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Apostilles – Questions and Answers with Our Notary Attorneys

An Apostille is a certificate whose purpose is to legalise a document for acceptance and use in another country other than where that document was issued.

Many a time we hear of fraudulent activities executed through the use of forged documents, indicating that criminal syndicates are producing fraudulent documents which at face value resemble authentic documents produced by lawful issuing authorities.

To curb things like these, the Hague Convention of 1961 brought together countries to agree on the modalities of how documents are legalised for acceptance and use in abroad.

In this article we will answer some pertinent questions we receive from our clients so that one does not suffer the inconvenience of having the documents they intend to use in another country not being acceptable as they are.

Where to Get Documents Apostilled in South Africa

When does one need to have their documents legalised?

Documents must be legalised if one needs to present and use them in another country other than in which they were issued. Where one intends to live, work or attain education in another country abroad a lot of documents will be required in order for such stay, employment and study to be regularised.

Is Notarising and Apostille the same?

While notarising is an important part of the Apostille process, these are not the same. Notarising means certifying a document to authenticate the signatures on the document, by a Notary Public. Apostille is the process of legalising documents for acceptance and use in another country other than the one in which they were issued. Documents which are notarised only can be used in the same country but for documents to be used abroad they need to be notarised and have an Apostille as well.

What are Public documents?

Public documents are documents issued by a public or State authority for public use such as IDs, Birth certificates, Marriage certificates, Death certificates, Police Clearances, Notarial documents etc. For Apostille purposes however, documents issued by private entities for public use e.g education certificates, powers of attorney, may also be recognised as such.

How did the Hague Convention simplify authentication of documents?

The nature of authentication is within the determination power of the host country where the documents must be used or accepted. This can be burdensome, as different countries have various methods and requirements with regards to how the same documents must be authenticated in order to be acceptable as official and valid for use. The Hague Convention abolished the consular and diplomatic legalisation of public documents issued in countries which are party to this Convention. The Convention issued what it termed the Apostille Certificate which must accompany public documents for use in another country which is a party to the Convention.

What then is the process?

The public document is signed or executed in front of a Notary Public. The Notary Public will then attach their Authentication Certificate which reflects their signature, stamp and seal, to the public documents concerned. The Notary Public then forwards the documents to the High Court within whose jurisdiction the Notary Public practices. The High Court will then issue the Apostille Certificate to authenticate the Notary Public’s signature. The final step is the documents being sent to the Legalisation Section at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) for legalisation.

What if the country where the documents will be used is not party to the Hague Convention?

When the country where the documents are to be accepted and used is not a party to the Convention as mentioned above, the same procedure applies as outlined above but the following further requirements will need to be complied with as well. After the High Court issues the Apostille Certificate, the documents are then forwarded to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation for legalisation. The final step would then be accomplished after the documents are sent to the Embassy or Consulate of the country in which the documents are to be accepted and used, for further authentication.

How are foreign documents authenticated for use within South Africa?

Rule 63 of the Uniform Rules of the High Court of South Africa regulates the authentication of public documents issued in a foreign country, for use within South Africa. The rule provides that a document is adequately certified if it bears the seal and signature of the following categories of persons;

  • Head of a South African Diplomatic or Consular mission or a person in the administrative or professional division of the public service serving at a South African diplomatic, consular or trade office abroad; or
  • Consul-General, Consul, Vice-Consul or Consular Agent of the United Kingdom or any person acting in any of the capacities or a Pro-Consul of the United Kingdom; or
  • Any Government authority of such foreign place charged with the authentication of documents under the law of that foreign country; or
  • Any person in such foreign place who shall be shown by a certificate of any person referred to in paragraph (1), (2) or (3) or of any diplomatic or consular officer of such foreign country in the Republic to be duly authorised to authenticate such document under the law of that foreign country; or
  • Notary Public in the: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (England or Ireland);
    – Zimbabwe;
    – Lesotho;
    – Botswana;
    – Swaziland; or
  • Commissioner Officer of the South African Defence Force as defined in section 1 of the Defence Act, 1957 (Act 4 of 1957) in the case of a document executed by any person on active service.

Van Deventer & Van Deventer Incorporated – Notary Attorneys in South Africa

Kindly contact us for assistance with regards to legalization of documents for acceptance and use in countries abroad. Our assistance is comprehensive and professional.



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