An Apostille is a stamp which is attached to a document by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to confirm that the document has been signed and properly authenticated by a Notary.
The Apostille system was set up in a treaty passed by The Hague Convention. The purpose of this treaty was to abolish consular legalisation. Some countries have not signed this treaty, however, and they require an additional process called legalisation in order to authenticate a document. The process of legalisation is described here.
Authorities in most foreign jurisdictions rely on a Notarial certificate because they know that Notaries are people who can be trusted to make sure that documents and facts have been properly authenticated. However, when a document is received in a foreign country, the person or organisation receiving it has no idea whether the signature and seal are those of a Notary and they have no easy way of checking. The only way in which this can easily be done is through the Apostille system, either on its own or accompanied by legalisation.
The presence of the Apostille means that the receiving party overseas will be able to verify that the document has been properly notarised.
How does the Apostille process work?
My status as a Notary will be verified by the legalisation section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which has its headquarters in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. This section of the FCO is responsible for the certification process that involves a standard seal called the Apostille
In order to obtain this certification the documents that I have signed and sealed for you must be sent to the FCO in Milton Keynes. Here the Apostille will be applied to the reverse side of the document that I have previously signed and sealed
The Apostille is permanent and it is accepted without question when used overseas. The presence of the Apostille confirms that I am a Notary and that the signature and seal appearing on your documents are mine
Apostille applications must be made through agents or by post. An agent must be a specialist who is recognised by the FCO. This means the agent can act for Notaries, receive documents, lodge them at the FCO, collect the documents once Apostilled and send them back to the Notary or to another destination. It takes the specialist agent I use about four days for the documents to be returned to me from the time I send them to him
The current Foreign and Commonwealth Office fee for this service is £30. If the matter is urgent the FCO offers a same-day premium service at a higher rate. This service is only available from the London offices of the FCO (Premium Service Legalisation Office, Old Admiralty Building, 1 Spring Gardens London SW1A 2PA), which charges a fee of £75. On top of this there is the cost of a courier to take the documents there and back again. The premium service is only available via a Notary
Click below for a video explaining what an Apostille is.