How to Certify True Copies of Documents in Singapore

Last updated on December 20, 2018

Featured image for the "How to Certify True Copies of Documents in Singapore" article. It features a businessman signing a document to be notarised.

As the world becomes a smaller place, and more transactions take place across borders, various documents will naturally be sent across borders too. How can a person in one country know whether a document from another country is genuine?

Documents originating from Singapore may need to be notarised and/or legalised before they can be used abroad. Notarisation is also sometimes important for certifying documents as valid for use within Singapore. Often, both scenarios will be informally referred to as getting a “certified true copy”. However, the precise procedural requirements depends on whether you need the document for use within Singapore or outside of it.

Some common scenarios for when you may need to have your documents notarised and/or legalised is if you are managing a business or property abroad, or are involved in litigation overseas. Whether you are completing the purchase of a vacation home in Malaysia or selling your multimillion-dollar company incorporated in the Cayman Islands to wealthy Russian businessmen living in London, you will probably need to get certain documents notarised and/or legalised.

Notarisation

What is notarisation?

Notarisation involves certifying a document as either an authentic copy of an original document, or as having been validly executed. Notarisation is done by a notary public, who is generally a senior lawyer practising in Singapore who has been approved to act as a notary public under the Notaries Public Act.

Many services fall under the broad category of “notarisation”. For example, notaries public can:

  • Do general notarisation to certify that a document is valid; or
  • Certify copies of documents as true copies of the original.

You should seek advice from a lawyer, or the person requesting copies of your documents, on which of the notary public’s service(s) you will need to obtain for your document.

That said, documents which need to be notarised generally fall into 2 categories:

  • Documents which need to be certified as genuine, such as photocopies of academic transcripts; and
  • Documents which give someone authority to do something. “Authority” documents generally have to be signed in front of the notary public so he can certify that the document was properly signed and is therefore valid. An example of an “authority” document needing notarisation would be a Power of Attorney, which allows your representative to sell property abroad on your behalf.

How to notarise a document

In the case of “authority” documents, the notary public will need to be satisfied that you understand the nature and purpose of the document you are executing. The notary public will then inspect the document and the copy, and notarise it using his official stamp and signature.

Where a notarial certificate is needed, the certificate will usually state:

  • The notary public’s full name
  • The notary public’s status as a notary public
  • The notary public’s certification and attestation of the document that the notary public is being asked to notarised. For example, the notary public may certify and attest that the documents annexed to the certificate had been duly signed and executed by the signatories stated in the document, or that the documents annexed to the certificate are certified true copies
  • The place and date of issue of the document

The certificate will then end off with the notary public’s full name, signature and seal.

Where to find a notary public in Singapore

Many law firms offer notary services. You can get in touch with our trusted notary public lawyers here.

Alternatively, the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) maintains a comprehensive directory of notaries public in Singapore here.

What to bring for notarisation

If you are certifying copies as true copies, you should bring the original document and the photocopy of the document to be notarised.

On the other hand, if you need to validate “authority” documents, you will need to bring some form of identification for all the signatories of the document and the document to be notarised itself.

If you have any particular instructions from the party requiring notarisation of the document, you should pass these to your notary public beforehand too.

Cost of notarisation

The fees for most notarial services are fixed under the law. You can check the fees for common notarial services in Singapore here.

Legalisation

Unlike notarisation, legalisation is a more stringent process of “certification” which allows the document to be used abroad for official purposes, such as being admitted as evidence in foreign court proceedings, or for making certain immigration applications.

The United Kingdom and some other Commonwealth countries do not require documents originating from Singapore to be legalised for their court proceedings. Similarly, Singapore only requires documents originating from Commonwealth countries to be notarised (and not legalised) before they can be used in Singapore court proceedings.

How to legalise a document

The procedure for getting a document legalised depends on whether the document is government-issued or non-government issued.

(a) How to legalise documents issued by the Singapore government

For hard-copy government-issued documents, such as marriage certificates, passports or Singapore O-Level certificates, the procedure is as follows:

  • Present the document for legalisation at the Consular Service Counter of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
  • Take the document to the Embassy, High Commission or Consulate (Mission) of the country where the document is going to be used for further legalisation.

The procedure for computer-generated government documents is similar. However, the document will have to first be endorsed by the department that issued the document before MFA will legalise it.

For example, the printed copy of a Business Profile generated by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) will need to be certified by an ACRA official before being brought to MFA for legalisation.

(b) How to legalise documents not issued by the Singapore government

For documents not issued by the Singapore government, legalisation is a 4 or 5-step process:

  1. Notarise the document (as explained above)
  2. Bring the document to SAL for authentication of the signature of the notary public who notarised the document
  3. If the document is a commercial document (e.g. a bill of sale), have it certified by either the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, or any of the 4 Chambers of Commerce (International, Chinese, Malay or Indian)
  4. Bring the document to MFA for legalisation
  5. Bring the document to the Mission of the country where the document is to be sent for the actual legalisation certification. If the country the document is going to does not have a Mission in Singapore, you should seek further guidance from MFA.

What to bring for legalisation

What you will need to bring for legalisation will depend on what you need legalised (and also notarised, if required). Wherever possible however, you should bring official identification documents for all the signatories to the document (e.g. NRIC/passport), the original document and photocopies (if needed).

If the party asking for the document to be legalised, or the relevant Mission, has given you any particular instructions for legalisation, then do note those and bring any additional documents requested.

Cost of legalisation

The cost of legalisation depends on what you are legalising and where the document is going.

PROCEDURE COST
Notarisation of document From $40, but could be significantly higher. For more information on the fees for notarial services in Singapore, see here.
Authentication of notary public’s signature at SAL $42.80 for next-day service and $128.40 for same-day service
Legalisation at MFA $10 per page
Administrative fee levied by the relevant foreign Mission Check with the Mission. For example, the fee is S$5 at the Malaysian High Commission and US$50 at the United States Embassy.

Documents not properly “certified as true copy” (i.e. properly executed or certified as authentic in front of a notary public) may be challenged as being invalid for use. This can lead to significant delays and being unable to enforce otherwise-clear legal rights.

It could even lead to potential liability for negligence if the party getting the document notarised was doing so on another’s behalf, such as a company director.

It is possible to engage a notary public to notarise your document on a one-off basis. However, if getting the document notarised (and/or legalised, if required) is just one aspect of an entire transaction, you may find it less stressful to engage a lawyer to oversee the whole process on your behalf.