Legalization (international law)

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Legalization of a civil status document: A Canadian document is certified at the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and subsequently by the consulate of the receiving state (in this case, the Netherlands)

In international law, legalization is the process of authenticating or certifying a legal document so a foreign country's legal system will recognize it as with full legal effect.[1]

Rationale and procedure[edit]

Authentication by legalization is widely used in international commerce and civil law matters in those jurisdictions where the simpler apostille system has not been adopted (e.g.: Canada, China).

Broadly speaking, the aim of any international document authentication process is to solve a fundamentally practical problem: how can civil and judicial officials reliably verify the authenticity of a document that was issued abroad? Legalization attempts to solve this dilemma by creating a chain of authentications, each by a progressively higher government authority so as to ultimately narrow the point of contact between countries to a single designated official (usually in the national department responsible for foreign affairs). Therefore, by authenticating the signature and seal of this final official a foreign jurisdiction can authenticate the entire chain of verifications back to the entity responsible for issuing the original document without scrutinizing each "link" individually.

Take for example John who wishes to obtain a divorce in Canada but got married in Brazil. Canadian law mandates that John must supply a copy of his marriage certificate in order to move ahead with divorce proceedings in that country. John's marriage certificate was issued by the local authority in his wife's hometown in the Brazilian countryside. It would be risky and impractical for Canadian judicial officials to seek confirmation about the authenticity of John's marriage certificate by attempting to liaise directly with the village government in Brazil.

The solution, then, is to have John submit his document to a controlled, sequential process of verification: legalization. The first step, in this example, is to have the certificate notarized by licensed Brazilian notary. The signature and seal of the notary are in turn attested to by the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations who also affix a stamp and signature to the marriage certificate. Finally, John brings the document to the Legalization Section of the Embassy of Canada to Brazil. Here Canadian consular officials verify the markings affixed to the document by the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations and affix their own, final, authentication formally recognizing the marriage certificate as legally effective for use in Canada.

Apostille Convention[edit]

The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents has supplanted legalization as the default procedure by a system of apostille. It is available if both the origin country of the document and the destination country are party to the treaty. The apostille is a stamp on which standard validating information is supplied. It is available (dependent on the document) from the competent authority of the origin country, and often the document has to be notarized before it can be apostilled. In the United States the Secretaries of State for the various states are the competent authorities who can apply an apostille. A list of the competent authorities designated by each country that has joined the treaty is maintained by the Hague Conference on Private International Law.


  1. ^ Council of the Notariats of the European Union. "Comparative Study on Authentication Instruments: National Provisions of Private Law, Circulation Mutual Recognition and Enforcement, Possible Legislative Initiative by the European Union" (PDF). Retrieved 26 January 2012.

External links[edit]