Apostilling Verification with an apostil, or proving the authenticity of an official document for the purpose of using it in a foreign state, is necessitated evermore as people move around in the world. An apostil may be provided for a school diploma, for example, or a medical certificate. Below you will find relevant information concerning the need for the use of identification documents outside Estonia.

Apostilling requirements involve that the document include correct data on the following:

  • given and surname of the official who has issued the document,
  • signature,
  • office,
  • seal/stamp of institution thereof.

Without these data, the document may not be verified with an apostil. If it is necessary to verify older documents (such as those issued in the Soviet Union), presentation of data has to be checked with utmost scrutiny. If there are data missing or persons misinformed, a new document will be required from the institution thereof.

Verification pertains only to official documents, in the case of private documents, it is only required if those include a notarial certificate, authentication or certificate of translation by a sworn translator. Official or public documents are those issued by institutions (such as ministries) and officials (such as a notary, bailiff, sworn translator). Official verification is not required for documents that are directly related to commercial or customs procedure, or which have been issued by a diplomatic or consular representative. In the case of driver’s licences there is a separate agreement which exempts these from need of verification with an apostil or any other legalisation procedure.

In verification with an apostil, there is a difference depending on whether the document is a permanent one (passport, marriage certificate) or a single-use document (medical certificate, statement from commercial register).

  • Permanent documents are first verified as to the original, from which a copy is issued, the authenticity of which must be certified by a notary.
  • Single-use documents do not require a copy, apostilling of the original is sufficient.

The need for translation depends on the requirements in the particular country. The Republic of Estonia generally accepts English-language documents issued by a foreign state, and may not necessarily require a translation thereof. Documents do not need to be apostilled if these are to be used in a country with which Estonia has entered into a legal assistance contract. Thus, Estonian documents used in Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia or Poland do not require verification.

The simplest way to verify your documents is to submit these to a translation agency that in turn forwards the task to a sworn translator. The latter has the right to certify a document with his/her signature without requiring the services of a notary. Sworn translators also carry responsibility that the documents are apostilled by a competent institution. One does not have to spend time on running from one office to another, instead the submitted documents are received as verified and translated by one person.

Naturally, one may in the morning directly address an institution providing certification or authentication, and generally, the documents will be returned by the same afternoon. Documents can also be apostilled via mail by sending all the required documents to the relevant institution and paying the state fee via Internet bank. In that case, however, the documents will be returned after one week approximately. Apostilling of a document entails the state fee and if the procedure is performed by a translation agency, there will be an additional charge.

As the apostilling procedure may often cause confusion, it is expedient to ask for additional information.

Apostilling or legalisation

Apostilling and legalisation are essentially one and the same; in both cases an authorised institution verifies the authenticity of a document. However, the latter is a more time-consuming process. The process of legalisation comprises the following:

  • First the document is confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
  • Thereafter the Ministry of Foreign Affairs forwards the document to a corresponding institution of a foreign country (usually also a Ministry of Foreign Affairs), where it will be approved;
  • The document will be qualified for use only after both countries have provided legalisation certificates.

Confirmation is only valid in the foreign state where the authenticity of the document was verified. If the same document needs to be used in another foreign country, it will have to be sent to that country. As this is clearly a time-consuming process, an agreement was concluded in the Hague in 1961, pursuant to which the countries that joined the Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents do not have to legalise documents between themselves. For example, a document issued in Estonia that needs to be used in Finland only requires an apostil.

Attaching translation to document

Attaching to and confirming a document translation differs a little depending on the particular document. If it is an official document, a copy should initially be prepared, which is confirmed by the Ministry of Justice. Thereafter the copy will be given to a sworn translator who verifies the authenticity of both the translation and the document. In that case the copy, the apostil as well as the translation can be used in a foreign state.

Whether a translation needs to be apostilled separately depends on the requirements of the foreign country and this needs to be investigated beforehand. In the case of single-use documents, the original must first be verified with an apostil, then the document is translated and an apostil attached to the original because usually the apostil is required, not only the translation. Private documents are first submitted to translation and apostilling will be the last procedure.

Refusing to apostil a document

In certain cases it is possible that an institution refuses to apostil a document. Therefore, it is recommended to ensure that the presented document does not have any of the following deficiencies:

  • Document is damaged (creased, soiled in water, torn, etc.);
  • Document is not valid;
  • Document cannot be amended by a person that has no such authorisation or competency.

Apostilling may be refused also when it is not required in the existence of a legal assistance contract or when the particular institution lacks the competence to handle such a document. In the latter case one should address a competent authority.

Competence of institutions in apostilling

To make the work of institutions simpler, each institution carries out the apostilling of documents in their own area of activity. The areas of competence of institutions have been provided in the electronic version of “Riigi Teataja” under the regulation "Eesti avaliku dokumendi tunnistusega (apostille'ga) kinnitamise kord ja tunnistuste (apostille'de) andmise registri pidamine " (Procedure of verifying public documents issued by the Republic of Estonia (apostilling) and maintenance of a register of verifications (apostils) issued) (https://www.riigiteataja.ee/ert/act.jsp?id=12943815)

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