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Certification, Notarisation and Legalisation & Apostilisation of documents

17 August 2018 Jack Freeland Blog

It is not uncommon that you may be asked to provide documents that have been certified, notarised, or legalised, or all of the above. But what do these terms mean?

This article will explain the difference between these of terms and provide some useful information as to what types of documents can be certified, notarised and legalised, and why you might need this to be done.


What is certification?

  • A certified copy is a copy of a document which has been certified as being a true, complete and up-to-date copy of the original document at a given date. Certification is achieved by a written statement to that effect, which is then signed and dated by the certifying person on the copy document. The certifying person must have been presented with the original document in order for certification to be carried out.
  • The precise requirements for a copy to be deemed certified are typically set out by the body that requires the certification. For example, the body requiring certification will often specify who can certify, and frequently that person is a solicitor or notary. The body requiring certification may also specify the wording which should be used. If not, wording along the following lines is often acceptable (although it may need to be adapted if, for example, you are certifying that a photograph is a true likeness of the relevant person): ‘Certified to be a true copy of the original document seen by me.’
  • In addition, the certified copy will need to be signed and dated alongside the printed name and firm address of the individual who is certifying the document.

Is it necessary to certify every page?

  • Where a copy of a document needs to be certified, it is generally not thought to be necessary to certify every page individually, provided the pages of the document are all attached together and the top page is certified as described.
  • However, there are exceptions to this depending on the type of original document involved, the purpose of the certification and whether the body requiring certification has specified how the certified is to be completed. You should always check exactly what is required with the body or individual who is requesting the certified copy before proceeding to request certification.

Why might you need a certified copy of a document?

  • It may be necessary to produce certified copies of original documents in certain circumstances. For example, you may need certified copies of school reports, certificates and degrees when applying for entrance to a university or a new job, or you may need certified copies of your passport and a utility bill when applying for a new credit card. Immigration authorities will often require certified copies in connection with visas and work permits. Certified copies may also be needed in certain circumstances where the original document has been lost or cannot be provided for other reasons.


What is notarisation?

  • A notarised document is one where the identity and signature of the signatory has been verified by reference to original photographic identity documents and witnessed by a Notary Public at the time of signing. The document carrying the authenticated signature must be accompanied by an impression of the Notary Public’s stamp or seal to indicate that the document is that of the person who signed the document. It is the obligation of the Notary Public to verify the identity of the signatory, to ensure that the document is signed or executed under the signatory’s free will and the Notary must witness the signing event.
  • As such, the following steps must be taken when notarising a document:
    1. You must present valid identification to your notary so that they are satisfied that the person signing the document is truly you.
    2. The Notary Public will then ensure you understand and can attest to what you’re about to sign.
    3. The Notary Public will witness your signature.
    4. Once you have signed the document, the Notary Public will affix his or her stamp (or seal) to the document. The document will then be considered to be notarised.
  • In contrast to certification, which can be carried out by a number of individuals, documents for notarisation can only be notarised by a Notary Public.

Why might you need a document notarised?

  • Some documents, declarations and other deeds may clearly state that the witnessing must be completed by a Notary Public – i.e. Power of Attorney documents must always be signed in the presence of a Notary Public.
  • The office of Notary Public is also instrumental in the execution of legally enforceable documents to be used abroad. It also offers third parties assurance of the credibility that the information relation on by third parties is accurate and authentic.

Legalisation & Apostilisation

What is legalisation?

  • A document may be executed and notarised outside the country in which it is to be used. If this occurs, it is usually necessary for the notary’s signature and seal to be certified as genuine. This is called legalisation.
  • The legalisation requirements of different countries vary however, generally, documents going to countries which are, or have been, part of the British Commonwealth and documents going to most parts of the United States rarely need to be legalised.
  • The legalisation process is performed at the appropriate foreign embassy or, in Britain, by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). Some countries will require the document to be legalised by both the embassy and the FCO, so it is important that you check exactly what is required from the destination country before proceeding.

What is apostilisation?

  • To avoid the cumbersome formalities of legalisation by an embassy, various states, including the UK have ratified the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents. Instead of legalisation by the appropriate embassy, the notary’s certificate and seal are certified as genuine by the competent authority of the state within whose territory the document has been executed. The certification is by way of a certificate called an apostille. As discussed above, in the U.K. this apostilisation is performed by the FCO. In order to issue an apostille, the FCO checks the notary’s signature and seal against its register of notary signatures and seals.
  • The FCO legalisation service is operated online, through the Legalisation Office. The Legalisation Office service charges £30 for each apostille plus courier fees or postage. All applications for legalisation of documents should be sent by making an application through the Legalisation Office website. This normally takes around 3-5 working days.

Contact our expert solicitors today 

At McGill & Co all of our qualified solicitors have also been sworn in as Notary Publics. If you would like assistance or advice on getting your document certified, having your signature on a document notarised by a Notary Public, or require to legalise a document to be used overseas, then please contact us for further information about our services.


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