Common Pitfalls When Getting a Canadian Apostille: A Guide for Professionals

Published on Friday, September 13, 2019

At International Documents Canada we specialize in navigating the Canadian apostille process on behalf of clients from Canada and around the world. While processing many thousands of documents a year, we have developed a unique understanding of the ins and outs of the Canadian apostille process. This article discusses the common pitfalls you will encounter when getting a Canadian apostille, along with strategies for avoiding these pitfalls. We have written this article with professionals in mind, such as lawyers, notaries, HR staff in larger companies, and export managers. However, the advice here is applicable for everyone that needs to get a Canadian apostille.

Pitfall #1 – There is no such thing as a Canadian apostille

Let’s start with a rather large pitfall – the fact that there is actually no such thing as a Canadian apostille! An apostille can be issued by any country that has signed the Hague Apostille Convention. Over 100 countries worldwide are signatories to this convention. Unfortunately, Canada is not one of them. Because Canada has not signed the convention we cannot issue apostilles. Instead, we have our own equivalent process called document authentication and legalization.

Despite the fact that Canada does not issue apostilles, the term “apostille” is still frequently used in Canada. At IDC we use the term all the time even though we know better, because so many of our clients use this term. Avoiding this pitfall is simple. If you have been told to get an apostille on a Canadian document, you just need to recognize that what you actually require is authentication and legalization of your document.

Pitfall #2 – Errors in preparing documents

Getting a Canadian apostille involves submitting the document to Global Affairs Canada for authentication, and then submitting it to the relevant embassy or consulate for legalization. Document preparation can involve notarizing the document, making certified true copies, having a document translated, and providing required supporting documents. Here are some of the document preparation pitfalls we frequently see:

Notarization

Some documents need to be notarized by a notary public before authentication by Global Affairs Canada. Documents that do not need to be notarized first are government issued documents that have the signature of a public official on them, such as marriage, birth, and death certificates, as well as official educational documents issued by recognized universities or provincial Ministries of Education. Common pitfalls we see with document notarization include:

  • When notarizing a document the notary will place their stamp and signature directly on the document. If the name of the notary public or lawyer is not included in a legible format, Global Affairs Canada will not authenticate the document.
  • A multi-page document just needs to be notarized once. However, in some instances, depending on the type of document, an embassy or consulate will require that each page of a document includes the embossed seal of the Notary Public.
  • In some cases our clients need to authenticate and legalize a document that does not have an acceptable signature on it, such as a locally issued criminal record check or an electronically issued corporate document. These documents can be tricky to authenticate with Global Affairs Canada. If this is your situation, we invite you to contact our friendly staff to discuss your options.

Certified True Copies

The Canadian apostille process (document authentication and legalization) involves putting two stamps / stickers directly on your document. If you don’t want to have your original document altered you can have a notary public make a Certified True Copy. Global Affairs Canada will authenticate a Certified True Copy. But the pitfall to watch out for is that not all embassies and consulates will legalize Certified True Copies. Our clients have also found that Certified True Copies are not always accepted by the intended recipient. If you want to apostille a certified true copy of a document instead of the original, first make sure that this will be acceptable to the relevant embassy or consulate, and to the end party who will be receiving your apostilled document.

Supporting Documents

Each embassy or consulate sets its own requirements for supporting documents. Often, different supporting documents are required depending on what type of document is being processed. For commercial documents some embassies require additional information about the company submitting the documents. For educational documents there can be especially strict requirements for supporting documents. Some embassies and consulates require that supporting transcripts be sent directly from the educational institution to their consulate section. Unfortunately, mistakes in supporting documents seem quite common. Avoiding this pitfall requires accurate knowledge of the requirements that have been set by the relevant embassy or consulate.

Translations

If a document is not in either English or French, it will need to be translated by a Canadian certified translator before Global Affairs Canada will authenticate it. In addition, many embassies and consulates have their own requirements for translation. In some instances, an embassy or consulate can require you to use their own in-house translation. To avoid pitfalls associated with translation, make sure you understand the translation requirements of all relevant parties – Global Affairs Canada, the relevant embassy or consulate, and the end recipient of the document.

Other pitfalls in preparing documents

In rare instances an embassy or consulate will have specific requirements that don’t fit in any of the categories discussed above. For example, there have been cases where we have needed to bind a multi-page document in a specific manner before it is accepted for processing.

Pitfall #3 – Common errors when authenticating documents

The most common pitfall we see when authenticating documents at Global Affairs Canada is not allowing enough time. If documents are mailed to Global Affairs Canada for authentication they will take somewhere between 3 to 5 weeks to be authenticated. We avoid this pitfall for our clients by submitting their documents in person, allowing us to authenticate documents the same day they arrive at our Ottawa office.

The other pitfall we see with document authentication is that when people submit documents for processing they do not include the necessary supporting material to have the document legalized afterwards. Global Affairs Canada can forward authenticated documents to the appropriate embassy or consulate for legalization if requested. But you need to include the correct information with your documents, as well as pre-paid return shipping and the consular fee. Make sure the consular fee is made in a format that will be accepted!

Pitfall #4 – Common difficulties when legalizing documents

There are unfortunately a lot of potential pitfalls when legalizing documents. Questions you need to ask when submitting documents to be legalized include:

  • Am I submitting the documents to the correct embassy or consulate? Some countries have an embassy and one or more consulates located in Canada, and have strict jurisdiction. For example, documents from Ontario need to be submitted to the embassy in Ottawa. But documents from Quebec must go to the consulate in Montreal.
  • Have I paid the consular fee in a manner that is acceptable to the embassy or consulate? Some require payment by bank draft or money order. Some require payment through a separate (and complicated) online payment system. and some require payment in US dollars. Note that a few embassies and consulates change their fees frequently in response to currency fluctuations.
  • Have I included pre-paid shipping, or made other arrangements for pick-up? Some embassies will only ship processed documents through a specific courier, and some will only use Canada Post.
  • Have I prepared the document as required? Does the document need to be translated? Are specific supporting documents required? Am I processing educational or commercial documents with specific requirements? Do I need to provide a cover letter?

Where to get more information

The advice in this article can be summed up in a simple statement: make sure you have accurate information before trying to apostille a Canadian document. Our website has a wealth of information on the Canadian apostille process, and is a great place to start. We’ve put together an infographic providing a detailed walk-through of the Canadian apostille process that you might find useful. Global Affairs Canada also posts information on authenticating your document.

When getting a Canadian apostille the biggest challenge you will face is getting accurate information on legalizing your document. Each embassy and consulate sets their own unique requirements, and these requirements change frequently. Many embassies and consulates have incomplete or out-of-date information online. It is also often very difficult to reach a consular official to get information. If you are encountering challenges in finding out what specific legalization requirements apply to your situation, we encourage you to reach out to our friendly staff. We actively track the changing apostille requirements of over 200 diplomatic missions in Canada. When you contact us we will review your situation, answer any questions you have, and explain your options to you. No obligation and no pressure. Phone us toll-free at 1-888-433-1011 or complete our quick form and we will get right back to you.