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An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure

By Orlando Gotay

Some time ago, I attended an event where I had the opportunity to listen to the concerns of expats. One was patently clear. People were concerned with  what wrapping up their affairs would be like if they were to pass on while residing in Mexico.

One of the things that people discover when the time comes, is that local authorities will require documents such as birth, marriage, or divorce certificates from your home country. In original, of course. But here comes the rub.

Let’s take a birth certificate. In the United States, an original stands on its own, and requires no further authentication. Outside of the United States, by itself, it can be just about useless. Enter the apostille [uh-pos-til].

An apostille is a certificate issued by a designated authority in a country where the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalization of Foreign Public Documents, Apostille Convention, is in force. Apostilles authenticate the seals and signatures of officials on public documents such as birth certificates, notarials (affidavits), court orders, or any other document issued by a public authority, so that they can be recognized in foreign countries that are parties to the Convention. Mexico and the US recognize documents with apostilles. Sorry, Canada is not a member of the convention and therefore has an even more complex procedure to get documents authenticated. Eh?

Each state has a designated procedure (and officials) to affix apostilles to their own documents. The document has to be sent to them, a fee paid, and then the apostille is attached and returned to you. Federal government documents get apostilles attached by the US Department of State.

You can see that this multiple step process can take quite a bit of time. If you reside abroad, or are here frequently, this is precisely why I am a strong advocate for getting these documents apostilled ahead of time. I have come to learn that those types of documents are often needed right away.

Depending from where one needs apostilles, their cost varies. Getting an apostille on my own birth certificate by the Puerto Rico Secretary of State cost US$3. Thanks, Mom!

Orlando Gotay is a California licensed tax attorney (with a Master of Laws in Taxation) admitted to practice before the IRS, the US Tax Court and other taxing agencies. His love of things Mexican has led him to devote part of his practice to the tax matters of US expats in Mexico. He can be reached at


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