What’s An Apostille, And How Do I Get One?

Assuming, of course, that I even want one

Some time ago, I attended an event where I had the opportunity to listen to the concerns of expats.  One was patently clear.  People were concerned of what wrapping up their affairs be like, if they die while residing in Mexico.

One of the things that people discover when the time comes, is that local authorities will require documents such as birth, marriage or divorce certificates from your home country. In original, of course. But here comes the rub.

Let’s take a birth certificate.  In the United States, an original stands on its own, and requires no further authentication.  Outside of the United States, by itself, it can be just about useless. Enter the Apostille [uh-pos-til].

An Apostille is a certificate of authenticity issued by a designated authority in a country that recognizes the Hague Convention abolishing the requirement for legalization of foreign public documents is in force.

Apostilles authenticate the seals and signatures of officials on government documents such as birth certificates, notarials (affidavits), court orders, or any other document issued by a governement authority, so they can be recognized in foreign countries that are parties to the Convention. Mexico and the U.S. recognize documents with apostilles.  Sorry, Canada is not a member of the Convention and therefore has an even more complex procedure to get documents authenticated. Eh?

Each state in the United States has a procedure to issue apostilles to their own documents. In California, it’s all done by the Department of State. The document has to be sent or carried to their office, a fee paid, then the apostille is attached and returned to you. Federal government documents get apostilles by the US Department of State also.

You can see that this multiple step process can take quite a bit of time and hassle, which is precisely why I am a strong advocate for getting these documents apostilled ahead of time. I have come to learn that when those types of documents are needed, they are often needed right away.

Depending from where one needs an apostille, the cost varies.  Getting an apostille on my own birth certificate by the Puerto Rico Secretary of State cost $3.  Thanks Mom!

Orlando Gotay is a California licensed tax attorney (with a Master of Laws in taxation) admitted to practice before the IRS, the U.S. tax court and other taxing agencies.  His love of things Mexican has led him to devote part of his practice to the tax matters of U.S. expats in Mexico.  He can be reached at tax@orlandogotay.com.