Residents and visitors will invariably need to use some sort of official document while in the country, for both business and personal use. But a little more is involved than simply keeping a photocopy of your passport or your company’s Articles of Association about your person. 

As Qatar continues to introduce legislative reforms aimed at increasing foreign investment, the number of expatriates living and working locally continues to rise. Inevitably, an expatriate will be required to submit to the local authorities official records or documents produced in a foreign jurisdiction. 

No Apostille Convention

Unlike many countries elsewhere in the world most of the Gulf countries, including Qatar, are not parties to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents. 

Also known as the ‘Apostille Convention’ or the ‘Apostille Treaty’, this is an international treaty drafted by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. It specifies the ways in which a document issued in one of the signatory countries can be certified for legal purposes in all the other signatory states. However, membership of the Apostille Convention does not guarantee the quality of the document in question but certifies the signature and signatory only. 

In the absence of participation in the Apostille Convention, Qatar must rely on other means to ensure the authenticity of foreign documents. Since the local authorities will not accept un-authenticated documentation many expatriates are left wondering how to proceed and what they must do in order to have their foreign documentation recognised. 

Below is some useful information that should clarify the process and assist expatriates in progressing their submissions. This is useful for not only those already living and working in Qatar, but will also apply to people looking to set up a company here, but not necessarily living here, and for foreign-based financing transactions.

The process generally

In order for official foreign documents to be recognised locally, they must be processed abroad through a process known as the notarisation and authentication process (or simply legalisation). Keep in mind that the process itself can be time consuming depending on the foreign jurisdiction in which the documents were issued, and accordingly the process should be initiated well in advance of any potential time sensitive deadlines.

The first, and easiest, step in the process is to have the foreign documents notarised by a notary public licensed in the foreign jurisdiction. Notaries have different functions in different jurisdictions, but regardless a public notary’s stamp and signature usually will be required for local recognition. It is possible that other types of public officers are eligible to notarise a document, but in most cases, this step will involve a notary public.

Once the documents have been notarised by a notary public, they must then proceed to the second step whereby a government body dealing with foreign affairs will authenticate the signature of the notary public according to a master list of licensed notaries. So, this step could involve a Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a Secretary of State, or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 

Once the authorities in the relevant governmental office have confirmed the signature of the notary public, the documents are stamped and signed by that entity and then proceed to the next step of the process.

In most cases, the third step will be to send the documents to the Qatar embassy in the relevant foreign jurisdiction. The Qatar embassy will confirm the stamp and signature affixed to the documents by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Secretary of State, Foreign Office, or other appropriate governmental body depending on the jurisdiction, and provide its own stamp and signature. 

In cases where the Qatar embassy also has a consulate, the documents will usually be sent to the consulate. However, to avoid unnecessary delays it is always advisable to contact the embassy to determine to whom the documents should be sent for authentication.

Once the Qatar embassy has authenticated the stamp and signature of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Secretary of State, or Foreign Office, the documents will be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Doha, Qatar in order to be finally authenticated and legalised for use. This step completes the legalisation process. However, in many cases legalised documents must also be translated into the Arabic language by a certified translator. Once this last step is completed the foreign documents are ready for use in Qatar.

The most common transaction types in which foreign documents would require authentication are financing transactions, incorporations of new companies, or any transaction for which a power of attorney is required for local signing purposes.  

Always seek process confirmation

The foregoing information is illustrative of the process as it usually works. However, there are any number of process permutations depending on the type of documentation an expatriate is seeking to submit, and the requirements of the relevant foreign jurisdiction. 

For example, it is not enough to simply have an education certificate legalised for use in Qatar. In many cases, educational credentials must be accompanied by a confirmation from the educational institution that the degree holder physically attended classes in a classroom and that the degree issued is not an ‘online’ degree. This confirmation letter will also have to undergo the legalisation process.

Additionally, some foreign jurisdictions require additional steps in order to complete the legalisation process. For example, in the US a document notarised by a notary public must go to the Secretary of State for that particular state (eg New York Secretary of State). However, because the US has both State and Federal levels of government, the authenticated document must then proceed to the Federal Secretary of State’s office in Washington, DC which effectively adds an additional step to the process.  

Finally, as a result of the blockade imposed on Qatar by certain regional countries, Qatar no longer has an embassy in those countries, making the use and recognition of documents issued in Qatar more difficult.

It is always advisable that guidance is sought from the embassy located in the foreign jurisdiction. And in the event you don’t want to risk any delay, there are professional service providers who will take over the process for you. Obtain more detailed advice from one of the many law firms in Qatar – see Living in Qatar in the Discovering Qatar section in the Marhaba Information Guide. 

Author: Sarah Palmer

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