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How to authenticate buying or selling documents from overseas countries

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Anyone who has ever bought or sold a property overseas or has been living abroad and has had to sell a property in South Africa, has possibly experienced some frustration at some point. This is due to certain documentation being rejected as it has not been properly authenticated.

Although technology helps in many cases to get documents back and forth, there is still a need to present physical proof of identity or ownership, as this prevents (or helps prevent) fraudulent transactions from taking place, says Rene Barry, partner at Henkes Nolte-Joubert Attorneys.

“The level of authentication does depend on the countries the involved parties reside in or are citizens of (according to whether the country is a signatory to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents),” she says, noting that it is best to seek advice from your attorney (even better if the firm has an in-house Notary Public) who can assist with ensuring all the paperwork involved in legal transactions across countries are valid. “Where countries are party to The Hague Convention, documents are signed and/or executed in the presence of a Notary Public. The Notary Public will attach a Certificate of Authentication to the documents which must bear his/her signature, stamp and seal. The documents are then forwarded to the High Court in the area in which the Notary Public practices. The Court will then attach an Apostille Certificate authenticating the Notary Public’s signature.”

If the country is not party to the Hague Convention?ask a lawyer resize

If the documents are to be used in a country which is a not a signatory to the Hague Convention and the parties are in South Africa, there are two additional steps to the ones above. The documents are processed as per usual and then submitted to the Legalisation Section at the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) based in Pretoria to be legalised. Once legalised by DIRCO the documents are then forwarded to the Embassy/Consulate of the country in which they are intended to be used for further authentication.

“It is interesting to note that documents signed in Antartica do not have to be authenticated,” says Barry. “Documents signed in Namibia (unlike documents signed in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and United Kingdom of Great Britain) may not be authenticated before a Notary Public, however, as Namibia is a party to the Hague Convention and documents can be authenticated by following the steps set out above.”

Barry says that many clients call on her services for powers of attorney – where they have sold property here or abroad but are not able to physically be present at the signing of documents, or where they are abroad and need their identity documents, marriage certificates, etc., authenticated so as to be able to open bank accounts or apply for finance. These processes can be trying even when in the country of birth, so it is always best to be prepared and ensure all documentation is in order beforehand, she says.


Mariette Steynberg is a qualified economist with a post-graduate diploma in financial planning. She has enjoyed working on holistic financial plans for clients in various stages of life, as well as a development economist assessing the socioeconomic impacts of new developments. When she is not working, Mariette enjoys parenting her quirky, delightful toddler girl. Cloth diapering, Eskimo kisses and the importance of reading to your child are all causes close to her heart. Mariette is passionate about financial education and hopes to use the experience she has gained to share knowledge with HomeTimes’ readership. Her goal is to provide information that is implementable by everyone.

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