceed to sign the document electronically and an electronic seal and digital certificate are attached to the document by the notary.
- The recorded session of the notarization is retained by the notary and relevant information is recorded in the notary's electronic journal.
- The document notarized is sent to the signer via email.
How Can Notaries Provide Apostille Services?
We already mentioned that notaries are not responsible for issuing out an apostille or authentication. However, notaries who live close to their Secretary of State's office can provide “apostille services” for their customers as a way of generating extra income. They can provide courier services for delivering and returning their customer's paperwork. Such service by a notary is not considered a notarial act and so, the notary can establish any relevant service fee with the customer.