Many of our clients come to us seeking apostille services. While an apostille is not a translation itself, it is a service that often goes hand-in-hand with translations. For example, if your translation is going to be used in a foreign country or at a foreign consulate, you may need an apostille.
If you’ve ever wondered how to get an apostille in New York City, this guide is for you. We’ll go over all the basics and more, including:
- What an apostille is
- The purpose of an apostille
- When you might need an apostille
- How to get an apostille in New York City
What is an apostille?
An apostille is a separate piece of paper attached to your original document or translation. It is required to make certain documents legal for use in foreign countries. In the olden days, each country had its own procedures for legalizing documents. As you can imagine, the process was quite confusing!
In 1961, the Hague Convention was formed to standardize the process for legalizing foreign public documents. Thus, any document issued in one signing country can be apostilled and then certified as legal in all other signing countries.
Currently there are over 100 countries participating in the Hague Treaty. If you’re curious, here is a list of them all.
This is what an apostille looks like in New York.
In the United States, apostilles are issued by each state’s Secretary of State or Office of the Treasurer. For documents issued in Washington DC, the apostilling authority is the Department of State.
Each state can only apostille documents issued in that specific state.
What does an apostille do?
The apostille attached to a translation or original document does not actually certify the document. Instead, it certifies the authorization of the person who signed it and the accuracy of the seal or stamp used on the document.
An apostille does not provide any information regarding the quality of a translation. Therefore, if you need a statement certifying the accuracy of a translation, you will also need to include a certified translator’s statement.
When do you need an apostille?
Types of documents that may need an apostille include administrative documents, notarial acts, certain official certificates, and court documents. Birth certificates, divorce decrees, patent applications, death certificates, and marriage certificates may also require apostilles depending on their use.
What if the country is not a signatory of the Hague Convention (apostille treaty)?
If your translation needs to be effective in another country that does not recognize apostilles, you must contact that country’s consulate to find out the required procedure for legalizing your document.
Alternatively, you can entrust your document to us and allow us to handle all administration of your legalization needs.
Getting an apostille
Obtaining an apostille is a fairly straightforward process, but it can take a considerable amount of time. In the United States, there are generally two procedures to follow:
- Vital records containing stamps, seals, or signatures are okay as-is for apostilling.
- Non vital records and documents without stamps, seals, or signatures require notarization.
Each state has slightly different regulations regarding apostilles. If notaries are not recognized at the State level, then you may have to get a county clerk to certify (or authenticate) the notary’s signature before an apostille will be issued.
Apostilles in New York City
New York City has the highest demand for apostilles in the United States. Due to the sheer number of corporate headquarters, diverse nationalities, and foreign consulates, the city sees a steady need for apostille services.
Here is how to get an apostille in New York City:
In order for a document to be apostilled, it must be signed by a notary public. Alternatively, if your document is a vital record such as a birth or death certificate, it must contain the signature of a public official and a raised seal or some other official stamp.
It does not matter what type of notarization the notary does or what sort of wording s/he uses. A simple “sworn to before me” will suffice.
Note: make sure to choose a New York County notary. How do you find this out? Just ask the notary up front!
Making sure s/he is a New York County notary
This is important. Getting a notarization someone approved in Queens County, for example, would cause you trouble because you won’t be able to get the County Clerk’s certification done in New York City. Each county can only authenticate or certify notaries approved in their respective counties.
So, unless you want to go to the Queens County Clerk (the next step) and get an authentication of a notarization by someone approved in Queens, it’s best to do all your apostille-related business in one shot in Manhattan, where all the steps regarding an apostille are conveniently located.
After getting your document notarized by a notary approved in New York County, go to the New York County Clerk. The New York County Clerk’s address is:
60 Centre Street, New York, NY 10007
This is the New York County Supreme Court building. And yes, it is where they film all those cool Law and Order scenes on the steps!
Here’s a huge trick which will save you time when getting an apostille:
The secret for how to get an apostille in New York City: go through the back!
At the front of the building the wait lines are very long.
But if you go through the back, you can dash through a second checkpoint with no wait time at all.
Once you are inside the building take the stairs or the elevator to the basement. Then, go to Room 161 and stand on the left line (the “Notary” line). You’ll be standing on this line to obtain an authentication which certifies the notary’s signature and stamp you obtained previously.
One note about the “Notary” line: The New York County Clerk actually has notaries there, and in theory if they wanted to, they could actually notarize your documents for free.
But it has unfortunately been our experience that they are so busy that they don’t want to do it for you. Simply put, notaries in the New York County Clerk’s office are a pain in the neck. Often, they will look at your document and decline it for several (sometimes made up) reasons, one of them being the existence of content in any language other than English. However, this is not a fair reason: remember that notaries do not notarize or authenticate the content of a document. All they do is authenticate a signature!
A document with some content in a foreign language that contains plain text in English to which the subscriber “swears to be true” should be enough for them to notarize. No matter what, a notary public is not liable for the contents on a document or for the accuracy of a translation. They’re just saying, “this person came to me and said such thing to be true.”
Still, the notaries at the County Clerk’s office might give you issues if your document has any non-English text.
So, to recap: just get your notarizations before you go in. What you need from the County Clerk now is not a notarization at all—it’s an authentication.
Once they call you, the notary will look at your document, ask your name, and give you instructions for payment of the authentication.
Then, you go onto the “Cashier” line right next to the “Notary” line and wait until they call you. The authentication will cost $3.00 per document and should look something like this:
The last step: Department of State
Having obtained the following:
- Your original document
- A notary’s signature and stamp
- An authentication from the County Clerk
You’re now ready for the last step, the Department of State!
The entrance to the Department of State is here:
123 William Street, New York, NY 10038.
There are two doors to the Department of State. You want to take the door on the left. When you go in, you will see a staircase to your left and an escalator to your right. You can take either.
When you get upstairs, you will enter a big room with a security desk in front and a bunch of service windows behind it. The security guard will greet you. Tell him you are there for an apostille and take an “Apostille Request Form.” Fill it out, take a number, and then go up to the window when called to hand it in.
As an aside: the Department of State does not accept cash. Make sure you have a money order for $10.00 for each of the documents being apostilles, or be sure to write out a check in the same amount to NYS DOS.
Make sure when you go up to the window you have:
- The document (including notarization + authentication)
- Proper payment
- The apostille request form
Then, go back to your seat.
Once your apostille is ready they will call your name and ask you to recite the address you put down on the request form for verification.
With the apostille now in your hand, congratulations! Mission accomplished. You’ve now saved hundreds in fees by doing it yourself.