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Legalisation | Use of documents abroad

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Recent studies have shown that an increasing amount of South African citizens are considering emigrating or taking up employment in other countries. As one can imagine, this is no small feat and requires meticulous planning and preparation and quite a few legal documents. However, in order to legally use a document in one country which originated in another, the said document must first be legalised.

Legalisation of documents refer to the procedure by which the signature and seal on an official document executed in one country is verified or authenticated for use outside the said country, either by way of an Apostille Certificate or a Certificate of Authentication.

South Africa is a signatory to the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 (Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents) hereinafter referred to as “the Apostille Convention” and it is therefore important to determine whether the destination country is also such a signatory as it will direct which procedure must be followed. A comprehensive list of all the member states is available on the official website of The Hague Convention on http://www.hcch.net. This article will specifically focus on signatory countries.

The Apostille Convention provides that the only formality required in order to certify the authenticity of a signature, is the addition of an Apostille, issued by a competent authority of the state from which the documents emanates. Each convention state must designate the competent authority to issue an Apostille certificate.


Any official South African public document must be legalised by the Legalisation Section of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (“DIRCO”), provided that the documents were signed and stamped by the relevant competent authority and are still valid. Different types of documents may be sent directly to DIRCO,including:

  • Any documents originating from the Department of Home Affairs and which were issued and duly signed and stamped by the authorised official (for example, original unabridged or full birth certificates, marriage and/or death certificates; original letters of no impediment; letters confirming naturalization and renunciation letters);
  • Original South African Police Service Clearance Certificates as issued, signed and stamped by the South African Police Service (“SAPS”) Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management;
  • Original adoption papers signed and stamped by the relevant official;
  • Original Confirmation Letters as issued by the Department of Transport confirming that the applicant holds a valid driver’s licence.

In order to have these documents legalised, the documents must be submitted to the Legalisation Section of DIRCO, under a cover letter specifically stating in which country the document will be used to enable them to determine whether to apostille or authenticate the said document. The Legalisation Section will issue the relevant Apostille Certificate or Certificate of Authentication, depending on the circumstances

If a country is a signatory to the Apostille Convention, the original/valid documents can be sent directly to DIRCO. If not, the original/valid documents are sent to DIRCO and thereafter to the foreign representative based in Pretoria.


Certain other documents must first be sent to the relevant institutions prior to submission at DIRCO, which includes:

  • All original documentation relating to the registration of companies, close corporations, patent designs, trademarks and copyrights must first be stamped and signed by the relevant authorised Registrar at the Department of Trade and Industry – Companies and Intellectual Property Commission Office (“CIPC”).
  • Original export documentation must be signed and stamped by the authorised employee at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
  • Any qualification from an organisation registered with the Department of Education.
    • School and transfer certificates of primary schools (grades 1 to 11) must be signed and sealed by the school principal and the education district director or deputy director. A letter of confirmation by the school principal must be sent to the Department of Basic Education, for an authorised official to issue a confirmation letter to DIRCO.
    • The original secondary school certificates (grade 12), together with a copy should be sent to the Department of Basic Education for verification by an authorised official and thereafter submitted to DIRCO.
  • A certified copy of Matric certificates, as well as a certified copy of the requester’s ID document or passport and proof of payment should be e-mailed or faxed to Umalusi for verification. Please note that certain qualifications cannot be verified by Umalusi and must be sent to the Department of Basic Education instead.
  • All issued tertiary qualifications from 1 December 2019 must be verified by the South African Qualifications Authority (“SAQA”). The original verification letter from SAQA must then be submitted to DIRCO for legalisation.
  • All medical certificates issued by a medical doctor must be stamped and signed by the authorised official at the Health Professions Council of South Africa (“HPCSA”).
  • Divorce Decrees and Settlement Agreements must be signed and stamped by the current Registrar or Assistant Registrar of the High Court where the divorce was granted. If the country to which the documents are sent is a signatory to the Apostille Convention, then the High Court can issue and affix an Apostille Certificate directly and it need not be sent to DIRCO.


The last category of documents may be verified or authenticated by a Public Notary and the Registrar of the High Court. These documents include:

  • Customary marriage documents
  • Travel documents (passport)
  • Identity documents
  • Affidavits
  • Power of Attorney
  • Work contracts

The Public Notary will make a verified copy of the original documents and attach a Certificate of Authentication to the document, which bears his/her signature, seal and stamp. Thereafter it must be taken to the Registrar of the High Court of South Africa in the same jurisdiction as the Public Notary, who must verify the signature and/or seal of the Public Notary. If the destination country is a signatory to the Apostille Convention, the documents must be Apostilled by the Registrar of the High Court and no further formalities are required. If not, it must be Authenticated by the Registrar and thereafter sent to DIRCO and the foreign representative based in Pretoria. Please remember to indicate the destination country on all documents sent to the High Court.

It can become quite a challenging endeavour to obtain all of the correctly legalised documents in time for your planned departure. It remains your responsibility to determine which documents are required for your specific purposes and to which institution it must be sent for authentication. If you are planning on making the big move, it is important to familiarise yourself with the relevant institution’s specific procedure, timelines and contact details or to approach the specialists in the field. Should you require professional assistance with the legalisation of documents, be sure to make a pit stop at the Public Notaries of Faure & Faure Incorporated before your final departure.

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