Apostille is a French word which means a certification. It is commonly used in English to refer to the legalization of a document for international use under the terms of the 1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents. Documents which have been notarized by a notary public, and certain other documents, and then certified with a conformant apostille are accepted for legal use in all the nations that have signed the Hague Convention.
For example, when the will of an Australian decedent who had assets in Hong Kong is probated in Australia, if it then has to be presented in Hong Kong in order to transfer estate assets in Hong Kong to Australia, an Australian government apostille must be affixed to the following documents after notarization by an Australian Notary Public: 1. Death certificate; and, 2. A copy of the will.
This is also true for the United Kingdom, which, like Hong Kong, is a signatory to the 1961 Hague Convention.
Obtaining an apostille can be a highly complex process.
Getting a birth certificate with apostille in New York, for example, requires applying to three separate offices in succession. In most American states, the process entails obtaining an original, certified copy from the issuing municipal agency and then forwarding it to the State department (or equivalent) of the state in question.
In countries which are not signatories to the 1961 convention and do not recognize the apostille, a foreign public document must be legalized by a consular officer in the country which issued the document. In lieu of an apostille, documents in the U.S. usually will receive a Certificate of Authentication.