What Is An Apostille?
An "apostille" is a form of authentication issued to documents for use in countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961. If the country of intended use does not participate in the Hague Convention , documents being sent to that country can be "authenticated" or "certified". The Office of the Secretary of State provides apostille and authentication service to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals on documents that will be used overseas. Types of documents include corporate documents such as company bylaws and articles of incorporation, power of attorney, diplomas, transcripts, letters relating to degrees, marital status, references and job certifications, home studies, deeds of assignments, distributorship agreements, papers for adoption purposes, etc. For individuals, common documents for apostille include birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, and power of attorney paperwork. The U.S. State Department provides general information about document authentications and apostilles under the Hague Convention of 1961.
Step 1: Get Your Records
The first step in obtaining apostilles is to get the records required. These are most likely vital documents, which will be kept in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (for recent birth and death records), the New York City Marriage Bureau (for recent marriage records), or the New York City Municipal Archives (for old birth, marriage, and death records).
Regardless of where your documents are stored, make sure to select the box on the form indicating that you will be obtaining an apostille and/or submitting them to a foreign government:
If you're using VitalChek to request records from the Department of Health, select Authentication/Apostille or Dual Citizenship from the dropdown menu (either one is fine).
If you're submitting on paper, a checkbox towards the top of the form will allow you to choose this method.
Check the box in the upper left corner for the Extended Form if you're requesting a record from the Marriage Bureau.
Check the box at the bottom of the online request form that you'll require a letter of exemplification and request delivery by mail from the Municipal Archives.
This step is crucial because checking that box or selecting the dropdown menu option will force the repository to add an extra piece of paper called a letter of exemplification to your birth or death records. There will be no apostille for you without this piece of documentation. (The only exception is marriage records, which are exempt.) It's strange. But make sure to tick the option for the Extended Form, since you'll need it.)
"Can I submit a copy of my original birth certificate from [1955, 1981, 2019]?" No, since it requires an exemplification letter. Also, the final apostille will pierce the corner of your document with a metal grommet, which isn't appropriate for sentimental items.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Department of Health must provide crucial records to your legal address. Why? Because having them given to someone else or otherwise misrepresenting your identity while obtaining vital records is a punishable crime. This is why the Department of Health requires many forms of identification and evidence of affiliation to the individual whose information you are obtaining.
"Come on, they're not going to charge me with anything! Yes, you will be prosecuted for it. So don't take any chances; just have the record sent to yourself, and don't lie on the request form. You may always overnight the record to them once you receive it if you're employing someone like me to perform the apostille process for you and you're short on time.
How long will it take for a critical document to arrive in the mail? Awhile. The Department of Health is taking at least two months, give or take, and often longer, as of this writing (December 2021). The Municipal Archives takes roughly 3-4 months to complete. With a turnaround time of roughly six weeks, the Marriage Bureau is now the fastest.
Step 2: If You Have Your Records Already
Make sure your birth and death certificates come with exemplification letters. If you don't already have them, go to Step 1. Continue reading if not.
Step 3: New York County Clerk Office
You're now ready to start the apostille process. It's time to submit your paperwork to the County Clerk of New York. Using your letters of exemplification, the Clerk must validate your records. If you're receiving apostilles for non-vital documents like educational transcripts, the clerk will double-check that they were notarized by a Real Live Notary who is licensed to practice in this jurisdiction.
The good news is that this stage hasn't changed much and can still be done in person. If you live outside of New York City, you can always finish this process through the mail.
Keep in mind that you should NOT VISIT on a Wednesday, and you should NOT ARRIVE between 12:30 and 2pm on any day, regardless of what the County Clerk's hours on Google Maps suggest. The clerk's office shuts for lunch between 1 and 2 p.m., but they stop admitting people in at 12:30 p.m. to avoid cutting into their lunch hour. Apostille services are also periodically unavailable on Wednesdays, a policy they set at random and then undo(!) without announcing it anywhere online. (This is quite beneficial!) It's recommended to avoid going on Wednesdays or in the early afternoon for these reasons.
The County Clerk's office is situated at 60 Centre Street, inside the New York County Supreme Court building. It's a massive courthouse with columns and a spinning wooden door entryway. Due to the epidemic, that entrance is currently closed.
Instead, go around the building's left side (if you're facing the entrance). Make a right turn when you approach the back of the building and descend the steps or ramp to the rear door.
Enter through the left-hand door. (And, if I don't have to mention it, wear a mask.) You won't be admitted until you have one.) You'll be asked some questions and asked to do a temperature test.
Tell the clerk you're receiving an apostille when you call. Present your exemplification record(s) and letter(s). They'll ask for your name. They'll then grab everything and direct you to the cashier's queue (middle line).
When you call, they'll confirm your first name and provide you your paperwork, along with the New York County Clerk's permission. The cost per document is $3.00. Currently, they only accept payment in person. Bring precise change, in my opinion.
They'll hand you your paperwork, stapled in neat packets, once you pay (one packet per document). You did an excellent job! You may depart in the same manner that you entered.
Because you performed this step in person, you may go to Step 4.
Step 3 Alternative: New York County Clerk Step by Mail
Assemble your vital record(s) and exemplification letter(s). Then, for $3.00 per record, go to your local bank or post office and receive a certified check or money order. Make your check payable to the New York County Clerk. Cash and regular personal checks are not accepted. Take an envelope, address it to yourself, and include the appropriate postage.
Mail your records, letters of exemplification, payment, and self-addressed stamped envelope to:
County Clerk of New York County
New York County Courthouse
60 Centre Street, Room 161
New York, NY 10007
The County Clerk will perform the authentication and mail your documents back in the envelope that you provided.
Step 4: Submit Records to the New York Department of State
Take the paperwork you obtained from the County Clerk's office and put them together. They should be organized into packets, one for each record that requires an apostille.
Then, in PDF format, fill out their order form. It's a good idea to print it out and save it with your other paperwork. No matter how many apostilles you need, you just need one form.
The cost of an apostille is $10. Except for cash, they take personal checks, cashier's checks, money orders, and credit cards (following the instructions on the form). If you need numerous apostilles, you can combine your payments (for example, for two apostilles, you can send one $20 check).
Take an envelope, address it to yourself, and include the appropriate postage. Your completed apostilles will be sent to you through USPS in this envelope by the Department of State. If you have more than two packets of papers, you'll need more than one Forever stamp on a regular-sized envelope (if you just have one packet, one stamp would enough). You'll need extra postage if you're shipping a big envelope.
Other carriers, such as FedEx and UPS, will also take pre-paid envelopes from the Department of State's office. Simply indicate on the form which envelope and carrier you'll be using.
Send your packets, filled-out form, money (or credit card authorization on the form), and stamped self-addressed mail to:
Division of Licensing Services
Apostille and Authentication Unit
P.O. Box 22001
Albany, NY 12201-2001
You can drop off your documents, return envelope, and money in person at the Department of State's New York City office if you're able to do so. They aren't processing apostilles immediately away, but it is a faster alternative than sending everything. If you drop off your documentation in person, you must pay with a check or money order.
As of December 2021, the turnaround time for in-person is about 2 weeks. For mail, everything takes 3-4 weeks to complete.
There is no margin for error with the Authentication or Apostille process. If mistakes are made, both your time and money will be wasted and you'll have to start all over again. If you want to look into outsourcing this part of preparing to studying abroad to someone with experience, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 848-467-7740 to request my services or learn more.