Certification, Notarisation, or Legalisation?

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As notary public experts, we are often asked to undertake certification, notarisation and legalisation of documents. In this article, we explain the differences between each and why you should always check exactly what is required with the requesting organisation or individual.

What is certification?

A certified copy is a copy of a document which has been certified as being a true, complete and up-to-date copy of the original document at a given date. Certification is achieved by a written statement to that effect, which is then signed and dated by the certifying person on the copy document, together with the firm address of that person. The certifying official must have been presented with the original document in order for certification to be undertaken.

In order to avoid losing the originals, education and degree certificates in support of university or job applications are common documents requiring certification. However, passports (including photographs for passport applications), visas and work permits, birth and marriage certificates and many other documents are regularly certified.

What is notarisation?

A notarised document is one where the identity and signature of the signatory has been verified by reference to original photographic identity documents and witnessed by a Notary Public at the time of signing. The document carrying the authenticated signature must be accompanied by an impression of the Notary Public’s stamp or seal to indicate that the document is that of the person who signed the document.

Document, declarations and deeds requiring notarisation can only be witnessed by a Notary Public. Notarisation is particularly common for use of documents aboard, where legal enforcement may be necessary or third parties require proof of authenticity. However, there are a number of documents (for example, a Power of Attorney) that must always be signed in the presence of a Notary Public.

What is legalisation?

Overseas organisations usually require legalisation of documents. This is the process whereby the Notary Public’s signature, stamp and seal are verified as being genuine. In Britain, legalisation is carried out by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). The process is completed by affixing a certificate known as an Apostille to the reverse of the document. In addition to the Apostille, further legalisation may be necessary through the destination country’s consulate or embassy.

Degree certificates, trade mark registrations, disclosure checks or Companies House documents are common examples of documents frequently requiring legalisation by overseas organisations.

Given the different procedures involved for certification, notarisation and legalisation noted above, it is important that you check exactly what is required by the organisation or particular destination country beforehand.

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