The UK Legalisation Office has said it will now be able to receive documents digitally and issue electronic e-Apostille certificates in receipt.
The organisation – which is part of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) – said this should provide for a quicker, cheaper and more efficient service.
The move derives from the need in many international transactions, including overseas working visas and managing property, for a legalised document that has to go through the Legalisation Office.
Currently customers send their physical documents by post or courier and receive them back several days later with a paper Apostille certificate attached.
e-Apostilles have been developed to speed up the process, with the first issued under a pilot initiative late last year. The option is now being opened up to more customers.
Applicants will be able to upload digital documents instead of posting them, although they must be signed using an advanced electronic signature or a qualified electronic signature, which offer high levels of validation.
The e-Apostille is issued as an attachment to a PDF, along with the document the certificate relates to. Both the overarching PDF and the Apostille attachment are digitally signed by the Legalisation Office, which also preserves the electronic signature of the public official within the customer’s documents.
Customers will still have the option of using a paper Apostille, and a small number of documents, such as those on police records, will still require a paper Apostille for security reasons.
Chris Ward, head of public facing services at the FCDO, said: “This is an exciting development which will provide a much more efficient user experience.
“A digital Apostille solution has been many years in the making, but this new system is capable of providing a fully digital service.
“We want to continue to provide the best possible service to our customers and will develop the system further to meet a range of user needs.”
Michael Lightowler, notary public and member of the Notaries Society of England and Wales, commented: “The e-Apostille service offers benefits to international trade and commerce in terms of security and convenience. It will also help to reduce the environmental impact of circulating hard copy public documents around the world.”
The Legalisation Office said that UK e-Apostilles have already been accepted by authorities in Italy, the Netherlands, Panama and the Philippines, and they should be accepted in over 100 more under the Apostille Convention agreement.