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Foreign countries may require documents to be authenticated in order to be accepted in the foreign jurisdiction. Authenticating a document verifies the document’s source so foreign countries can be sure the document is not fake. The traditional method for authenticating documents to be used overseas is called legalization.

Learn more at: http://registrar.tamu.edu/Registrar/media/REGI_SpecPDFDocs/ABCs-of-Apostilles.pdf

This article discusses the apostille procedure and the full legalization procedure for documents issued in Maryland.  Each state determines their own apostille and legalization procedures, and you should check with the appropriate authorities in that state.  A roster of Secretaries of State and links to each state’s Secretary of State website can be found here, at http://www.nass.org/about-nass/alt-roster-2016/.

General Information on Legalization:

A legalization is made up of a chain of official authentications of the document and can be slow and costly.  Because of this, numerous countries agreed to simplify the process, which created the 1961 Hague Convention abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents. The convention reduces the process to a single authentication: an authentication certificate (an apostille) issued by an authority designated by the country where the document was issued.

Learn more at: https://assets.hcch.net/docs/6dd54368-bebd-4b10-a078-0a92e5bca40a.pdf

Determine if You Need an Apostille or Full Legalization

Do you need documents legalized?

The most typical circumstances for seeking an apostille or a full legalization include:

  • Studying, teaching or working abroad;
  • Dual citizenship procedures;
  • Marriages in another country; and
  • Foreign burial of the deceased. 

However, some countries may not require certain documents to be legalized.  If you are unsure, you should check with the intended recipient of your document on their legalization requirements.

What country do you plan to use the documents in?

If you do need documents legalized, whether you need a full legalization or an apostille depends on which country issued the document and which country you want to use the document in.  Apostilles can only be issued for documents that (a) were issued in a country that signed the Hague Convention and (b) are to be used in a different country which also signed the convention.

Learn more at: https://assets.hcch.net/docs/6dd54368-bebd-4b10-a078-0a92e5bca40a.pdf

You can check here to determine if the country you will use the document in accepts apostilles: https://www.gsccca.org/notary-and-apostilles/apostilles/hague-apostille-country-list.   

Countries that are not signatories to the Hague Convention may require the full legalization.  

What type of document are you getting legalized?

There are three primary types of documents that require authentications: private documents (individual or corporate); state/county-issued documents; and federally-issued documents.

Learn more at: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal-considerations/judicial/authentication-of-documents/authentication-certificate-requirements.html

The type of document determines which authority is designated to authenticate or apostille the document.

Private Documents:

Private documents can be personal (example: Power of Attorney) or corporate (example: Articles of Incorporation) and may be issued an authentication or apostille by a designated authority, general the state Secretary of State’s office.

Examples of commonly authenticated private documents are listed below.

  • Affidavits 
  • Agreements 
  • Articles of Incorporation 
  • Bylaws 
  • Commercial Invoices 
  • Copy of a U.S. Passport (identification page only) 
  • Deeds of Assignment
  • Diplomas 
  • Home Study 
  • Income Verification 
  • Powers-of-Attorney 
  • Single Status 
  • Transcripts 
  • Other business documents

State/County-Issued Documents:

State/county-issued documents may be issued an authentication or apostille by a designated authority, generally the state Secretary of State’s office.

Examples of commonly apostilled and authenticated state/county-issued documents include:

  • Birth Certificates 
  • Marriage Certificates 
  • Death Certificates
  • Divorce Decrees 
  • Probate Wills 
  • Judgments in state court cases
Learn more at: https://www.hcch.net/en/states/authorities/details3/?aid=353

Federally-Issued Documents:

Federally-issued documents are documents signed by:

  • U.S. Federal Officer
  • American Consular Officer
  • Military Notary
  • Judge Advocate
  • Foreign Consul Diplomatic Official registered with the State Department Office of Protocol


Determine what particular apostille or authentication process you must follow.

If a private or state/county-issued document, determine which state and department the document was issued in, as applicable. This article will discuss Maryland’s apostille and full legalization processes.  Please note that as each state determines their own apostille and legalization procedures, you should check with the appropriate authorities in that state.  Most state’s Secretary of State websites list their state-specific requirements for an apostille. 

If a federally-issued document, determine which federal department issued the document. There is one standard way to authenticate or apostille federally-issued documents.  This process is described here

 

Maryland Apostille and Full Legalization Processes:

For Private Documents originating in Maryland:

1.  The document must be notarized by a Maryland notary.

2.  The notary’s signature is then authenticated by the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the county where the notary was commissioned. The county’s name can be found imprinted on the notary’s seal. 

EXAMPLE: If a Baltimore City notary notarizes the document, the document must then be sent to the Baltimore City Circuit Court house for authentication because that is where the notary was commissioned. 

Note: If the document was certified by a Circuit Court clerk other than the current clerk of the Circuit Court, call the Office of the Secretary of State at 410-974-5521 to confirm that the document can be apostilled.

3.  The document then must be mailed or personally delivered to the Office of the Secretary of State in Annapolis for an apostille or authentication. For cost, requirements and address, please see below.

4.  If the document requires an apostille, this is the last step.  For private documents, the Secretary of State issues an apostille and the document is now ready to be used in foreign jurisdictions. [14]

5.  For a full legalization, the document then must be mailed or personally delivered to the U.S. Department of State Authentications office in Washington, D.C. for an authentication.  For cost, requirements and address, please see below.

6.  The document then must be mailed or personally delivered to the foreign country’s consulate office for the final authentication.  Costs, requirements and addresses vary depending on the consulate.

Learn more at: http://sos.maryland.gov/Certifications/Pages/default.aspx and https://www.hcch.net/en/states/authorities/details3/?aid=353

For Maryland State/County-Issued Documents:

1.  Obtain a certified original document or a certified copy from the issuing state or county department. To be certified, the document must have the seal and authorized signature of the issuing department. 

2.  The document then must be mailed or personally delivered to the Office of the Secretary of State in Annapolis for an apostille or authentication. For cost, requirements and address, please see below.

If the document requires an apostille, this is the last step.  For state-/county-issued documents, the Secretary of State issues an apostille and the document is now ready to be used in foreign jurisdictions.

3.  For a full legalization, the document then must be mailed or personally delivered to the U.S. Department of State Authentications office in Washington, D.C. for an authentication.  For cost, requirements and address, please see below.

4.  The document then must be mailed or personally delivered to the foreign country’s consulate office for the final authentication.  Costs, requirements and addresses vary depending on the consulate.

Learn  more at: http://sos.maryland.gov/Certifications/Pages/default.aspx
and https://www.hcch.net/en/states/authorities/details3/?aid=353

Requirements, Costs and Addresses

The Maryland Secretary of State can be reached at:

16 Francis Street
Wineland Building, 1st Fl.
Annapolis, MD 21401

Telephone:410-974-5521

Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30am – 12:00pm; 12:30pm – 4:00pm

An authentication of a document is $2 (whether for an apostille or a full legalization). The fee must be paid by U.S. check or U.S. money order, made out to “Secretary of State” or “S.O.S.”

If the certification is completed by mail, you must include the following:

1.  Check or money order for total cost of the apostilled document(s)

  • The check may be a personal check, a cashier’s check, or a business check, made out to the “Secretary of State” (or “S.O.S.”)
  • If you are overseas and require a Maryland apostille, it may be helpful to obtain a cashier’s check in U.S. currency at your nearest foreign bank.

2.  Cover letter indicating which country the document(s) will be used for.

3.  Self-addressed, pre-paid envelope for the return of the apostilled document(s).

  • Fed Ex, UPS, and Certified Mail are all accepted methods for sending and returning documents.

If the certification is completed in person, any form of payment is accepted: personal, cashier’s or business check, money order, cash, and credit cards with a minimum charge of $10.00. Certifications are typically completed while you wait.

Learn more at: http://sos.maryland.gov/Certifications/Pages/default.aspx

Model Apostille

The apostille Convention has issued a Model apostille Certificate (see image below), but not all apostilles look exactly like the Model Certificate.

An apostille can be placed on the document itself or on a separate page.   (The separate page is called an allonge). Apostilles may be affixed with adhesives, rubber stamps, and seals.

Additional Resources

  • The apostille Section of the Hague Convention website lists Competent Authorities and costs (if known) for any country that is party to the Convention; the website also provides a host of additional useful resources related to apostilles.
  • Adams, James W. The Apostille in the 21st Century: International Document Certification and Verification. 34 Houston Journal of International Law. 519 (2012).
  • Apostille Prescribed by the Hague Convention. 6C Nichols Cyclopedia of Legal Forms §139:13.

Source: 

Robert S. McLaughlin, Ryan Steidl, and Jonathan W. Tippens, Practicing pursuant to Rule 16 of the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar of Maryland – University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law (Summer 2014); Expanded and edited by Miranda D. Russell (December 2016).

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