DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION IN THIS CIRCULAR RELATING TO THE LEGAL REQUIREMENTS OF SPECIFIC FOREIGN COUNTRIES IS PROVIDED FOR GENERAL INFORMATION ONLY. QUESTIONS INVOLVING INTERPRETATION OF SPECIFIC FOREIGN LAWS SHOULD BE ADDRESSED TO FOREIGN COUNSEL.
An Apostille is a certificate issued by a designated authority in a country where the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalization of Foreign Public Documents, Apostille Convention, is in force. See a model Apostille. Apostilles authenticate the seals and signatures of officials on public documents such as birth certificates, notarials, court orders, or any other document issued by a public authority, so that they can be recognized in foreign countries that are parties to the Convention. In the United States, there are multiple designated Competent Authorities to issue Apostilles, the authority to issue an Apostille for a particular document depends on the origin of the document in question. Federal executive branch documents, such as FBI background checks, are authenticated by the federal Competent Authority, the U.S. Department of State Authentications Office. State documents such as notarizations or vital records are authenticated by designated state competent authorities, usually the state Secretary of State.
The Hague Conference on Private International Law, the international organization that created the Apostille Convention, maintains an Apostille Section on its website with helpful information such as a user brochure The ABCs of Apostilles, and links to competent authorities for every country, including the United States, where the Convention is in force.
If you have a document that needs to be authenticated for use in a country where the Apostille Convention is not in force, the U.S. Department of State Authentications Office has useful information on its website about the process.