Apostilles meet the digital age. A case study of e-apostilles, their use, and trends.

Summary of key finding of the e-Apostille case study:

  • Since 2016, over 11 million e-apostilles have been issued worldwide.
  • Since 2018, over 2 million e-apostilles are issued worldwide every year.

  • 2019 marked a historic high in the number of e-apostilles issued worldwide (3.5 million).

  • 34% of all countries in the Hague Conference issue and accept e-Apostilles.

  • 41 Contracting Parties have implemented one or both e-APP’s components.

  • Based on our forecast sheet, about 4.1 million e-apostilles will be issued globally in 2022.
  • By 2024, approximately 5.1 million digital apostilles will be issued worldwide annually.

The 2006 Hague Conference launched the e-legalisation process with the aim of modernising the apostille process [1].

Since September 2022, the UK government has begun issuing e-apostilles to simplify document legalisation [2].

An e-apostille is a digital certificate attached to your electronic documents to confirm their authenticity; it holds the same authority as paper apostilles.

Its validity can be confirmed at an official online registry, where the identification number of the electronic document can be found and proved.[3]

Thus, the e-legalisation process is not only free of forgeries but also safer and environmentally friendly.

This case study analyses the Summary of Responses to the Apostille Questionnaire 2021 [4].

We also give our own analysis of e-apostilles, their use and trends.

The shift towards e-apostilles

Traditional methods such as in-person (86%) and postal services (52%) remain the most dominant ways of requesting apostilles worldwide.

However, there has been a notable shift towards e-apostilles since 2016 [4].

By 2021, more people were applying for apostilles through electronic means such as email (15%) and through a website (34%).

This was a 7% and 17% increase in email transmissions and website applications, respectively, from 2016.

The following table illustrates the shift from in-person and post methods to electronic means (email and websites).

2021 2016
In-person 88% 95%
By post 53% 57%
B email 16% 9%
Through a website 33% 17%

Between 2016 and 2020, over 11 million e-apostilles were issued worldwide, compared to about 49 million paper apostilles [4].

The annual global issuance of e-apostilles rose from 1.3 million to 2.2 million between 2016 and 2020 (a 69.96% increase).

This increase is attributed to the effects of the pandemic and the accelerated shift towards digital services.

With the suspension of in-person operations across the globe, more people pursued e-legalisation.

The highest number of electronic apostilles was issued in 2019. 3.5 million e-apostilles were issued globally.

This was 27.5% of the paper apostilles issued that year (approximately 12 million paper apostilles were issued).

2020 saw a marked decline in the number of e-apostilles issued worldwide. Only 2.1 million e-apostilles were issued that year.

This is not surprising given the pandemic’s social, economic and political impacts. However, this was still 67% higher than the number of e-apostilles issued in 2016.

This notable shift towards digital apostilles indicates that they are more efficient, and the end-to-end process is more straightforward for the legalisation office and the general public.

The following chart illustrates the global trends in e-apostille issuance between 2016 and 2020 [4].

E Apostilles issued Globally
Key Takeaways:
  • Over 11 million e-apostilles were issued globally between 2016 and 2020, compared to 49 million paper apostilles.
  • There has been a 69.96% increase in e-apostilles issued worldwide since 2016.
  • 2019 saw a historic high in the number of e-apostilles issued worldwide (3.5million e-apostilles were issued). The increase is attributed to the pandemic and the shift to digital services.

The contracting parties that issue and accept e-apostilles

By 2021, 34% of all the countries of the Hague Conference issued and accepted e-apostilles. This translates to 41 Contracting Parties [5].

Countries such as Latvia, Columbia, Belgium and Armenia exclusively offer digital apostilles.

Additionally, 61% of the contracting parties who do not issue digital certificates are studying them with the goal of implementing the process in the future [4].

At least 52% of those who have not launched e-legalisation cite implementation challenges as the primary impediment.

Other challenges that have been cited include cost, security concerns, internal law limitations and judicial or administrative structure.

However, it has been suggested that participating in the e-App forums and partnering with countries that have already implemented the process will help overcome this challenge.

Key Takeaways:
  • 34% of all the Contracting Parties issue and accept e-apostilles (41 countries).
  • 61% are studying e-apostilles intending to implement them.
  • 52% of those who have not implemented e-apostilles cite implementation challenges.

The e-APP and its uses

Developed by the HCCH and America’s Nation Notary Association, the e-APP promotes the use of e-apostilles and e-registers that can be accessed online by the recipients to confirm the validity of the digital apostille [6][8].

All contracting parties retain the discretion as to if and how they implement the two components.

Each e-APP component can be executed independently.

In 2021, over 200 Competent Authorities from over 41 contracting parties had implemented one or both e-APP components 9 (34%) [4].

This translates to a 29.3% increase from 2017 when only 29 countries had launched the e-APP.

Of the 41 Contracting parties, 18 have implemented both of the e-APP’s components (e-register and e-apostilles).

This indicates the e-APP programme’s success and the Apostille Convention’s increasing significance.

Countries that have not launched the programme are encouraged to collaborate with those who have already implemented it in order to overcome any implementation difficulties.

The following table illustrates the variations in some of the challenges associated with implementing the e-APP.

e-Apostilles e-Registers
Internal law limitations 26% 18%
Judicial structure 11% 7%
Implementation challenges 52% 46%
Costs 37% 36%
Incompatible systems 26% 29%
Security concerns 28% 25%
Other 20% 18%
Key Takeaways:
  • 34% of the contracting parties have launched at least one of the E-APP’s components (41 countries).
  • 15% of these countries have implemented e-apostilles and e-registers (18 countries).
  • 46% of the Contracting parties that have not launched the E-APP are experiencing implementation issues with the e-register and 52% with the e-apostilles.

Methods used to send e-apostilles

Most e-apostilles are issued either as a digitally signed PDF attachment merged with the associated documents or as a separate file along with the related documents.

By 2021, 21% of e-apostilles were transmitted via email, while 33% were via an online government platform [4].

The digital certificates can be stored in an online file and shared as often as possible.

Approximately 54% of the Contracting Parties maintain an e-register to confirm the validity of the digital apostilles [4].

This represents 22 Contracting parties with the e-APP.

Generally, countries that have already launched the e-APP accept all e-apostilles issued.

Key Takeaways:
  • 21% of e-apostilles are transmitted via email, while 31% are via an e-register.
  • About 22 Contracting parties maintain an e-register to verify all e-apostilles.

The future of e-apostilles

The 2016 HCCH Special Commission predicted that the interest in the Apostille Convention and the e-APP programme would continue to increase among current and future signatories [5][9].

Since 2014, new signatories have joined the Convention, including Australia, Austria, Chile, Romania, Tajikistan, Brazil, Singapore and one state of Mexico, with many more expected to join.

As of July 2022, there are 124 Contracting Parties in the Apostille Convention (4 more since 2021) [7].

Not only is the overall number of Contracting Parties to the Convention continuing to rise, but so too is the number of countries that have launched one or both components of the e-APP [5].

Since 2016, there has been a 69.96% increase in e-apostilles issued worldwide.

With increased digitisation, more Contracting parties will likely implement the e-APP. New signatories have also joined as e-APP participants.

Based on the recorded findings of the ‘Summary of Responses to the Apostille Questionnaire 2021’, we have come up with this forecast sheet:

E apostille growth forecast for 2024

This forecast indicates that about 4.1 million e-apostilles will be issued globally in 2022.

In 2024, approximately 5.1 million digital apostilles will be issued worldwide.

Based on these, it is evident that the popularity of e-apostilles will continue to increase as more contracting parties implement the e-APP by 2024.

The HCCH recognises the positive impact of the e-APP on Apostille issuance and verification.

Thus, Competent Authorities for the current and future Contracting Parties have been encouraged to implement both e-APP components [4].

The 11th International Forum on the Electronic Apostille Programme proposed establishing an expert group that includes IT experts who can further support and improve the e-APP.

Key Takeaways:
  • As of July 2022, there are 124 Contracting Parties in the Apostille Convention.
  • At the end of 2022, approximately 4.1 million e-apostilles will be issued worldwide.
  • Approximately 5.1 million electronic apostilles will be issued globally in 2024.

Summary of data

Although paper apostilles are still popular (at 86%), countries are shifting towards electronic apostilles.

Currently, over 34% of countries (41) in the Apostille Convention accept e-legalisation and have one or both of the e-App’s components.

79 Contracting parties have not launched the e-APP. However, 61% of these are studying the program for implementation in the near future.

Other countries have cited multiple challenges with launching the programme.

Based on our forecast sheet, we expect approximately 4.1 million e-apostilles to be issued by the end of 2022.

This is a testament to their increased popularity and implementation of the e-APP.

Methodology & data

For this case study, we have analysed the Summary of Responses to the Apostille Questionnaire 2021 presented by the HCCH in 2021.

The questionnaire covers the practical aspects of the apostille issuance process, the e-APP programme and the data and statistics relating to the Convention.

The Questionnaire includes data from 130 interested parties, including all HCCH members and all the Contracting Parties of the Apostille Convention.

For our research, we reviewed multiple publications from the following websites: the HCCH apostille section and the UK and U.S government websites focusing on electronic apostille.

These websites offer descriptive statistics on e-apostille trends.

All our statistical analyses, deductions and predictions are based on the findings of the 2021 Apostille Questionnaire.

This case study was written by experts and fact-checked by experts. We only link to high-quality sources like government information & data, original reporting and interviews with industry experts. Reputable publishers are also sourced and cited where appropriate to support the facts within our articles.

1. Background Note on the e-APP. (n.d.).
Retrieved from https://assets.hcch.net/docs/764f82b4-a8d6-4073-8e1b-4db0f12c880e.pdf

2. Press release – UK legalises public documents electronically
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-legalises-public-documents-electronically-2-september-2022

3. Verify an Apostille
https://www.gov.uk/verify-apostille

4. Hague Conference on Private International Law Conférence de La Haye de droit international privé. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://assets.hcch.net/docs/145673d6-d49a-414b-9fcc-ad0f9b32b7d8.pdf

5. HCCH | FAQ on the issuance and verification of an e-Apostille. (n.d.). hcch.net. Retrieved October 14, 2022, from https://www.hcch.net/es/publications-and-studies/details4/?pid=5578

6. International Forum on e-Notarization and e-Apostilles
https://www.biicl.org/files/1520_hague_conference_-_second_international_forum_on_e-notarization_and_e-apostilles.pdf

7. Hague Apostille Country List. (n.d.). gsccca.org. Retrieved October 16, 2022, from https://www.gsccca.org/notary-and-apostilles/apostilles/hague-apostille-country-list

8. International: Electronic Apostille Program Developments. (n.d.). Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2017-03-16/international-electronic-apostille-program-developments/

9. HCCH Membership Growth
https://assets.hcch.net/docs/e11314e9-9453-4f06-b159-fa86d450f9ea.pdf

Competent Authorities
https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/authorities1/?cid=41

Contracting Parties
https://www.hcch.net/en/states/authorities

HCCH Members
https://www.hcch.net/en/states/hcch-members
Hague Convention Countries [Updated for 2022]

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