Many countries and employers require expatriates or international students to obtain what is called an Apostille or “Authentication of Documents” for Diplomas, Licenses, Contracts, and other legal papers.
Americans are generally familiar with the concept of Notarized documents, where you take your papers in to an official witness known as a notary (often in a bank or government office) to have them authenticate your signature on the papers. Apostilles involve a similar process wherein you are being asked to provide evidence that the document is legitimate and valid.
In a world of intricate and highly detailed technological capabilities, document and signature forgeries have become a constant concern for employers, official agencies, universities and other organizations that must deal in official and legal paperwork. The result is an assumed mistrust of documents until advanced verification and authentication methods are make. They need to sure that your documents are not fakes or unofficial copies.
In the old days, this often constituted getting an “unopened” copy with some type of seal or logo on the envelope. . . now it has advanced to requirements that state and federal governments attest to document validity.
Basically, the international standard for “verifying the legality of documents” is to have the State/Provincial and Federal government notarize or “certify them.” For Americans, this typically involves sending the original and a copy to your local state department, then send the notarized copy on to the United States federal government, and sometimes then to pass the final version on to the foreign nation’s embassy or official agency for ultimate approval.
Obviously, such a process is long and costly in terms of time and money; consequently, many countries worked together to develop and sign an agreement that you can bypass this process with a document called the “apostille.” The apostille will be provided by the state department and does not require the federal or international authorization. This breaks down the complex process into a single step at the local level for situations where both countries are members to the agreement.
Irregardless of whether you are getting the apostille or taking the longer route of document authentication, Americans always have to start with the State Department.
Below are links to the websites for each state where you can order document authentications and apostilles!
4. Arkansas (Rules)
9. District of Colombia
30. New Hampshire
31. New Jersey
32. New Mexico
33. New York
34. North Carolina
35. North Dakota
40. Rhode Island
41. South Carolina
42. South Dakota
49. West Virginia