If you do business or just conduct live in Mexico for a long enough time you will run into some government office or even private organization that asks you for a copy of your birth certificate which has been “Apostillado”. The “Apostille” is a popular topic on many living in Mexico forums, so I thought that I would look into it and explain it the best I can.
Official documents are usually valid only in the country in which they were issued, because other countries don´t have any reliable way of verifying that the issuing authority is legitimate. The major exception to this rule is the passport, which is issued following international guidelines and is therefore recognized internationally.
In order to facilitate international interaction, the Hague Convention on International Law in 1961 created a system which allows countries to authenticate a document for use on foreign soil. It is the “Apostille”, which comes from the French word for note, and it is nothing more than an added note to your official document certifying the authenticity of the issuing authority.
It is important to consider that the apostille doesn´t actually authenticate the document itself, it just authenticates the issuing authority´s stamp, seal, signature, etc. If you are apostilling a birth certificate, the apostille doesn´t authenticate the certificate, it authenticates the Department of Human Record´s seal; if you get college transcripts apostilled, you aren´t authenticating the transcripts, you are authenticating that they were issued by the school; if you apostille a notarized power of attorney, you aren´t authenticating the power of attorney, just the notary´s signature.
Not all countries in the world are members of the agreement, so in those countries the process is a little different, the issuing country and the receiving country must certify the document, which can take forever. Here is a list of the member nations.
Assuming that the nation who issued the document that you want apostilled is a member of the Convention, you will have to find out what process is needed for the document to be authenticated. The first step is to contact the State Department, Department of the Exterior, Foreign & Commonwealth Office or the corresponding authority for the issuing nation. Usually I go to the country´s website and perform a search for “Apostille”, with a little digging I have always been able to find the proper authority. For you Americans, I will make it easy for you: you should go to the state-level Secretary of State for most apostilles.
It is important to read the requirements for the apostille according to the country that issues it: I got a birth certificate apostilled a couple of years ago, the State that issued it required that it be a new birth certificate of a certain type, so I had to first write a letter to the dept. of public records explaining what type of birth certificate I needed and then later had to send the certificate to the Department of State for apostille.