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Use of Documents Overseas

Whenever you need to use an official public document, which is signed in South Africa, overseas, the signature and authenticity of the document needs to be verified before other countries will accept it. Likewise, a document that was signed or created in a different country needs to be authenticated before you can use it in South Africa. 

A public document refers to documents such as a deed, certificate, court order or any other document or agreement. These documents will need to be signed before a notary or certified as a true copy/original by a notary before they can be authenticated for use in South Africa or abroad. This indicates that when executing these types of documents, the first step is to have it signed before or certified as a true copy by a notary (“notarized”), and then the second step is to have that notary’s signature authenticated for use abroad. 

How you go about authenticating a public document depends on the laws and regulations of the country it originated from as well as the country it is being used, however, if both countries are members of the Convention for the Abolition of the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (“the Convention”), you need to arrange for a certificate which is known as an “Apostille”. This is a swift process facilitated by a Notary within the country where the document is signed. This can be the same notary who notarized your documents. 

The Apostille certificate is uniform to all countries and is affixed to the document using a particular seal, stamp and ribbon to bind the pages. In order to have your documents Apostilled a notary will, after having taken the necessary steps to confirm the authenticity of the document, prepare the certificate certifying the document in the prescribed manner. The capacity of the Notary is then confirmed by a public official. In South Africa, the public official is generally a Registrar of the High Court. In situations where the document being authenticated is one issued by the Department of Home Affairs (ie: a passport, identity card or book, or birth certificate) then a designated official at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation may be required to attend to the Apostille. Once this is done, your document will be capable of being used outside of the country and vice versa

It is important to note that the authentication process must be done in the country where the document has been signed. For example, if you sign a Power of Attorney in Australia and want to use it in South Africa, you must have the Power of Attorney, notarized in Australia and then apostilled in Australia before you can use it in South Africa. 

South Africa became a member of the Convention on the 30th of April 1995, therefore we can use the Apostille process for authentication of documents that are going to be used in any other country that is a member of the Convention. There are currently 89 members of the Convention. The official list can be found at The Hague Conference on Private International Law’s website:


If you need to authenticate documents for use inside or outside South Africa where you are dealing with countries that are not members of the convention, a different procedure in terms of Rule 63 of the Uniform Rules of the High Court will apply. This procedure can take more time to attend to as they require the document to be authenticated by multiple officials who are often stationed in different parts of the country.

Regardless of the process being followed a Notary is necessary to attend to the initial authentication and facilitation of the additional steps. 

Please feel free to contact Mandy Simpson Attorneys should you require the authentication of a document for use inside or outside of South Africa and one of our Notaries will gladly assist you. 

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