By Kelle Clarke on July 30, 2015
Updated 11-14-22. Notarizing documents that will be sent to other countries requires an apostille or authentication; but it's up to your signer to request one, not you.
An apostille is a certificate — often attached to the document by an appropriate government official after it is notarized. While you are not responsible for obtaining an apostille, signers often ask about them, so it's helpful to understand what they are and how they work.
Apostille Or Authentication Certificates?
Apostilles and authentication certificates validate the seal and signature of a Notary on a document so that it can be accepted in a foreign country. Both verify that you held a Notary commission at the time you notarized the document.
Apostilles are used when public documents are being transferred between countries that are a party to the Hague Apostille Convention of 1961. This international treaty streamlined the cumbersome, traditional procedure for authenticating documents.
An apostille is issued by your Secretary of State's office or Notary commissioning agency. The single apostille is the only certification needed. Once prepared and verified, the apostille is attached to and sent along with the notarized documents. Notaries cannot issue apostilles themselves. This all happens after the notarization and requires no action on your part. Authentication certificates are used for destination nations that are not part of the Hague Convention. Instead of a single apostille, the document needs several authentication certificates, including those from your commissioning agency, the U.S. Department of State, the consul of the destination country and potentially another government official in the destination country.
The requirements and processing time for authentication certificates will vary from country to country.
Getting A Notarization Authenticated
According to the U.S. Department of State, documents that may require authentication for use abroad include: affidavits, agreements, articles of incorporation, company bylaws, deeds of assignment, diplomas, home study, income verification, powers of attorney, transcripts, trademarks, warrants, extraditions, certificates of good standing and other general business documents. Also, parents wanting to adopt a child living in another country must have their adoption dossiers properly authenticated.
But your signer is responsible for requesting the authentication — not you.
Requests for an apostille or authentication certificate are generally submitted in writing to your state's Notary commissioning authority (usually the Secretary of State’s office) and should contain:
An explanation of why the apostille or authentication is needed.
The original document, including the Notary’s completed notarial certificate.
The final destination of the document.
A postage-paid return envelope addressed to either the document custodian or the document’s final destination.
The required fee (varies by state).
The commissioning office determines whether the document requires an apostille or authentication certificate, based on the document’s final destination.
What’s The Notary’s Role?
Your only responsibility is to notarize the document itself. Because the document is destined for another country, the notarization must be performed properly to ensure that there aren’t any problems on the receiving end. For example, some judges presiding over adoption cases in other countries may reject documents not properly notarized.
Keep in mind that with any notarized documents passing through a Notary regulator's office, the paperwork will be closely scrutinized. Any notarial errors may result in an enforcement action against you.
Can Notaries Provide Apostille Services?
Some enterprising Notaries who live near their Secretary of State’s office offer "apostille services" as a way to generate additional income. The Notary does not issue the apostille. Instead, the Notary provides a courier service to deliver the documents to the state apostille agency for processing and return the paperwork to customers. These are not considered "notarial" acts, so the Notary may establish any relevant service fees with the client.
If you have questions, the NNA Hotline can answer them.
Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.