Certification and authentication of documents by German missions abroad
Sometimes, even when abroad, Germans and foreigners may need to have documents certified or signatures or manual signs, transcripts or copies authenticated. Local notaries and authorities are not always able to be of assistance if the document in question is a marriage contract, a statement in parent and child matters, a will, an application for a certificate of inheritance or a contract to purchase real estate which is required in Germany. In such cases, the German embassies and consulates are often the places to go. German consular officers are empowered by statute to undertake such legal acts for the purposes of German law (section 2 of the Konsulargesetz (Consular Act)). Documents executed before a consular officer rank equally with those executed before a notary in Germany (section 10 (2) Konsulargesetz). The fees are levied in accordance with the Auslandskostenverordnung (Foreign Costs Ordinance) and are roughly equivalent to those charged by German notaries.
Consular officers only certify documents where this is necessary, i.e. where German law requires that a document be certified. They do not compete with German notaries. They merely offer a supplementary service which would not otherwise be available. Consular officers have a discretionary duty; unlike notaries in Germany who may not refuse their services without sufficient reason, they are not obliged to execute certifications.
Please note that not every mission has a consular officer empowered to undertake all certifications. If you want to have a document certified abroad by a German consular officer, you should ask, when making an appointment, whether the local staff can in fact help you. In particular where complicated real estate transactions or transactions under company law are involved, it is recommended that you bring a draft drawn up by a consultant notary in Germany with you. The addresses of the appropriate German missions can be found on the Country Information internet pages or be obtained by calling the Foreign Office's automated helpline on +49(0)30-5000-2000.
A signature or manual sign is authenticated by being acknowledged or executed in the presence of a consular officer. Signatures on documents to be kept on file at a court may only be authenticated by being executed in the presence of a consular officer. In both cases, the person whose signature or manual sign is to be authenticated must appear in person.
When certifying that transcripts or copies are true copies of originals or certified transcripts/copies, the original or certified transcript/copy must be presented to the consular officer. A transcript or copy of a non-authenticated transcript cannot be authenticated.
Typical documents requiring certification
Applications for certificates of inheritance
A certificate of inheritance is, according to section 2353 et seq. of the German Civil Code, an official certificate regulating the rights to property left behind by a deceased person. It is issued by a Court of Probate and can be applied for via a German mission abroad; the missions can also certify the application. Such applications are standard business for the missions.
Marriage contracts and contracts of inheritance; testamentary dispositions (wills)
Company representatives, development assistance experts, pensioners and students often live abroad permanently or for longer periods of time and want to make dispositions which would, in Germany, have to be executed by a notary. People also often wish to clearly regulate the legal consequences of a planned marriage before entering into it (for example by making agreements regarding matrimonial property and what will happen to it if the marriage is later dissolved).
Please note: Given the desirability of long-term planning and the legal options for shaping marital relations it is necessary to seek thorough advice, which can best be obtained from a notary during a visit to Germany. An assessment of your particular case is often necessary, especially when the marriage is between nationals of two different states. Such an advisory session tends to cover issues such as matrimonial property, maintenance obligations and provision in old age. Notaries often recommend that, in addition to a marriage contract, you execute further dispositions together (such as contracts of inheritance/joint wills), if possible in Germany. If your visit to Germany is too short to conclude the business, you should bring the draft documents drawn up by your lawyer or notary with you.
Click here for further information on getting married abroad.
Same-sex partnership contracts
Just as they can certify marriage contracts (see above), consular officers may also certify partnership contracts pursuant to section 7 of the Registered Partnership Act. Consular officers are not yet authorized to perform the ceremony for entering into a registered partnership.
Real estate matters
Consular officers can also certify sales of real estate and powers of attorney needed for such sales, just like a notary (section 10 (2) Konsulargesetz). But where a complicated transaction is involved, drafts drawn up by German lawyers or notaries should be produced or alternatively the sale of land should be certified in Germany. In some cases it may be sensible to conclude a real estate transaction through a person without power of attorney and to approve his actions post facto.
Acknowledgements of paternity
Consular officers also record acknowledgements of paternity and the mother's or child's consent thereto, in so far as German law is applicable and compatible with the law of the host country. Maintenance obligations and custody declarations for German jurisdictions may also be certified.
Statements by witnesses made before consular officers for German court hearings
Following a request by a German court, specially authorized consular officers can examine witnesses and certify their statements. They can also administer oaths to witnesses.
Ships' protests under the law of the sea
If a German merchant ship has suffered damage, consular officers can, if so requested, help the captain preserve evidence. Ships' protests document losses for the insurance company and the ship owner. They are now rare due to improvements in international communications.
Authentication of translations
Translations and translators' certifications cannot as a rule be authenticated by consular officers, although, if the relevant conditions are met, it is possible for the signature of the translator to be authenticated, should this be necessary. Such an authentication would not however certify the accuracy of the translation.
Certifying the correctness and completeness of a translation
German authorities normally require translations of foreign-language documents. These translations should if possible be done by a translator sworn or certified in Germany. Whether a translation completed abroad may be used in Germany is a question which the authority requesting it decides at its own discretion.
Translations are classified as expert services, not as public documents. They cannot therefore be legalized by German missions abroad. It is however theoretically possible for the competent authority to confirm that the translator is a recognized expert and this official confirmation can then be legalized. However, in many countries there are no sworn or certified translators. Moreover, the legalization of an official confirmation could give the impression that the consular officer also confirms the correctness of the translation. Since this is usually not the case, the consular officer should as a rule refrain from legalizing such documents.
Addresses of translators in Germany can be obtained from courts of law.
Translating documents is not one of the usual tasks of a German mission abroad. Consular officers may instead confirm the correctness and completeness of a translation if they have sufficient knowledge of the local language. The missions themselves decide if they can offer this service or if they have to tell applicants to contact a sworn translator.
Certifications/Authentications by foreign notaries
When you need a certification or authentication, it may often seem easier, quicker and cheaper to go to a notary abroad. At international level, however, the mutual recognition of certifications and authentications is still not regulated at all or only in some specific fields as regards equivalence with German certifications and authentications. Equivalence is at present only recognized under certain narrowly defined conditions, and so every case must be considered individually. A pragmatic method has so far only been adopted for the recognition of the equivalence of the authentication of photocopies by foreign notaries.
Please note that the issue of equivalence is quite different from the issue of the (physical) authenticity of a foreign public document.
For further information on the recognition of the authenticity of foreign public documents click here.
The German Institute in Taipei, Taiwan
The Federal Republic of Germany does not maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan. But the German Institute, an unofficial governmental mission, has been up and running since 1 February 2000. The staff at this office are entitled to draw up certificates and authenticate signatures, transcripts and copies. The office's official seal includes the federal eagle, the circumscription "The Federal Republic of Germany" and the number of the seal.
Honorary consuls work on an honorary basis and are often foreign nationals, some of whom do not speak German. They are consular officers as defined by the Consular Act, and in principle may be granted the same powers as career consular officers under the Consular Act and other legislative and administration regulations. However, an honorary consul's legal and factual ability to provide assistance may differ considerably from that of an embassy or career consular post.
Honorary consuls are not empowered to certify documents. On the other hand, they may authenticate signatures and photocopies.
If you have any questions about what an honorary consul is entitled to do, feel free to ask the German mission responsible for his or her district. An honorary consul may indeed be subject to further restrictions in addition to those that stem directly from the Consular Act.