Is Legalizing US Online Distance-Learning Degrees Possible?

If you're in the US and studying an online distance learning qualification, you may be planning to use it overseas if you're thinking of relocating. Will the award be recognised overseas? We look at the processes involved to find out.

In this article

Studying degrees online is becoming an increasingly popular way for individuals to upskill or change their careers entirely. By studying around existing commitments, this mode of study means that training and education is more readily available then ever before and puts it in reach for those who otherwise would have missed out on these opportunities.

Things can get complicated, however, if you decide to use your qualification overseas. Even if your award is regulated and recognised in the US, it may be that it isn’t in the country you’d like to make the move to. This will become apparent when you present your certificate for your work or residency permit, dependent on which country you’re moving to. During this process the certificate will need to be “legalized”, also known as “legalised”, “attested”, “authenticated” or “notarized”, though these are essentially the same concept.

What does legalization mean?

In a nutshell, legalization is the process of taking a document issued in one country and making it legally recognised within another. This is achieved via a series of verification checks and governmental stamps from both the authorities of the issuing country and the destination country.

For example, if you have a US-issued degree and wish to relocate to China, you will need to have your degree certificate verified and stamped by both the US government and China’s representative government offices, usually the Embassy or Consulate, based in the US.

Once this is completed, it can then be presented for official purposes when you reach China.

An important point to note is that not all legalization processes are the same. Each step is determined by a range of factors, including:

  • which country the document was issued in
  • the document type
  • which country the document is being presented in
  • the document language
  • the purpose of the legalization (visa/permit/legal proceedings)

Each government will have different agreements in place with other countries, and each country has their own unique set of guidelines which must be followed. This can make legalization a complicated affair and difficult to work out the exact process you need for your individual circumstances.

An example of this is if you’re relocating to the UAE. If you studied a degree online in the US, this would not be recognised by the Emirati government. However, if you studied online in the UK, you wouldn’t have a problem having your certificate legalized for the UAE.

It’s therefore important to not take processes for one set of circumstances and try to apply them to another. This can result in you losing both money and time by having to start processes all over again.

Why is legalization necessary?

Because documents vary so much across the globe, it can be difficult for officials to recognise genuine documents from a foreign source. If 30 certificates from around the globe landed on their desk, it’s nigh on impossible for them to be able to confidently vouch for their authenticity.

For example, a Russian-issued degree is more reminiscent of what a US or UK citizen would recognised as a passport. It contains a photo of the award holder and is a small folding document with hand-written information. Compared to a US education award, this would look very different indeed.

By having the process of legalization in place, any foreign official can be confident that if a certificate holds the correct stamps, it has been verified and checked by the government in it’s issuing country.

us online degree

What’s the issue with online distance-learning degrees?

So the answer to our original question is: yes. Distance learning degrees issued in the US can be legalized for use overseas, but only in some cases.

Some destinations will not accept awards which have been studied via the distance-learning mode. In the US, the two most popular expat destinations which enforce this rule is the UAE and Qatar. Neither of these countries will legalize a document which has been studied in this manner, without exception.

How can you check if your certificate will be accepted? You can simply search the awarding institution on the CHEA website. If the college or university you studied at lists it’s accreditation as “Distance Education Accrediting Commission”, you may be out of luck if you were planning on moving to either of these countries.

What’s the solution? Well, there’s two possible options you can take if you had your heart set on a new life abroad.

Firstly, you may be able to present a different qualification for legalization, if you have one. If you have another degree or diploma which you studied in-person at a recognised institution, you’re very often able to use this piece of paperwork purely for the purpose of your work visa. Get in touch with your HR contact and see if this is an option.

Secondly, if you don’t have another award you can use instead, it may be time to re-think your destination. The UAE and Qatar don’t like distance learning qualifications, but many other great places do. China, Kuwait, Thailand and Vietnam are all happy to accept these certificates, so maybe think about going back to the drawing board!

How can I get help to find out what I need?

This is the easy part. As global legalization specialists, we can legalize documents issued practically anywhere in the world, for anywhere in the world. If you have a US-issued document, we can have it processed for you and return it completed and ready to go, without you having to do a thing.

If you’d like help legalizing your documents, give us a call directly on +44 (0) 330 088 1142, send us a message via WhatsApp, use our live chat system, or e-mail us at sales@vitalconsular.com. Our friendly team of specialists are on hand to answer all of your queries.

key takeaways

Key Takeaways

Online degrees are a great tool and open up opportunities for more people than ever before. Although using your award overseas can cause issues in some cases, it’s not the end of the road. Just because some countries won’t recognise your qualification, there are plenty which will, so before you get your heart set on a destination be sure to do your homework and weigh up all of  your options!

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Melanie Clarke
Melanie is a Digital Marketer and TEFL Specialist at Vital Consular. Before taking up a Marketing role, she spent 3 years building up a rich knowledge of global legalisation processes on the operations team. When she's not working, Melanie enjoys attending music events and pursuing many creative interests including screen printing and merchandise design.
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