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Getting Your Documents Apostilled
December 1, 2018

(Certified for International Use)

Since October 15, 1981, the United States has been part of the 1961 Hague Convention abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents. The Convention provides for the simplified certification of public (including notarized) documents to be used in countries that have joined the convention. Panama has also been a member since 1991.

With a certification by Apostille, the document is entitled to legal recognition in the country of intended use, and no further certification by the U.S. Department of State Authentications Office or legalization by the embassy or consulate is required.  http://www.state.gov/m/a/auth/

Most documents can be obtained on-line from the agency or organization that provides them.   This is usually the Vital Records section in a State or County agency.  http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w.htm

Documents requiring certifications with an Apostille by the U.S. Department of State are those that have been signed by a US federal official with the official Seal of that agency, The U.S. Department of State will not issue an Apostille for State Department – issued documents.

General Documents – For general documents such as Diplomas, Powers-of-Attorney, Agreements, Bylaws, Transcripts, Deeds of Assignment, Income Verification, and other business or legal documents, you must complete the following steps before submitting your request to the State Department.

  1. Have it acknowledged before a notary public;
  2. Have it certified by the clerk of court of the county in which the notary is commissioned
  3. Have it certified by the individual state Secretary of State or equivalent in which the document is executed.

Documents originating in the District of Columbia must be certified by the District’s Office of Notary Commissions and Authentications.

Note:  All seals and signatures must be originals and all dates must follow in chronological order.
         Item 2 may be omitted if the authority in item 3 will certify directly to the notary.

All documents in a foreign language must be accompanied with a certified (notarized) English translation. If a copy of a document is used, it must include the statement that is a true and accurate copy.

State and Local Government Documents – For these documents and Court Records such as Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates, Divorce Decrees, Probate Wills, and Judgments, submit an original document that is:

  1. Certified by the custodian of those records (county clerks or state records offices)
  2. Certified by the Secretary of State of the State in which the documents are recorded. The Secretary of State should be requested to certify to the officials signing the document under the impressed Seal of the State.

Federal Agency and FBI Documents – For those documents executed by U.S. federal agencies and courts or District of Columbia courts, your document must have an original official signature and be Certified under the official seal of the agency or the Court. (Original Official Signature required)

Requesting Authentication Services (Apostilles) from the State Department

  1. Confirm that your document needs an authentication certificate or Apostille from the State Department.
  2. Ensure that you have all the required certifications for your document(s).
  3. Prepare a self-addressed stamped envelope or other pre-addressed, pre-paid return mailer for your request.

The Authentications Office will mail documents directly to a foreign embassy or consulate if you provide a cover letter, the correct fee, and a pre-paid (or stamped), pre-addressed envelope. Please enclose an additional self-addressed stamped envelope for the embassy or consulate to return the document.  If you do not include a self-address stamped envelope we will return your authenticated documents back to you.”

PS Form 2976, Customs Declaration CN22 – Sender’s Declaration, (PDF 160KB) must be used on all First-Class Mail International® package-size items (small packets), the Priority Mail International® Small Flat Rate Box, M-bags, and certain Express Mail International® items. Also use this form on a First-Class Mail International mail piece or the Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelope.  Refer to the USPS International Mail Manual for more information.  You may also use Fedex or DHL to provide the mailing and return service.

  1. Complete form DS-4194“Request for Authentications Service”  Your input to the form creates a unique bar code containing the information needed to prepare individuals certificates and mailing labels. http://www.state.gov/m/a/auth/c53226.htm 

5.  Send a personal/company check or obtain a Bank money order or Cashier’s check for $8 U.S. dollars made payable to the U.S. Department of State for each document to be authenticated. Cash or credit cards WILL NOT be accepted for payment of the fees from outside the U.S.  Payment must be for the exact amount.

You may get them from your bank or ask your lawyer to obtain one for you as part of the application process for residency. Please be sure to sign the cashier’s check or money order where it is required.

In Panama, money orders will likely only be available at a bank where you have an account. We have heard that some banks are more receptive to opening accounts or providing services if you inform them that you are in the process of obtaining your residency.

6. Submit request package to the Office of Authentications at the U.S. Department of State. Requests are accepted by mail, courier, or in person. The address is:

U.S. Department of State – Authentications Office
518 23rd Street, NW SA-1     Columbia Plaza     Washington, DC 20520

The average processing time for mail-in requests is 10 business days from the date of receipt from the Department mailroom (different from the date of delivery for most tracked packages) to the date of return to the Department mailroom. Use of tracked mail delivery will expedite handling of your request by mailroom and may prevent damage to documents caused by irradiation of USPS regular mail.