Broadly speaking, legalisation is the process of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) confirming, by attaching an apostille certificate, that a signature (or seal or stamp) on a document matches those held on its own records. Legalisation is often an essential part of international commercial transactions and certain UK documents cannot be used in other jurisdictions until they have been legalised.
There was a premium same-day legalisation service operating in central London but as of 29 December 2023, it has now closed its doors. Here we will investigate the remaining UK legalisation services offered by the FCDO from its office in Milton Keynes (the “Legalisation Office”).
How can an apostille certificate be provided?
There are two ways for an apostille certificate to be provided:
- a paper apostille certificate for hard-copy documents submitted to the Legalisation Office (by post, or in the case of a business registered to use this service, in person); or
- an electronic e-Apostille certificate for electronic PDF documents.
It is important to confirm with the person or organisation requiring the apostille whether a paper apostille or an e-Apostille is required, as not all jurisdictions accept e-Apostilles and not all documents are eligible for an e-Apostille (for example, birth certificates).
It may be necessary to seek local legal advice in the relevant jurisdiction in relation to the use of e-Apostilles.
How quickly can I get a paper apostille?
That depends on how you apply for your document to be legalised.
The Legalisation Office provides a fast-track service for registered businesses, such as notaries and scrivener notaries falling within scope of the FCDO’s eligibility requirements. Documents submitted through the services of such a registered business will be processed on the next working day. There is also an option for a same-day service, but the FCDO must pre-approve this.
For the public and unregistered businesses, only the standard postal service is available. This usually takes up to five working days for the Legalisation Office to process, excluding the time for the documents to then be returned by courier or post.
How quickly can I get an e-Apostille?
An e-Apostille usually takes up to two working days and there’s no requirement to be a registered business to use this service.
The electronic document must be digitally signed by a UK notary public or solicitor using either an advanced or qualified electronic signature before it is uploaded to the FCDO in PDF format.
To date, there has been limited use of e-Apostilles but the closure of the London premium legalisation service, and the increasing digitalisation of transactions, may mean we will start to see an increase in their use.
There are certainly many benefits to using an e-Apostille: one e-Apostille can be provided to several organisations if needed, reducing costs, and there is no postage fee or delivery time to factor in.
While that is the case, unless you have confirmation that an e-Apostille will be accepted, a paper apostille is likely to continue to be the default option in most transactions. Following the closure of the premium London office, care will be needed to ensure that the transaction timetable is not impacted by the requirement for documents to be submitted to the Legalisation Office.
If you need assistance with arranging for a document to be legalised, please contact Alasdair Anderson or your usual Shepherd and Wedderburn contact.