An apostille was not at the Last Supper

An apostille was not at the Last Supper
22 Jan 2021

An Apostille allows documents issued in one country to be officially accepted in another.

The word Apostille conjures up images from the bible. At least on the face of it – and especially if you do not know what an Apostille (or Apostle) is.

While the twelve Apostles attended the last supper, it is doubtful that an Apostille was anywhere in sight….

Why? Because an Apostille is not a person and is certainly not a disciple. It is however an important legal certificate that proves a document is valid when used abroad.

Firstly, to clear up some confusion, let’s start off simply with the pronunciation –

An Apostille is pronounced as “ah-po-steel”

An Apostle is pronounced as “uh-pos-ill”

An Apostle has momentous biblical significance and the other, is an essential certificate that is required if you plan on using legal documents outside of South Africa, thereby ensuring the documents validity.

And those are clearly very, very different things.

Now that we have a general idea of the difference between the two and realise that we are, in fact, dealing with the legal certificate and not a disciple (at least in this article), let’s get stuck in….

What is an Apostille exactly?

An Apostille is a French word meaning certification and is simply the name that refers to a specialised certificate. Some documents which have been notarised by a Notary Public are required by the countries or territories where the documents will be used (and these would normally be signatory countries to the Hague Apostille Convention. But, the Hague Apostille Convention only applies if both the country where the public document was issued and the country where the public document is to be used are parties to the Convention) to be further authenticated by Apostille to verify the identity, signature and seal of the Notary Public. The Apostille certificate is attached to your original document to confirm that it is legitimate and authentic so that it will be accepted in one of the other countries who are members of the Hague Convention.

An Apostille allows documents issued in one country to be officially accepted in another.

The Apostille certificate results in your document (that originated in South Africa), being further authenticated or legalised by The Legalisation Section at the Department of International relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), which is in Pretoria.

It is important to note that the Apostille does not give information on the content of the underlying document, rather it certifies the signature, capacity of the signatory and correctness of the seal or stamp on the document.

When will I need an Apostille?

As a general rule of thumb, an Apostille will be required when you are travelling abroad to live or work. However, there will be other reasons when an Apostille will be required –

  1. the country where the document was issued is party to the Hague Convention;
  2. the country in which the document is to be used is party to the Hague Convention;
  3. whenever public documents need to be produced abroad – this may occur in a multitude of cross-border situations, like international marriages, international relocation, applications for studies, residency or citizenship in a foreign State, inter-country adoption procedures, international business transactions and foreign investment procedures, enforcement of intellectual property rights abroad and foreign legal proceedings (to name but a few);
  4. the law of the country where the document was issued considers the document to be a public document, and
  5. The country in which the document is to be used requires an Apostille in order to recognise it as an official foreign public document.

In any of the above situations, the person in the country where the document will be used cannot realistically judge the authenticity of the document merely on face value as he/she may not be familiar with the identity or official capacity of the person notarising the document or the identity of the authority whose seal and/or stamp it bears i.e. the foreign official needs confirmation and complete assurance that the Notary who notarised the document, is completely above board. As a result, foreign countries will require that the origin of a foreign public document must be certified by an official who is familiar with the document. This is where the High Court steps in. The Notary will send the authenticated document to the High Court in their area of practice and the High Court will attach an Apostille legalising the Notary’s signature (thereby certifying the signature and seal of the Notary on the official (public) document).

But, an Apostille may never be used for the recognition of a document in the country where that document was issuedApostilles are strictly for the use of public documents abroad!

In addition, an Apostille may not be required if the laws, regulations, or practice in force in the country where the public document is to be used have abolished or simplified the requirement of an Apostille, or have exempted the document from any legalisation requirement. Such simplification or exemption may also result from a treaty or other agreement that is in force between the country where the public document is to be used and the country that issued it (e.g., some other Hague Conventions exempt documents from legalisation or any analogous formality, including an Apostille).

Remember – getting your documents Apostilled means that they are confirmed as legal documents in South Africa and they will be seen as such in the foreign country to which you travel.

Which countries require an Apostille?

Only countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention require an Apostille.

The Hague Conference (Apostille Convention) currently (as of March 2018) has 83 member countries, 82 States and 1 Regional Economic Integration Organization (as of March 2018). South Africa is one of the Apostille Convention countries. The other member countries can be found here.

Any country that is not a signatory to the Hague Convention does not require an Apostille. As such, these documents will instead have to be authenticated or legalised for use outside of South Africa.

What is the Hague Convention?

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction or Hague Abduction Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted by a parent from one member country to another. The Convention was concluded 25 October 1980 and entered into force between the signatories on 1 December 1983.

What documents can be Apostilled?

You can Apostille any public, legal document in South Africa. The kinds of documents that you will most likely be asked for if you are pursuing a job overseas include but are not limited to –

  1. Unabridged birth certificates;
  2. Marriage certificates;
  3. Police Clearance Certificates;
  4. Letters of No Impediment;
  5. Matric Certificates / Tertiary Degrees, Diplomas, Qualifications;
  6. Any document issued by the Department of Home Affairs;
  7. Powers of Attorney, and
  8. Degrees, Diplomas and Matriculation Certificates;

Note – matric certificates / tertiary degrees, diplomas or qualifications require verification from the Department of Higher Education or the Department of Basic Education prior to submission for the Apostille.

Who is allowed to Apostille documents?

There is only one place in South Africa that can Apostille documents and that is the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) in Pretoria.

What is the process?

The process to Apostille a document in South Africa is simple. Some of the issues you may face will relate to the verifying and authenticating of the documents you require prior to the actual Apostille process.

When you are in possession of your final documents to Apostille, they will need to be sent to the ‘Legalisation’ section at DIRCO. We can of course, assist you with this.

The processing time for documents is set out on the DIRCO site and is as follows –

  • 1 – 5 documents, next day collection
  • 6 – 19 documents, 3 working days
  • 20 or more documents, 5 working days

The Apostilled document is sealed with green ribbon, which must not be broken.

You mention legalising a document – what is that?

Legalisation, as defined by the High Court Act, is the verification of the signature on a document and is the process by which the signature and seal of the High Court is verified. Legalising documents means that official (public) documents executed within South Africa for use outside of South Africa are affixed, sealed and signed either with an Apostille Certificate (if the destination country is a signatory of the Hague Convention), or with a Certificate of Authentication (if the destination country is not a signatory of the Hague Convention).

To legalise a document (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. The documents will then be sent to the Embassy or Consulate of the country of use for their final authentication.

Is notarising a document different to an Apostille?

In a word – yes.

In summary –

Apostille certificates are a result of the Hague Convention that allows documents issued in one country to be accepted as official documents in another country. The authentication of public officials’ signatures on documents are made in order to be used outside South Africa.

Notarisation is the act of officially certifying a legal document by a public notary. The purpose of having a legal document notarised is to ensure the authenticity of the signatures that appear on the document. Notarised Documents are valid for use inside South Africa. Notarisation is always included in the Apostille, as it is a main requirement for obtaining the Apostille.

So having a document notarised will lead to it being Apostilled (if required).

If you are unsure of any of the above or require assistance with your Notarising, Legalisation or the Apostille processes, get in touch with Benaters today to see how we can assist you. We look forward to supporting you as you go through this process.

Article sourced from Benaters.

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
Shaun Benater
Shaun Benater

Hola, mi nombre es Shaun! Hi, my name is Shaun! I am a Spanish citizen by descent, tracing my heritage all the way back to 1492. I sat for my... Read more about Shaun Benater


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