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What is an Apostille?
An Apostille stamp is a form of authentication added to a document to allow it to be used outside of the UK. This is part of the legalisation (also known as attestation) process. Essentially, it is a confirmation that the document has been checked over by the authorities of the country the document was produced in and deemed to be genuine and above board. This verification system then makes it much simpler for a foreign authority to accept the document as they don’t have to carry out their own checks.
If you are presenting the document in another Hague Convention country, which you can read more about on our dedicated blog post on the topic, it’s likely an Apostille is all that is required. There are a number of states which require further legalisation by the relevant Embassy or an added translation. Always be sure to check the exact requirements with the authority you are submitting your document to.
I’m submitting a birth, marriage, death or adoption certificate – what could go wrong?
A key check that the FCDO authorities carry out is establishing if the signature of the official who signed the document is on their database. In the vast majority of cases, these types of documents are accepted without an issue as birth and death certificates are signed by a member of the registrar team when you go to register the event.
As the registrar team are government employees, their signatures should be automatically added to the FCDO database so it would be extremely rare for these documents to be rejected based on the signature of the official. An adoption certificate is always issued by a government or court official and so, like a birth or death certificate, should be accepted without any issues.
We recently received a birth certificate for legalisation which the registrar had forgotten to sign or date, which meant the FCDO couldn’t accept the document as they had no signature to verify! Always double-check that your certificate has been signed and dated before sending it off.
The issue tends to arise when submitting an original marriage certificate. If you were married in a register office or had your marriage overseen by a registrar, this shouldn’t pose a problem. However, if your marriage was conducted by a religious official such as a vicar or a rabbi, it is much more common for the FCDO not to hold their signature.
Therefore, when it comes to submitting your original marriage certificate to the FCDO, if they cannot locate the relevant signature on their database they unfortunately have no choice but to reject your document.
Previously, the FCDO authorities would attempt to get in touch with the signatory directly to try and obtain a sample of their signature to add to the database. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and their already stretched resources, this is not currently offered.
So what can you do to prevent your marriage certificate from being rejected?
The best way is to have a certified copy of your marriage certificate reissued by the local register office for the district you married in or the General Register Office. If you have the certificate issued by your local register office the FCDO will verify the signature of the registrar who has signed off on the reissue of your document.
If you opt to have the General Register Office reissue the document, this will have the government emblem on the certificate as well as being printed on official government-issued paper and this will supersede any signatures as the highest level of authenticity.
I don’t want to risk my certificate getting lost – can I just send a photocopy?
For personal documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, it is a requirement that the Apostille is applied to the original certificate. If you sent a photocopy to the FCDO, they would reject it as it would not be printed on the official government paper. The same applies if you laminate your certificate as the authorities cannot accurately verify if the document is a photocopy or original.
If you are ever worried about your certificate getting lost, have a new copy reissued from your local register office or the GRO. That way you can keep your original safe and rest easy in the knowledge that the newly issued document will be accepted without an issue!
I am submitting an education certificate – what problems could arise?
When submitting an education document, such as your degree certificate or breakdown of grades, this must be certified in order for the FCDO to accept it for Apostille application. This can be done by either a solicitor or a notary but there are a few things you need to watch out for when selecting your certifier!
1. The solicitor is not on file with the FCDO
As mentioned previously, the FCDO have a database of signatures which they will check against when processing your document in order to ensure that the person who has certified the document is registered with them as an approved certifier.
If your solicitor is not on file with the FCDO, they unfortunately cannot apply the Apostille due to not being able to verify the signature. There is no published list of FCDO registered solicitors but they should be able to advise you if they are on the database, so it’s always best to ask this question just to be sure.
2. The solicitor is not registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)
Another check that the FCDO will conduct when verifying your document for the Apostille is to establish if the signing solicitor has current valid registered status with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, known as the SRA.
If they are not currently registered, they will not be able to make valid certified copies.
3. The certification hasn’t been done correctly
A correct certification should include an official stamp from the solicitor (this should state their name, company and address), as well as a wet signature and date. If the signature is not original or the date is omitted, it will not be accepted as a valid certification.
4. The document is not issued or solicitor is not registered in the UK
A UK solicitor can only make certified copies of UK-issued documents. A UK education award can also only be certified by a UK-registered solicitor. Therefore it’s important to ensure that you aren’t trying to submit any overseas documents to the FCDO, even if they’ve been copied by a solicitor here.
I’ve found a solicitor which meets all of the criteria, what else should I check?
The education institute is recognised in the UK
When a solicitor makes a certified copy of an education award, they are not verifying the information contained within the document or completing any checks on the institution which issued the certificate. They are simply stating that they are taking a copy or a true original.
The institution is authorised to issue the qualifications they are awarding
If you have an award issued by a college or university in the UK, it must be authorised by the British Government to award those levels of qualification. If the qualification has been issued without authorisation, for example a college has issued a degree for which they aren’t registered, your document will be rejected.
I’ve completed all of these checks, what do I do next?
If you’ve completed all of the checks and you’re ready to get your document Apostilled, we can help. We can get your Apostille applied for you as quickly as you require, even same-day if your need is urgent.
We simply need your original document – we even take care of the certification if required with our in-house FCDO registered solicitor.
Getting an Apostille can be an easy and straightforward procedure, as long as you’re aware of the checks you need to make before your submit it to the FCDO. By missing an important point, you could experience delays and and possibly further costs in having to re-submit or re-process your documents. Use our guide to check your paperwork over, but if you still need assistance, just get in touch with our friendly team of specialists.