The Use of Foreign Documents in the Republic of Serbia

05
Oct 2017

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What’s behind the massive paperwork?

Clients are often upset about the fact that any legal business involving a foreign country requires “massive paperwork”. In order to reduce this burden, we believe it is essential to understand well the purpose and objectives of these administrative duties.

Documents issued in one country may be used outside that country or in another country, with the prior verification of these documents in the process of legalization of the document in the matter or in the procedure for confirming the documents by Apostille, depending on the country in question.

Okay, but that still sounds too legalese. What does that actually mean?

Somehow, leading by example is always the best.

So, in case you want to provide a new employer in Serbia a foreign diploma of completed studies, or a diploma from Serbia in another country, it is not enough to just show it to the employer for the purpose of establishing a working relationship. It is necessary for the diploma to go through certain verification on behalf of competent authorities, which is called legalization of the document.

What are the documents that must go through the legalization process to be used in another country?

The following documents are subject to legalization:

  • Public documents
  • Private documents with the certified signatures of the issuer of the documents by the competent authority.

What is considered to be a public document?

Public documents are documents issued by the competent authorities based on the data kept on the official records, while private documents are documents signed in writing by the issuer. When the competent authority authenticates the signature of the issuer of the private document, it obtains elements of a public document. Public documents and certified private documents that contain the seal of the competent authority and the signature of the authorized person. The purpose of the legalization of the document is to confirm the credibility of the signature of the person and the credibility of the stamp placed on the document.

Public documents are: certificates from registers, certificates, diplomas, and excerpts from the Business Entities Register.

Here is a common example: In order for a foreign company (e.g., the Netherlands) to establish a company in Serbia, it should prove its existence in the Netherlands to the Business Registers Agency (the competent body for founding companies in Serbia), as evidenced by the excerpt from the competent business entities register in the Netherlands. This excerpt issued by the business entities register in the Netherlands must pass through the legalization process of the documents, in order to be used as an appropriate document before the Business Registers Agency in Serbia.

What is considered to be a private document?

Private documents are: statements, consents, power of attorneys, etc.

For example:

You wish to sell a property in Serbia and you live in Sweden? What should you do?

You should authorize a person in Serbia who will sell your property in Serbia on your behalf and for your account. You should make an appropriate power of attorney and verify it with notaries in Sweden. However, your job does not end there. The notarized power of attorney from Sweden must pass through the legalization procedure so that it can be used in Serbia.

How to start the legalization procedure, whom should you turn to?

Primarily, it depends on the country in which you will use the document from Serbia, as well as from the country from which you will use the document in Serbia. First, you have to check two things:

  • Is there a bilateral agreement on the legalization of documents between Serbia and that other country?
  • If there is no bilateral agreement, is the other country signatory to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents? It is understood that you already know that Serbia is a signatory to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents.

However, the question arises: what if there is no bilateral agreement between the two countries, nor is the other country signatory to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents? In this case, the possibility of using foreign documents in another country is further complicated, because it is required to go through the legal process of legalization of the document.

In short, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Legalization of documents in accordance with the law

Therefore, if a bilateral agreement has not been concluded between the Republic of Serbia and the other country, or if the other country is not signatory to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents and if there is no reciprocity, the legalization of documents is carried out in accordance with the Law on Legalization of Documents in International Traffic.[1]

According to this law, it is necessary to make a distinction between the legalization of documents issued by the republic and provincial authorities and organizations and other documents, since the procedure for legalizing the documents of the republic and provincial authorities and organizations is simpler.

The legalization process:

  • The first step is to go to the competent Basic Court, where the President of the Basic Court or a judge appointed by the President of the Court authenticates the documents by his signature and court stamp issued by the authorities from the area of that Basic Court.
  • It is then necessary to execute the legalization of signature of the President of the Court and the court stamp, which is carried out by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Serbia.
  • After that, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia shall, by the signature of the authorized person and seal of the ministry, confirm the signature and seal of the Ministry of Justice.
  • At the end, such certified documents are filled out by the diplomatic-consular representation of the country in which the document is to be used, accredited in the Republic of Serbia.

Public documents issued by the republic and provincial authorities and organizations are directly authenticated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia without prior verification of the court and the Ministry of Justice.

You have to admit, a really complicated procedure that requires a lot of time and money.

For that reason, in order to simplify the complicated and lengthy procedure of legalization of documents regulated by internal regulations, the countries conclude bilateral and multilateral international agreements regulating the issues of the legalization of documents.

Legalization of documents in accordance with international agreements

A) Bilateral agreements

The Republic of Serbia has a number of bilateral agreements regulating the issue of legalization of documents concluded with the following countries: Algeria, Austria, Belgium, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Iraq, Cyprus, Hungary, FYR of Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Montenegro, Ukraine, Slovenia.

B) The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents

The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents dating to October 5, 1961 is is the most important one among the multilateral international agreements. This convention simplified the procedure of legalization, as the document is subject to one verification by the competent body of the country that issued the document (Apostille).

Each signatory to the Hague Convention decides which authority shall be responsible for the confirmation of the Apostille document. In the Republic of Serbia, the Basic Court carries out the Apostille certification with jurisdiction for the area in which the document was issued.

The Apostille confirms the authenticity of the signature, the capacity of the signatory of the public document and the authenticity of the stamp that the document contains.

The document certified by the Apostille (seal-stamp) is exempted from any further certification and is suitable for use in all Countries signatory to the Hague Convention.

The Apostille is a seal-stamp, a form with certain data to be filled in, prescribed by the Hague Convention.

Therefore, a document issued in Serbia supplied with the Apostille can be used in all the countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

A) To which documents does the Hague Convention apply?

The Hague Convention applies to:

  • Public documents issued by the judicial authorities and administrative bodies (statements from the Business Entities Register, certificates)
  • Documents issued or certified by the notary public (power of attorney, certificates)
  • Documents with the authenticated signature of a party (statements, consent forms, power of attorney)

B) How should I know if a document I want to use in a foreign country requires legalization?

It is necessary to check whether Serbia has a bilateral or international agreement with that country, and whether there is a contractual or factual reciprocity. If there is no contract or reciprocity, domestic regulations will be applied or the Law on Legalization of Documents in International Traffic.

C) Is it necessary to legalize the translated documents?

If the document is to be used in a country with a language different from the language in which the document was issued, it is necessary for the document to be translated into the language of the country in which it is to be used. The translation of the document is an accompanying document and should be legalized in the same way as the original document, and is an integral part of the original document. The translator must be officially authorized to issue a translation into a specific language (e.g. a court interpreter).

D) Is it necessary to legalize invoices accompanying import and export?

Public documents accompanying goods during export and import and relating to customs, issued or authenticated by the customs authorities or the competent chamber of commerce are not subject to regulations on legalization and legalization of such documents is not required. (E.g. invoices, customs declarations)

E) Public document was issued in a country which is not signatory to the Hague Convention and with which Serbia does not have a bilateral agreement. What is needed for such a document to be used in the Republic of Serbia?

CONCLUSION

With this text, we tried to outline the most important information on the legalization of documents, as briefly as possible, for the readers to obtain a general picture of the procedure and government bodies involved in the legalization of documents. Bear in mind that this text provides information that cannot be considered as legal advice and legal opinion, but it serves the purpose of general information. It is therefore advisable to consult a person with comprehensive knowledge in this area of law.

[1] ‘Official Gazette of SFRY’ 6/73, and ‘Official Gazette of Serbia and Montenegro’ No. 1/2003-Constitutional Charter

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