Gathering Documents from Foreign Countries
How to Gather Documents from Foreign/Overseas Countries when Immigrating to Canada or Sponsoring Your Spouse
Do you need to collect documents from another country? Maybe you need an original of your birth certificate from your country of birth, a marriage search from a previous place of citizenship, or a diploma requested form your country of education, etc.
No matter the circumstances, this article will provide you with a general outline of the process.
However, be forewarned: just about every step of this process comes at a fee, including the gathering of vital statistics, translations, validation and verification stamps, etc. So make sure you allow some wiggle room in your budget!
- Gathering your documents personally
- Gathering your documents from Apostille Convention countries
- Designating someone else to gather your documents for you
- Using your documents
Personally Gathering Your Documents from Abroad
Step 1: Call ahead and find out the process for gathering those documents, as well as the timeline.
For some kinds of documents, the process is very elaborate. You might be required to draft an official request or fill out an application form, mail it in, wait the processing time, collect validating stamps, etc. Depending on the purpose of those documents, keep in mind that sometimes they have to be collected within a certain time frame. For example, any documents collected for the purpose of getting married in Croatia have to be collected within 90 days of the wedding date.
Step 2: Sort out the visa requirements for entering the country (if applicable), and find out how long you can stay
It is imperative that you match the above timeline with the duration of your visa. You may be able to mail in request forms for some documents ahead of time, from your current country of residence.
Step 3: Make sure that the person you are right now can be matched to the person you are in the records
If you still have a passport or any other valid ID from the country of interest, you shouldn’t have a problem with proving your identity. If you do not have a passport or any other valid ID from the country of interest, you will have to travel there with your Canadian documents, and prove that you are the same person as the one in their records.
If you have changed your first or last name either by personal choice or marriage, you must have the supporting documents to prove that you are, in fact, still that same person. It is usually a document that will have both your previous name and your new name on it, connecting the two identities.
Step 4: Note and take care of any discrepancies caused by translations
If your original documents are in a different language and/or a different alphabet, some details may have gotten lost in translation. It is common for minor spelling mistakes to occur in translating between alphabets: sometimes names are translated phonetically, which may result in an extra letter or a loss of one.
In some countries, people receive one or more ‘familial middle names’ (eg. patronymics or matronymics) at the time of birth. Since those are not customary in the West, sometimes those names get lost in translation, and are left out of their Canadian documents. If that applies to you, be prepared to explain the discrepancy and provide supporting documents.
For example, you may currently be a Canadian citizen wanting to get an original of your birth certificate from Uzbekistan. Your current Canadian passport might have a completely different spelling of your name than the original birth certificate you are requesting. In the process of applying for Permanent Residence in Canada you would have had to get your birth certificate translated into English or French (your Canadian documents would have been based on that translation), and you should have retained a validated/notarized copy of that translation – that document will be the bridge connecting your old name as it appears in the records, and the new spelling of your name. So make sure to bring that with you as proof of identity!
Step 5: Depending on the country and the documents you are requesting, you might have to validate all supporting documents originating elsewhere (eg. Canada) for recognition in that country
For example, as far as the country of interest is concerned, your Canadian name change document may be just a piece of paper you printed off and signed. So you may have to get it validated/stamped, to prove that it is a legal document – usually that is done either at the Canadian Embassy in that country, or the country’s Embassy in Canada. You may also have to get those documents verified at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in your country of interest. Make sure to ask about this when you call ahead to find out the process.
Step 6: Any supporting documents have to be translated into the official language of the country
If you need to bring any supporting documents from elsewhere (eg. marriage certificate from Canada), make sure they are all professionally translated into the official language of your country of interest. Depending on availability of translators, it could be done in either country, or even done multiple times.
For example, as a Canadian living and getting married in Croatia, I had to request my original birth certificate from Uzbekistan. I had to translate my supporting documents from English to Croatian, from Croatian to Russian – and in Uzbekistan the Russian documents were translated into Uzbek.
Once all the above has been done, you are ready to travel to your country of interest and collect your documents.
If your documents are being collected for use in Canada, OR if your documents are being collected in Canada for use abroad, see below.
Apostille Convention Countries
|Albania*||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Dominican Republic||Iceland|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Brunei||El Salvador||Ireland|
(excluding Faroes and Greenland)
|Luxembourg||New Zealand||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Tajikistan|
|Malawi||Norway||Sao Tome and Principe||Trinidad and Tobago|
|Namibia||Saint Kitts and Nevis||Sweden|
*Apostille may not be recognized in all member countries.
The above countries are all members of the Hague Apostille Convention. As mentioned above, depending on the nature and purpose of certain documents, they will need to be verified and validated for use in other countries. Generally it is a two-step process: the embassy of the issuing country (where the documents originate) verifies the legality of your documents, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs validates and recognizes them for use in your country of interest.
To make matters easier, the above countries have all agreed to forego that two-step process of verification and validation. Instead, when you request documents from any of the above countries for international use, the country itself validates them for you. This process is called Apostilization – an Apostille Seal is attached to documents issued in those countries, which acts as proof of their genuine, legal standing. This is convenient, because often the countries of the Hague Convention do not have embassies you could reach out to in most other countries, so abolishing the extra steps of validation speeds up the process.
However, Apostilization is not automatic. When you collect all the documents from the issuing country, they must be taken into an office for Apostilization within that country. Usually this happens at the Ministry of Justice, but that may vary by country – so call ahead and make sure you allow some time for the Apostilization process. Once your documents have received the Apostille Seal, they are valid for international use.
If you have already received your documents but weren’t aware of the need for Apostilization, or if you need your documents for use in multiple countries, a quick Google search (“apostilization + issuing country) will bring up a myriad of specialists willing to Apostilize your documents for you for a fee.
PLEASE NOTE: The Apostille Seal is only valid for use within the member countries of the Hague Convention. So for Apostilization to work, your documents have to originate in a member state, AND be used in a member state. For example, an Apostilized document from Croatia will be seen as legal and valid in any and all other member states. The Hague Convention is currently comprised of 110 countries, including all members of the European Union.
CANADA IS NOT A MEMBER OF THE HAGUE APOSTILLE CONVENTION. Even if your documents originate in one of the above countries, but are requested for use in any country not covered by the Hague Convention, the Apostille seal loses its value. In fact, any Apostilized documents might be seen as damaged, and another ‘clean’ copy will be requested by the country’s officials.
Documents originating from, or for use in Canada or any other non-member state must be authenticated and validated as described in the “Upon Receipt of Documents” section below.
Designating Another Individual to Gather Your Documents
If someone else will be collecting your documents from another country, all the above still applies to you (minus the travel/visa requirements). You will also need to:
- Collect all the supporting documents in accordance with the guidelines outlined above.
- Make an appointment with a Notary Public to draft a Power of Attorney. You will need a notarized letter giving permission to the person of your choice (authorized representative) to act on your behalf, and collect the required documents in your country of interest. You will need:
- Your own passport
- Copy of the authorized representative’s passport (picture page)
- Authorized representative’s current legal address
- Make sure that the person you are right now can be matched to the person you are in the records.
- If you still have a passport or any other valid ID from the country you are getting the documents from, you shouldn’t have a problem with proving your identity. The number of your valid passport or ID would be included in the Power of Attorney drafted with the Notary Public. If you do not have a passport or any other valid ID from the country of interest, please see above details.
- Write up a personal letter of explanation. This isn’t a legal necessity, but it does help to clear up the details and add a bit of personality. Anticipate the questions that could be asked, and personally answer them in this letter. It could include things like:
- Reasons for requesting the documents
- Confirmation of sending your friend/family member/hired official to pick up your documents
- Resolution of any discrepancies in your paperwork
- Verification of the contents of your package and reasons for sending it (eg. “I am including a copy of my birth certificate to help you find me in the records, and to prove that I am the person whose documents I am requesting.”)
- Your contact information, should they need to call/email you with further questions
- Appreciation of their time and cooperation, etc.
- Any supporting documents have to be translated into the official language of the issuing country.
- This includes your Power of Attorney and your personal letter of explanation! Please see above for more details on translation.
- Mail all the supporting documents to your authorized representative.
- Once all the supporting documents have been collected (and translated if applicable), you are ready to mail them. Depending on the rush and the importance of the documents you are requesting (it can be very expensive!), you may want to consider using secure and priority mailing options. Some popular options are:
Please double-check the guidelines above to make sure that the documents collected on your behalf have been properly translated and Apostillized (if applicable) before being mailed back to you. Remember that Apostilization must take place in the issuing country.
Upon Receipt of Documents
Translate the documents into the official language of the country you intend to use them in
If the documents you have collected are in a different language than the official language of the destination country, you will have to get them professionally translated. As mentioned above, consider the availability of translators when deciding where to do the translations.
If the language of your documents is not widely spoken in the destination country, consider translating them (professionally!) in their country of origin.
Validate your documents for use in the destination country
Unless your documents have the Apostille’s Seal, depending on their nature and purpose, they may need to be verified and validated for use in your country of interest. Generally it is a two-step process: the embassy of the issuing country (where the documents originate) verifies the legality of your documents, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs validates and recognizes them for use in your country of interest.
For example, if your documents are from Ireland, they would get verified by the Irish Embassy in Canada, and validated by the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After all the above is complete, you should be able to take in all the collected, translated, and verified documents and use them as needed! For more questions, please contact the respective embassy.