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The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents is one of a series of conventions of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. Signed on October 5, 1961, it stipulates protocols through which a certificate can be authorized for legal purposes in signatory states. This certification is called an “apostille,” an international certification similar to notarization, appending documents that have been signed by a notary, lawyer or public official, such as the clerk of a court of record in their official capacity.
The title of the convention itself seems incredibly self-contradictory as it does not “abolish” this requirement of “legalisation” –it creates it- by presuming that an incontestable official document and in fact the very legal systems and government offices which produced it, are somehow questionable:
A vault copy or long form Birth Certificate issued by, and with all the official seals and signatures of the Department of Health and Hygiene, (in my case of the City of New York) and accompanied by a Letter of Exemplification, in turn certifying the authenticity of the birth certificate, a sworn statement, again signed by and bearing the embossed seal of the City Registrar of the Office of Vital Records, of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene of the City of New York, should, by any reasonable consideration, be regarded as a legally conclusive document anywhere in the world, much as a passport is and as was the case prior to this convention. An apostille can only be done in the country in which the document was originally produced. In order to be able to process the apostille, this vault copy of the birth certificate, along with letter of exemplification must both be notarized by a Civil Court County Clerk in the United States, (U.S. Embassies do not provide this service), before it can be received and again sent to the New York State Department of State for the apostille, (after which, an official and certified translation of all these documents to the local language is of course required.) Fees for obtaining these documents from the U.S. are reasonable, ranging from $3.00 – $15.00, but having the necessary bank cheque drawn up in Greece adds another €40.00 to each payment.
Official activities such as applying for dual citizenship, or simply getting married, now require an apostille, sometimes called “legalization” or “validation”, for a birth certificate, the only true function of which is to confirm that the signature of the Vital Records official is indeed not falsified! So, a bizarre succession of certificates which certify other certificates is put into play, and all this to eventually satisfy European governments that I really and truly was born in the U.S. (Wow, why not do the same with passports?) The time, effort and expense required to produce and process such documentation is obviously exhaustive, so if you are American, or of a different nationality than the country in which you reside, and want to get married, or acquire the nationality of that country, prepare for the hassle of your life regarding bureaucracy. Here, I have only discussed the legal requirements as they apply to the United States Birth Certificate, but be assured that the internal bureaucratic workings of European governments are no less challenging and a (certified?!) certificate of birth is just one of the many requirements.


Vion Sandor