USA – When do I need to stamp with an Apostille?

Using an Apostille in the United States

More often than not, clients who have their documents notarised by us send their documents back to the US without doing anything further. However, on occasions some clients need to have their already notarised documents stamped with an apostille. So how do you know when you need an apostille and when you do not?

What is notarisation?

The act of notarisation is common place in the US. Notarisation or the role of a notary public in the US is similar to what a Justice of the Peace or Commissioner of Oaths is and what they would do in Australia. The act of notarising documents in Australia for use in the US generally means administering oaths or declarations, witnessing signatures or certifying copies of documents (amongst other things).

The US Consulate services lists our notary public on their website for notarising US documents – and sometimes that recognition has been sufficient in the US, however if you are signing documents for property transactions or dealing with the Internal Revenue Service or apparently any other federal government agency, you may need to have your notarised document stamped with an apostille.

What is an apostille?

Effectively, an apostille is a stamp from the Australian Government confirming that the document has been properly notarised. Countries that are member states to the Apostille Convention will recognise an apostille stamp issued by other member countries. In this context both Australia and the US are member countries of the Apostille Convention which means an apostille issued in Australia will be recognised in the US (and the reverse would apply as well).

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is responsible for issuing the apostille, which means if you have been asked to have your document stamped with an apostille it will also need to be submitted to DFAT for approval once it has bee notarised.

How do you get an apostille?

After we have notarised your document for you, and we can also arrange for your document to be stamped with an apostille from DFAT. DFAT have fixed processing times however if you need our assistance then we ask you to allow about 5 business days for notarised documents stamped with an apostille to be available for collection.

Not sure? Ask!

If in doubt, ask whoever you are sending your documents to. If they do not know, ask them to ask whoever they need to ask as well. Most government offices should be able to advise you whether they require an apostille or not – even if this is the first time you are going through this process, be sure those government offices have had to deal with this kind of situation (ie, their documents signed outside of the US) on many occasions before. It sounds simple, but not everyone will ask.

Unfortunately, we have had a number of cases when clients did not know they needed to have their documents stamped with an apostille, and no one was able to tell them until their document was later rejected because it lacked an apostille. In those cases, it was cheaper to have a new set of documents notarised and submitted to DFAT for the apostille than to have the rejected documents returned to Australia. While it can be fixed at a cost, the delay is irreversible. So the advice is to save your time and money and find out whether you need an apostille or not.