It is often necessary to recognise and/or authenticate documents issued in a foreign country. This is the case of judgements (divorce judgements, for example), power of attorney, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, among others.
Portuguese law relied on diplomatic or consular bodies, establishing that these entities should legalise public acts drawn up in the foreign country where they were based. This process, however, often proved to be time-consuming and costly, considering, among other limitations, that diplomatic or consular entities are not always present in a given territory.
In order to facilitate the legalisation of documents concerning public acts done abroad, the Convention on the Abolition of the Requirement of Legalisation of Foreign Public Acts, of 5 October 1961, was adopted under the aegis of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. 120 countries, including Portugal, are parties to this Convention, commonly known as the Hague Apostille or Apostille.
What is an Apostille?
An Apostille is a certificate, issued by a Contracting State to the 1961 Hague Convention, in order to attest the authenticity of a public act, issued by that same State.
Through the Apostille, the Contracting State recognizes and certifies the signature and the quality in which the signatory of the public act acted, and, where appropriate, the authenticity of the respective seal or stamp – it does not, however, certify the content of the act, certifying only and exclusively its authenticity.
Apostilles may only be issued by a country that is a signatory to the Convention and for use in another country that is also a signatory to the Convention.
It should also be taken into account that whenever there is a treaty, convention, or agreement between two or more contracting States that contains special provisions making the recognition of signatures, seals, or stamps dependent on the completion of formalities that are less demanding than an Apostille, the Convention will not apply.
This is the case, for example, with certain judicial or administrative decisions issued by Member States of the European Union, which are directly recognised in another Member State without the need for an Apostille, by means of a special certificate provided for in European Regulations.
Shortly, it will only be possible to apostille a document if the following cumulative requirements are met:
- The document concerns a public act, in accordance with Article 1 of the Hague Convention on Apostille;
- The State where the public act was drawn up is a party to that Convention;
- The document is intended to be used in a foreign country that is also party to that Convention;
- The use of the document in a foreign legal system depends on that certification, and no other formalities are foreseen for that purpose in another treaty, convention or agreement.
Which documents can be apostilled?
As previously mentioned, public acts can be apostilled. Public acts, according to Art. 1 of the Hague Apostille Convention, are:
(a) documents issued by an authority or official dependent on any State jurisdiction – for example, acts issued by courts or registry offices;
(b) Administrative documents – for example, public educational establishments, town halls, parish councils, and public entities in general
(c) Notarial acts – i.e. any act performed by a Notary Public;
(d) Official declarations, such as registration statements, visas for a given date and recognition of signature, inserted in acts of a private nature – namely, acts of recognition/certification/authentication performed by lawyers and solicitors.
Where and how can I obtain an apostilled document?
In Portugal, the competent authorities for the purpose of issuing or verifying Apostille are the Attorney General of the Republic and, by delegation, the District Attorneys General of Oporto, Coimbra and Évora, as well as the Deputy Attorneys General posted with the Representatives for the Autonomous Regions of Madeira and the Azores. Currently, it is also possible to request an Apostille from the Guimarães Court of Appeal.
The Apostille may be requested by the interested party (petitioner) or by any other bearer of the public act (submitter), and may be done in person or by post. For that purpose, it is necessary to fill in a form, available at the services and online, at the Public Prosecution Service’s web page.
How much does it cost to obtain an apostilled document?
In Portugal, for the issue or verification of an Apostille, an amount of one tenth of a unit of account (CU), equivalent to EUR 10.20, is charged. However, individuals who can prove their economic insufficiency, through a document issued by the competent administrative authority or a declaration issued by a public social assistance institution, can benefit from this charge free of charge.