Apostille and Certified Documents
Understanding the differences
To be honest, I don’t recall ever hearing the word, Apostille until Paul and I started the D7 residence visa process for Portugal. I also was unsure of the difference between a document that was Apostilled versus a document that was Certified.
So, if you’re wondering what an Apostilled document is and why it’s different than a Certified document, and why you may need one or the other or both if applying for residency in Portugal, this article may help clear up the confusion.
Apostille (pronounced ah-po-steel) is a French word for notation or certification. When applying for a residency permit in a foreign country, or when applying for dual citizenship, marriage in a foreign country, or for authenticating a document, an Apostille can often be used. An Apostille is a special certificate usually issued by the Secretary of State in whatever state a document originates from. The Apostille is a seal that is attached to the document. It serves as a verification that the document is authentic and legitimate.
Apostilled documents replace the often long and expensive legalization and authentication of public documents abroad. Apostilles are accepted in countries who are members of the Hague Apostille Convention which was established in 1961. The United States, Canada, and Portugal are among the members of the Convention. In the United States, the U.S. Department of State – Office of Authentication, as well as all 50 Secretaries of States are authorized to issue Apostilles. There are several million Apostilles issued globally each year.
Certified documents, also referred to as certified copies, are used to certify the authenticity of a vital record such as birth, marriage, and death certificates, or a divorce decree. Since the original vital record stays on file with the jurisdiction that issued it, the issuing agency is the only agency that can certify a copy of the document. So, for example, when you were born, your parents received a certified copy of your birth certificate and not the original one. Your original birth certificate remains on file with the jurisdiction that issued it.
Notarized documents are not to be confused with Certified documents or Apostilled documents. A notarized document simply verifies the identity and signature of the signer of the document. The notary witnesses the signature and stamps the document as proof.
When you might need a Certified Copy
There may be some instances where you might be required during the D7 residence application process for Portugal to have a document Certified, and you should check the application requirements in your respective VFS office or Consulate to be sure you have what is required.
For our VFS San Francisco D7 appointment, we had Certified copies of our birth certificates. I have heard where some VFS agents will ask for birth certificates. In our case, we were not asked but we did have them just in case.
How to obtain a Certified copy of a Vital Record
In the U.S., each state’s Department of State has different procedures for requesting a Certified copy of a vital record. To find out how to request a Certified copy of a vital record in your state, do a Google search using the term, “Certified Copy [name of state].”
Third Party Certified Copy Services
There are third party services that will manage Certified copies of documents and can often expedite the process. The fees are more than if you made a request through a Secretary of State’s office. (Note: Although we did use the following Certified Copy service and we were pleased with this company, this is not an endorsement. The resource is merely provided for the reader’s reference).
VitalChek - https://www.vitalchek.com/
When you might need an Apostille
There may be some instances where you might be required during the D7 residence application process for Portugal to have a document Apostilled, and you should check the application requirements in your respective VFS office or Consulate to be sure you have what is required. In our case, VFS San Francisco did not require any documents to be Apostilled. The exception would have been that if we had unsealed our FBI Criminal Background reports, we would have been required to have the reports Apostilled. We did not unseal the reports, so an Apostille was not necessary.
However, just to have on file in case we needed to prove our marriage, we did order Apostilled copies of our marriage certificate. We also ordered Certified copies. There have been occasions in the past where we were required to provide proof of marriage, so we decided to have both Apostilled and Certified copies just in case.
How to obtain an Apostille
In the U.S., each state has a competent authority to issue an Apostille. Here is a list of authorities by state (scroll down to Section III - Officers of the individual States and other subdivisions as indicated). Using our marriage certificate as an example, we were living in Arizona, but we were married in Rhode Island. We first requested a Certified copy of the marriage certificate in Rhode Island, then once we received that document, we sent it to the Rhode Island Department of State, Apostilles and Certifications division after filling out the application form and paying the service fee.
Third Party Apostille Services
There are third party services that will manage Apostilles and can often expedite the process. The fees are more than if you made a request through a Secretary of State’s office. (Note: This is not an endorsement of any third-party service. The resource is merely provided for the reader’s reference).
International Apostille Services - https://www.internationalapostille.com/
I hope this helps to clarify the differences between Apostille and Certified copies of documents.
Until next time…