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Notarisation and Legalisation – Are They Different?

Simon Colwill - December 20, 2019 - 0 comments

“What’s the difference between notarisation and legalisation?” is a question we at MSC Notaries get asked a lot.

Notarisation and legalisation are two steps in getting a document ready for use abroad. Notarisation, apostille, and consular legalisation are three types of legal certification. MSC Notaries in London can help with them all.

Getting documents notarised and legalised for use abroad can be a confusing process, for example:

  • Many Commonwealth countries need ONLY a notary’s signature to certify the document 
  • Countries signed up to the Hague Apostille convention need notarisation AND an apostille stamp
  • Non-Hague countries need documents notarised, apostilled, AND legalisation by consulate

Notarisation can be done by a notary at their office, or in your own home if you arrange a mobile notary service. The FCO office in London must affix an apostille stamp, but our notary office can help to arrange this for you.

If you’re wondering what is notarisation, what is legalisation, or what does apostille mean, read on to find out.

What is notarisation?

Notarisation is the first step, in which a notary will certify the document in a certain way, depending what is required.

They may, for example, certify a person’s signature on the document to prove that the person signing is the person named in the document. Alternatively, they may certify that the document is authentic or that it is a true copy of an original document that the notary has seen. If you’re still wondering what is notarisation, why not contact our office to find out more?

What is legalisation?

Legalisation is the second step in the process. Not all countries require notarised documents to be legalised.

Many Commonwealth countries (including Australia, Jamaica, Barbados, South Africa, Kenya, and Canada) will accept the document with just notarisation. But many London legalisation services can help with also getting documents apostilled.

A key difference between notarisation and legalisation is who does the verifying. A notary will verify your signature on a document, but legalisation at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office verifies the notary’s signature.

Legalisation can mean getting an apostille certificate, getting consular legalisation, or both. It depends on the country.

What does apostille mean?

For countries which are signed up to the Hague Apostille convention, legalisation will mean having the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office affix an apostille stamp to the notarised document. This is called getting documents apostilled.

We can’t apostille your documents at MSC Notaries, but we can take your documents to the FCO after notarising them.

What is an apostille stamp / apostille certificate?

The apostille stamp, or apostille certificate as it is sometimes known, verifies the signature and capacity of a public official (in this case the notary). For UK birth / marriage or death certificates, an apostille certificate can be issued without the need for notarisation. This is because these UK certificate documents are already signed by a public official (the Registrar).

The legalisation office in London is the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office, unless you need consular legalisation.

What is consular legalisation?

For countries which are not signed up to the Hague Apostille Convention (e.g. China, Thailand, Vietnam and most countries in the Middle East), a third stage of legalisation is needed. After being notarised and apostilled, the document will also need to be legalised at the consulate of the respective country. For example, at the Royal Thai Embassy in London.

The consulate will stamp the document, normally on or near the apostille certificate, and this stamp essentially verifies the authenticity of the apostille. It’s a verification of the FCO’s verification, of the notary’s verification of your document.

We have a specialist consular legalisation team at our office in London, who can help you with this.

Do I need to do all the notarisation and legalisation steps?

We are often asked if it is possible to get the document stamped at the consulate without going through the notarisation and apostille steps first. Unfortunately, the answer is almost always ‘no’, but we can streamline the process for you.

You may not need to get the document notarised (for example if it is a birth / death/ marriage certificate or a police certificate issued by, and signed by someone at, ACRO) but you will almost always need to get the document apostilled.

How long does full notarisation and legalisation take?

Different consulates have different requirements, costs and turnaround times for legalisation, but our in-house legalisation experts will be able to advise on all of these and more. We can give you an upfront estimate of how long it will take.

Getting a document apostilled in the UK can sometimes only take a day, but consular legalisation may take longer.

How do MSC Notaries provide legalisation services?

If you need all three steps of notarisation and legalisation for your documents, we can make a complex and tiring process considerably less stressful for you. Our notary and legalisation office in London can witness your signature, then send off your notarised document to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, if an apostille stamp is needed afterwards.

If you are sending your document to a Non-Hague country, such as China, we can arrange both an apostille and consular legalisation for the document. This saves you coming to us, the FCO, and the country’s consulate separately.

Contact our offices in London & Harrow

Now you know the difference between notarisation and legalisation, alongside what is legalisation and its different types, here’s how we can help you. We offer one of the cheapest notary services in London and the surrounding area.

If you need our legalisation services, or just need to get a document notarised, we provide a range of timely and reliable notary services at our Central London and Harrow offices. Save stress by doing everything through us.

  • We have both FCO and consular agents on hand to clarify the requirements of your case
  • You can rely on us to be up to date with the latest international regulations overseas
  • Our apostille service is based in Central London – less than half an hour away from the FCO
  • We offer friendly, upfront advice about your documents and highly competitive fees
  • Our Harrow (North London) notary office stays open evenings and on Saturdays

Book an appointment with us by calling 0208 907 2699 or email us on

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