We can help you not only with the notarisation of your documents, but also with further legalisation, whether by way of apostille, consular legalisation, or a combination of legalisation at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and further stamping at the relevant consulate. If you are in doubt about what any of these terms mean please see our FAQS or see below.
You can of course take care of all legalisation work yourself. After seeing your notary, you can then get that notary stamp, seal and signature confirmed by taking it yourself to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and (if needed) the relevant consulate.
The disadvantage of doing this yourself is the cost in time and effort. One can wait, if matters are busy, for hours at a time at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This is a reflection of course, on the resources given to that office by the U.K government, not the staff!
In addition, with many consulates there are restricted opening hours, and one is obliged to leave the documents there on one day, and queue again to collect them on another. If one sends a courier, the hourly charge can become quite significant the longer the wait.
We are happy to take on the burden of this for you and will quote you the exact cost of getting the documents processed, fully legalised, and returned to you by special delivery or courier.
Please note that we require payment by card or cash at the time of your appointment.
What is legalisation?
Legalisation of documents is a term often used with different meanings. It is important for you to be sure exactly what you need to do with your documents. Do you simply need to sign your document in front of a notary public, or is something more required?
Usually, the person or organisation who has sent you the documents in question will know what they want and instruct you accordingly. However, this is by no means always the case, and it is important to be sure you have done all you need to do to your document before you send it off.
Simple legalisation (Notary only)
Quite often it is enough, to give your documents the necessary legal effect and acceptance in a country, for you to sign them in front of a public notary. No apostille is required and no consular legalisation necessary.
This rule generally applies to all countries which used to be part of the British Commonwealth, but special rules apply to South Africa and India, which sometimes insist on apostilles (in the case of South Africa) or legalisation first at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and then at the consulate of the country, (in the case of Pakistan). Some other Commonwealth countries also insist on apostille and/or consular legalisation at their consulate.
The United States also has a relaxed attitude to apostilles. Technically, many states do recognise an apostille, and could demand an apostille if the document has been notarised outside the United States . In practice, this does not happen often, but may, particularly with regard to property or monetary transactions. California, New York and some other states ask for apostille in some circumstances.
The Apostille is a certificate attached to a document to verify the signature of a notary public or other public official. In Great Britain the signatures of the Registrars of Births Deaths and Marriages are all registered at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office legalisation department, so that if a birth certificate of a child born in Great Britain is brought there, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can confirm that it has been duly signed by the relevant official.
Similarly, court seals are registered, and court judgements can also be Apostilled.
Often the need for an Apostille arises because people are getting married abroad, or emigrating, and the foreign country is insisting that proof is provided of one’s freedom to marry, or that one was born in a particular year. The Apostille gives the assurance that the document in question appears genuine.
Strictly speaking, the Apostille does not do this. It only certifies that the document has been signed by the relevant official.
Foreign Office and consular legalisation
Many states in the Middle East ask for Foreign and Commonwealth Office and consular legalisation and most operate a system in which document must be left for at least a day or more with the consulate before it can be returned. The Foreign and Commonwealth legalisation must be done first.
The fees charged by consulates are occasionally very high. We pass these on to you with a handling charge, so that you can work out for yourself whether it is more effective to do it yourself or use our services.
Who asks for Apostilles ?
Spain is particularly keen on insisting that documents are legalised by Apostille, and Italy , Germany and Portugal insist on Apostilles for some matters, while being unconcerned in other instances.
As mentioned, although some countries do not usually require apostilles, (e.g. South Africa , most of the United States) this is by no means always the case and it is wise to check. It is usually advisable to get an apostille if there is any doubt as to whether the document will be accepted, or if litigation is potentially involved.
Mine is for the United States, do I need a notary and apostille?
Increasingly the answer is yes, especially for documents concerning land for California, and for many documents for New York. It is always best to ask the people who have sent you a document you have to notarise whether notarisation is enough. Otherwise, as often happens, you notarise it, send it to the USA, and a week or two later they ask for it to be done again, and apostilled.
It is easy to get confused here. The basic principle is that if you do something in the USA, then it will not need an apostille if it is to be used in the USA. If you are signing a document in the U.K. or France or indeed anywhere outside the USA, then it may need notary and apostille as well. This is because the apostille is a direct confirmation by the UK that the notary is registered as a notary AND that the notary signed your document.
Sometimes the guidelines are not there or are so hard to see it is rather annoying. For example if you are non resident in the USA but have income from there, you may be asked to fill out forms for USA tax authorities. On the back of the form in very small print, it makes it clear that they expect to have an apostille if signed outside the USA. That said, sometimes they insist on it, sometimes not. We are torn between advising you to do it in all cases, which is effective but more expensive, and just notarising the document, which may not be enough !