What is an Apostille or Certification?
Both apostilles and certifications are used by foreign governments to assess the authenticity of an official signature on a document; the capacity in which the person signing the document acted; and the identity of any stamp or seal affixed to the document. When the Department of State authenticates a document with an apostille or certification, the department verifies that the person who signed the document is a Pennsylvania official and the Secretary of the Commonwealth has given "full faith and credit" to the official's seal and signature.
Since October 15, 1981, the United States has been part of the 1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents. The Convention provides for the simplified certification of public (including notarized) documents to be used in countries that have joined the Convention.
Under the Hague Convention, signatory countries have agreed to recognize public documents issued by other signatory countries if those public documents are authenticated by the attachment of an internationally recognized form of authentication known as an "apostille." The apostille ensures that public documents issued in one signatory country will be recognized as valid in another signatory country. Apostilles require no further diplomatic or consular legalization.
At this time the following countries and territories have accepted the Hague Convention:
List of countries and territories
For documents intended for use in countries which are not signatories to the Hague Convention, the Department of State attaches a certification. Note that unlike apostilles, which require no further legalization, certificates of authentication may require further diplomatic or consular legalization before being sent overseas. This may require further authentication by the U.S. Department of State and the Foreign Embassy of the country of intended use.
A certification performs the same duty as an apostille; however, its appearance and places of use are different.
Although apostilles and certification serve the same purpose, substituting one for the other will delay the use of your documents. It is essential that you inform the Department of State as to where the documents are to be used.
The apostilles and certifications issued by the Secretary of the Commonwealth are attached to the dossier document exclusively by means of a staple. This is the only procedure for attachment in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania state law and custom do not allow for the documents to be sewn, riveted, glued or attached together by ribbons. Pennsylvania also does not number pages or affix seals for purposes of sealing documents together. It is furthermore the understanding of this office that the 2003 Special Commission of the Hague Conference on Private International Law concerning the practical operation of the Hague Apostille Convention concluded that stapled documents meet the obligations of the Hague treaty.