If you’ve started looking into teaching English abroad you will almost certainly have come across the term ‘Apostille’ when getting your documents ready to apply for Visas. You may have visited the Department for International Relations and Cooperation website and been a little blown away by all the information. If so, then this guide is for you, Apostille South Africa, a simplified guide to legalizing South African documents for international use.
To put it really simply: before your South African documents will be accepted overseas, they need to be authenticated as legal in South Africa with an Apostille Certificate.
This guide sets out how you can go about this legalization of documents in South Africa. It will also focus on how to apply for things like your police clearance certificate (criminal record check) and tax residency in South Africa.
If you are still overwhelmed by the whole process, at the end of the article I will tell you how you can get all of this done with relative ease! So here goes:
Apostille South Africa
What does is mean to Apostille?
Most countries across the world, including South Africa, are part of the Apostille Convention. Getting your documents apostilled means that they are confirmed as legal documents in South Africa and they will be seen as such in another country. To put it another way, it is a legalization of documents in South Africa to use in another country. This is done by getting an Apostille Certificate or a Certificate of Authentication (for countries not part of the Apostille Convention).
You can apostille any public, legal document in South Africa. The kinds of documents that you will most likely be asked for if you are pursuing a job overseas are degree certificates, police clearance certificates, unabridged birth certificates and unabridged marriage certificates.
Where can I get documents apostilled or authenticated?
There is only 1 place in South Africa that can apostille documents, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) in Pretoria. Click on the pin below to find DIRCO on Google Maps.
You will need to go to the ‘Legalisation’ section of the building on the first floor. The staff are generally very helpful and friendly so don’t be too intimidated by the grandeur of the DIRCO building.
Office hours are 8:30-12:30 on week days.
You can also email any queries you have to firstname.lastname@example.org
How do I apostille my documents in South Africa?
The process to apostille a document in South Africa is not difficult, most of the problems you will face involve verifying and authenticating documents before the actual apostille process.
When you have your final documents to apostille you will need to go to the ‘Legalisation’ section at DIRCO and complete the following:
- Complete the legalization form which includes which country the documents need to be legalized for.
- Queue and submit your documents to the DIRCO staff.
- The processing time for documents is set out on the DIRCO site and is as follows
- 1 – 5 documents, next day collection
- 6 – 19 documents, 3 working days
- 20 or more documents, 5 working days
- The entire apostilled document is sealed with green ribbon. Don’t break that ribbon.
Some documents, like a Police Clearance Certificate, can be apostilled as is. If you are apostilling a copy, like a degree certificate, then it needs to be authenticated or verified first.
Apostille a South African degree certificate
When applying for a Work Visa you will often need a 4 year degree. You will not be submitting your original degree so the copy of your degree needs to be verified by the Department of Higher Education (DHE) in Pretoria before it can be apostilled. Here’s what you need to do:
- Take your original degree certificate and a copy of the original to the DHE offices.
- The DHE will stamp your copy to say it is a true of of the original. They will also attach a cover letter to verify that your degree is from a recognized university in South Africa.
- NOTE: You can only get your degree verified at the DHE in Pretoria, DIRCO will not accept anything from the smaller offices in places like Durban and Cape Town.
- There is no cost to getting a copy of a degree verified by the DHE.
You will take the verified degree copy and the attached cover letter to DIRCO to be apostilled. Click on the map icon below to find the DHE in Google Maps.
Apostille a TEFL certificate
Most TEFL certificates are digital so you will need to get a hard copy authenticated (notarized) before you can get it apostilled. You will need the copy of your TEFL certificate as well as the contact information of the company that you completed your qualification through to get it authenticated by a notary.
Not all countries require an apostilled TEFL certificate. We did not need to get it done when moving to teach in South Korea but we did need to get it done for a Vietnamese Visa.
Contact your potential employer if you are uncertain, notarising can be very expensive. It cost us R485 per document getting it done for Vietnam.
Police clearance certificate South Africa
To work internationally you have to prove that you do not have a criminal record. Police clearance certificates in South Africa are applied for at any police station around the country. They may also be referred to as Criminal Record Checks. What you need to do to apply for your police clearance is the following:
- Pay the R114.00 fee. You can pay by electronic transfer to ABSA cheque account number 4054522787 (Please confirm banking details on the SAPS website, linked below, before paying anything) Print a proof of payment to take with you for your police clearance application.
- Make a copy of your ID document to take with you for your application. Although proof of residence isn’t required on the SAPS website, we had to show it to prove we were going to the closest police station to our home. Take it if you have it just in case.
- Go to your nearest police station and complete the SAPS (a) 91 fingerprint form with your full name, ID number, date and place of birth and cell phone number. Your fingerprints will be taken at the police station.
- According to the SAPS website your entire police clearance application will be sent to the SAPS Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management in Pretoria by the police station you get your fingerprints taken at. Read the note below on this.
- You will need to present your original ID document to the police station to collect your police clearance certificate when it is complete.
NOTE: When we applied for our police clearance certificates at the Bedfordview police station in 2016 we were told, quite adamantly, that getting our applications to the SAPS Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management was our responsibility and we must courier it, they would not send it.
We looked into a courier from Johannesburg but it would have cost R250 per document so we decided to try our luck and post the application to the address on the form. Within 3 weeks our police clearance certificates had been completed and posted back to us.
To see the full breakdown of the process for your Police Clearance Certificate, you can access the relevant page on the SAPS website here.
Tax Certificate of Residence South Africa
Certain countries may have tax exemptions for foreign workers to avoid double taxing. In South Korea you can work tax-free for 2 years if you have proof that you are a tax paying resident of another country.
Unfortunately you can only apply for this certificate at a SARS branch. You will need an income tax number already, so if you are fresh out of university, make sure you apply for one.
For more information on getting this certificate and the required forms, read this document from SARS.
We did not need to get these certificates of residence legalised for South Korea.
In some instances you will need to get documents stamped by the appropriate international embassy in the country of origin. For example, to apply for our Vietnamese Visas, we needed to get our degree copies stamped by the Vietnamese embassy. Not all countries need an embassy stamp as the Apostille Certificate was sufficient for South Korea, but be sure to check with whatever organisation you are applying to.
Just a warning, embassies charge an exorbitant prices for this service. It cost R400 per stamp from the Vietnamese embassy. It is unfortunately a necessary cost.
Get the embassy stamp before you apostille your documents as everything will get apostilled together.
What documents can’t be apostilled?
DIRCO sets out a long list of documents that can’t be apostilled or authenticated. These documents include:
- Anything laminated.
- The abridged version of certificates like birth and marriage certificates.
- Copies of Police Clearance certificates, marriage certificates, birth certificates etc.
- Certified copies of Police Clearance certificates, marriage certificates, travel documents etc.
Why can’t I just certify my documents?
Certifying documents in South Africa is only relevant within the country. The fact that anyone can apply to be a Commissioner of Oaths means that the certification process is open to a lot of fraud. Many places will actually discard a document if it has been certified so rather just do the work and get everything apostilled.
If you would ask, ‘where can I certify my documents in South Africa’, anyway, then you can certify documents at any police station. Post offices will also certify documents but may charge a fee, and your bank may also be able to certify documents at the info counter. Most schools will have at least one person who can certify and universities will definitely have someone, just ask around!
Docs4Expats – a simple solution
You may be working a job that won’t give you time to source all these documents, or you may be like us and not actually be in South Africa to try and sort everything out.
Cue Docs4Expats. There are several companies that can assist you in obtaining documents at a fee. I have used Docs4Expats on 3 different occasions and I cannot recommend them highly enough. I have not tried other services but, from the quotes I have been given, I can say that Docs4Expats is one of the cheapest.
It may take a little while to receive a reply to your emails and the website is not always running but I have never been let down. I have had help getting an unabridged marriage certificate, receiving my passport, verifying and apostilling multiple degrees and notarising and apostilling multiple TEFL certificates.
Nothing is for free, obviously, and you will need to pay for the time you save. To get 2 TEFL certificates notarised, 2 degrees verified, all 4 documents stamped by the Vietnamese embassy and apostilled and couriered back to my parents cost R4350. It saved us a massive headache and having to spend our limited holiday time in South Africa standing in queues and driving all over Gauteng. The process took just over a week from getting the necessary documents to Docs4Expats and having them arrive back with my parents.
We are fortunately in a situation where we can afford this kind of service, and for us it was an absolute lifesaver and well worth the money. For more information you can contact Docs4Expats at: email@example.com
Final thoughts on Apostille South Africa
Getting everything prepared for teaching abroad is really tough. The list of documents is huge and the process can seem endless. Hopefully this guide has made things seem a lot more simple than the government websites make it out to be.
If you are wandering if it is worth the effort I can say without a doubt that it is. The experiences I have had in the last 2 years would never have even been remotely possible while I was a teacher in South Africa. You can read about why I think the move was the best decision I’ve made.
If you have any more specific questions leave a comment or contact us directly. We’ll be more than happy to help out in any way we can!
Happy travels and blue skies
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