Tuesday, November 06, 2007

When in doubt, get an Apostille

Panama Immigration clearly says it:
A) All documents issued abroad, should be submitted duly apostilled or authenticated by the Embassy or Consulate of Panama in the country that issued it and by the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Panama. B) All documents issued abroad in language besides Spanish, must be translated by a certified interpreter recognized by the Minister of Justice.

The Apostille is demanded in Panama for foreign Police Records (even if you are an angel and have never been convicted), Birth certificates, Marriage certificates, Social Security letters, and lately even letters of reference from banks.

U.S. State Department explains:
Documents issued in one country which need to be used in another country must be "authenticated" or "legalized" before they can be recognized as valid in the foreign country. This is a process in which various seals are placed on the document. Such documents range from powers of attorney, affidavits, birth, death and marriages records, incorporation papers, deeds, patent applications, home studies and other legal papers. The number and type of authentication certificates you will need to obtain depend on the nature of the document and whether or not the foreign country is a party to the multilateral treaty on "legalization" of documents. (A) If your document is intended for use in a country which is a party to a treaty called the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents ("Hague Legalization Convention") (countries listed below), obtaining a special "apostille" certificate is generally all that is required.

US federal documents (such as a Social Security letter) may be authenticated only by the US State Department. However, other documents which a have a notary signature are authenticated by the Department of State of each individual state. The same may apply in federal nations like Canada, Australia and Germany.*

You can get the Apostille by yourself using a self-addressed stamped envelope and paying by check, or a privately-owned notary service.

Once you are in Panama, the Embassy of your country cannot issue an Apostille for your document. This has to be done BEFORE you arrive to Panama.

For more information, see:
US State Department Authentication of Federal documents
US State Department List of State Authentication Authorities*
Wikipedia Guide to Apostille

If you want to just forget about the whole Apostille thing, you can take your chances with the list of Panama consuls in Panamatramita.gob.pa. Call them up first to figure out if it is better to deliver the document yourself in person, or if they can handle return postage. If they lose your document, there is no authority you can complain to!

*If there is a country you would like us to cover, email us and we will post the link to its Apostille instructions.

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