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). The procedure of legalization (also known as attestation or authentication, though these are essentially the same process) can be simply split into three stages, though each stage can vary in the number of steps required:

  • Verification by the government of the issuing country
  • Verification by the embassy of the destination country within the issuing country
  • A final verification of all steps within the destination country itself

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.

For example, since Canada is not part of the apostille convention, an individual who wishes to use a Canadian document in Indonesia must first authenticate the document with the appropriate provincial authority or Global Affairs Canada, then send the authenticated document to be legalized at the appropriate Indonesian diplomatic post in Canada.[2]

This is not always the case vice versa, though. An individual who wishes to use an Indonesian document in Canada does not need to do any such thing, as Canada does not require authentication of foreign documents for their acceptance in the country.[3]

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.
  2. ^ Document Legalization, Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Vancouver, Canada.
  3. ^ Canada, Global Affairs (2021-10-05). "Authentication of documents: 1. Before you start". GAC. Retrieved 2021-10-10.

External links[edit]