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Legalization and apostille

Legalisation is an administrative act through which a foreign public document is validated, verifying the authenticity of the signature on a document, the capacity in which the signatory of the document has acted and, where applicable, the identity of the seal that the document bears. Legalisation is limited to the recognition and accreditation of a signature and therefore does not certify the content or the subsequent destination of the document. 

​​As a general rule, all foreign public documents must be legalised in order to be valid in Spain and all Spanish public documents must be legalised in order to be valid abroad. However, certain international agreements simplify the legalisation procedure and even exempt certain documents from the legalisation requirement. ​

1. Public documents exempt from the obligation of being legalised 

2. Apostille for public documents

3. Legalisation of public documents

4. Translation of public documents ​

1. Public documents exempt from the obligation of being legalised 

European Union regulations detail a number of public documents issued by the authorities of one Member State which are exempt from any form of legalisation and similar formalities (apostille) when presented to the authorities of another EU Member State: 

  • Documents issued by an authority or official connected with the courts of a Member State, including those issued by the Public Prosecutor's Office or by a court clerk, officer or bailiff ("huissier de justice").
  • Administrative documents.
  • Notarial instruments.
  • Official certifications that have been placed on private documents, such as registration entries, verifications of the accuracy of a date and authentications of signatures.
  • Documents issued by diplomatic or consular agents of a Member State exercising their duties in the territory of any State in an official capacity, where such documents are to be presented in the territory of another Member State or to diplomatic or consular agents of another Member State exercising their duties in the territory of a third State.

The 1977 Athens Convention of the International Commission on Civil Status details the documents that each State Party to the Convention accepts without legalisation or equivalent formality, provided that they are dated and signed and, where appropriate, stamped by the issuing authority of another signatory State:

  • Documents relating to the civil status, capacity or family situation of individuals, their nationality, domicile or residence, whatever their intended purpose.
  • Other documents that have been drawn up for the celebration of the marriage or for the formalisation of an official act of civil status.

The 1976 Vienna Convention  of the International Commission on Civil Status states that multilingual certifications of civil status records drawn up in accordance with the models annexed to the Convention shall be accepted without legalisation or equivalent formalities in the territory of the Signatory States to the Convention.

The1968 London European Convention abolishes the legalisation of documents drawn up by diplomatic and consular agents of the  Signatory States to the Convention.

Finally, the1984 Madrid Exchange of Letters abolishes the legalisation of Spanish and Russian Civil Registry certificates, which will be reciprocally accepted without the need for legalisation. ☝​​​​​



2. Apostille for public documents

The Hague Apostille is a procedure that simplifies the legalisation of public documents. It consists of the affixing of a single stamp and signature on the document.

It is valid for Signatory States to the 1961 Hague Apostille Convention. Consular documents issued by foreign embassies and consulates in Spain and documents relating to commercial or customs operations are excluded from the scope of application of the Convention.

In Spain, the Legalisation Section of the Ministry of the Presidency, Justice and Relations with Parliament is responsible for carrying out this procedure. The competent authorities in the other Signatory States to the Convention can be checked on the website of the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

The Hague Apostille has no expiry date. However, if the document issued has a limited validity, so will the legalisation. ☝​​​​​



3. Legalisation of public documents

In all cases not covered by any of the above cases (either because it is not a State Party to any of the conventions or because it is a document excluded from the scope of application of the conventions), standard legalisation must be carried out. Legalisation has no expiry date. However, if the document issued has a limited validity, so will the legalisation.

A distinction must be made between the legalisation of foreign documents and the legalisation of Spanish documents.

a) Legalisation of foreign public documents

Foreign public documents can be legalised through diplomatic channels, either abroad (by the Spanish Consular Offices abroad) or in Spain (by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation).

  • Legalisation abroad. The procedure to be followed involves two distinct formalities:
      1. Firstly, legalisation by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the foreign country issuing the document is required.
      2. Then, it must be legalised by the Spanish Consular Office in that country. A fee is charged for the latter procedure.
There are a number of documents whose legalisation is aligned to specific procedures:
      • Civil Registry Certificates. You can choose to follow the procedure described above or apply for legalisation at the Consular Office of the country issuing the document in Spain. In this last case, the following steps should be followed:
        1. Firstly, legalisation by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the foreign country issuing the document is required.
        2. The document must then be legalised by the Consular Office of the issuing country in Spain.
        3. Finally, legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation is required.
      • End-Use certificates (C.U.D. or E.U.C. “end user certificate"). For foreign documents related to military transactions of defence or dual-use material (that which can have both military and civilian use), the same procedures can be followed as for Civil Registry Certificates, with the particularity that the legalisation procedure must be carried out by a diplomatic official with a signature registered with the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.

      • Returned Emigrant Certificates. Any work undertaken abroad, whether employed or self-employed, and the duration of such work must be proven by means of employment contracts, pay slips or social security contributions and/or a certificate of employment from the company where the work was carried out, which must show the length of time the services were rendered. In principle, the declaration of these documents is subject to one of the following routes:
        1. The Spanish Counselling of Labour, Migration and Social Security of the country in which the work activity was carried out must have certified its content.
        2. In the event that there is no Counselling of Labour, Migration and Social Security or equivalent body in foreign countries, public documents must be legalised. This legalisation shall be carried out at the Spanish Consular Office;
        3. When returning from a country party to the Hague Convention, public documents must be apostilled.
​However, it will not be necessary to process an attestation, legalisation or apostille when the employment documents have secure verification codes that allow their authenticity and integrity to be accredited.

Likewise, interested parties may submit private foreign documents to the competent authorities in Spain, together with, when applicable, the appropriate translation, without the requirements of notarisation, legalisation or apostille being necessary for their full validity and evidentiary value. The private nature of the documents shall not, therefore, be a ground for their non-acceptance. Private documents shall be assessed according to sound judgement rather than having the status of public documents.


  • Legalisation in Spain. Foreign consular documents -issued by foreign Embassies and Consulates accredited in Spain- must be legalised at the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation. Legalisation through this Service is always free of charge. The most common consular documents are:
    • Certificates of existence and marital status certificates.
    • Good conduct certificates.
    • Residence and/or consular registration certificates.
    • Nationality certificates.
    • Sworn statements.
    • Certificates explaining local legislation.
    • Certifications of not having received a grant or public subsidy, among others. 

b) Legalisation of Spanish public documents

Spanish public documents can be legalised through diplomatic channels, either in Spain or abroad.

  • Legalisation in Spain. The legalisation of Spanish public documents varies depending on the issuing authority and the nature of the document. Depending on the document in question, the following steps must be followed, in the order described:
    • Other documents issued by the General State Administration :
      1. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      2. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Documents issued by Autonomous Communities:
      1. Legalisation by the Legalisation Unit of the respective Regional Government.
      2. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      3. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Documents issued by Local Authorities (City Councils, Provincial Councils, Island Councils, District Associations and other types of local bodies):
      1. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry of Territorial Policy and Democratic Memory, except in the case of Madrid City Council documents, which may be legalised directly at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation. 
      2. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      3. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Notarised documents (deeds, instruments, authentications, attestations, certifications, and, in general, all those documents in which a notary is responsible for attesting):
      1. Legalisation by the Association of Notaries.
      2. Legalisation by the Legalisation Section of the Ministry of the Presidency, Justice and Relations with Parliament.
      3. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      4. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Judicial documents (birth, marriage or death certificates; certificates of matrimonial capacity, certificates of existence or marital status; and other court rulings):
      1. Legalisation by the High Court of Justice of the corrresponding Regional Government.
      2. Legalisation by the Legalisation Section of the Ministry of the Presidency, Justice and Relations with Parliament.
      3. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      4. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Commercial documents relating to exports:
      1. Legalisation by the Chamber of Commerce of the corresponding province.
      2. Legalisation by the Higher Council of Official Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Navigation.
      3. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      4. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Bank documents:
      1. For documents issued by banks, legalisation is handled by the Bank of Spain (C/ Alcalá, 48, 28014 Madrid - Ventanilla 16). The document must be signed by an authorised representative of the issuing bank with a signature registered in TARGET2 before it can be endorsed
      2. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      3. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Higher education academic documents, valid throughout Spanish territory: The procedures of the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities will be followed for their legalisation.

    • Academic documents that do not have the standing of a university degree: The procedures of the  Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sport will be followed for their legalisation.

    • Primary education academic documents issued by educational establishments in an Autonomous Region:
      1. Legalisation by the Regional Ministry of Education or equivalent body.
      2. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      3. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Documents issued by the Catholic Church:
      1. Legalisation by the Apostolic Nunciature and/or [MMX9] [AA10] the Diocese. In case of doubt, the matter may be referred to the Subdirectorate General for Religious Freedom of the Ministry of the Ministry of the Presidency, Justice and Relations with Parliament.
      2. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      3. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Documents issued by other religious authorities (such as Koranic, rabbinical or evangelical marriages, which must be registered in the civil registry office; if not, they must be notarised):
      1. Legalisation by the High Court of Justice of the Autonomous Region whose Civil Registry has issued the certificate.
      2. Legalisation by theLegalisation Section of the Ministry of the Presidency, Justice and Relations with Parliament.
      3. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      4. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Medical certificates (on the official form, with the signature and stamp of the registered doctor):
      1. Legalisation by the College of Physicians of your province.
      2. Legalisation by the Spanish General Council of Official Medical Associations (Plaza de las Cortes, 11 4º - 28014 Madrid. Tel: +34 91 431 77 80).
      3. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      4. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
    • Domestic animal health certificates (issued by the relevant Government Delegation/Subdelegation, based on a veterinary certificate):
      1. Legalisation by the General Directorate of Agricultural Production and Markets of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (C/ Almagro, 33 5º - 28071 Madrid. Tel: 91 347 66 07).
      2. Legalisation by the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
      3. Legalisation, ultimately, by the corresponding foreign Consular Office accredited in Spain.
  • Legalisation abroad. The legalisation of Spanish documents issued abroad must be carried out by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the country in question.

c) Refusal: grounds for refusal and means of redress

When the legalisation of the documentation is not carried out in accordance with the aforementioned procedures, the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation may refuse to process it. Refusals shall be based on just cause, such as the submission of a private document for legalisation, or the submission of a document for legalisation without having complied with the prior formalities required for that type of document.

In any case, the refusal may be appealed as an administrative act in accordance with the provisions of Title V of Law 39/2015, of 1 October, on the Common Administrative Procedure of Public Administrations. ☝​​​​​


4. Translation of documents 

In order to be valid in Spain, translations must be undertaken or checked at Spanish Consular Offices abroad or those of the country of origin of the document in Spain and then legalised at the Legalisation Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.

It is also possible to have the translation or checking of the translation carried out by a sworn interpreter-translator appointed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation. In the latter case, no legalisation is required.

Within the European Union, the translation of public documents of a Member State is not required when they are accompanied by a multilingual standard form as referred to in the Annexes to Regulation (EU) 2016/1191. Sworn translations made by persons qualified to do so under the law of an EU Member State are also considered valid. ☝​​​​​