Apostilles are specialised certificates attached to original documents in order to verify the legitimacy and authenticity of the stamp and signature on the document, so that it can be accepted and used in member countries of The Hague Apostille Convention. But what is the difference between a DIRCO apostille and a High Court apostille?
Knowing your way around the legalisation of official documents is imperative for success if you want to move or travel abroad and submit approved visa and immigration applications. In most cases, you will need to have your documents apostillised or authenticated (group under the term legalisation) for official use abroad. And more often than not, this calls for the apostille process.
Understanding an apostille certificate
In order to obtain an apostille certificate for your South African documents, you will first need to verify that the country you intend to use the documents in, is a member country of the “Apostille Convention” (properly called the Hague Convention or Convention de La Haye du 5 Octobre 1961).
Under this Convention, member countries (contracting states) have agreed to abolish the old legalisation process and to replace it with a single formality: The issuance of an authentication certificate (i.e. the apostille) by an authority designated by SA (as the State of Origin) called the “Competent Authority”. The Convention thus facilitates the exchange and verification of public documents; an apostille will be required for all contracting states of the Hague Convention.
South Africa signed the convention agreement on August 3, 1994 and enforced it on April 30, 1995. Seeing that South Africa is a member country of the Apostille Convention, documents originating from South Africa can be apostillised and often must be apostillised in other countries for use in South Africa.
💡 What an apostille really does is ONLY verify the stamp and signature of a document, not the contents thereof. It only proves to another country’s authorities that the document was issued by the correct government body and person within that department.
DIRCO and High Court apostille process
Where you get your documents apostilled depends on what document is required to be apostilled. Only two places apostille and authenticate documents – DIRCO (Department of International Relations and Communication) and a High Court (there are 14 High Courts in South Africa).
As a general rule, documents issued by a governmental department (SAPS, DHA, SANDF, etc.) must go to South Africa’s foreign office to be apostillised. The only place in the country where this can be done is at DIRCO in Pretoria.
If, however, it is a document issued elsewhere, no legalisation can be done on the document. You can pay for a notarised copy that contains the stamp and signature of a Notary, then that document must go to the High Court where that notary is registered. If the document contains the stamp and signature of a Sworn Translator, it must go to the High Court where that Sworn Translator is registered. The same rings true for a Decree of Divorce seeing that the Magistrate is registered with a specific High Court.
Why notarisation is often part of the apostille process
Some documents, like transcripts and Police Clearances/Certificates of Good Standing, cannot be apostillised, since they are not issued by a government body in South Africa. The only way to satisfy the criteria for an apostille, is to have a copy of the document notarised first. An apostille can then be issued on the Notary’s stamp and signature. You can use this in cases where the country you wish to use your documents is also a member country of the “Apostille Convention”.
Not all foreign countries recognise South African documents. Therefore, the apostille process serves as an authenticity indicator. Consular notarial services are also offered for South Africans abroad that want to use their official documents outside of South Africa. If the country you wish to use your documents in is not a member of the Apostille Convention, your documents will be authenticated with a certificate of authentication (as mentioned above), also known as embassy authentications or attestations.
Legalisation (Apostille) Method
|Type of Document||Apostille Body|
|Police Clearance Certificate||Apostilled at DIRCO|
|Birth Certificate||Apostilled at DIRCO|
|Marriage Certificate||Apostilled at DIRCO|
|Death Certificate||Apostilled at DIRCO|
|Divorce Decree||Apostilled at High Court where divorce took place|
|Letter of No Impediment||Apostilled at DIRCO|
|South African University Degree Certificate||SAQA and DIRCO|
|South African Diploma Certificate||SAQA and DIRCO|
|Matric Certificate||Umalusi/SAQA and DIRCO|
|Driver's Licence Verification Letter (RTMC)||Apostilled at DIRCO|
|SANDF Military Exemption Certificate||Apostilled at DIRCO|
|TEFL Certificate||Notary and High Court|
|Foreign Degree Certificate||Notary and High Court|
|Background Check||Notary and High Court|
|Single Status Affidavit||Notary and High Court|
|Power of Attorney||Notary and High Court|
|Copy of Passport||Notary and High Court|
|Copy of Driver’s License||Notary and High Court|
|Transcripts||Notary and High Court|
|Authorisation Letter||Notary and High Court|
|Travel Consent Letter||Notary and High Court|
|Articles of Incorporation||Notary and High Court|
|Certificate of Good Standing||Notary and High Court|
|Certification of Free Sale||Notary and High Court|
|Certification of Origin||Notary and High Court|
|Corporate Power of Attorney||Notary and High Court|
|Commercial Invoice||Notary and High Court|
💡 We have often been asked, particularly for the Netherlands (at the time of publication) to complete High Court apostilles on documents like police clearance certificates and unabridged birth or marriage certificates. This is to save time, as DIRCO takes 2-4 weeks and the High Court 1-2 days (as of January 2023). These are sometimes accepted by the local Dutch authorities, but never by the main Dutch authorities. The risk is up to the person instructing us to complete the apostille service and we thus would advise against doing this.
Final thoughts on DIRCO and High Court apostille
Apostil.co.za can assist you with all your document apostillisation and legalisation needs. We can help you better understand these processes. Our services also extend to assistance with document packs for international travel or emigration purposes.
Get in touch with us today to learn more about our wide range of services.