The Future of Apostille stamps: E-Apostilles are here

WHAT IS AN E-APOSTILLE?

An E-Apostille is an electronic certificate issued by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)’s electronic Apostille program. The FCDO has been developing a conceptual model for a digital Apostille solution for several months. The FCDO now states that it has developed a model for a digital Apostille and now it’s here.

WHY ARE THEY BEING INTRODUCED?

In short, it is a modernisation of the current manual procedure. The administration hopes to streamline the process of legalisation by implementing electronic Apostilles. Not only will e-Apostilles save time by improving the pace of document handling, but they will also eliminate a considerable amount of paper consumption. If this plan is successful, traditional Apostilles may become obsolete.

Individuals will also appreciate increased security of documents as tampering with the document would invalidate it and trigger a warning that the document had been modified ultimately resulting in a rejection of the document being legalised. Additionally, quality of time will be cut as waiting times will be significantly reduced as postage will not be required on the standard service.

HOW WILL THEY BE PROCESSED?

The UK Foreign Office will issue an electronic Apostille to acceptable documents uploaded to their website that are supported by a digital signature by a UK notary public or solicitor.

The applicant will then be notified on how to view the e-Apostille.

Following submission of a document for legalisation to the FCDO, a quality assurance check is carried out whereby another officer checks for any errors or mistakes prior to sending the file to be finalised.

Upon completion of the legalisation from the Foreign Office, if a document were to have been rejected the application gateway will provide assistance pertaining to the reason it was unsuccessful in being legalised.

CAN ALL DOCUMENTS BE ISSUED WITH ONE?

For a submission of an application for an e-Apostille, the first requirement is that your document must be signed digitally by a UK solicitor or notary public. The document must be signed by using either an Advanced Electronic Signature (AES) or a Qualified Electronic Signature (QES). Simple electronic signatures are not acceptable as they fail to provide a guaranteed identity of the signatory.

At this point in time, the FCDO will be unable to accept certain documents for an e-Apostille. Unacceptable documents include a birth certificate, death certificate or marriage certificate issued by the General Register Office (GRO). Other documents not currently accepted include an Association of Chartered Certified Accountants

(ACCA) certificate, ACRO police certificate, Disclosure Barring Service (DBS – for England and Wales) certificate, Disclosure Certificate (For Scotland and Northern Ireland) or fingerprint certificates.

The aforementioned documents are not eligible for an e-Apostille because these documents can contain physical qualities that require viewing in the original format to verify its authenticity.

Prior to completing an e-Apostille you should check that the foreign recipient will accept an electronic Apostille. To confirm this, there are three factors that will need to be checked: whether digital documents with an electronic Apostille are accepted. Secondly, if an individual e-Apostille is needed for each document in the case of legalising two or more documents. Lastly, if an electronical signature from a UK solicitor or notary public is accepted.

HOW MUCH DO THEY COST?

Like traditional paper based Apostille stamps, the electronic Apostille stamp will be priced at £30 per document. However, unlike hard copy documents, there will be no need to pay for courier or postage costs.

HOW TO PROCEED AS A NOTARY PUBLIC/SOLICITOR?

A practising notary or solicitor will be required to digitally certify documents prior to them being submitted to the FCDO. Documents must be signed by using either a Qualified Electronic Signature (QES) or an Advanced Electronic Signature (AES).

It is crucial that when a document is being submitted for an e-Apostille it must contain an embedded Advanced or Qualified Electronic Signature of UK solicitor or notary.

One of the ways that a document can be e-signed is through DocuSign. This website allows individuals to sign documents electronically without the need of hard copy documents.

Once the soft copy of the document has been certified, they can then be submitted to the legalisation office to acquire an e-Apostille.

AES includes additional authentication steps:

  • produce and use valid document to confirm identity
  • unique access code after signing process
  • digital certificate to be generated and attached

These features allow AES to accomplish:

  • reliably identify signer
  • establish a unique link between signer and signature

A QES offers the highest level of trust through a face-to-face ID verification process by a Qualified Trust Service Provider - which may be from either the UK or EU – and the resulting digital certificate created with an electronic signature device.

WHAT COUNTRIES CURRENTLY ACCEPT E-APOSTILLES?

Currently, authorities in Italy, the Netherlands, Panama, and the Philippines will be accepting e-Apostille documents. With the current Hague Convention which has been signed by 124 parties, the requirement for legalisation for foreign public documents have been abolished.

Essentially, these countries only require the FCDO Apostille on documents without further embassy legalisation. The countries involved in this convention should also accept e-Apostille, although it should be confirmed with the party concerned whether or not they accept electronic Apostilles. Organisations and individuals can verify an Apostille via the government website using the reference number on the Apostille.

DOES THE E-APOSTILLE DIFFERENTIATE FROM THE TRADITIONAL APOSTILLE?

Below are samples of an e-Apostille and Apostille stamps. It is fairly identical to the traditional paper based Apostille stamp. The notable differences include the fact that the round FCDO stamp (found in number 9) will be affixed digitally alternative to the ink stamp and the embossed seal that goes over it will not be issued as it will not be required. Another distinguishing factor is that the signature (found in number 10) will have a digital signature of an official from the Foreign Office as opposed to a wet ink signature found on a paper Apostille. It will also state “this Apostille has been digitally signed” along with the time and date it was signed.

If you are a Notary Public or Solicitor, Aspire can assist you with setting up a a digital signature to ensure you can provide this service. As we move closer towards a blockchain network, it is imperative to have this set up.

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