Part One – A Primer on Apostille, Authentication and Legalization Processes

Posted by Gennine Cooper
March 13, 2019

Today we begin a series of posts related to the process of legalizing documents for use in foreign jurisdictions.  The legalization process is designed to provide foreign governments, including civil and judicial officials, assurance the documents which have been issued abroad are authentic and ready for use.

What Are the Apostille, Authentication and Legalization Processes?

The legalization process provides foreign governments, including civil and judicial officials, assurance that documents, which have been issued abroad, are authentic and ready for use.

Authentication and legalization is typically a two-step process (sometimes referred to as “full legalization”) requiring documentation review by local, state and/or federal government to determine a document’s authenticity before submission to an embassy or consulate office for placing of its stamps, seals, and signatures signifying its approval to proceed with foreign use.

The October 5th, 1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, or Apostille Convention, simplified the process a great deal through a document called an apostille, which eliminates the need for embassy or consular legalization. As of February 20, 2019, 117 countries are parties to the convention. A full list of contract parties is available on the HCCH website.

When can an Apostille used?

An Apostille can be used when BOTH originating and destination or receiving countries are contracting states.  For documents originating in the U.S. destined for a country that is not a member of this Hague Convention, there are more and various steps involved to legalize a document.

What is required for your specific documents will depend on:

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  • Originating country
  • Destination country
  • Type of documents

Types of Documents Requiring Apostille and/or Legalization

Some documents requiring authentication/legalization for foreign use are personal business documents (e.g., Powers of Attorney, Secretary Certificates, etc.), documents issued by state government (e.g., certificates of good standing and certified copies), and documents issued by the federal government.

Public versus Private Documents

The process varies depending on whether you are legalizing public documents, such as certified copies or court documents, or private documents, such as corporate bylaws for a U.S. company or a private contract.  Patent and trademark documents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are the most common public documents requiring the Apostille, Authentication, and Legalization process.

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