General terms:


The person who requests authentication or legalisation is known as the applicant. This may be an individual or an organisation.


A process of proving or confirming a document is genuine. In different countries, this may be called legalisation or apostille.


Any person or organisation with the legally and exclusively assigned authority to authenticate a document. In the case of apostilles, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office is the only competent authority in the United Kingdom for issuing apostilles.


Consulates are usually subordinate to the embassy in a foreign country, both provide government services for citizens abroad but consulates function more commercially than diplomatically.

Contracting Authority

State, regional, or municipal authorities together with bodies governed by public law are all referred to as contracting authorities. These differ from competent authorities as they do not necessarily have the authority to authenticate documents.

Country Of Destination

The Country of Destination is the country where the documents will be received. It is important to research the requirements of each COD as the required authentication services differ.


An embassy is a country’s base in another nation – they are always located in the capital city. The primary purpose is to assist citizens who travel or live in the host country but unlike consulates, they also undertake high-level functions such as international relations and official state visits.

Public Document

Notarial acts, birth, marriage or death certificates and diplomas are all examples of public documents. They are documents executed by an authority, or a person acting in an official capacity. The determination of what constitutes a public document is dependent on the laws in the country of origin and can be found at:

Notarisation Services:


A notarial certification is a high-level certification by a qualified legal professional. They will certify a document in a certain way, depending on the requirements. This may include certifying a signature to confirm the identity of the signer or certifying that a document copy is accurate to the original – notarisation is a fraud-deterrent process to ensure documents can be trusted.

Some countries may only need a notary’s signature (notarisation) to certify a document, but others may require additional steps of legalisation and authentication. The key difference between notarisation and legalisation is who does the verifying – a notary will verify the signature on a document, but legalisation is usually done by government embassies or consulates who will verify the notary’s signature.

Notary Public (“Notary“)

Notary Public are persons authorised to perform notarisations. They are appointed by the government and although the qualifications differ between countries, they are almost always legal professionals i.e. lawyers, solicitors or barristers.


A common type of notarisation – used when the signer is swearing to the content of a document i.e. affirming that the contents of an affidavit are true and accurate to the best of their belief. The notary must administer an oath or affirmation to the signer.


Another type of judicial notarisation, the purpose of an acknowledgement is for a signer, whose identity has been verified, to declare to a Notary or notarial officer that he or she has willingly signed a document. This differs from a jurat as jurats relate to the truthfulness of the contents.

Apostille Services:


An apostille is an internationally recognised certification confirming the signature, seal or stamp on a document is genuine. They are used where a country is party to the Apostille Convention and must be used in another country party to the convention also. Apostilled documents will usually not require legalisation alongside, but it is important to check each country’s requirements.

Apostille certificates are commonly required for overseas marriage certificates, foreign property purchases or business transactions and working abroad.

Apostille Agent –
Apostille Facilitator

A person who is competent to act on behalf of people and/or businesses. Apostille agents assist in obtaining apostilles or other authentications and are registered with the FCDO in the UK.

Apostille Certificate

Once a document has been authenticated, the apostille certificate, or apostille stamp as it is sometimes known, is permanently attached to the document. It is then embossed with a government crest.

Apostille Legalisation

This refers to obtaining the Apostille Certificate for a document. Apostille certificates confirm the signature, seal or stamp on a document is genuine and legalise your documents for use overseas.

Apostille Service

An apostille service widely refers to the process of legalising documents with apostilles. Companies will be registered with the FCDO to offer apostille services in the UK.

Apostille Signature

An apostille may be referred to as an apostille signature if the official certificate is signed upon completion. Apostille certificates vary between countries and may feature stamps or signatures.

Apostille Stamp

An apostille may be referred to as an apostille stamp if the official certificate is stamped by the competent authority. As previously mentioned, apostille certificates vary between countries and may feature stamps or signatures.


Refers to being successfully issued with an Apostille certificate. A document for which an apostille has been issued may be referred to as having been ‘apostilled’.


Electronic Apostilles (e-Apostilles) are signed by electronic signature with a digital certificate. They may be issued on electronic documents or on paper documents that have been scanned into electronic form. This service is not common in the UK and is utilised by only a few countries.


The electronic Apostille Programme (e-APP) was launched in 2006 to promote and assist in the issue of e-Apostilles – these are electronic versions of apostilles but are rarely used.

Embassy Attestation
Apostille Service

These are two different services. Embassy attestation also referred to as embassy legalisation, is the process of authenticating a document at the Embassy/High Commission of the destination country. An apostille is issued by the origin country.

Hague Apostille

A Hague Apostille, also known as an Apostille of the Hague, is a certificate that authenticates the origin of a public document (e.g. Birth, Marriage or Death certificate, Court, Business, Notarial attestation or other personal documents).

They can only be issued for documents by a country party to the Apostille Convention for usage in another country in the convention. These countries signed up to the Hague Apostille Convention may require notarisation and an apostille stamp but will usually not require legalisation also.

Register of Apostilles

Each competent authority is required to maintain a record of all issued Apostilles for verification on request. For example, in the UK, it is the FCDO that maintains a register of processed apostilles.

Legalisations – Embassy, Consulate & UK Document Legalisation:


Attestation and Legalisation can refer to the same concept of validating a document as authentic and are sometimes used interchangeably.

However, attestation may also refer to the act of authenticating a formal document by witnessing it being signed and then also signing it to verify its legitimacy.

Consular Legalisation/

This is the process of authenticating a document at the Embassy/High Commission of the destination country.

Legalisation can mean getting an apostille certificate, getting consulate legalisation or both depending on the country and is needed if a country has not signed up to the Hague Apostille Convention.

Document Legalisation/

All legalisation and attestation involve documents, this may be used interchangeably with other legalisation terms. Document legalisation makes documents suitable for use in other countries, it does not confirm that a document’s contents are correct but shows it was issued by an official authority.

Embassy Legalisation /

This is the process of authenticating a document at the Embassy/High Commission of the destination country. Legalisation can mean getting an apostille certificate, getting consulate legalisation or both depending on the country.

FCDO Legalisation

Any legalisation provided by The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (the Foreign Office) is generally referred to as FCDO legalisation. This is the only government office that issues apostilles in the UK.


For countries not signed up to the Hague Apostille Convention, a third stage of legalisation is likely needed in addition to notarisation and apostille. The document will need to be legalised by the respective country also. For example, if the document will be received in China, legalisation must take place at The Chinese Embassy or Consulates. The consulate will seal or stamp on or near the apostille certificate.

Note: Not all countries require notarised documents to be legalised, many will accept the document with just notarisation so it is important to confirm

Legalisation Office

Unless consular legalisation is needed, you can get certain official UK documents legalised at the Legalisation Office. They will confirm the signature, stamp or seal is from a UK public official.

Legalisation Service

This service assists in the legalisation of documents for use in other countries. Where legalisation takes place after an apostille certificate or notarisation, this will include a seal or stamp from the respective destination consulate.

Document Authentication

Authentication is typically synonymous with the term legalisation. However typically, to be authenticated, the document must be original. It attests to the legitimacy of the public official’s signature and any accompanying stamps or seals.

Solicitor Certifications:

Solicitor Certification

Certain documents may require solicitor certification, these may include company documents, personal papers or qualification certificates. These are not typically signed by a recognised public official so a solicitor can check the document and add a statement with a signature to verify authenticity. Solicitors may also witness documents being signed or certify copies of an original document.

Solicitor Authentication

Similar to solicitor certification, solicitors can authenticate personal documents by adding a statement and signature. These terms can be used interchangeably.

Unauthorised Practice Of

This occurs when someone who is not licensed to practice law delivers services that can only be performed by certified legal professionals.

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