Legalisation: What is an Apostille?

Legalisation is the process that confirms that the signature, seal or stamp on a public document is genuine. Documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, powers of attorney, court documents are examples of the types of documents that can be legalised.
An apostille is the certificate that is attached to a public document confirming the signature, seal or stamp on the document is genuine.
The apostille certificate must contain the following information:
  1. Country of issue
  2. Name of the person who signed the document
  3. The capacity in which the person signed the document.
  4. Details of any seals or stamps in the document
  5. Place of issue
  6. Date of issue
  7. Issuing authority
  8. Certificate number
  9. Stamp or seal of the issuing authority
  10. Signature of the representative of the issuing authority
This is what an apostille looks like:

The apostille was created by the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents. This means that countries that have signed up to this Convention should accept a foreign document bearing an apostille as genuine, without the need to obtain stamps or further certifications from their consulate.
If you would like to know which countries have signed up to the convention, visit the Hague Conference on Private International Law website for an updated list.
In the UK, the Legalisation Office, which is part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is the only organisation authorised to issue apostilles. They are based in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.
You can find more information about legalisation on our website.
Legalisation: What is an Apostille?

Legalisation: How to Get it Right – British Educational Certificates

In order to have British educational documents legalised at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, they first need to be signed by a practising UK solicitor or Notary Public.

This is because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) does not hold a database of signatures of staff working in universities, and are therefore unable to confirm their signatures.

The information below has been extracted from the FCO information leaflet, so that you may know if your document can be legalised or not:

Educational documents which are not degrees, diplomas, certificates, qualifications or other awards may be legalised if they have been issued by an educational establishment in the UK. This includes school reports and letters concerning enrolling, attendance, fees and grades.

Documents which are degrees, diplomas, certificates, qualifications or other awards can be legalised if they were issued by an educational establishment if it is registered at one of the following websites:

  • ‘Register of Providers’ or the ‘Recognised Degrees’ sections of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) website
  • the Scottish Qualifications Authority website
  • the National Database of Accredited Qualifications website
  • the British Accreditation Council Website
  • the Open and Distance Learning Quality Council
  • the Association of British Language Schools

Additionally, qualifications which are or were issued by OCR, Edexcel, Higher National Diploma, City and Guilds, National Open College Network, GNVQ or the American Study Abroad Programme in the UK can also be legalised.

Once you have established that your document can be legalised there are three main ways to have it done.

  1. The original certificate itself is signed and legalised.
  2. A certified copy is made and the copy is legalised.
  3. A cover sheet is attached to either the original or a copy and the cover sheet is legalised.

The choice will depend on what is accepted by the authority to whom the document is to be submitted.

In the first method the solicitor or notary public must sign the document and state “I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this document”, or something along these lines. Some solicitors will be happy to do this, some won’t. So if you find a solicitor that is not happy to do it, just try another one.

Note that the solicitor must sign their own name, and not their company name. Also they must clearly state their name and add their company stamp.

In the second method a photocopy of the original is made and the Notary or solicitor will compare the original to the copy and write ‘I hereby certify this to be a true copy of the original document presented to me’ or something similar.

In the third method, which it is most common for Notaries to use, either of the above statements or something similar will be written on a sheet of paper attached to the front of the document. Each notary will have their own wording for this.

If you don’t know if you need a Notary Public or solicitor, you will need to contact the authority abroad who are requesting the certificate, and find out what their requirements are. Sometimes all they want is the Apostille (legalisation) attached to it, so it doesn’t matter which one you choose, but sometimes they may demand that a Notary Public signs it instead of a solicitor. The requesting authority is the only place you can go to make sure you comply with their requirements.

Legalisation: How to Get it Right – British Educational Certificates

Legalisation: How to get it right – Foreign Documents

Documents issued outside the United Kingdom cannot usually be leagalised in the UK. They may need to be legalised in the country of origin.

However, the Legalisation Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK will legalise certified copies of foreign documents as long as the copy is certified with a separate sheet of paper, i.e. if the solicitor or Notary Public takes a copy of the original document, then stamps the same sheet of paper, the FCO will not legalise it. Just to complicate matters, this does not apply to certified copies of Academic certificates – they can be legalised without a separate sheet.

The solicitor or Notary Public must issue a separate sheet, stating “this is a true copy of the original document” or something similar; they would then need to stamp and sign this sheet and attach it to the copy of the document. The FCO will then attach the apostille on this certification.

Remember also that the solicitor must sign their own name, not the company name, as this cannot be legalised.

Points to remember:
1. Foreign documents should be certified with a separate sheet (except Academic Certificates)
2. Original foreign documents should not be attached – only copies.

Legalisation: How to get it right – Foreign Documents