You are required to submit, either in Switzerland or abroad, a public document such as a judicial or administrative decision, a notarial act, a criminal records extract, an extract from the commercial register, etc. Before a public document can be made use of in a country other than that which issued it, its origin normally has to be authenticated.
A great many countries have signed a treaty specifically designed to simplify the authentification of public documents intended for use abroad: the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, also known as the Apostille Convention. When it applies, the convention reduces the process of authentification to a single formality: the issuing of an apostille by an authority designated by the country in which the public document was delivered.
Since an apostille is a certificate which authenticates the origin of a public document, a document accompanied by an apostille does not require diplomatic or consular legalisation, i.e. legalisation by the embassy or a consulate of the country in which the document is to be put to use, provided that all the countries concerned are signatories to the Apostille Convention.
Switzerland has been a signatory state to the Convention since 11 March 1973.
Additional information on the Apostille Convention and on apostilles can be found on the website of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH).
Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH)
To familiarise yourself with the procedures to follow for the legalisation of official seals and signatures on public documents begin by asking the following two questions:
- Is the country which issued the document a signatory to the Apostille Convention?
- Has the country, authority or institution to which the document is to be submitted also ratified the Apostille Convention?
If both the country which issued the document and the country, authority or institution to which the document is to be submitted are signatories to the Apostille Convention:
- You only need to request an apostille for the document in question and this will enable the countries concerned to acknowledge the origin of the public document.
The links to websites below are for information on the countries that signed this Convention as well as on the authorities competent for the issuing of apostilles:
List of contracting states to the Hague Convention
How to obtain an apostille
In Switzerland the competent authorities for issuing an apostille on a Swiss public document are either the legalisation authority of the canton concerned or the Federal Chancellery in Bern.
Federal Chancellery in Bern
Swiss representations abroad are not authorised to issue an apostille.
If neither the country which issued the document nor the authority or institution to which the document is to be submitted is a signatory to the Apostille Convention:
- A request for legalisation of the official seals or signatures in question can be submitted to the competent Swiss representation with presentation of the original documents.
- A request for legalisation of official seals or signatures may be submitted to the representation in Switzerland (embassy or consulate) of the country which issued the document. In such cases information on the conditions that apply should be requested from the relevant representation in Switzerland.
In principle Swiss representations abroad are able to legalise the official seals and signatures of certain authorities:
In the case of Swiss documents to be submitted to an authority abroad:
- the cantonal legalisation authority in Switzerland;
- the Federal Chancellery in Bern.
In the case of foreign documents to be submitted to an authority in Switzerland:
- the legalisation authority of the state which issued the document if the country belongs to the consular district of the Swiss representation concerned.
If necessary the Federal Chancellery in Bern is also able to authenticate the signature and the seal of Swiss representations abroad as well as foreign representations in Switzerland. If such authentication is required please contact the authority or institution which requested the document for the relevant information.
Federal Chancellery in Bern
List of foreign representations in Switzerland