What the heck is an apostille?

There are a lot of important documents that rarely see use. High school diplomas, marriage certificates, children’s birth certificates and many others sometimes hang on walls and sometimes lay filed away in drawers, but when the time comes to move abroad they may have an important role to play in the plans of families. They can’t be used as they are however, they must be legalized.

First off, it is important to understand why. You would think that documents like marriage certificates or children’s birth certificates are like passports: issued by authorities and globally accepted. This is not the case however, as for example a marriage certificate can be issued by multiple parties, and it is essential for a person’s legal protection that the party issuing the certificate has the right to do so under the laws of the country. This is proven by legalizing the document. This is not the same as notarization, even though this is often seen used. Legalizing and notarizing a document are two different things and meant for different documents.

The apostille is the most common way of legalizing such a document. It can be granted by an authority if the country has joined the 1961 Hague Convention. An apostille is a stamp or a separate document that is attached to for example a marriage certificate. For families and couples that have moved multiple times this may be challenging, as the apostille must be applied for in the country that issued the certificate. An apostille application may take time, so the process needs to be started early.

Another process entirely – even more complicated than the apostille – comes into play if the country is not a signatory in the Hague Convention. In this case the applicable process is Grand Legalization. Whereas it is enough to deal with one official to acquire the apostille, to acquire a Grand Legalization one has to deal with not only the foreign ministry of the issuing country, but also the local Finnish representative. In some cases these parties may be in different cities, even in different parts of the country.

In case a family has moved several times, the children may have been born in different countries, some of which may be so called apostille countries and some not. Such situations will certainly cause a spike in the family’s stress levels! An even greater challenge arises if a family or a couple arrive in Finland without legalized documents. This can happen for example when a company hires an EU-citizen. This is often considered effortless, but although it is significantly simpler than hiring from outside the EU, as we’ve seen here, it is not entirely hassle free either.

Dealing with bureaucracy is always its own adventure, and legalizing documents is but one part of it. It is highly encouraged to get started early!

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