Apostille vs. Authentication Certificate: Learn the Key Differences for Document Legalization

July 9, 2024
6 min

Anyone who uses legal documents internationally will eventually come across the terms "apostille" and "authentication certificate". Documents you send to a foreign nation must be verified as valid copies of the original. Apostilles and authentication certificates are the two main ways to verify the authenticity of documents.

The 1961 Hague Convention made a standard method for confirming documents. It did this by using apostille certificates as valid proof for the countries involved. If a country is not a member and does not accept apostille stamps, papers need to go to an Embassy or Consulate for legalization. This is to ensure the stamps, signatures, and seals on public documents are valid. 

Understanding the distinction between apostille and authentication is crucial for international document validation. In this article, we'll dive deeper into the differences to help you avoid costly mistakes.

flowchart with the process and steps for authenticating a document

Apostille: What Is It?

An apostille is a certification issued under the Hague Convention of 1961. It simplifies the process of legalizing public documents for use in foreign countries. The word "apostille" comes from the French word meaning "to affix to." This certificate confirms where the document came from. It usually has a signature or seal from a notary public or government official.

The Hague Convention established a standard process for authenticating documents in member nations. It removed the need for consulate certification. This change significantly reduced the time and expense previously required. The convention has made it easier to recognize documents worldwide. It has helped countries communicate and collaborate better.

Member countries of the Hague Convention

Currently, 126 countries, including the United States, are part of the Hague Convention. These nations work together to ensure that apostilles are accepted in all countries.

The list of Hague Convention countries is dynamic, with new members joining periodically. To find the most recent list, check the official website of the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

The Role of the Secretary of State in Apostille Issuance

In the United States, the authority to issue apostilles lies with the Secretary of State. Each state has an office called the "Designated Issuing Authority" (DIA). The DIA handles apostille requests for State-issued documents. Federal agencies (like IRS, FBI, etc.) must issue documents. They must submit them to the Department of State for apostille.  

The DIA checks if the document is valid and falls within the apostille scope. Then, they attach the apostille stamp or certificate. The Secretary of State's involvement boosts the credibility of apostilled documents.

Embassy or Consular Authentication: What Is It?

Embassy authentication is required when a country does not accept apostilles but still demands validation of documents for international use. This process has several steps. First, submit the document to the State Secretary for authentication. Next, submit it to the U.S. Department of State. Finally, get the destination country's embassy or consulate to approve it.

Non-Hague Convention countries and their requirements

Countries that are not part of the Hague Convention don't recognize apostilles. Instead, they have their authentication requirements. Typically, these requirements involve going to the embassy or consulate. This prevents fake documents from being accepted by international governments.

The specific requirements can vary significantly from one country to another. Some common requirements in non-Hague Convention countries may include:

  • Going through extensive checks to verify signatures and seals. This may involve having notaries or officials examine and verify the paperwork.
  • Multi-step authentications from the issuing country to the embassy or consulate.
  • Getting a notarized translation for documents in a foreign language into the official language.

The role of the embassy or consulate in US document legalization

The embassy or consulate is key. They make US documents legal for use in other countries. It's especially important when dealing with non-Hague Convention countries that don't recognize apostilles.

In short, the process involves the following three steps:

  1. Authentication by the Issuing State Secretary's Office
  2. Authentication by the US Department of State
  3. Authentication by the Embassy or Consulate of the destination country.
county official stamping government document

Differences Between Apostille and Embassy Authentication

Documents must have an apostille to be legalized. This is needed in countries like the USA, South Korea, Portugal, Italy, and Spain. However, countries like Thailand and Malaysia need Authentication certificates. These countries are not part of the Hague Convention.

According to Vikas Bhatia, a partner at US Authentication Services, "Some state secretary offices have started issuing a joint certificate. It has both the apostille and authentication certificate. But, not all states have adopted this model. A country usually needs only an Apostille or Authentication for one document.”

Recognition and acceptance in foreign countries 

Both types of certificates serve similar purposes for international recognition. Authentications require a more complex process, which can take longer and cost more.

Cost and processing time

Apostilles are faster to get. The process takes 1-2 weeks in most cases. Some states also offer same-day services for Apostille issuance.

Authentication certificates require a longer process. For example, in the US, the process for authentications could take up to 12-15 weeks during the pandemic. This was due in part to major delays at the US State Department. Processing times have improved in 2024. But, they have still not fully recovered to their pre-pandemic speed.

Common Misconceptions and Challenges

Some states have specific requirements. For example, they may need documents issued within a certain time frame (e.g., the last 1 year) or signed by a state registrar. To clarify, Mr. Bhatia noted, "Sometimes we find documents that are 10-15 years old. For some states, they may not be valid. At that point, you can order a new certified copy from the Office of Vital Statistics. This copy will then be eligible for an apostille seal in most cases.”

Potential challenges and how to overcome them

When legalizing documents, it's important to meet the issuing state’s specific requirements. To overcome this, it's essential to research and understand these requirements beforehand. Delays and backlog can be tough. But, planning and staying informed about them can help manage the issues.

For a smooth document legalization experience, be proactive and gather all necessary information. Consult experts if needed.

Legal Online Marriage and Document Authentication with Courtly

Picking the right authentication method ensures that your documents will be legally valid abroad. To streamline the validation of foreign documents, you must know the rules for these certificates.

You can marry online and get a U.S. marriage certificate legally. Consider the services offered by Courtly. As a trusted platform specializing in online marriages in the U.S., we provide a range of services to assist with international marriage recognition and document authentication. Visit our website to learn more about how we can help facilitate your international marriage needs.


Who needs an apostille or authentication?

Anyone who needs to use a public document in a foreign country may wish to have it verified first. This includes individuals who are:

What documents can be apostilled or authenticated?

Almost any public document, including:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Diplomas and transcripts
  • Court orders
  • Powers of attorney
  • Commercial invoices
  • Affidavits

Can I get both an apostille and authentication on one document?

Technically, a country will require either an Apostille or Authentication but not both types of certifications in one document.

How do I request an apostille?

The way to get an apostille changes depending on the country where the document came from. However, the general process is as follows:

  1. Check to see if the country where the document will be used is a member of the Hague Convention. If it is, then you can get an apostille from the Designated Issuing Authority (DIA) in your state.
  2. If the country is not part of the Hague Convention, you need to get the document authenticated at their embassy or consulate.
  3. To get an apostille, fill out an application and give it to the DIA or embassy/consulate. You'll need to include the original document or a certified copy.
  4. Pay the apostille fee.

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