Any document coming from abroad and to be used in Spain for an official application must be legalized. That is, verifying that it comes from an official institution and hence provide it with legal validity. Depending on your country of origin, this process will be done through a stamp called Hague Apostille or through the traditional process. In this article you are about to learn all the countries that can apostille (which is the faster and easier way) and which are those that must legalize, and how to do it step by step.
Legalization of foreign documents
Whether you are going to study, work or start living in Spain as a foreigner, you will have to carry out a series of immigration and legal procedures.
These procedures require the submission of different documents to the Spanish Public Administration.
The vast majority of these documents will come from your country of origin, and this creates the need for Spain, the country that receives them, to verify that they are indeed original and valid.
This verification is done through a legalization process, which, as we will see below, authenticates them and gives them international validity.
Depending on your country of origin, this validation procedure can be one of the following two types:
- A traditional legalization process, which is much longer.
- A process that is carried out through the Hague Apostille, which means a great deal of paperwork.
Below we explain what each one consists of and which countries can benefit from a much faster and simplified process (those that can apostille).
What does it mean to apostille a document?
Apostille is the process by which a stamp is placed on a foreign document to make it legally valid in a country other than the country of origin in which it was first issued.
As we have mentioned in the previous section, when you start your application (for example for residency) in Spain, you must legalize all documents issued in your country of origin.
This is because the Spanish administration must verify that it is an official paper issued by a valid institution in your country.
If your country is one of the countries that have signed the Hague Convention, this legalization process is made much easier by means of a stamp (the Hague Apostille).
Although it is true that each country offers a different stamp, it is usually placed on the back of the document to be validated.
Thus, you should keep in mind that not all countries have signed this convention, and it will be essential that you verify the situation of yours to understand the step-by-step process you will have to follow for a successful legalization.
Finally, bear in mind that for the apostille to be valid, both countries (issuer and receiver of the document) must have signed the agreement.
Countries within the Hague Convention
On October the 5th of 1961, the Hague Convention was held in the Netherlands. During that meeting, participating countries agreed to create the Hague Apostille in order to allow documents to be authenticated for international validity in a fast and efficient way (especially because, up until that time, the legalization process was quite long and tedious).
Below is the list of countries that signed this convention and that can benefit from this stamp.
Nowadays, the vast majority of Latin American and European countries (as well as others such as the United States or Russia) are members of this agreement, so you will most likely be able to benefit from the simplified legalization process.
On the other hand, most African, Asian, or even some Latin American countries such as Cuba are not yet registered in the Hague Convention.
What is the validity of an apostilled document and how long does it last?
It is very important that you have a clear answer to this question, as it is a common mistake made by many foreigners in Spain.
The validity of any document issued in your country of origin begins to count from its issuance date, and not from the time the Hague Apostille is stamped.
This is very important since in many cases it can take quite a long time between the issuance of the document and its subsequent legalization. Therefore, the important date is the first one.
However, the legalization or apostille (the stamp) itself does not expire. That is, as long as the document is still valid, its legalization will also work and serve its purpose.
Difference between legalizing and apostilling documents
It is likely that your country is not included in the list attached above.
In that case, it is still necessary to legalize your documents so that they are valid in Spain.
How to do it?
Unfortunately, if it is not possible to apostille the document the legalization process is much longer and more tedious as it is not possible.
Although it is true that it will depend on your country of origin, the documents to be legalized will have to go through different institutions that will sign their validity until they reach Spain.
In general, the process has two parts:
- The first step requires you to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country of origin to receive the first stamp, verifying the official signature of the document to be submitted.
- Subsequently, you will have to go to the Spanish Consulate or Embassy to receive a second stamp.
As you can see, the process is quite tedious. That is why the ability to apostille is so useful: legalization under that path only requires stamping the document once, and from then on the Spanish administration will consider it as valid.
However, the legalized or apostilled foreign document has exactly the same legal validity in the destination country; the difference lies in the procedure to be followed.
Which documents can be apostilled?
On a practical level, all public documents (i.e., issued by a Public Administration) can be apostilled and legalized.
But in order for you to have a clearer idea, let’s take a look at some examples of residency and citizenship applications.
For example, to apply for your residence permit you will need to submit a criminal record certificate and your birth certificate.
These documents are issued in your country of origin, so they must be apostilled.
And in that sense, the apostille process applies both to copies and originals.
How much does an apostille cost in Spain?
The exact price will depend largely on the number of documents to be apostilled and the institution that carries the process out for you.
However, to give you a general idea, in Spain the price can be between € 20 and € 25 per document.
But that’s not all: be careful with translations
After legalizing or apostilling your documents, be careful: the process may not end there.
If the document you are going to present in Spain has been issued in a language other than Spanish, then you will have to also translate it properly.
And, again, any translation must also be legally valid.
That is why we recommend that you have a sworn translation done directly in Spain, as this way the document will have legal validity without the need for extra steps.
If you have any questions, our international lawyers are at your complete disposal: