Different terminologies are often used to describe the document legalisation process from one country to another for them to be acceptable.

Most people are asked to provide an official apostille stamp that is notarised, legalised, authenticated, and attested as per the private international law in the country of use.

The definition of terms for foreign legal proceedings and international business transactions can be a little confusing, but they describe the same apostille process in most cases.

Definition of the terms apostille and legalisation

What is meant by an apostille?

An apostille refers to a certificate or ‘apostille stamp’ issued to verify the signatures presented on an official UK document.

It authenticates the signatures showing that they were issued by the appropriate regulatory office in the UK.

The apostille service provides an international certification comparable to notarisation in domestic law, and it usually supplements any local notarisation of a UK document.

It can be used on a UK birth certificate for intercountry adoption procedures and other UK documents required for foreign investment procedures or intellectual property rights abroad.

The apostille must be issued as per the Hague conventions, which specify the international treaty with a foreign state.

They can be used for international relocation when you need to authenticate your documents for use in a different country, and they are also used for international marriages. Additionally, an apostille may be required for death certificates.

The Hague Convention states that the apostille stamp is enough to authenticate the legalisation process, and no other procedures are required.

Further reading: What is an apostille?

Where can you get an apostille stamp and apostille service?

You can get an apostille on public documents issued in the UK at the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office – FCDO. This is also called the legalisation office, with offices located in central London and Milton Keynes.

The naming of this institution is often among the major causes of mayhem as both apostille and legalisation refer to an almost identical process.

If you wish to present a document issued in the UK in a country that is part of the Hague convention, then issuing of the apostille certificate indicates that the document has been legalised.

Reasons you may need an apostille

Here are a few reasons why you would need to use an apostille:

  • When seeking entry into other countries.
  • When registering a firm in another country.
  • When marrying a foreign national.
  • When seeking admission to an overseas educational institution.

What does an apostille look like?

Under the Hague Convention, an apostille is a ‘stamp’ placed on a document. It should be accompanied by an apostille certificate attached to the original document to certify that the official public signature on the document is authentic.

Because of the convention, several million apostilles are issued around the world to take care of cross border situations. [1]

The Hague apostille is widely applied in countries that are part of the convention.

The details below should be visible on the apostille:

  • The identity of the country giving the apostille.
  • The surname of the individual who had signed the document that was certified by an apostille.
  • The office of the individual who signed the apostille certified document.
  • The institution’s identity bears the seal or stamp on the apostille certified document.
  • The city name in which the apostille is issued
  • The date on which the apostille was affixed.
  • The identity of the body issuing the apostille.
  • The number of the apostille.
  • The stamp or seal of the institution/ organisation that is issuing an apostille
  • The official apostille signature.
What an UK apostille looks like
What an UK apostille looks like

Which documents can get an apostille seal?

The Hague apostille seal is legally recognised for use in all countries that are part of the apostille convention.

Accordingly, it is placed on the following documents:

  • Certificates issued by an educational institution include diplomas, diploma manuscripts, degree certificates, and others.
  • Certificates from archived institutions.
  • Certificates showing one’s health status ( given the regional health care department has certified the document with their official seal).
  • Internal Affairs ministries issued certificates and other official documents.
  • Documents issued by notaries, judiciary bodies, and courts.
  • More precisely, certificates that are given by registry offices such as death, marriage, birth and divorce certificates. Also included in this category are documents of incorporation of legal entities – certificate of registry with the tax authorities, articles of association, among others)
  • Documents certified or issued by a notary public.

What is legalisation?

Usually, consular legalisation involves issuing a document containing the correct certificates or stamps for the document to be accepted in another state.

As stated above, if the document is to be produced abroad for use in a country that’s part of the apostille convention, it must also contain a UK foreign apostille as well.

Read more: What is document legalisation?

Other commonly used terms

To help you understand all the different terms used, we’ve written an explainer article: Terms and Definitions Explained

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.

[1] HCCH Apostille section