International Authentication: Understanding the Apostille

What is an apostille? Simply put, an apostille is a method of authenticating documents, defined by treaty, for use in nations that are signatories to that 1961 Hague Convention treaty. Apostilles are therefore a means of international document authentication, and are increasingly important in a world that continues to become more and more connected through commerce. International adoptions, business transactions, and extensions of credit all often require obtaining an apostille. Presently, there are 105 member states that are signatories to this Hague Convention, including the United States and Mexico. Canada is not a signatory.

Prior to the 1961 treaty convention, international document authentication generally required strings of consular certifications, with the Department of State being the consular authority in the U.S. Since the treaty, member states may choose their own Competent Authorities (CAs) for issuing apostilles. In the United States, those CAs include each of the fifty state departments of state along with the US Department of State.

It is important to note that apostilles do not certify or authenticate the content or quality of the documents. Indeed, in 2009 the Hague Convention added language to apostilled documents that explicitly makes this point. Instead, apostilles only certify the signature on the document by comparing it to the signature that is on file for that signer.

Notarized documents, and official documents issued by some courts and certain administrative agencies are among the documents that are eligible for an apostille. Take care, however, as it is not always easy to know which documents require a notarized signature and which ones don’t. Additionally, some documents require translation, or an acknowledgment that they are a true and verified copy.

I hope this short explanation and review of the apostille proves helpful. This means of authentication has already become a very important part of facilitating international transactions in the modern world.

David Williams, J.D., is Chief Executive Officer of Presto Servers, Inc.  He can be reached by email at