Foreign documents are often only recognised by the authorities of another state if their authenticity and evidentiary value have been confirmed by a special procedure. However, even formally authentic foreign documents may sometimes contain inaccurate information. This is why procedures of international recognition have been developed to certify that documents were both issued by the competent agency and are factually correct so that they can be used abroad.
These procedures apply to public documents, i.e. civil status documents, judicial and notarial documents, documents and certificates from administrative authorities. They do not apply to private documents, such as handwritten wills, simple contracts of sale or powers of attorney. However, if a document concerning a private legal matter is authenticated by a notary or an official authority, it becomes a public document.
Recognition procedures confirm the authenticity and, if applicable, the accuracy of public documents. Whether a foreign public document complies with applicable domestic form requirements of the respective country is a separate question.
If, for example, German property law stipulates that certain declarations must be certified by a notary, as a rule this means a notary or consular officer in Germany. Acts confirmed by notaries outside of Germany will usually not be sufficient to meet German form requirements. This also applies to school and university certificates. Being authentic does not say anything about equivalence.
Information on foreign school and university certificates can be obtained from the Central Office for Foreign Education (Zentralstelle für ausländisches Bildungswesen des Sekretariats der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland).