You might come across the word “apostille” when sending a legal document overseas. For most of us, this is perhaps the first time we’ve ever come across the concept of an apostille. The immediate question that follows is: “What is an apostille anyway?”


Apostille – A Definition

An apostille is a form of international certification. It authenticates public or government documents and adds an extra layer of security. In the UK, certifying documents is done by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). Once you apply for an apostille and it is granted, a document is referred to as an apostilled document.


Purpose of an Apostille

The Hague Convention, established in 1961, is an international treaty designed to simplify the acceptance process of legal documents issued in member states. The certification provided under this treaty is termed an apostille. Around 120 countries around the world, including the UK, are signed up to the Apostille system. This includes most of Europe, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and most recently, China.

In the United Kingdom, an apostille is an officially issued piece of paper which is fixed onto the certificate or document concerned. It bears the signature of the individual issuing the apostille and has the official seal of the FCDO. The appearance of apostilles varies across countries. Some are just simple ink stamps, others have adhesive stickers, or a seal attached to the document. Every apostille typically contains the same information, following the ten points agreed upon by the convention.


Content of an Apostille

The international agreement specifies that an apostille must have the following elements:

  • Country issuing the apostille.
  • The name of the civil servant signing the apostille.
  • The job role of the person signing.
  • The body granting the apostille – so Foreign and Commonwealth office for the UK.
  • Where the apostille was granted
  • Date
  • Seal or stamp
  • Unique reference number
  • Signature of official


When You May Need an Apostille

For sending documents abroad, an apostille is generally required for most countries. The country which you are dealing with will let you know whether they require a document to have an apostille, or whether they are happy to accept your paperwork without. There are many documents which may require an apostille but some of the most common ones are:

  • Powers of Attorney
  • Companies House documents
  • School or university certificates
  • Birth, marriage, and death certificates
  • ACRO police certificates.


Getting an Apostille

To obtain an apostille, the document needing verification must be submitted to the FCDO Legalisation Office. In the UK, there are two Legalisation Offices, one in London and one in Milton Keynes. Unless you live near either of these two centres, it’s common practice to get a third-party organisation such as Clear Check to manage the process for you. Although the process isn’t overly complex, there are certain legal boxes which must be ticked, and missing out information will delay the process.