While your California birth or marriage certificate is automatically valid throughout the United States, if you want to use it in a foreign country, you'll need to provide the document with an apostille. An apostille is basically an endorsement that verifies the document was signed by a competent official. Foreign governments require an apostille to prove that a document is "official" and the signature has not been forged or doctored in any way.
The California Secretary of State's office provides apostilles for documents that are signed by a notary public or issued in the state of California.
What is a Seal of Apostille?
An apostille is a device created by the 1961 Hague Convention. It's basically a one-page certificate that verifies that the signature or stamp on a document is from a U.S. public official. It does not validate the contents of the document itself. All the signatories to the Hague Convention accept apostilles from other member countries, including the United States. If you're providing documents to a non-member country, the documents will have to go through a lengthier authentication process involving both U.S.-based officials and the embassy of the country where the document will be presented.
When Do You Need an Apostille?
Official certificates such as birth and marriage certificates, court documents such as divorce decrees and anything that's been signed by a notary public are the types of documents that can be issued with an apostille if they're going to be used in a foreign country. Company documents may also require an apostille if, for example, you're looking to set up a new branch abroad. Getting an apostille means the receiving country should accept the U.S. official's signature as true and valid without requesting further proof.
California Department of State Apostille
In California, apostilles are known as Authentication Certificates. The Secretary of State's office issues them for all documents that have been signed by a notary public or a public official in the state of California. To apply for an authentication, you'll need to mail the following documents to the Secretary of State's Sacramento office:
- The original document you wish to have authenticated
- A cover letter for the apostille request, stating the country in which the document will be used
- A check or money order for the fee, currently $20 per authentication, made payable to the Secretary of State
- A self-addressed envelope for the return mail
You can also deliver the documents in person to the Secretary of State's Los Angeles or Sacramento office locations – find addresses and opening hours on the website. The department's "processing times" web page can help you track the status of your application.
California Apostille Cover Letter Sample
The trickiest part of the application is drafting the cover letter to accompany your authentication request. While the California Secretary of State does not provide a template cover letter to support its apostille service, the Judicial Branch in California has made an order form which you can freely download and use.