The UK government has been keen on implementing e-apostilles to simplify document legalisation. The first UK e-apostille was issued on 15 December 2021. From September 2022, this option has opened for more applicants.

This guide outlines everything you need to know about UK e-legalisation services.

What is an e-apostille?

An e-apostille is a digital certificate attached to your electronic document, unlike the standard paper certificates that are physically attached to paper documents.

The digital certificate contains a secure electronic signature from the FCDO, a date and a reference number that can be verified at the official online apostille registry [1].

How do e-apostilles work?

E-apostilles work the same way as physical paper certificates do. They are digitally added to your document and have the same authority as printed paper apostilles.

The e-apostille process is the same as standard apostille authentication.

The FCDO checks the digital signature on your document and issues the e-apostille.

You can use your e-apostilled documents without having to print them. You can download your apostilled document as often as you want and share it digitally through email, memory stick and other methods.

Who can use e-apostilles?

Businesses, as well as individuals, can use e-apostilles. Additionally, if you live overseas, you can use electronic apostilles in countries accepting e-apostilles.

This assumes that documents qualify for an e-apostille and the requesting authority takes e-apostilles.

When should I get an e-apostille?

To get an e-apostille or not will entirely depend on your personal circumstances. For example, if you can’t physically post your documents to the FCDO then you might want to consider an e-apostille if your documents qualify.

You also need to make sure that the e-apostille is accepted by the requesting authority.

What are the benefits of e-apostilles?

The benefits of an e-apostille are that you do not need to post your documents and that the entire process can be completed online. Other benefits of making use of e-apostilles is that you can complete the process yourself without the help of an apostille agency, assuming you know what you are doing.

Who can issue e-apostille services in the UK?

The FCDO is the only “competent authority” for e-legalisation in the UK.

FCDO registered apostille agents can also assist with getting an e-apostille – making sure that your documents are properly prepared before you apply. We get requests daily to help with the apostille process.

Plus, as registered agents, we can also expedite the apostille process.

How much do e-apostilles cost in the UK?

Each electronically issued apostille costs £30. You can have a single e-apostille for a group of documents or have a separate digital certificate for each document. The specific requirements are dependent on the authority asking for them.

How quickly can you get an e-apostille?

E-apostilles can take up to 20 working days. However, the issuance may take longer if your documents do not have the correct digital signature, misses essential information, or if the document is altered in any way.

Although e-apostilles are issued electronically and do not need to be posted, it does not guarantee that you can get an e-apostille faster than the standard apostilles. Quite the opposite is true.

Just like the standard paper apostille, the authentication process is the same.

However, apostille agents can expedite paper apostilles, like 24 hours or same-day service.

Which documents can be e-apostilled?

The following documents are eligible for an e-apostille in the UK:

  • Company certificates issued by Companies House
  • Court documents that are sealed with a wet ink court seal
  • Documents issued and signed by a registered doctor, such as medical certificates
  • Documents issued and signed by a government department, such as a letter of confirmation of tax
  • Copies of passports or driver’s licences signed by a UK notary or solicitor
  • Contracts, power of attorney or qualification certificate certified by a UK public official

Although these documents are eligible for the e-apostille, some countries do not recognise e-legalisation. For example, countries not part of the Hague apostille convention do not recognise the electronically issued apostille.

You must confirm that the authority to whom you will present your documents accepts e-apostilles.

If your documents were issued outside the UK, they must be legalised in the country of issuance.

Which documents cannot be e-apostilled?

You cannot get an electronic apostille for the following documents:

  • Civil documents such as birth, marriage, death, civil partnership or adoption or any other certificate issued by the General Register Office
  • Fingerprint certificates
  • ACCA membership certificates
  • ACRO police certificates for England and Wales
  • DBS certificates for England and Wales
  • Disclosure certificates from Scotland and Northern Ireland

How will I receive my e-apostille?

You will receive the e-apostille as a PDF attachment to the electronic documents it relates to. The PDF and the electronic apostille contain digital signatures from the legalisation officer to maintain integrity and confirm authenticity.

Additionally, the initial e-signature from the notary or solicitor will be preserved. Once the e-certificate is added, you can save your digital files to an online folder and eliminate the hassle of scanning your documents whenever you need to present them to authorities.

Do I still need a hard copy even when I have an e-apostille?

You do not need to print a hard copy of your e-apostille if the requesting authority accepts e-legalisation. If the requesting authority requested a hard copy of your documents, you must reapply for a paper-issued apostille certificate.

Are e-apostilles a better option to traditional paper apostilles?

E-apostilles are not a better option than the tried and tested paper equivalent. The only advantage electronically issued apostilles have is that they eliminate the need to physically post your documents hard copies to the FCDO or apostille agents.

Which countries accept e-apostilles?

Countries that have confirmed that they accept e-legalised documents are Italy, Panama, the Netherlands, and the Philippines.

Although, all Hague member countries should accept the e-apostille. We recommend you always check if an e-apostille is an acceptable form of legalisation for your document.

Are e-apostilles safe from fraud?

Yes, e-apostilles are safe from fraud as the Legalisation Office digitally signs both the e-certificate and the related documents to maintain integrity.

Additionally, each digital apostille will have a reference number that can be verified in an online registry.

E-Apostille case study

We’ve completed a case study of the use of electronic apostilles globally, entitled: E-Apostille use will grow by 24.39% to 5.1 million globally by 2024

Final thought

Electronically issued apostilles are a great idea and, if executed properly, will eventually benefit everyone that needs documents legalised.

However, at the moment, all an e-apostille does is save the time that mailing ‘some’ documents takes. Remember that not all documents qualify for the UK e-apostille.

For the e-app to make a real difference, more countries must step up and take part and officially recognise the electronically issued apostille.

Electronic legalisation might be the future – but unfortunately, it is not quite ready for the UK or international use for all documents.

There are proposals that blockchain-secured technologies should manage e-legalisation. It has to be seen if the UK government will consider adopting this technology in the future.

This article has been 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.

UK .gov press release about e-apostille
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-legalises-public-documents-electronically-2-september-2022

FAQ on the issuance and verification of an e-Apostille
https://www.hcch.net/es/publications-and-studies/details4/?pid=5578

Blockchain-Secured Electronic Apostilles
https://www.nass.org/sites/default/files/2021-08/white-paper-hyland-nass-summer21.pdf

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