I. "International documents" (CIEC Conventions)
Civil status documents and certificates of no impediment (for marriage) issued by one of the Contracting States following the model contained in the International Commission on Civil Status Conventions (CIEC) are exempt from any requirements relating to form in Germany.
States parties to the Convention of 8 September 1976 (on the issue of multilingual extracts from civil status records, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates) are:
Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.
States parties to the Convention of 5 September 1980 (on the issuance of (multilingual) certificates of matrimonial capacity) are:
Austria, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.
II. Bilateral international treaties
The Federal Republic of Germany has concluded bilateral treaties in the field of civil status and the certification of documents with the following states:
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
In these treaties it was agreed to do without legalization for certain types of document or to replace it with a provisional legalization procedure.
There are in addition special international treaties which deal with documents used in legal assistance or commerce.
III. The "Hague apostille"
In the States which are party to the Hague Convention abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents of 5 October 1961 public documents no longer need to be legalized. All that is now required for these documents is the so-called "Hague apostille". This Convention applies to all public documents with the exception of documents executed by consular officers and documents issued by administrative authorities which relate directly to commerce or customs.
The "Hague apostille" confirms the authenticity of a public document, the original of which must be submitted to the designated authority. The "Hague apostille" is issued by designated authorities of the state which issued the document. It is no longer necessary to contact the German mission in that country.
States parties to this Convention are:
Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, China (only documents from the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions), Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Dominica, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Grenada, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malawi, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand (excluding Tokelau), Niue, Norway, Panama, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia and Montenegro(*), Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and Venezuela.
(*) Note regarding documents from Kosovo:
The judicial and administrative systems in Kosovo are currently being rebuilt under the supervision of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The same is true for the registration and certification systems. Within its terms of reference, UNMIK also issues public documents. It is however unable to use the "Hague apostille" procedure. Nor is it possible to get documents legalized by the German Liaison Office for Kosovo in Pristina, since this office is not yet in a position to carry out consular functions. The evidentiary value of UNMIK documents can be freely assessed by German courts and authorities. Samples of the new documents issued by the UN Administration are held at the Land Ministries of the Interior (or the Senate Departments, as applicable) so that comparisons can be made. Documents issued by self-appointed parallel administrations in Kosovo are however not recognized.
Each state party designates the authorities which are to issue the "Hague apostille" in its state. The address of the competent apostille agency can usually be obtained from the authority which issued the certificate. If not, contact the judicial authorities or the registry supervision authority for the district in which the document was issued. Most of the German missions abroad also have a fact sheet which gives the addresses of the apostille agencies and contains additional information on the procedures to be gone through. The apostille agencies can also be looked up on the website of the Hague Conference.
A fee is payable for the "Hague apostille"; this is subject to national law.
Should any difficulties, linguistic or otherwise, arise in procuring the "Hague apostille" from another country which make direct contact with the designated agency in the foreign country impossible, the German mission responsible for that district may be able to help. German missions are however permitted to help German nationals only. Inquiries, either by telephone or fax, should be made before sending such documents to verify whether a German mission offers this service.
A charge is levied for issuing the "Hague apostille" for a document. The fees (currently between EUR 15 to EUR 100) as well as any other expenses incurred (e.g. charges made by the local authorities) are to be paid by the applicant.
When you apply for a "Hague apostille" you should be prepared for a long wait. The German missions have no power to speed up the processing times of the host state's agencies.
If you are concerned that normal postal channels do not appear reliable enough to send an application and documents to the German mission abroad, you should use a private international courier service instead. The diplomatic bag between the Foreign Office and its missions abroad is solely for the purpose of transporting official correspondence pursuant to the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, and therefore cannot be used by private individuals.
IV. Legalization of foreign public documents
Foreign public documents to which none of the Conventions referred to under I to III above apply, can be legalized for use in Germany. The authority in Germany which requires the document decides whether it will recognize it as authentic without further ado or whether legalization is required.
Legalization is performed by the consular officers of the German embassies and consulates. The legal basis for this activity is section 13 of the Consular Services Act (Konsulargesetz), which states inter alia: "Consular officers are authorized to legalize official documents issued within their district ... Legalization confirms the authenticity of the signature, the capacity in which the signatory of the document acted and, if applicable, the authenticity of the seal affixed to the document. ... Legalization is executed by means of an endorsement to be made on the document".
Like the consulates of foreign states in Germany, German missions abroad also rely on prior certification and validation of documents by agencies of the host country. Given the large number of documents requiring legalization (over 150,000 worldwide in 2000), it is clear that it is not possible to contact the issuing authority in every case, especially in countries where the administrative structure is complicated. In such countries, the German missions must assume that the partner agencies in the host country are so thorough in issuing their certifications that a foreign document legalized on this basis by the embassy rightly has the same evidentiary value as a German document in Germany. For it is through legalization that it is possible for a foreign public document to be treated just like a domestic public document in Germany. Consular officers are called upon to help safeguard the handling of documents in Germany and uphold confidence in the reliability of official certificates. They therefore do not only refuse to legalize forged documents, but also documents which clearly contain false information, i.e. documents certifying facts which are not really true.
Some missions abroad have had to determine that the requirements for the legalization of documents are not fulfilled in their district. They have therefore, with the Foreign Office's consent, suspended legalization until further notice. This change in procedure currently pertains to documents from the following states:
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Cambodia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, the Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, India, Kenya, Laos, Liberia, Morocco (legalization is only being suspended for those documents that are not included in the registers of births, marriages and deaths), Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Togo, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam.
The local German consular officers can however, in the context of executive assistance, verify the facts certified and so aid the domestic German authority in reaching its decision on the evidentiary value of documents in Germany. For further information see section V below.
Documents from Somalia cannot be legalized as the country lacks the requisite state structures and authorized registrars.
Nor is it possible to legalize documents from Iraq, since the Embassy in Baghdad is at present only partially operational and the system for legalizing documents in Iraq is not reliable.
The following general principles apply to the legalization of documents:
- The foreign documents presented for legalization must be originals; copies are not sufficient, even if they have been certified.
- In most states legalization is only possible if the document has already been certified by the Foreign Ministry or other authorities of the issuing state. If you are told by the German mission that the document requires prior certification and perhaps also validation, please contact the agency responsible directly. Only in exceptional cases can the German mission obtain the certification for the applicant; according to international principles it is not allowed to act for nationals of the host state.
- Documents generated with an automated signature can only be legalized if a manual signature is obtained or if the document is manually certified by the issuing authority.
- Applications for the legalization of documents must be made to the responsible German mission. The reason for the application must also be stated, e.g. the notification from a German authority that legalized documents are required for a particular occasion must be enclosed (for example, when people register their intention to marry, registry offices often give them a list of documents etc. required).
- Should the document holder be unable to go to the German mission in person, e.g. because he/she is in Germany, the application and document can be sent in by post. The application can also be handed in by relations or friends, if these have been given an official power of attorney. In all such cases, a copy of the document holder's passport or other ID should be enclosed. This could save time by saving the mission from asking extra questions.
- If normal postal channels do not appear reliable enough to send an application and documents to the German mission abroad, a private international courier service should be used instead. The diplomatic bag between the Foreign Office and its missions abroad is solely for the purpose of transporting official correspondence pursuant to the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, and therefore cannot be used by private individuals.
- The German missions charge for the legalization of documents, levying fees and expenses in line with the Foreign Costs Act (Auslandskostengesetz). The fee is currently between EUR 20 and EUR 80 per document. If the document cannot be legalized, e.g. if it is a forgery, a processing fee of 75% is charged.
Further information about the legalization procedure can be obtained from the German mission in whose consular district the document was issued. Please note that there are some countries with no German embassy, and so the relevant consular district is supervised by a German embassy in a neighbouring country.
Germany does not maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The German Institute Taipei (Deutsches Institut Taipei), however, acts as an unofficial mission, and has civil servants assigned to it who are empowered to carry out consular functions.
V. Verification of documents in the context of executive assistance
After certain missions abroad were forced to determine that the requirements for legalizing documents were not fulfilled in their districts, they suspended the legalization of documents with the Federal Foreign Office's consent until further notice. The local German consular officers can however, in the context of executive or judicial assistance, verify the facts certified and so aid the domestic German authority in reaching its decision.
This change in procedure currently pertains to documents from the following states:
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Cambodia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, the Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, India, Kenya, Laos, Liberia, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Togo, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam.
German authorities or courts which require documents from one of the above-named countries – e.g. for registering intent to marry or starting a family register – may demand such a verification. They insist on this time-consuming and costly procedure when there are doubts as to the evidentiary value of the documents or the identity of the holder, or if they fear that the documents are falsified or contain incorrect information. The fact that a high proportion of documents prove upon examination to be forged means that it is necessary to continue applying this procedure in order to maintain confidence in public documents and the evidentiary value of German civil status records. Other western states also often only recognize foreign documents after an equivalent verification procedure.
The missions abroad have observed that the verification of documents also has the effect of protecting people in Germany. Every now and then, people discover in the course of verification of a foreign certificate of unmarried status that their partner is still married elsewhere. And patients have been protected from "treatment" by bogus "doctors" who have entered practice on the basis of examinations passed at non-existent universities.
A German domestic authority which wants a foreign document verified asks the relevant German mission for executive assistance.
With this request it must enclose the foreign document in the original, ask specific questions or ask for a general verification, and declare that it is ready to assume any costs that are incurred. These may later be reclaimed from the applicant.
In the Federal Foreign Office's experience, domestic authorities normally ask the applicant for a security deposit to cover the anticipated and often considerable verification costs. These expenses are incurred because the German missions abroad are unable to carry out the requested verifications with their own staff, and regularly have to rely on investigations by a local lawyer or other person of trust. Depending on the time taken to verify a document, expenses of several hundred euro can be incurred. Detailed information can be obtained from the fact sheets produced by the German missions abroad. The verification costs incurred must always be paid, even if the document turns out to be false.
The information obtained is evaluated by a consular officer and summarized in a final statement regarding the authenticity of the document.
Upon completion of the verification process, the documents and the statement of the German mission abroad are sent to the requesting authority. In order to make it easier for the holder to use his/her document again for other authorities and to avoid unnecessary additional verifications, a corresponding note is enclosed with the document.
The domestic authorities can relay their requests for executive assistance to the German missions abroad using the diplomatic bag of the Federal Foreign Office. Private individuals may not use the diplomatic bag.
Because of the heavy workload in the consular sections, the geographical situation and difficulties in verifying documents for many missions abroad, a processing time of several months should be reckoned with. The German missions' fact sheets also contain more detailed information on this. In addition the postal delivery times must be included in the equation: experience shows that it can often take two to three weeks for letters from the missions abroad to reach recipients in Germany.
The Federal Foreign Office is aware that verification of foreign documents can seem very tedious to those concerned due to the unavoidably long processing times. All German missions abroad have therefore been instructed to minimize processing times insofar as possible.
The leaflets published by the missions abroad about the verification procedure are regularly updated and are made available to the domestic authorities. They can also be viewed on the missions' websites.
If your local mission is not yet in a position to offer this service, the Foreign Office help desk (e-mail: email@example.com) will be happy to send you the relevant brochure.
VI. Certification of translations
German authorities and courts normally require translations of foreign-language documents. These translations should if possible be done by a sworn or certified translator.
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 an expert service, not public documents. The legalization and "apostille" procedures are not therefore applicable.
Translating documents is not one of the usual tasks of a German mission abroad. Consular officers may however 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.
VII. Consular documents
Documents issued by consular or diplomatic missions of foreign states in Germany are not authenticated by German missions abroad. The Federal Foreign Office too is unable to comment on the evidentiary value of such documents and can at best certify that the person who issued the document is a registered member of a diplomatic or consular mission. Such a certification is in most cases unnecessary, since the names of all diplomatic personnel and the heads of the consular posts are included in the official list of foreign missions in Germany.
If domestic authorities have any doubts regarding the authenticity of a consular document, these can be clarified by contacting the issuer of the document directly. The Federal Foreign Office does not as a rule need to be involved in such cases.