With this article we want to help you discover answers to the most frequently asked questions about legalization of documents in Spain. The information provided is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice from an expert or consult your nearest Spanish embassy or consulate in your home country.

Introduction

Legalization is an administrative act that grants validity to a foreign public document, since it verifies the authenticity of the signature placed on the document; as well as, the quality in which the authority signing the document has acted.

Unless there is a legal instrument that exempts you from this obligation, all foreign public documents must be legalised to be valid in Spain and all Spanish public documents will require legalisation to be valid abroad.

The legalisation of a foreign document in order to be valid in Spain is an administrative procedure that must be carried out in the country of origin of the document and that must be verified as correct by the Spanish consulate in the country of destination, as long as the country of origin has not signed the Hague Convention. Likewise, this document must be printed with the Security Seal (Service Instruction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nº 28 of 21/05/2012), which admits the exclusive legalization by the Spanish diplomatic or consular authority with no other requirements than adding a security seal of an approved model.

Documents from countries that have signed the 1961 Hague Convention will be understood to be legalised with a stamp called "APOSTILLA", this stamp being imposed by the competent authority of the country of origin.

In Spain, this apostille, on notarial documents, is imposed by the corresponding College of Notaries in each Autonomous Community, and the Notary himself is competent to print this apostille.

The competent authorities for apostilling judicial or administrative documents are those determined in Royal Decree 1497/2011 of 24 October.

In which cases is legalization not necessary?

Given the growing exchange between different countries in the world, many states and governments, such as Spain, have signed agreements aimed at facilitating any type of immigration procedure for their citizens.

The most relevant and currently valid agreement is the Hague Convention No. XII of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, more commonly known as the Apostille Convention.

Many countries have adhered to this treaty, which aims to simplify the procedures for both the issuer and the recipient. This text establishes that among the Member States legalization will not be necessary for the mutual recognition of documents, although a stamp or an apostille will be required. This is the complete list of countries that have signed the agreement.

If you need to obtain a stamp or apostille to legalize any document, you can get information from the Ministry of Justice (Calle de la Bolsa, 8. 28071 Madrid Tel. 902.007.214), or book a consultation with one of our experts.

On the other hand, there are also other agreements that exempt some documents from the need for legalization. In this informative text prepared with information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, you can consult in which countries and to which types of documents they apply.

In all cases, which are not included in any of the previous conventions or agreements, you must proceed with legalisation.

What documents can be legalized?

You can legalize both the original documents and the authentic copies issued by the corresponding Public Administration Authorities, as well as the testimonies of authenticity made by a Notary.           

How much does it cost to legalize a document?

A legalization will be free of charge when carried out by the Legalization Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (C/ Pechuán, 1 - 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55).

If it is done in an embassy or consulate of Spain or when it is done through the corresponding Association of Notaries, for documents certified by a Spanish Notary Public, it will involve the payment of a fee. For more specific information, we recommend that you consult directly with the Spanish representation abroad or the corresponding Association of Notaries.

Do legalizations expire?

No. Legalisations do not have an expiry date. However, if the document that has been issued has a limited duration, the legalisation carried out on it will have the same limitation.

There is also no time limit for applying for legalization of a document. You can do this at any time you need it.

What documents issued by the Spanish authorities are intended for use abroad?

Of all the documents issued by the Spanish authorities, the following documents can be used abroad:

Issued by the General State Administration

This category includes any document issued by its authorities and officials, public bodies and entities included in its structure and social security management bodies.

Su legalización debes efectuarla en primer lugar en la Sección de Legalizaciones del Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Unión Europea y Cooperación (C/ Pechuán, 1– 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55) y en segundo lugar, por las embajadas y consulados en España del país en el cual va a tener efecto el documento.

Its legalisation must be carried out firstly at the Legalisations Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (C/ Pechuán, 1- 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55) and secondly by the embassies and consulates in Spain of the country in which the document is to take effect.

Issued by the Autonomous Communities

This group includes all those documents issued by its authorities, officials and public bodies. Their legalization must be done, in the following order:

  1. The Legalization Unit of the respective Autonomous Community;
  2. The Legalisations Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (C/ Pechuán, 1 - 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55);
  3. The embassies and consulates in Spain of the country where the document is to take effect.

Issued by local entities (Town Halls, Provincial Councils, Town Councils, Associations and others)

The legalization of these documents will correspond, in the first place, to the Ministry of Finance and Public Administration, with the following exceptions:

  1. Documents from the Madrid City Council, which may be legalised directly at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
  2. The second is general for legal or notarial documents.

Subsequently, the legalisation will correspond to the Legalisation Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (C/ Pechuán, 1 - 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55) and, lastly, to the diplomatic or consular representation accredited in Spain of the country in which the document is to take effect.

Notaries

They are those in which a notary acts as a person in charge of giving faith: deeds, minutes, authentications, certificates and a long etcetera.

They must be authenticated by a notary, in the following order:

  1. Notaries, notarial colleges (see the following list of those existing in Spain);
  2. Ministry of JusticeLegalizations (C/ de la Bolsa, 8 - 28071 Madrid Tel. 902007214);
  3. Legalisations Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (C/ Pechuán, 1 - 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55); 
  4. The diplomatic or consular representation accredited in Spain of the country in which the document is going to have effect.

Judicial

This category includes birth, marriage or death certificates; certificates of marital capacity, proof of life or status; court decisions, etc.

All of them require legalization through the courts. Those responsible for carrying it out are, in the following order:

  1. The High Courts of Justice of the corresponding Autonomous Community;
  2. Ministry of Justice-Legalizations (C/ de la Bolsa, 8 - 28071 Madrid Tel. 902007214);
  3. Legalization Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (C/ Pechuán, 1 - 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55);
  4. The diplomatic or consular representation accredited in Spain of the country in which the document is going to have effect.

Mercantiles

This includes certificates of origin, certificates of free sale, company invoices and a large number of commercial documents. Their legalization corresponds to different bodies depending on the nature of the document:

  • Those relating to exports must be legalised by: the Chamber of Commerce of the corresponding province and, subsequently, the Higher Council of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Navigation (C/ Ribera del Loira 12 - 28042 Madrid. Tel: 91 590 69 00);
  • Bank documents can be legalized by various entities. If they have been issued by the Bank of Spain, the procedure can be carried out at any of its branches. Those issued by national banks can be legalized at the central services of this bank or its branch in Madrid or at the Bank of Spain. Finally, those issued by local banks without central services in the capital can be legalised at the provincial branches of the Banco de España. There is also a notarial procedure for banking documents.

In all cases, business documents must always be sent to the Legalisation Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (C/ Pechuán, 1 - 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55) and, lastly, to the diplomatic or consular representation accredited in Spain of the country in which the document is to take effect.

Sworn translations from Spanish into other languages

These must have been carried out by a sworn translator or interpreter appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation. In each case, the embassy or consulate of the country where the document is to take effect must be consulted as to whether the official Spanish translation is valid there. Otherwise, it must be legalized at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.    

Academics

Each type of file or certificate follows different legalization guidelines.

  • Official higher education documents: These are valid throughout the country. Those that are university degrees must be legalized by the Subdirección General de Títulos y Reconocimiento de Cualificaciones (Paseo del Prado, Nº 28 Entreplanta - 28014 Madrid). Those that are not university degrees must be legalized by the Service for Degrees and Recognition of Non-University Foreign Studies (C/ Los Madrazo, nº 15 3ª planta - 28071 Madrid). Both are divisions of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.
  • Official non-university education documents: These are issued by educational centres in an Autonomous Community. Their legalisation corresponds to the Department of Education or equivalent in that region.

Unofficial documents issued by private institutions

In these cases, the legalization corresponds to a notary, notarial association (see list of those existing in Spain) or to the General Directorate of Registries and Notaries of the Ministry of Justice (C/ de la Bolsa, 8 - 28012 Madrid).

In all cases, the legalisation process will not be complete until it has been validated by the Legalisation Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (C/ Pechuán, 1 - 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55) and the diplomatic or consular representation accredited in Spain of the country in which the document is to take effect.

Documents from religious organizations

Catholic Church documents must be legalized by the Apostolic Nunciature and/or the Diocese and the Legalization Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (C/ Pechuán, 1 - 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55). This procedure may also be carried out through a notary public.

For those issued by other religious authorities, two types are distinguished:

  • Those registered in the Civil Registry in Spain, such as Koranic, Rabbinic or Evangelical marriages, will need the legalization of: the High Court of Justice of the Autonomous Community whose Civil Registry issued the marriage certificate, the Legalizations Unit of the Ministry of Justice (C/ San Bernardo, nº 45 - 28071 Madrid. Tel: 91 390 20 10) and the Legalizations Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (C/ Pechuán, 1 - 28002 Madrid. Tel: 91 379 16 55).
  • Those not registered in the Spanish civil registries must go through a notary.

In both cases, the legalization process will conclude with the legalization by the diplomatic or consular representation accredited in Spain of the country in which the document is to take effect.

Medical certificates

After the doctor has filled in the official form edited for this purpose, he must sign it and stamp the document with the seal that certifies him as a member. Next, the interested party who wishes to obtain legalization of the same must go to the General Council of Official Medical Associations of Spain (Plaza de las Cortes, 11 4º - 28014 Madrid. Tel: 91 431 77 80) or to the medical association of his province.   

Veterinary Certificates

After obtaining the certificate from the veterinarian, you must go to the corresponding Government Delegation/Subdelegation, where a health certificate for domestic animals will be issued.

This certificate must be legalized:

  • At the Directorate General for Agricultural Production and Markets of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and Environment, located at Calle Almagro, 33, Madrid.
  • At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation -- Legalizations Section.
  • And finally, at the Diplomatic or Consular Representation, accredited in Spain, of the country where the document is to take effect, where it is advisable to consult about other possible requirements that may affect the export of pets to the country of destination.

Can a document be denied legalization?

Yes, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation may refuse to legalize documents in the following cases:

  • When the original presented is neither a public document nor a private document notarized.

  • When it does not contain the prior legalisations by other authorities established by the regulations.

  • When the signatures to be legalised are not deposited in the register of the Legalisations Section of the Ministry.

However, any refusal may be appealed against through the channels established by Spanish law (Law 39/2015 of 1 October on the common administrative procedure for public administrations).

What foreign documents can be legalized for use in Spain?

The Legalization Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation will only admit:

  • Original public documents.
  • Copies of these issued by the issuing body.
  • Copies certified by the Spanish representations abroad of documents that have been previously legalized through diplomatic channels or with an apostille.
  • Notarial copies.

Should the documents to be legalized be translated?

For those documents issued by the Spanish authorities that are to have effect abroad, the interested party should first consult local legislation, which establishes whether or not a translation is required. Normally, most countries only accept documents in their official language(s).

Foreign documents that are to take effect in Spain must be translated into Spanish. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation will only accept official translations:

  • Carried out in Spain by a Spanish sworn translator or interpreter appointed by the Ministry (these translations are exempt from legalization and are valid without any additional formalities)
  • Made or taken over by a Spanish representation abroad (these translations need to be legalized by the relevant section of the Ministry)
  • Carried out by the diplomatic or consular representation in Spain of the State issuing the document (these translations need to be legalized by the relevant section of the Ministry)

What is legalization through diplomatic channels and in what cases is it used?

Legalization through diplomatic channels is the procedure used to legalize foreign public documents issued by States that are not signatories to international conventions in order to expedite procedures. Generally, it consists of each of the authorities involved carrying out a legalization of the document individually.

If the document is issued by a nonconsular authority in the country of origin of the document, then only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of origin and the Spanish diplomatic or consular representation in that State will intervene in the legalization.

If it is a document issued by a consular authority duly accredited in Spain, then only the legalization section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation will intervene in the legalization.

In accordance with the regulations, applicable to each case, the following documents are exempt from legalization:

  • Academic documents that are presented in the records of Spanish Embassies and Consulates.
  • Academic documents that are presented in the registry of the Spanish Ministry of Education.

Foreign documents that have been legalized by the Spanish Consulates or Embassies abroad, which include a transparent security label, do not need to be legalized in this category of legalizations.

How are documents related to the trade of war material or similar legalized?

Foreign documents related to the transactions of defence or dual-use material (that which can have both a military and civil use) can be legalised by the representation of Spain in the issuing country and/or by the representation of the issuing state in our country. In both cases, the procedure must be carried out by a diplomat with a signature registered in the Legalisations Section of this Ministry.

Documents of this nature also require subsequent legalization by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.

What documents issued by foreign embassies and consulates in Spain are directly legalized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation?

Las representaciones extranjeras en España incluidas en esta lista emiten algunos documentos, como certificados de antecedentes penales y certificados de actos inscritos en registros civiles locales, que son legalizados de forma directa por la Sección de Legalizaciones, con el consiguiente ahorro de molestias para el ciudadano. 

The foreign representations in Spain included in this list issue some documents, such as certificates of criminal records and certificates of acts registered in local civil registries, which are directly legalized by the Legalization Section, with the consequent saving of inconvenience for the citizen.

NOTE: The information provided is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice from an expert or consult your nearest Spanish embassy or consulate in your home country.

Links of interest

The process of legalizing documents can be in some cases complicated, long and cumbersome for the people involved. Aware of this problem, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation has set up a telephone number 91 379 16 55 and an e-mail address legalizaciones@maec.es to resolve any doubts. If you write an e-mail, please include your name, surname and contact telephone number.

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