No matter what is that you are going to do offshore, out of your home country territory, set-up a business or open a private bank account, you might have to present some public documents in another countries. Documents, both personal and corporate, produced in your home country, signed by a Notary, lawyer or other public official, are considered to be valid anywhere in its territory. But when you take them abroad who knows and who can prove they are correct and valid?
All public documents produced in one country should be certified for legal purposes in another country. Some countries have signed agreements on mutual recognition of their public documents. However there are very few of them, and in most cases you need to legalize your documents either at the foreign Consulate or by Apostille.
First option is known as chain legalization. The document is to be taken to the Consulate of the foreign country located in the country produced the document, or to the Consulate of the producing country in that foreign country. But before reach the Сonsulate the document is normally to pass 3 to 4 successive steps involving Prothonotary Office, Office of the Secretary of State, Department of State or Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and sometimes even more governmental authorities. The process may take up to months to get the document ready and finally is not cheap.
On the 5th Octover 1961 a number of countries signed Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents. The Convention provides for a special certificate called Apostille being placed on the document itself or on an “allonge” to the document. Apostille certifies the authenticity of the signature, the capacity in which the person signing the document has acted and, where appropriate, the identity of the seal or stamp which it bears. It is to be produced by a designated competent authority of the issuing country thus simplifying the whole process of legalization to one step. A document bearing Apostille is considered valid in all countries signed or joined the Convention. At the request of any interested person, the authority which has issued the certificate shall verify whether the particulars in the certificate correspond with those in the register or card index.
Here you can find the full list of countries recognizing Apostille.
As well as competent authorities for each country designated to issue Apostille.
One of the most recent development is introduction of the electronic Apostille Pilot Program (e-APP). The Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) and the National Notary Association of the United States (NNA), together with any interested jurisdiction develop and promote implementation of the software technology for the issuance of and use of electronic Apostilles (e-Apostilles), and the creation and operation of electronic Registers of Apostilles (e-Registers). List of countries participating in the e-APP.
When choosing where to incorporate check if the jurisdiction in question recognizes Apostille
If a jurisdiction where you incorporate your company does not recognize Apostille you will have to pass a full chain legalization through the Consulate every time you need a paper of your company to be presented somewhere abroad, whether to your bankers or business partners in another jurisdictions.
If instead your home country didn’t join the Convention on Apostille check if the jurisdiction of incorporation is able to provide for a Consulate legalization for your particular country. It may happen that small offshore jurisdictions do not have the according Consulates accredited and thus the documents may be taken to even a longer journey to another countries and authorities, if possible to be finally legalized at all.