What is the difference between the notarization, apostille and legalization?

17 June 2020

One of the many challenges doing business internationally is the recognition of legal documents such as corporate documents, certificate of good standing, patent or trademark certificates, as well as licenses, from one country to another. The vocabulary used by authorities can be confusing as they use different terms for the same purpose: authenticate the validity of legal documents. We are aiming to clear some of this confusion by clarifying the difference between notarization, apostille and legalization.

What is “Notarization”?

The notarization is the official fraud-deterrent process conducted by a notary public commissioned by a public authority to help deter fraud. It is often a three-part process that includes vetting, certifying and record-keeping. Notarizations are sometimes referred to as "notarial acts." By notarizing a document by a duly commissioned and impartial notary public, this gives the assurance that a document is authentic, that its signature is genuine, and that its signer acted without duress or intimidation, and intended the terms of the document to be in full force and effect.

What is “Apostille”?

An apostille is an international certification affixed either to the original legal document or to a notarized copy of the original legal document that allows to confirm the authenticity the signature, capacity and seal of the said document’s emitter. It is obtained and used in the countries part to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents (“Hague Apostille Convention”). It eases the acceptance by authorities or regulated operators like banks of documents originating from another member State. For the full list of countries part of the Hague Apostille Convention, please check the following link : https://www.hagueapostille.co.uk/hague-members

Apostilles are affixed by competent authorities designated by each member State. For instance, in the United Kingdom (“UK”), the apostille is affixed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office which is also known as the legalization office which can create confusion with the legalization procedure.

What is “Legalization”?

The legalization is an alternate authentication procedure applicable mostly when the Hague Apostille Convention is not applicable. The procedure may vary from one country to another. Usually it implies that the document will be legalized by an authority of the originating country, such as the Foreign Ministry in some countries, which own authentication will then be legalized by the Embassy or Consulate of the receiving country. The representation’s certification may in turn be certified by Foreign Ministry. In practice, this means that the document must be certified several times – international legalization process may possibly consists in a sequence of 4 or more consecutive legalizations – by different authorities before the legalization may have a full legal effect in the country where the document ought to be used. This is the case, for instance, in the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) or Canada as these countries are not part of the Hague Apostille Convention.

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