How to get an Apostille in Canada

Spain and Portugal are parties to the Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (hereinafter the "Convention").  A party to the Convention benefits from the instant recognition of the validity of official signatures on the party's domestic documents (such as a public official who issues a certified copy of a birth certificate) by other countries.

So, if you were born in Australia or the United States, which are also parties to the Convention, your birth certificate can be recognized in Spain by asking your local authorities to issue an "Apostille," which is a sort of certificate issued by a Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of State, or similar official agency (or an agency to which such a ministry or department delegates its authority) that is affixed to the birth certificate, and which Spain can then use to verify that, "Yes, the foreign country that this document purports to be from is verifying that this is a real signature rather than a counterfeit one."  Of course, countries may still require an official translation of the document (Spain does require translation, whereas Portugal does not if it is in English or certain other languages).

Apostilles in Canada

An Apostille (or its equivalent) is necessary for any birth certificate, marriage certificate, or criminal record check that you submit for use in Spain or Portugal as a part of a citizenship application based on Sephardic ancestry.  Unfortunately, Canada is not a party to the Convention.  So, how can one get an "Apostille" for a Canadian document?  The simple answer is that it is not possible, but there is another procedure which is equally valid.

The Convention was established until 1961.  Obviously, people had to get their documents recognized for official purposes in other countries from time to time long before 1961.  So, the Convention simply creates a simpler solution to the pre-Convention process, which countries still follow when either one of them (or both) is not a party to the Convention.

The system that Canada still uses is a two-step process known as authentication and legalization.

Authentication

First, you must get a document authenticated by Global Affairs Canada (formerly known as the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, or DFAIT).  For instructions for getting the authentication by mail, click here.  For instructions for authentication in person (if you don't mind traveling to Ottawa or want to send a process server), click here.

You will need to fill out the appropriate form at either one of the above links and include it with the document or documents that you want authenticated.  Note that the only type of criminal background check that Global Affairs Canada will authenticate is issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and must have the signature and seal of the RCMP on it.  Criminal background checks issued by local or provincial police departments are not eligible for authentication by Global Affairs Canada.

For your birth certificate to be authenticated, it must be the long form (not wallet-sized) certificate.  All documents that are submitted must be originals.

If you go in person to authenticate the documents at 111 Sussex Drive, they will be authenticated on the spot by a Global Affairs Canada official.  If you mail them, they will be mailed back to you in about forty days.

Legalization

Second, you must have the document "legalized" by the foreign country.  For Canadians applying for citizenship based on Sephardic ancestry, this will be Spain or Portugal.

Note that most countries with an embassy and one or more consulates in Canada divide Canada into service areas such that if you live in a certain region (or your documents are from a certain region), you must use the corresponding embassy or consulate to legalize your documents.  Because of where my birth certificate was issued, I was supposed to have it legalized by the Spanish consulate in Toronto.  But, because I went in person to Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa, and because the Spanish embassy is a two-minute walk from Global Affairs Canada, I tried my luck and I was successful in having the embassy legalize my authenticated Ontario birth certificate and RCMP criminal record check.  All the lady at the Spanish embassy asked before agreeing to process my birth certificate was whether it was for me.  Based on this, I suspect that the jurisdictional rules are put in place to control commercial process servers, but that flexibility exists where documents are being obtained for personal use.

The authentication process will not cost you any money, but the legalization will, and varies based on which country you're having the document legalized in.  At the time that the Spanish embassy legalized my Canadian documents, they charged me $11.10 (Canadian dollars) for each of the two documents.  You can find the Spanish embassy's legalization instructions here, but it's not complicated if you go in person.  I just walked in during business hours and was out in fifteen minutes.

Once the document has been authenticated and legalized, it will be recognized in the foreign country whose embassy or consulate legalized it, subject to any other restrictions on the document (some countries require that certain documents be issued within a certain number of months prior to using them for official purposes, and some countries also require official translations, as mentioned above).

Provincial document authentication authorities

Although Global Affairs Canada is the easiest and cheapest method of authenticating Canadian documents, some provinces also have arrangements with local consulates.  For example, in Ontario, if you live near Toronto, you can walk in to Official Documents Services and they will issue a Certificate of Authentication for your documents.  Alberta offers a similar service through the Deputy Provincial Secretary's Office.  British Columbia has the OIC Administration Office and Nova Scotia uses the Department of Justice, Legal Services Division.

The downside for this is that unlike Global Affairs Canada, ODS and most other provincial authorities charge a fee ($16 to $32 at ODS at the time of writing this blog), the documents are generally only recognized by the foreign country's consulate in the relevant provincial capital city (e.g., ODS-authenticated documents might only be able to be legalized by the Spanish consulate in Toronto, whereas Global Affairs Canada-authenticated documents might be able to be legalized at any consulate in Canada), and provincial authorities can only authenticate documents from their own province (so they can't authenticate an RCMP background check, which is federally issued).  To be sure that a foreign consulate or embassy will accept provincially-authenticated documents, you should ask ahead of time.

The advantage of using ODS and other provincial document authentication services is that local businesses that need documents authenticated on the spot can do so within their provincial capital cities rather than traveling to Ottawa or waiting for the mail.  It is not advisable to use them over Global Affairs Canada unless you know that your documents will still be accepted by the foreign consulate or embassy.

Final note

If you're in a rush, you should go in person to Ottawa or, if it's too far, hire a local process server in Ottawa to do the job for you.  Otherwise, you may wait a minimum of forty days for Global Affairs Canada to authenticate your documents, plus another week or more for the Spanish embassy to process them.

I hope that this information is helpful to Canadians who wondered how to get an Apostille for their official documents.  If you found it helpful, please share the article with other people who might be interested and/or leave a comment below.  Thanks for reading!

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