The Apostille system is as old as international trade itself. In simple terms, an apostille is a system which allows documents to be recognised internationally. 124 countries signed up to the International Apostille Convention back in 1965, all agreeing to recognise an apostille issued in any of the other parties. If, for example, you are buying a property in Greece, then you may need to have your passport, bank statements or utility bills verified as genuine by the authorities here in the UK before sending them to Greece. This is the Apostille process.
In 2022 the UK government announced that it was launching the e-Apostille service, a 21st century method of getting documents legalised more quickly and efficiently. At present the system is clunky and time-consuming. People wishing to have their documents legalised in the UK must send their original documents through the post, either directly to the UK government office, or to organisations like Clear Check which can check that all of the paperwork is in order before taking the paperwork to the office themselves. The actual Apostille is a paper certificate which is attached to the originals, then sent back to the applicant by post or courier. The e-Apostille system was trialled at the end of 2021 as a pilot. The success of the pilot means that the government is going to expand the initiative to more customers through 2023 and beyond.
The new e-Apostille system allows customers to upload their documents directly onto the government server rather than sending them in the post or by courier. The only requirement is that the documents are digitally signed, using an electronic signature which is properly verified. After checking, the Apostille document is issued as a PDF form with the document it applies to included. This PDF form is again signed by the Legalisation Office as a guarantee of authenticity.
There are limitations to the service, and customers still have the option of choosing the older paper method should that suit their needs better. The e-Apostille cannot be used at present for police records and similar documents due to security concerns. However, there is every chance that the system could be extended to include these records in the future.
Will My E-Apostille be Accepted?
Several countries such as the Netherlands and Italy have already said that their authorities will accept the digital apostilles issued by the UK. The Apostille Convention agreement means that all other signatories should accept the digital apostilles too. The UK is leading the way in terms of digitising the system, so the best advice to people thinking of taking advantage of the system is to check first with the overseas authorities to make sure that they will accept digital documents without issue.
The apostille system can be complex and confusing. If you are unsure about which documents you need to have legalised, and the process for doing so, contact us and our experts can guide you through the process, whichever country’s authorities you are dealing with.