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Guatemala: The Apostille Convention

The Agreement Abolishing the Requirement for the Legalisation of Foreign Public Documents (Hague Convention on the Apostille ) (Convention) was signed in the Hague, Netherlands, on October 5 1961. The Convention aimed to specify the process for legalising documents through a consulate in one of the contracting states for use in any of the other contracting states.

The Apostille consists of a certificate that both certifies the origin of the document and guarantees the authenticity of the signature of the local official in the country where the document was issued.

Under article 1 of the Convention, the documents eligible for the Apostille certification process are: a) documents emanating from an authority or official and related to the courts or tribunals of the state, including those emanating from the public prosecutor's office, from a clerk of court, or a judicial agent; b) administrative documents; c) notarial acts; and, d) official declarations such as registration confirmations, fixed date visas and signature authentication certificates, inserted in a private document. Excluded are: a) documents executed by diplomatic or consular agents; and, b) administrative documents directly related to commercial or customs operations.

The abolition of the consular or diplomatic legalisation of documents has resulted in saving both time and costs. The process of consular or diplomatic legalisation is quite detailed. It involves making arrangements in the country of origin for the document to be sent to the consulate in the country receiving the document. The document is then sent to the receiving country, and once there, the document must be sent on to the consulate of the country of origin. Finally, the document is sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or its counterpart in that country. Each of these stages involves days of waiting, and the payment of fees for each entity that has had to validate the said document.

In contrast, by adopting the Convention a more efficient and less expensive procedure is offered for validating documents that are to be presented or used in another country, as long as both the countries involved are members of the Convention.

The process of legalisation under the Convention involves obtaining the document in the country of origin, then verifying the authenticity of the document or of the signatures that it contains before a competent authority, after having presented the authenticated document before the Ministry of Relations. The document is then forwarded to the receiving country. Once at its destination, it is only necessary for the document to be presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order for the document to become fully valid in the receiving country.

All the member countries of the Convention use the same format for issuance of an Apostille certificate, adding their relevant stamps, stickers and signatures corresponding to each relevant competent authority involved. The purpose of the Apostille is to certify the origin of the public document, the authenticity of the signature of the competent authority in the country of origin, the authenticity of the seal, and the capacity of the official as regards the Apostille certification.

Under Decree 01-2016 of the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala, dated February 15 2016, Guatemala adhered to the Convention, having designated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the relevant authority for the State of Guatemala and the competent body for the application of the Convention.

In accordance with this law, Guatemalans and foreigners who wish to validate documents in different territories may do so using this simplified procedure, which is already in force, via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

María Isabel Briz

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