Singapore became a party to the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (the Apostille Convention) in January 2021, with full effect from 16 September 2021. The Apostille Convention simplifies the process by which official documents in one member country can be recognised for legal purposes in another member country. Singapore joins more than 120 other countries as members of the Apostille Convention.
The apostille replaces legalisation when both the originating country and the receiving country are members of the Apostille Convention. Like the apostille process, the legalisation process specifies how legal documents (such as court records, property records and notarised documents) from one country must be certified for use in another country. Unlike apostilles, which are issued according to an international standard process, each country independently determines its own legalisation process.
The legalisation process typically requires certifications by several different government offices, including the foreign ministries of both the originating country and the receiving country. For example, the steps to legalise a diploma issued by a university in New York, USA, for use in Singapore would require certification by an official of the institution, notarisation of the official’s signature, certification of the notarisation by a New York county or state official, authentication by the New York Department of State and, previously, authentication by the US Department of State and legalisation by the Embassy of Singapore in Washington, DC. The time and expense involved, particularly the final two steps, would have been substantial.
In contrast, the apostille process for the same document eliminates the last two national government steps and substitutes an apostille for the certificate of authentication issued by the New York Department of State.
Singapore implements the Apostille Convention through the Apostille Act 2020 (the Act) and its regulations. The Act provides that “[l]egalisation is not required, and may not be performed, in relation to a foreign public document” despite any rule of law to the contrary. The Act defines legalisation as “the formality by which the diplomatic or consular agents of Singapore certify the origin of a foreign public document”. A foreign public document includes:
An apostille may be a small physical certificate or in electronic form. The presence of an apostille on or attached to a foreign public document creates a presumption that:
have been proven. That presumption can be overcome by proving facts to the contrary or that the formalities of the Apostille Convention have not been followed. An apostille does not certify the authenticity of the document or its contents.
Only ‘competent authorities’ designated by a member country are authorised to issue apostilles. Currently, the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) is the only competent authority in Singapore. SAL issues apostilles for all Singapore public documents to be used in foreign countries, whether or not they are members of the Apostille Convention. Documents intended for use in countries that are not members of the Apostille Convention will still require legalisation according to the requirements of the respective countries. SAL is also responsible for legalising documents for use in Singapore that are from foreign countries that are not members of the Apostille Convention.
Singapore’s membership in the Apostille Convention will reduce the time, cost and complexity of certifying Singapore public documents for use in other member countries and of using foreign public documents from other member countries in Singapore.
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Disclaimer: This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice.