Authentication of Documents for use Abroad

1. Introduction

If your documents originate in South Africa and you want to use them abroad or your documents originate in another country and you want to use them in South Africa it is a requirement that the document should first be “authenticated” or “legalised”. Authentication and Legalisation is a process whereby various seals are placed on documents in order for them to be recognized as legal documents in other countries. To expediate this process the Hague Conference on Private International Law drafted the Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, otherwise known as the Apostille Convention

2. The Apostille Convention

The Apostille Convention replaced the tedious process by which different countries had to individually authenticate and legalise official public documents which would be utilised abroad. The Apostille Convention is an International Treaty which specifies the requirements through which a document issued in one of the signatory states can be certified for legal purposes in another signatory state for legal purposes. The Apostille gives information on the content of the official document, it certifies the signature, the capacity of the signatory and the validity of the seal and or stamp. In order for an Apostille to have any effect it is necessary that the country of the document’s origin is a signatory state to the Apostille Convention as well as the country where the document will be utilised, otherwise the Apostille will be null and void. If one of the counties are not signatory states to the Apostille Convention then the process would have to be followed whereby both countries need to individually authenticate and legalise the document, which is a far more time consuming process, this can be done by having each state verify the document by submitting the documents to the relevant department, embassy or consulate. There are currently 120 contracting parties to this convention, to view the full list of signatory states one can visit the Hague Conference on Private International Law website at: https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/status-table/?cid=41. South Africa is currently a signatory party to the Apostille Convention and therefore South African citizens and foreign nationals can authenticate and legalise official public documents through the means of an Apostille.

3. Certification of South African official public documents

In South Africa consular notarial services are rendered to South Africans citizens and foreign nationals when they require South African official public documents to be legalised for use abroad. These services are provided in order to ensure legal validity for official South African public documents to enable an individual to use those documents outside of the Republic of South Africa. In South Africa legalisation of documents means that official public documents which have been executed within the Republic for use abroad are affixed, sealed and signed with an Apostille Certificate, where the other country is a signatory party to the Apostille Convention, or with a Certificate of Authentication, where the other country is not a signatory party to the Apostille Convention. When one wants a document to be legalised one can go to the Legalisation Section at the Department of International Relations & Cooperation. There are however a few requirements before a document can be legalised: 1) The document should still be valid, 2) You must advise in which country the document will be used to determine whether an Apostille or Authentication Certificate is required and 3) Depending on the type of documentation it might be necessary to get the document signed by the appropriate authority such as a department, institution, magistrate or registrar of the High Court. To get a full list of the relevant documents for which an Apostille or Authentication Certificate may be granted for or not, one can visit the website of the South African department for International Relations & Cooperation at: http://www.dirco.gov.za/consular/legalisation.htm or the South African Government website at: https://www.gov.za/services/travel-outside-sa/legalising-official-documents-and-end-user-certificates.

4. Conclusion

In South Africa consular notarial services are rendered to South Africans citizens and foreign nationals when they require South African official public documents to be legalised for use abroad. These services are provided in order to ensure legal validity for official South African public documents to enable an individual to use those documents outside of the Republic of South Africa. In South Africa legalisation of documents means that official public documents which have been executed within the Republic for use abroad are affixed, sealed and signed with an Apostille Certificate, where the other country is a signatory party to the Apostille Convention, or with a Certificate of Authentication, where the other country is not a signatory party to the Apostille Convention. When one wants a document to be legalised one can go to the Legalisation Section at the Department of International Relations & Cooperation. There are however a few requirements before a document can be legalised: 1) The document should still be valid, 2) You must advise in which country the document will be used to determine whether an Apostille or Authentication Certificate is required and 3) Depending on the type of documentation it might be necessary to get the document signed by the appropriate authority such as a department, institution, magistrate or registrar of the High Court. To get a full list of the relevant documents for which an Apostille or Authentication Certificate may be granted for or not, one can visit the website of the South African department for International Relations & Cooperation at: http://www.dirco.gov.za/consular/legalisation.htm or the South African Government website at: https://www.gov.za/services/travel-outside-sa/legalising-official-documents-and-end-user-certificates.

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