What is an Apostille?


what is an apostilleIf you are pursuing an international adoption for a Hague Convention country, you have no doubt heard the word “apostille”. An apostille is simply a form of authentication applied to documents for use overseas by the competent authority in the state where it was issued, usually your Secretary of State’s office. It is required for those countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961, Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization of Foreign Public Documents (Hague Apostille Convention). This international treaty simplified the authentication of public documents to be used in nations that are members of this convention. The United States is one of those countries. This list of countries that accept apostilles is maintained by the U.S. Secretary of State.

Once applied to your document, the apostille itself will appear as a legible signature of the official’s name, title and seal of the agency and certifies it as a “true copy”. You should never remove the seal which has been affixed to your document. If you do, the document will be rendered invalid. Examples of adoption documents that may have to be apostilled are home studies, marriage certificates, divorce certificates, birth certificates, criminal history checks, references, employment certification, deeds, psychological evaluations, home study updates and post adoption reports. Please note that this is not an inclusive list. An apostille can also be used to certify the good standing and authority of a notary public who has notarized a document.

A document with an Apostille from a State competent authority, such as from the Indiana Secretary of State, does not require additional certification from the U.S. Department of State or legalization by a U.S. Embassy or consulate overseas in order to be recognized by a Hague country. Generally, only documents signed by a U.S Federal Official, an American Consular officer, a Military Notary, Judge Advocate, or a foreign Consul diplomatic official registered with the State Department Office of Protocol will require a U.S. Department of State issued apostille. The U.S. State Department website provides general information about document authentications and apostilles.

If the country of intended use does not participate in the Hague Convention, you would simply “authenticate” or “certify” the document to be sent. You can obtain a Certificate of Incumbency or Certificate of Authority to permit the document to be recognized as valid in that nation. These certifications are intended for countries that are not party to the Hague Convention of 1961.

When taking a document to your Secretary of State’s office, it is suggested that you contact them first to assure you have included all required information needed to affix the apostille and that you are requesting an apostille for the correct type of document.  For example, the document to be apostilled may need to be an original, notarized, signed by an official, or be a certified copy. The requirements can vary depending upon the type of document requiring the authentication service. Documents written in a foreign language must be accompanied by a certified (notarized) English translation. Additionally, one state cannot apostille a document that was created by another state’s jurisdiction (i.e. a birth certificate). You will likely have to fill out a form for each apostille requested which will also list the country for which the document is being apostilled. There may be a small fee for each apostille. Finally, you should find out if the apostille requests can be done in person or if they need to be requested by mail. Each state has different procedures for this and they are usually listed on your Secretary of State’s website.

Apostilles can be confusing. If you find you need assistance with determining what documents need to have this type of authentication in order to complete your dossier or adoption, please contact your MLJ Adoptions Program team member for specific guidance on the requirements of the country from which you are adopting. We want to make your adoption journey as smooth as possible for you!

Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.