Ensure your documents are legally authenticated for use abroad

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In order to use documents in a foreign country, your documents need to be legally authenticated. “Authentication”, as defined by the High Court Act, is the verification of the signature on the document. A Notary Public has the power to authenticate documents for use in a foreign country. The process of authentication is dependent on two things, the country in which the document is to be used, and the type of document to be authenticated.

With regard to the country of use, the process differs according to whether or not that country is a party to The Hague Convention. The process for countries that are a party to The Hague Convention is twofold:

1. The document/s must be signed in the presence of a Notary Public, or if the document is an original to be notarially certified then the original must be presented to the Notary Public. The Notary will then attach an authentication certificate to the document, which references the attached document, the authenticity thereof and lastly bears the Notary’s signature, stamp and seal.

2. The Notary Public will send the authenticated document to the High Court in their area of practice and the High Court will attach an Apostille authenticating the Notary’s signature. Thereafter, the document is suitable for use outside South Africa in a country that is a party to The Hague convention.

Countries outside The Hague Convention

If the country of use is not a party to The Hague Convention, there are two further steps before the documents may be used abroad. The third step is that once the document has been authenticated by the Notary and apostilled by the High Court, it must then be sent to the legalisation department of DIRCO (Department of Internal Relations and Cooperation) where it will be legalised. Legalisation is the process by which the signature and seal of the High Court is verified.

Finally, the documents are sent to the Embassy or Consulate of the country of use for their final authentication. The documents are only suitable for use in non-Hague convention countries once the above four steps have been finalised.

With regards to the type of document, the majority of documents can be notarised by a Notary Public and thereafter apostilled by the High Court in the area in which the Notary practices, as explained above.

Documents that can’t be authenticated by a Notary Public

However, in instances of official (public) documents, the original document must be sent directly to the legalisation department of DIRCO where it will be legalised for use outside the Republic of South Africa either by means of an authentication certificate (for non-Hague convention countries), or by means of an apostille certificate (for Hague convention countries).

The following are examples of official (public) documents, which must be sent directly to DIRCO:

• Original unabridged or full birth, marriage and/or death certificates (please note the legalisation department cannot legalise abridged certificates) (these documents should preferably not be older than one year);

• Original (valid) letters of no impediment (marital status) (this document is only valid for 3 (three) months);

• Original letter confirming an individual’s citizenship status (this document should not be older than a year from the date of issue);

• Original Police Clearance Certificate signed and stamped by the South African Police Service (SAPS);

• Original adoption papers signed and stamped by the relevant Presiding Officer / Commissioner of Child Welfare of the Children’s Court (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development) or the Registrar of Adoptions at the Department of Social Development.

For further information or to arrange the legalisation of public documents for use outside South Africa, the contact details for the DIRCO legalisation department are as follows:

Tel: (012) 351-1726 (Enquiries), (012) 351-1232 (Supervisor)
Email: legalisation@dirco.gov.za
Website: www.dirco.gov.za
Address: OR TAMBO BUILDING
460 SOUTPANSBERG ROAD
RIETONDALE
PRETORIA

For authentication of any other documents, kindly contact any of our offices to access the services of one of our Notary Publics.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Kim Cameron-Dow 
C & A Friedlander Inc.- Notarial Practice

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