One mistake many Californians make when trying to “legalize” or authenticate an official document for foreign use is to not check whether the country they are sending the documents to is one that accepts the more streamlined CA apostille process for authenticating their document or uses the older, more archaic style of legalization or certification. The older method needs to follow many of the steps the apostille system requires but also needs to be processed or legalized at a consulate in this country (and sometime in the receiving country) and possibly the State Department in Washington D.C. as well. About 100 countries use the apostille system and a little less than 100 countries do not.
The more civilized countries, in general, typically use the apostille system. Countries that run things with a little more of an iron-fist mentality or received a low grade in the “don’t play well with others” category–like China, Iraq, Iran, or North Korea–and did not sign the Hague Convention Treaty of 1961, use this antiquated system that puts people through the ringer to get a document properly certified for use in their country.
With the older system, in addition to getting something notarized and/or certified by the county clerk , and sometimes certified by the Secretary of State as well, you get to spend a good amount of your quality time at the consulate of the country you are sending the document to. While there, you have to carefully avoid any procedural minefields, such as not making the proper amount of required copies or having the wrong type of money order.
It’s a common occurrence at one of the US Brazilian consulates for people to wait on line for an hour or two only to find out that the consulate only accepts money orders, and, they have to be “postal money orders,” not bank or drugstore money orders. And, that’s always especially good to find out when it’s a US Federal Holiday and the post office is closed that day…so you have to come back on another day and start all over. They also have miniscule 2″ x 3″ cards pasted in hard-to-see areas that announce that “no cell phone are permitted” and the administrators, straight out of the movie Midnight Express, relish the opportunity to chastise anyone breaking their rule. Even more comical, is that some rooms at this consulate have no signs about cell phones being prohibited and you are supposed to know this by being psychic.
If you want to confirm whether you will be spared this kind of abuse and whether the country you need to send your documents to uses the apostille system instead, click on this link: Apostille countries. Of course, just to be fair, there are some very nice consulates, usually the smaller ones, that do not make a sport of ruining your day.
*Documents that need to go through some type of legalization process usually are public or official documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, powers of attorney, certificates of incorporation and notarized copies of affidavits related to IDs or bank statements that are used to corroborate some aspect of your identity or personal or financial information about you. By validating the signatures of the public officials included in the documents, the various government seals give the receiving authority of your documents some reassurance that the documents are valid (even though their signoffs don’t guarantee the accuracy of the contents of the document).
**The precise legalization path that documents being apostilled need to take varies by document type. For example, birth certificates don’t get notarized, while powers of attorney documents do. Birth certificates typically need to be certified by a county clerk, while notarized powers of attorney can usually be authenticated by a country clerk or a Secretary of State. It can be beneficial to use an apostille service with some expertise in this area to determine the precise path your document needs to take.