Immigration LawInvestments in Italy

Documents and Certificates Between Italy and foreign countries: The Apostille

what is apostille

If you are coming to Italy from outside, you can have foreign documents that need to be translated and institutionally validated. The Italian legal system, as other European countries, include the so-called apostille for certificates like:

  • birth
  • marriage
  • death
  • high school diploma
  • university degree
  • property ownership
  • deeds of sale

All the documents that are registered and drafted abroad need a document that certifies the signature from a valid authority from the country of origin.

What is an Apostille?

The apostille is a special way to give legal validity to documents. It is a stamp/seal affixed to documents or certifications issued by foreign authorities in order to certify their authenticity and make them valid in the country where the document must be produced: in the most common cases we deal with, from the United States/UK to Italy and vice versa.

When dealing with legal documents in countries in which you are not a citizen, you may have to obtain an Apostille. So, if you are working with legal documents in Italy as a citizen of the U.S. (or in the U.S. as a citizen of Italy), this is the process you will undergo. 

Where is it valid?

The apostille procedure is valid for all members of the European Union and almost all members of The Hague Conference on Private International Law  (October 5, 1961) – with only ten countries excluded. Since this convention, the need for legalization of documents from abroad is replaced by the affixing of an apostille. By virtue of special agreements, it is not necessary to affix the apostille or to legalize documents issued by: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia. To know which countries have ratified the aforementioned Convention, you can download now our comprehensive Pdf below:

Understanding Apostilles: Definition and Use

An apostille verifies the signature of public documents, authenticates the capacity of the signatory, and validates the seal or stamp on the document.

Apostille vs Postille

When discussing whether to use the term “Apostille” or “Postille,” it is more common to see “Apostille,” as that is the term that was agreed upon at the Hague Convention. The Apostille is typically the stamp or a seal on a certificate.

What does an Apostille include?

An Apostille certificate always includes the following information:

  • Country of affixation
  • Name of the official who signed the original document
  • Capacity in which they have acted
  • Identification of seal or stamp
  • Place where it is affixed
  • Issuance date
  • Issuing authority’s name
  • Apostille registration number
  • Stamp or seal of the authority
  • Signature of the authority’s representative
what is apostille italy usa

Achieving International Validity for an Italian Apostille

In order for a document to be apostilled in Italy, the public official that is on file with the government office in the issuing country of the document is required to sign. Thus, it is not possible to apostille a private or unsigned document. Based on document type, the organization accountable for issuing an Apostille can differ.

Apostilles in Italy

In Italy, there are primarily two authorities designated to affix the Apostille to a public document issued by an Italian authority:

  • The Prefecture
  • The Prosecutor’s Office

The Prefecture

For an Italian Prefecture to apostille a document, it is essential to have a handwritten signature by a public official whose signature is on file.

In Italy, the Prefecture is where you would take documents such as:

  • Documents issued by municipalities
  • Documents issued by Chambers of Commerce
  • Documents from public universities
  • Documents from schools
  • Certificates from ministries

These are all documents that have not been issued by judicial authorities. In the case that a document has been issued by a judicial authority, you would have it apostilled at the Prosecutor’s Office. 

Territorial Requirements

In order to comply with the territorial requirements for apostilling documents, you must ensure that the Prefecture is located in the same place as the entity in which the document was originally issued. To demonstrate, a birth certificate that was issued in Florence must be apostilled by the Prefecture of Florence, and it cannot be done elsewhere.

However, if the individual is living in a city that is not close to the original issuance location, they are able to acquire a certified copy in their new city. Only then can they get the document apostilled at the local Prefecture.

Apostilles at the Prosecutor’s Office

When a document does not qualify to be apostilled at the Prefecture, the Prosecutor’s Office is where you will take it.

Documents to be apostilled at the Prosecutor’s Office include:

  • Documents signed by a court official
  • Certificates of outstanding charges
  • Criminal record certificates
  • Certified Translations
  • Notarial Acts

What is an Apostille Agent?

To make the Apostille process smoother, you can appoint Apostille agents. So, what is an Apostille agent? To put it simply, an Apostille agent can be utilized by an individual or business to help them as they navigate through the Apostille process, ensuring that their documents are valid for international use. Apostille agents are lawyers and attorneys who have experience handling different regulations for various countries, and they can streamline the process.  

ILF – Italy Law Firms, with its offices in Rome, Florence and Viareggio/Lucca can help you solve all your legal needs.

Notarized vs Apostille

An Apostille serves a similar purpose as a notary, but what distinguishes when something needs notarized vs Apostille? While a notary verifies the authenticity of signatures on documents to be used within a single country, an Apostille can be used to authenticate documents for international use. The Apostille certificate is simply attached to the original document and validated with an official stamp or seal, which is the Apostille itself.

Where Can You Use an Apostille?

The scenarios in which you may be required to obtain an Apostille can vary. Some examples  potentially requiring an Apostille are international adoption, educational documents, and marriage abroad, among others. You may also find that you need a naturalization certificate Apostille or an Apostille passport copy.

The Hague Convention and Apostilles go hand in hand. In essence, the Hague Convention simplifies the process of authenticating documents for countries who are involved. The Hague Convention countries are those countries that require an Apostille. In the case of Italy and the United States, both countries are Hague Convention countries, so an Apostille is appropriate for use.

Countries that are not a part of the Hague Convention often require legalization. For example, if you need to submit a legal document in Canada as a United States citizen, you must get the document legalized.

Differences Between an Apostille and Legalization

It is important to not confuse an Apostille with legalization. The most distinct difference between an Apostille and legalization is where each one is utilized. While both are used to authenticate documents, legalization is a longer, more challenging process. In addition, there are limited countries in which an Apostille can be used.

Compared to an Apostille, legalization is a broader concept. You must undergo the process of legalization in the event that you are in a country that has not signed the Hague Convention. Unlike the straightforward process of obtaining an Apostille, legalization requires involvement with multiple authorities. The two processes may start the same, but legalization turns out to be more involved and complex.

Legalization Process

  1. Notarization and Certificate: The document must be taken to a public notary to receive notarization.
  2. Authentication from the State: The document must be authenticated at the state level.
  3. Authentication Certificate: The previously authenticated document must then be submitted to the U.S. Department of State.
  4. Final validation: The document must finally be submitted to the consulate or embassy in the country of use for final validation.

After comparing the processes, it becomes clear that legalization is more involved and complex than the process of acquiring an Apostille. As mentioned previously, both are used to authenticate documents in foreign countries. Countries that have signed the Hague Convention allow a simplified process, which is getting an Apostille, and countries that have not signed require the more complicated process of legalization. 

Documents Required

When applying for an Apostille in a different country, the documentation to be apostilled must be submitted by filling out the appropriate form provided. The interested party or a delegate does not need a prior appointment. To enhance the accuracy and legal compliance of the submission, it is highly recommended to involve attorneys in the process. Of course, attorneys must sign your document to verify your identity, but attorneys provide valuable guidance, ensuring that the documentation meets all necessary legal requirements. They streamline the apostille procedure for a more efficient and reliable outcome.

Alternatively, individuals can opt for a mail-in service. In this case, the interested party can send the documentation along with a signed request specifying their needs. Still, the individual should consult an attorney in order to guarantee accuracy on all of the documents to be submitted.

If the mail-in method is chosen, it is also necessary to include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for the return of the certification with the exact address of the sender. In this case, all responsibility is denied in case of non-delivery of the documents due to insufficient postage or other issues attributable to the postal service.

When applying for an Apostille in Italy, the initial paperwork requires the following information: 

  • country of origin of the document
  • name and capacity of the signatory
  • name of authority affixing the seal or stamp (for documents without signatures)
  • location of issue, date of issue, issuing authority
  • certificate number
  • seal or stamp of issuing authority
  • signature of authorized officer. 

Once the application is completed and approved by the relevant state or national authority, your public document is officially valid for international use in any participating country.

After learning about the documentation, you may be wondering about the time and costs.

Contact Us today for any further information!