What you need to know about signing documents abroad for use in South Africa

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Many clients are under the impression that a document can be emailed to them, they can print it, sign and then post the originally signed document back for use in South Africa (SA). Unfortunately this is not the case. Entering into contracts while abroad can be a time consuming and costly exercise. Formal documents signed abroad for use in SA must be properly authenticated to ensure that same is legally valid and acceptable in SA.

High Court Rule 63 sets out the formalities to be complied with when signing documents abroad for use in SA.  As all countries have their own prescribed formalities to be complied with, trying to comply with the different legal systems and regulations is both time consuming, complicated and expensive.

The Hague Convention of 1961 brought about a simplified process for countries that are members of the Hague Convention. The country in which the document was signed as well as the country in which the document is to be used, must both be members of the Hague Convention.

The simplified process brought about by the Hague Convention entails the issuing of an authentication certificate known as an “Apostille”. The document is signed in the presence of a Notary Public who also signs and affixes his/her seal of office to the document. The Notary’s signature and capacity is then authenticated by a competent authority (such as a High Court/State Department) by the issuing of an Apostille. If issued in accordance with the requirements of the Convention, the Apostille must be recognised in the country where it is to be used.

The signature of a Notary from the United Kingdom of Great Britain, North Ireland, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Botswana or Swaziland is acceptable in SA without further authentication (ie. Apostille) provided two witnesses attested the signature.

Finding a Notary can be difficult in some countries and setting up an appointment can also be a challenge. Notaries are known to charge per document so you want to make sure that you have all the correct information and guidelines with you when setting up your appointment with the Notary.

An alternative to signing with a Notary would be to sign at a South African Embassy, where you will be regarded as “signing on South African soil”. Signing before a Commissioner of Oaths in such an instance will be sufficient.  However, this too has its challenges.

We recommend that clients email copies of their signed documents to us so that we can confirm the documents have been signed in accordance with the prescribed formalities before the originals are couriered back to us.

Should you have any queries with regards to the formalities of signing documents outside of South Africa for use in South Africa, contact our offices on info@smutsco.co.za or 021 824 2020 so that we can assist you herein.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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