Legalization Process Defined

Definition of Notarization, Apostille, Certification, Authentication, Attestation, Legalization?


These terms are used interchangeably when referring to a document to be used in another country other than the United States.  


Let’s start with the basic one, we will call this:

Step 1: Notarization; this term is used to describe the act of a notary public stamping/signing off on a document.  Notarized documents can be copy of original document or the original document(s).


Notarization is needed in order to obtain an Apostille/ certification/ authentication/ attestation/legalization of a document.


How to get notarization?  Some local banks have notaries often times free of charge if you bank with them. Local notaries (fees may apply) and even some UPS stores also have notary (fees may apply).  Make sure you tell your notary to place all appropriate seals and stamps.  (Improper notarization can cause document to be declined at the Secretary of State)


Note: For those already abroad, your nearest U.S Embassy may provide notary services (contact them in advance, they may require an appointment.)  Once notarized by the American Consul/Notary this document becomes a Federal document (and it can automatically be taken to the U.S Department of State in Washington D.C for Apostille /Authentication.  


Another Note: Documents that can obtain notarization can be personal documents like diplomas/transcripts/degrees/education certificates, either original or copies can be Apostilled. Power of attorneys, business documents, copies of driver license, passport and more. State/County issued documents like Birth, Marriage,  Divorce, Death certificate cannot and should not be notarized.  This also pertains to Federal Documents like FBI CBC report, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, Petition for Name Change etc.  If you need clarification wether your document can be notarize you can alway send us an e-mail ( or give us a call, we provide free quote/consolation on how to proceed.


Step 2: Apostille – is a certification page that is attached onto a document (which will be used overseas in countries that are part of the Hague Convention – a list of countries that participate in the Apostille certification.  This Apostille is provided by either the Secretary of State or the US Department of State (Depending on the document type) the certification paging includes; state name, notary name, and date, certification number, seal/stamps/ribbons (every state has a different).  


How to get Apostille?  For personal and state issued documents must be Apostilled by the Secretary of State. Federal documents belong to the U.S Department of State office in Washington D.C.  If you’re still confused, contact us. 


For the most part, once an Apostille is attached onto a document it is then legally ready to be used in a different country. (Unless the foreign country asks you for embassy legalization on the Apostille page, some (not all) embassies do stamp/legalize documents with Apostille page.)  Embassy legalization is when the country wants to confirm once more for authenticity. Not all countries ask for this but some will under special circumstances.


Step 2.1: Certification/authenticationis referred to a different certification (similar to an Apostille) page also provided by the Secretary of State, however this certification page is only acceptable in countries that are not part of the Hague convention.  This certification page alone is not acceptable in other countries without the authentication page by the U. S. Department of State and Embassy legalization. This Certification/authentication page is step 2 of the process


Step 3: Authentication – by the US Department of State this is another certification page which is on hard stock paper that is attached onto your documents that has the certification page (step 2.1) from the Secretary of State. Authentication by the U.S Department of State normally follows embassy legalization (see next step).


Step 4: Is the final step, Attestation or Embassy Legalization– is referred to when a document is taken to the embassy for the country in which the document will be used in to obtain the embassy stamp/consular signature to approve this document so it can be accepted in the that particular county.  For this to happen most embassies require certification from the Secretary of State (step 2.1) and  authentication by the US Department of State (step 3) 


Note: All embassies have specific requirements of documents and often times require supporting documents; contact us for specific details about your desired country. 

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