The word “apostille” – also spelt “apostil” by some conventions – according to Black’s Law Dictionary, Gardiner B. A. editor (8th ed.; Thomson, 2004) at p. 105 derives from the French for “postscript” or “footnote” and is a term used in international law. It is defined as a “marginal note or observation” and especially a “standard certification provided under the Hague Convention for authenticating documents used in foreign countries.

Another term that may be used interchangeably with apostille is the “certificate of authority.” Under the aforementioned dictionary, this is defined at p. 239 as a “document authenticating a notarized document that is being sent to another jurisdiction” whereby the “certificate assures the out of state or foreign recipient that the notary public has a valid commission.” Oddly, the Butterworths Australian Legal Dictionary Nygh P. E. and Butt P. editors (LexisNexis Butterworths, 1997) does not have an entry on “apostille” or “apostil.”

The apostille ordinarily takes the form of a rubber stamp or seal applied to the notarial act, either on its face or on the obverse of the notarial certificate, is obtained in Australia through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The purpose of the apostille, as outlined above, is to convey to the overseas authority that the notary public who has created the notarial act (i.e. drafted  the notarial certificate or otherwise notarised a document) is in fact a legitimate notary public duly authorised to practice as a notary in the given jurisdiction. According to information published on the DFAT website,

Foreign governments sometimes need proof the signatures of Australian officials on documents are genuine before they can be accepted. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), through the Australian Passport Office in your capital city will certify that a signature, stamp or seal on an official Australian public document is genuine by checking it against a specimen held on file, and print or attach  a certificate in the form of an ‘authentication’ or an ‘apostille’ stating certain facts. The authentication or apostille is then signed by DFAT staff and sealed with a wet and a dry seal.
– “Apostilles, Authentications and Certificates of No Impediment to Marriage” Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (website) <dfat.gov.au> (undated, accessed 14 November 2015).

Other terms that have been commonly used in the place of “apostille” include:

  • Certificate of capacity;
  • Certificate of official character;
  • Certificate of authentication;
  • Certificate of prothonotary;
  • Certificate of magistracy; and
  • Verification.

Obtaining an apostille from DFAT will attract a fee the quantum of which is set and periodically reviewed by the Department. This fee is not part of the fees charged by the public notary and is an additional expense that will have to be met by the notary’s client. The notary public may offer to arrange for the notarized document to be served on DFAT for the application of the apostil. Alternatively, the client may assume responsibility himself for approaching DFAT for the apostil to be placed on the notarized document.

For more information on how you or your business can have your documents properly notarised for use overseas, see our section on Services Offered or contact a Sydney Notary Public on the details provided here. A mobile Public Notary can attend your office in the Sydney CBD and other regional metropolitan centres (such as Chatswood, Epping, Parramatta, North Sydney, Mosman, St Leonards) and in some circumstances other suburban locations. For more information see the section on Availability.

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