Document legalisation is the process of authenticating documents by competent authorities in one country to be acceptable in another. It involves verifying official documents signed by public officials to make them legal.

Once the responsible entity in the UK issues an apostille for your UK documents, they attach a stamp that is called an ‘apostille’ verifying that the signature on the document is authentic and genuine. They also provide an apostille certificate for your private documents.

Most foreign authorities require documents to be authenticated through the legalisation process.

What is document legalisation?

Who is authorised to legalise documents?

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is the only government entity authorised to legalise documents – and issue apostilles in the UK. [1]

They confirm that the official UK document is authentic and add a seal to the documents to prove the signature on the documents issued in the UK are genuine and ready for international use.

The legalisation office in the UK provides apostille services to countries not part of the Hague Convention through the FCDO as required by the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961. [2]

Do I need my documents legalised?

Yes and No. The legalisation requirement will depend on the country in which you wish to use the documents and the specific UK document at hand. Some documents do not require legalisation.

Documents that will require an apostille from a public official include degree certificates, birth certificates, custom letters, court documents, etc.

If you do not intend to use your document outside the UK, then you don’t need to have the document legalised.

Also, if the document is already certified, you will not require any further legalisation. This includes documents such as adoption papers, civil partnerships, etc.; these are documents that the UK General Register Office has provided. [3]

What is document legalisation under the Apostille Convention?

Document legalisation under the apostille convention means that; If you are planning on using your document in a country that is a member of the apostille convention, you do not need to go through the legalisation process.

All you need is one stamp to authenticate your documents, showing that the stamps and signatures are genuine. An apostille certificate is attached to your documents, and they are eligible for use in your receiving country.

How does legalisation work?

The legalisation process takes specific steps that work towards confirming the authenticity of your original documents.

Usually, two countries are involved;

Country A, where the documents originate or are coming from, and the receiving country, B, where the documents will be used.

Proof of authenticity by issuing an apostille by country A

Once the authorised body in country A proves that the documents are authentic, they provide their stamp of approval.

After approval, a stamp or sticker is placed on the document. This shows country B’s authorities that a competent authority in country A has issued the document.

For countries in the apostille convention, the legalisation process up to this point is adequate, and you do not need further verification.

For other countries not bound by the apostille convention, their embassy, honorary consulate, or the consulate general in the issuing country will take a second look at the documents and attach a sticker or stamp to the document to prove its authenticity.

Why do documents need to be legalised for foreign affairs?

The legalisation or apostille service is necessary for documents to be acceptable in another country.

The receiving country seeks to ensure that your documents:

  • Were issued by a legal, expert, and authorised authority

  • Were signed by the authorised parties

  • Are in the correct format and state, containing all the information that they should contain

  • And that the legal office in the land has legalised them.

Can all official documents be legalised?

Yes, all official UK documents can be legalised by the FCDO.

Which documents must be legalised?

Documents that must be legalised are documents that cannot be used outside the UK without an apostille or a confirmation of their authenticity by the FCDO.

In most cases, an overseas authority will request the legalisation of documents.

How long does document legalisation take?

The legalisation of a document can be completed quickly, especially with our premium service. For example, legalising documents takes 5-8 working days, but our premium service takes 1-2 working days.

Sometimes if you do not have original documents, you may require an additional service by a notary public before the documents are legalised.

The work of the notary public is to verify that the photocopies are true copies of the original.

You can contact our office for a complete explanation of the process. We also provide the apostille certificate and embassy attestation from the relevant authorities.

Difference between legalisation and apostille

Legalisation refers to issuing a confirmation that the document is authentic and that the signatures and stamps are from the right office or authority.

An apostille is the means by which legalisation is achieved. Once a document is legalised, an apostille is issued or attached to the documents by the same authority in the form of a certificate or stamp. The document is acceptable in another country that is a member of the apostille convention.

Read our full article on What the difference between apostille and legalisation is.

Documents we legalise on your behalf

An apostille can be applied to almost any document. It is customary to have documents signed in the nation of origin. You can access our legalisation services for the following:

Read our full guide on what documents can be legalised by us and the FCDO in London.

Submitting a document for legalisation

All you need to do is have the correct documents ready and deliver them to our office for the legalisation services.

You can issue them yourself or have them delivered by a trusted delivery service company, ensuring that you keep a copy of your tracking number details.

Some of the trusted delivery service companies we recommend are; FedEx, DHL, or Royal Mail Recorded Delivery Services.

  1. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)
  2. United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – HCCH
  3. General Register Office
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