Essential differences between Apostilles and Legalisation in the UK

There are a wide variety of terms within the world of legalisation which can cause a lot of confusion for those needing to present documents overseas. If you're in the UK and you're not sure whether you need to Apostille or Legalise your documents, this blog post will answer all of your questions for you.

In this article

What We’ll Cover

  • What a UK Apostille is

  • What the term “legalisation” means in the UK

  • The difference between these two terms

  • How to decide which you need

What does Apostille mean?

An Apostille is a certificate fixed to the reverse of a document by an official government authority. It is sometimes called an Apostille stamp, though in the UK they are actually small documents approximately 15 x 17cm in size, which is attached to a document and embossed with an official seal.

In the UK, only the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) are legally allowed to issue these certificates. As part of the Apostille process, they verify that the document was issued within the UK and is genuine.

A sample of a UK Apostille

Apostilles are also issued within other Hague Convention Agreement countries and are mutually accepted as verification within other member states. If you’d like to learn more about Apostilles, the Hague Convention countries and where they are issued, you can read our blog post all about Apostilles here.

What is legalisation?

Legalisation is the name for the process of taking a document issued in one country, and making it legally recognised within another. This is achieved through a series of checks, government stamps and in some cases, translations. There are other terms which can refer to the same process, dependent on the country.

You may hear the process being referred to as attestation, notarisation, or even verification. Having a variety of terms can often cause confusion for those trying to figure out which they need. There can sometimes be subtle differences between the terms, so if you’re in doubt, it’s always best to seek the advice of a specialist in legalisation who can look at your personal requirements before advising you.

So what is the difference between an Apostille and Legalisation in the UK?

Getting an Apostille is simply a step within a legalisation process. In some cases, the Apostille can be the only step required, dependent on the document being presented and it’s destination country.

For example, if you are presenting a UK birth certificate within the US, you would only require an Apostille to be applied. This is because the UK and the US are both English-speaking Hague Member States; the birth certificate will not require any solicitor certification as it is a government-issued document and no translation is required. Therefore in this case, an Apostille will be the complete legalisation process for this document.

Legalisation, as a process, can have an indeterminate amount of steps however. To understand a legalisation process for a document, you would need to have the following information:

  • The document type (personal/education/company)
  • Where the document was issued
  • In some cases, when the document was issued
  • Where the document is being presented
  • The document language
  • The reason for the legalisation

Knowing this information will help you determine how simple or complex the legalisation process will be. For example, if you have a UK degree certificate being presented for a work visa in the UAE, many more steps could be required, including:

  1. Solicitor certification
  2. UK Apostille
  3. UAE Consular stamp
  4. MoFA stamp
  5. Translation into Arabic

In this case there would be 5 steps to the legalisation process, which includes a UK Apostille. More steps are required than our previous example of the UK birth certificate being used within the US because it is being presented in the UAE, which is not a member of the Hague Convention Agreement. This means that the UAE authorities need to apply their own Embassy stamp to the document in order for it to be officially recognised as genuine within the country.

In legalisation terms, this is still one of the more simple examples of a process, which we deal with on a daily basis. To read some examples of the much more complicated cases we’ve handled, read our blog article here.

As you can see, legalising a document can range from a relatively simple task to a cumbersome one; one size certainly doesn’t fit all. Making an error can also be extremely costly and cause delays to your plans. Making sure you have the exact process for your personal circumstances before you start legalising your documents is key.

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UK Apostilles – Everything You Need To Know

Need a UK Apostille? Check out our complete step-by-step guide to the process, as well as what to look out for when processing your documents.

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Need help understanding which process you need?

If you would like any advice on the document legalisation processes, wherever you are in the world, get in touch with us today. Simply visit our site and request a personalised quotation based on your requirements. You can also give us a call directly on +44 (0) 330 088 1142, send us a message via WhatsApp on mobile, use our live chat system, or e-mail us at Our friendly team of specialists are on hand to answer all of your queries.

key takeaways

Key Takeaways

As the terms Apostille and Legalisation are often used interchangeably, it can cause confusion when trying to figure out which process you require for your personal needs. In this article we have explained that an Apostille itself as a certificate which is only a stage of a process, which is known as Legalisation. Apostilles are recognised between Hague Member States, and anywhere outside of the zone will require additional consular stamps as part of their Legalisation process. If you need help figuring out what you need, we’re here to help.

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Ashraf Vachhiat
Ashraf Vachhiat

Ashraf is the Marketing Technologist at Vital Consular, which means he handles all the technicalities involved in bringing this blog to life! He also enjoys creating in-depth articles around current affairs which impact the travel and relocation industry. In his free time, Ashraf relishes travelling as much as possible, and is always looking for quirky spots to take some great photos.

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