Authentications are often called "legalizations," sometimes "incumbencies" or "certifications." An Apostille is a form of authentication appropriate to countries which have signed the 1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents. They are often needed in adoptions, extraditions, applications for jobs or graduate programs abroad, and certain business transactions. The essence of these documents is an official statement that an office-holder held a particular office at a particular time. (A more comprehensive description of the Apostille is available at http://www.state.gov/m/a/auth/c16921.htm; the listing of countries who are signatories is at http://www.hcch.net/index_en.php?act=states.listing.)
In order to be able to issue authentications, the Secretary of the Commonwealth keeps on file the qualification document for the particular official -- the swearing-in paper. Officials covered include notaries public, high level appointees such as Commissioners, members of boards and commissions, dedimus justices, legislators, Constitutional Officers, and certain local offices.
The proper heading for this authentication is:
(Convention de La Haye du 5 octobre 1961)
A student should send a signed request to the University Registrar's Office detailing to which particular document the Apostille should be attached (usually a transcript or statement of certification or graduation) and mentioning the country to which it is being sent. If you make a copy of a diploma, we recommend that it be reduced to standard-sized paper. Because of the labor and charges associated with the preparation of this statement, the student should send US $75 cash, traveler's check, or international money order for each Apostille requested, made payable to Washington and Lee University. A personal check drawn on a U.S. bank is also acceptable.
We prepare the document normally except that the signature and embossed seal over the signature are affixed in the presence of a notary public or the local Clerk of Courts. The notarized documents are then sent by W&L, along with a check for the charges, to the Secretary of the Commonwealth with a cover letter explaining what is wanted, including the name of the country in which the Apostille is expected to be used, and enclosing a stamped envelope addressed back to us. When the Apostille and original document are received back from Richmond, and after we have received the student's payment, we send the whole package on to the originally requested address.
The whole process usually takes three to four weeks.
The U.S. Department of State also has an Office of Authentications which will provide a federal authentication for specific purposes, for countries which are not part of the Hague Convention, and rarely for a federal Apostille.