Certifications, Apostilles, and the Authentication of Documents

Get your public documents authenticated for use outside the U.S. 

Pile of documents on a desk

The Secretary of the Commonwealth provides authentication of Pennsylvania public officials' signatures on documents that will be used outside the United States. For documents intended for use in foreign countries, the country of destination determines whether the authentication is an Apostille or Certification. Apostilles and Certifications are not issued for documents that will be used within the United States.

When a Pennsylvania notary public notarizes a document that will be filed in another state or country, the notary may be asked for proof of his or her appointment. This verification is called a Certificate of Good Standing for Notary Public and may be obtained from the Secretary of the Commonwealth. The individual for whom the notarization was completed should check with the state or country for its requirements.

The Apostilles, certifications and other verifications are prepared by the Secretary of the Commonwealth for a $15.00 fee. The front doors of the North Office building are locked after 3PM.

If you are looking for information on Vital Records such as Birth Records and Death Records or changing Birth and Death Records visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health- Vital Records.

If you are looking for information on Marriage and Divorce Records or Adoption Registry you may wish to contact the appropriate Pennsylvania county government office in which the records were filed.

Processing time for the drop box is five (5) to seven (7) business days. Of note, processing time does not include mailing time.

Frequently asked questions

  • For 24/7 drop-off, the Department of State's drop box is still available. It is labeled "The Department of State", is a royal blue color, and is located across the street from the Department on North Street at the entrance of the Keystone Building. Processing time for the drop box is approximately five (5) to seven (7) business days. Of note, processing time does not include mailing time for the documents to be returned.
  • For documents that are submitted by mail, typically, allow about two (2) to three (3) weeks.  Processing time does not include mailing time. 

  • Walk-in requests are accepted from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday (except State holidays).  Since walk-in requests are processed while the requestor waits, you are encouraged to arrive by 4:00 PM so your documents are processed before the end of the business day.

  • If using a GPS device for driving directions, please use 401 North Street Harrisburg, PA 17120 for the street address. Once you get to the North Office Building, come upstairs to room 201.

  • The cost is $15.00 per document. 

  • Do not remove the staple from any document that has been processed.
  • To mail requests, submit the following to:

Pennsylvania Department of State
Apostilles & Certifications
North Office Building, Room 201
401 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120-0029

  1. Original document(s)
  2. Include a cover letter or you may use our Request for Legalization of Documents form. Identify the country where the documents will be used, as well as the requestor's name, contact phone, email, and full mailing address.
  3. Enclose a personal check, money order, or cashier's check made payable to "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" in the amount of $15 per document (not per page).  Checks and money orders must be issued by a U.S. institution or, if issued by a foreign bank, must be in U.S. dollars and contain a routing number.  Cash cannot be accepted by mail or drop-box.
  4. Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the return of your documents.  If you wish the order to be returned by a courier service, you must enclose a prepaid air bill with your order.  Effective October 1, 2009, the Department no longer accepts FedEx or DHL for the return shipment of documents.  NOTE: If requesting your documents to be returned via UPS (United Parcel Service), please list yourself as the sender and recipient on the air bill that you will be providing.  Otherwise, the air bill will be changed accordingly.  We recommend purchasing tracking services for both the original envelope and the return envelope, and keep a record of your tracking numbers.
  • For Certificates of Good Standing for Notaries Public, write a letter requesting a Certificate of Good Standing and providing the full notary name and commission ID, if known, your name and full mailing address and payment in the amount of $15 per certificate. 
  • Questions concerning apostilles or certifications may be directed to the Pennsylvania Department of State, Bureau of Notaries, Commissions, and Legislation by calling (717) 787-5280, by email: RA-CERTIFICATIONS@pa.gov or by writing to the address listed above. 
  • You may contact the U.S. Department of State concerning the legalization of FBI background checks and other federal documents at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html.

Both apostilles and certifications are used by foreign governments to assess the authenticity of an official signature on a document; the capacity in which the person signing the document acted; and the identity of any stamp or seal affixed to the document.  When the Department of State authenticates a document with an apostille or certification, the department verifies that the person who signed the document is a Pennsylvania official and the Secretary of the Commonwealth has given "full faith and credit" to the official's seal and signature.

Since October 15, 1981, the United States has been part of the 1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents.  The Convention provides for the simplified certification of public (including notarized) documents to be used in countries that have joined the Convention.

Under the Hague Convention, signatory countries have agreed to recognize public documents issued by other signatory countries if those public documents are authenticated by the attachment of an internationally recognized form of authentication known as an "apostille."  The apostille ensures that public documents issued in one signatory country will be recognized as valid in another signatory country.  Apostilles require no further diplomatic or consular legalization.

At this time the following countries and territories have accepted the Hague Convention.

For documents intended for use in countries which are not signatories to the Hague Convention, the Department of State attaches a certification.  Note that unlike apostilles, which require no further legalization, certificates of authentication may require further diplomatic or consular legalization before being sent overseas.  This may require further authentication by the U.S. Department of State and the Foreign Embassy of the country of intended use.

A certification performs the same duty as an apostille; however, its appearance and places of use are different.

Although apostilles and certification serve the same purpose, substituting one for the other will delay the use of your documents.  It is essential that you inform the Department of State as to where the documents are to be used.

The apostilles and certifications issued by the Secretary of the Commonwealth are attached to the dossier document exclusively by means of a staple.  This is the only procedure for attachment in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania state law and custom do not allow for the documents to be sewn, riveted, glued or attached together by ribbons.  Pennsylvania also does not number pages or affix seals for purposes of sealing documents together.  It is furthermore the understanding of this office that the 2003 Special Commission of the Hague Conference on Private International Law concerning the practical operation of the Hague Apostille Convention concluded that stapled documents meet the obligations of the Hague treaty.

Some common examples of documents that require an authentication for international use are business documents (articles of incorporation, certificates of good standing and bylaws), adoption paperwork (home studies, letters of reference, birth certificates, marriage certificates) and foreign study or education documents (diplomas, transcripts).  Other types of documents may require authentication to facilitate patents, trademarks, dual citizenship or international relations.

Documents must be originals (not photocopies), signed by and contain the official seal of the proper Pennsylvania official.  NOTE: Diplomas, transcripts and criminal record checks must be notarized by a Pennsylvania notary public prior to requesting an apostille or certification.

  • The correct fee must be enclosed.
  • The country where the documents will be used must be identified.
  • County documents must be signed by the clerk in charge of the county office.  Documents will not be accepted if they are signed by an assistant or deputy clerk.
  • Marriage certificates must be signed by the register of wills or clerk of the orphans court (and not only the officiant or clergyperson).
  • Death certificates must be signed by the state registrar.  Death certificates will not be accepted if they are signed by a local registrar.  Birth certificates do not need to be and should not be notarized.
  • Photocopies of notarized or certified documents may not be certified by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

The certificate of notarial act on notarized documents must be worded and completed using the English language. The certificate may be simultaneously worded and completed in another language that is understood by the notary public and must be immediately adjacent to the English-language certificate.

Questions concerning apostilles or certifications may be directed to the Pennsylvania Department of State, Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation by:

Department of State
Bureau of Commissions, Elections & Legislation
210 North Office Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120-0029

The department can only answer questions concerning the apostille/certification process that pertain to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

If you would like information concerning apostilles, certifications or documentation in any other state or jurisdiction, please contact the appropriate agency for your needs, i.e. foreign consulates, adoption agencies, schools.

You may contact the U.S. Department of State concerning the legalization of documents.

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Pennsylvania Department of State Bureau of Notaries, Commissions & Legislation Apostilles & Certifications 201 North Office Building Harrisburg, PA 17120