The authentication of documents is a process that you may need to follow if you have public documents issued in South Africa that you need to use abroad or vice versa. The process to authenticate documents has become a simpler task since the enactment of the Treaty called The Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, commonly referred to as the “Apostille Convention”. A large number of countries all over the world are parties to the Apostille Convention.
The traditional method of authenticating documents is called legalisation. It involves a chain of individual authentications with public officials of the country where the document is produced as well as the foreign embassy of the country where the document is to be used, making it a time consuming and costly affair. The Apostille Convention provides an alternative to this cumbersome method of authentication with the single formality of issuing an Apostille Certificate.
What documents does an Apostille Certificate authenticate?
An Apostille Certificate can only be used to authenticate the origin of public documents such as birth, death or marriage certificates, judgments, patents, notarial attestations (where a notary has authenticated a signature), school, university or other academic diplomas and other documents issued by public institutions.
In which countries can the Apostille Certificate be used?
An Apostille Certificate can only be used to authenticate documents if both the country where the public document was issued and the country where the public document is to be used are parties to the Apostille Convention. The list of which countries are parties to the Apostille Convention can be found on The Hague Convention’s website provided below:
Where do I obtain an Apostille Certificate?
In each country that is a party to the Apostille Convention a competent authority has been designated to issue Apostille Certificates. Who the competent authority is will vary from country to country. The Hague Convention’s website states who the competent authorities are to issue Apostille Certificates and their contact information. In South Africa, the competent authorities are the following:
- Any magistrate or additional magistrate
- Any registrar or assistant registrar of the High Court of South Africa
- Any person designated by the Director-General: Justice
- Director-General: International Relations and Co-operation
What is the process to obtain an Apostille Certificate in South Africa?
The good news is that generally in South Africa Apostille Certificates are issued on the same day on which they are requested.
We recently tested the process here in South Africa. Our client needed to execute a Power of Attorney for use in Mauritius. Both South Africa and Mauritius are parties to the Apostille Convention. Our client executed the Power of Attorney in front of our Notary who attached a notarial attestation thereto. By attaching a notarial attestation to the Power of Attorney, the Notary created a public document which could then be authenticated by way of an Apostille Certificate.
The process of obtaining the Apostille Certificate was as simple as going to the Registrar’s Office located on the first floor of the High Court in Pretoria and asking him for an Apostille Certificate. The Registrar inspected the notarial attestation, prepared the Apostille Certificate and attached it to the notarial attestation. An example of the Apostille Certificate is provided below. This process took less than an hour. However, the time taken may vary depending on which competent authority you approach.
How much does it cost?
To issue the Apostille Certificate, the competent authority here in South Africa does not charge a fee. However, should you require a notarial attestation, the Notary is entitled to charge a fee to issue the attestation. The Notary is also entitled to charge a fee should you instruct him to obtain the Apostille Certificate on your behalf.
The cost of obtaining an Apostille Certificate varies between countries. The estimated price for each country may be found on The Hague Convention’s website.
What if the foreign country is not a party to the Apostille Convention?
If the foreign country in which you wish to use a document is not a party to the Apostille Convention, then the document must be submitted to the Department of International Relations and Co-Operation for legalisation. Thereafter the document is sent to the embassy/consulate of the country wherein the document needs to be used, for further authentication. Only then can the document be used in the foreign country.
For more information on the legalisation of public documents originating in South Africa to be used abroad please follow the link below to DIRCO (The Department of International Relations and Co-operation). They have a Legalisation Section to assist in such matters.
What if you need to authenticate documents overseas for use here in South Africa?
If the country in which you will be authenticating the documents is a party to the Apostille Convention then you can follow the process provided for in that country to obtain an Apostille Certificate. If the country is not a party to the Apostille Convention then you will need to follow the procedure set out in High Court Rule 63. See our article on this for further details.
Please note that the above information is per the general guidelines set out by the Apostille Convention and the authentication process may differ from country to country.