When you are planning on living or working overseas, you may be asked to provide legalised copies of documents to confirm your identity, education or professional qualifications, or to demonstrate your financial position.

This is likely to involve a multi-stage process, drawing on the services of a Notary Public, the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office and possibly the Foreign Embassy of your destination country.

A notary in England and Wales is a qualified lawyer who authenticates documents that are to be used abroad, confirming that it is genuine or that it has been properly signed and is legally binding.  To establish that documents are genuine, the notary will undertake checks – for example, they may make contact with an academic institution if asked to verify that a qualification certificate is genuine.  Every Notary has an official seal, which is usually engraved with a personal symbol, and attached to a document when it is notarised.

The role of the Legalisation Office of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is to validate official UK documents, checking the document and whether the signature, stamp or seal is genuine.  That may be the seal of the notary, or the signature of a registrar on a birth certificate, or a doctor on a medical certificate.  The legalisation of the document is completed when the FCO directly attaches a stamped certificate, known as an apostille.

All requirements are set by the destination.  Legalisation is generally required by those countries within the Hague Convention, but rarely for former Commonwealth countries or many parts of the USA.  Some countries may also require that documents are further validated by their embassy in the UK.

Where documents have been issued outside the UK, these must be legalised in the country they were issued.

Here are some useful links and interesting reading if you want to understand more about the legal process involved.  If you’d rather remain aloof, let us handle it for you at Life Porters.

UK Foreign & Commonwealth online application process

The Notaries Society