The complexity of Embassy or Consulate Legalization

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The complexity of Embassy or Consulate Legalization

Each country sets their own rules for legalization. It’s often a bewildering maze of regulations and procedures that must be followed to the letter – for the legalization stamps to be issued. There is no common procedure whatsoever. At one end of the scale, you can walk in and have your document legalized while you wait. The other extreme involves sending your documents on a convoluted path; often requiring they be shipped to Washington DC – more than once. Some countries have explicit instructions on their web site – others require many phone calls to the Embassy to learn the procedures. Often the language on the web site is not English – and the on-line translation functions tend to mangle the technical verbiage.  I have found my way thru these procedural mazes dozens of times. As a I know how difficult it can be to find the right path.

There are many things to consider. One of the most basic is which physical location; Consulate or Embassy will be the right one for your document. Sometimes it is the location where the document was notarized that determines where it is processed. Some other countries consider the content of the document – the location of the issuing company – to determine which of their location’s sphere of influence applies to that company. Once the processing location is determined, it is necessary to find their appropriate prerequisite procedures. Do they want the document notarized, authenticated, and bear an Apostille? Can the Apostille be issued in New York State or must it be done in Washington DC by the US Department of State. has arrived, ready, with all documents required – only to discover that the location is closed due to a national holiday for that country. Payment terms vary from the acceptance of cash - to the requirement that exact payment be made only with a US Postal Money Order – nothing else is accepted. Legalization fees can vary from ten dollars to over five hundred dollars, per document. That fee does not include the often required round trip via FedEx. Some documents can be processed by a notary; others require your personal appearance – with very solid personal ID. The physical environment ranges from the noisy and chaotic – to quiet dignity – once you manage to enter after waiting hours on line. Your language skills will improve quickly as you listen for your number to be called in the local language.

If you are going to “do it yourself”, my best tip is to allow plenty of time for the process. You will have to do your internet research – but be wary of private firms masquerading as foreign Embassies and Consulates. They are in the “mail order” legalization business and often register their web sites to confuse the unwary – they appear to be governmental entities, but are not. It’s quite difficult to find useful information and many hours will also be spent on the phone. Also, allow for the usual separate hours for “drop off” and separate hours for “pick up” – with long waits till your number is called. Cell phone use is generally prohibited in the waiting area, bring a thick book.


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Kenneth Edelstein

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