South Africa – Apostille and Property Transactions

South AfricaLooking at buying or selling property in South Africa? It is likely that you will need the services of a notary public because documents, such as legal documents used in property transactions, signed in Australia but used in South Africa generally need to be notarised and sometimes also stamped with an apostille.

Why notarise?

Signing legal documents is a key part of any property transaction and traditionally, signatures must be witnessed. Different countries have different signing and witnessing requirements, but generally most countries accept notarisation as a way of verifying the identity of the person signing a legal document, especially if that person is signing in a foreign country.

If you have property in South Africa or have a property transaction in South Africa, but you live overseas – like in Australia, it is likely that you will also be asked to sign your legal documents, such as a power of attorney, in front of a notary public or travel to South Africa to sign your legal documents there. Due to the cost and inconvenience of travel, most people choose to sign their legal documents in front of a notary public – how about you?

Sometimes, depending on the type of legal document and where it will be used, your legal documents will also need to be stamped with an apostille after they have been notarised.

What is an apostille?

In Australia, an apostille is a stamp issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), verifying that a document has been properly notarised by a notary public or that it is an Australian government document. If it relates to your legal documents for your property transaction in South Africa, then it will probably need to be notarised by a notary public after they have witnessed you sign your legal documents in their presence before it can be stamped with an apostille.

An apostille will be recognised by other countries that are also signatories of an international treaty known as the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents or otherwise the Apostille Convention. Both Australia and South Africa are members of the Apostille Convention meaning that an apostille issued by either country will be recognised by the other. If your legal documents are notarised in Australia and stamped with an apostille from DFAT, then your legal documents should be recognised in South Africa.

For example, having your signed legal documents stamped with an apostille means that a notary public has verified your identity and witnessed your signature, and DFAT (on behalf of the Australian government) has verified the details, including the signature and seal, of the notary public. This chain of verification indirectly confirms to the relevant office in South Africa that you were the person who signed your legal documents. Sound simple enough?

Do all documents for South Africa need to be stamped with an apostille?

Check with whoever sent you your legal documents to be signed and notarised for the specific requirements of your transaction. Technically, all documents signed in Australia but used in South Africa should be notarsed and then stamped with an apostille. Although all clients generally have all of their documents notarised, practically very few arrange for the apostille and if they do, then it is only on one or two documents with no real consequence for their transaction.