Please, please tell me YAAL.
July 27, 2007 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I have a question about the authentication of a Cambridge University-issued document by a California lawyer or notary for use in Latvia.

I am moving to Latvia at the end of August to teach English. My teaching certificate, the CELTA, was issued by Cambridge University in England a few years ago. Upon being hired by the school in Latvia, its director sent me an email saying "it would be useful if you could start looking into the process of getting your CELTA accredited by a notary or lawyer and either sending it to us or bringing it with you."

I'm rather confused as to how to go about this, as the school's director is British, and I know that notaries in Britain have totally different powers to those in the States - hence his "or" with "notary or lawyer"; presumably he thinks they're similar. Now, Cambridge offers a service where I pay them some amount of money, and they authenticate my results and send that to me or to the school, but I don't know if that will be the same, legally, as getting something official, if that's even possible here. I've seen references to apostilles, but only in reference to public documents like birth and death certificates, not academic results, let alone those issued abroad.

I would ask the director to clarify, but he's on vacation and basically unreachable until a few weeks before I get there, and if I choose to go with the Cambridge certification of my results, I'd need to allow enough time for it to get here so I can present it to an immigration officer or something should I be asked to do so.

I also realize there are probably very few MeFites who've ever had anything to do with Latvia, so my main question is: how can I prove the authenticity of a document issued in another country in a way that will satisfy officials somewhere else? Or might this be a two-step process - first getting the certification from Cambridge sent to me, and then having a notary or lawyer in Britain (where I could theoretically stop en route to Latvia) accredit the certification?

Thanks for your help, if anyone dares to respond to such a bizarrely technical question.
posted by mdonley to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Link to the CELTA
Link to the certification of results process they offer, with details on accompanying PDFs
posted by mdonley at 1:22 PM on July 27, 2007

That the director said "by a notary or lawyer" makes it sound like they would not be too stringent about it. Is there an assistant you could ask?

I've had a law school (of all places) ask for something to be notarized and when I had it done, the notary commented that what he was doing was essentially meaningless. I think such a request is made for the sake of appearances as much as anything else.

Unless you can get a better answer from the Latvian side, I would try having Cambridge sending the certified copy directly to them. It's hard to imagine something more official. As a backup, maybe have Cambridge send you a copy and get that notarized in the U.S. before sending it to Latvia.
posted by exogenous at 1:28 PM on July 27, 2007

Ah! On one of the linked PDFs, I just noticed that they offer notarization of the certificate of results, but that they charge £96 for this. Given that they already would charge me nearly £50 for the document in the first place with overseas delivery, is £96 an insane amount of money to pay for this? And they seem to imply that one could have the documents notarized elsewhere in this sentence:

If you wish to have your statement notarised please enquire to Due to the high costs in the UK, the fee for this is £96 so many people prefer to organise notarisation themselves.

posted by mdonley at 1:28 PM on July 27, 2007

I agree that the Cambridge service is pricey, but the mention there of "Hague Convention" implies it would come with an apostille. It seems the Latvian school could hardly find fault with this, but I would ask them what they would accept before going with an alternative.
posted by exogenous at 1:33 PM on July 27, 2007

I finally signed up after eons of lurking because this question deals with Latvia, which I found incredibly exciting (we generally don't loom large in the international community or in public consciousness, so any passing mention is an excellent opportunity to pimp my Baltic state). Then I realized immediately after signing up that I really can't offer anything constructive regarding your current notarizing predicament.
But... lucky you for landing a job there. It's fantastic. If you'd ever like recommendations or translations, email me.
posted by buka at 2:48 PM on July 27, 2007

The word "accredited" is confusing here: what does it mean? What a notary can do is take a photocopy of your certificate and affix his seal/apostil (or whatever it is called) to the copy, confirming that it is a genuine copy. He can't confirm that you actually took the course or received the qualification in question. But I think a notary's certified copy is all that's being asked for here. I guess a notary's fee in the UK might be circa 50 pounds, but add in cost/time of getting to the notary and you aren't very shy of 96 pounds; in Latvia itself, ex-USSR, where notaries are probably much more frequently resorted to, it would be significantly cheaper, I imagine, so I would probably do it there.
posted by londongeezer at 11:04 PM on July 27, 2007

A notarized photocopy of your certificate won't provide anything that the actual certificate won't if you bring it, because the notary doesn't actually know whether the certificate is valid (unless it is organized by Cambridge). So maybe if you can provide the actual certificate when you arrive, you are off the hook. The safest thing to do would be to pay the £96. But if it were me, I might get the certificate notarized in California (your bank might do it for free) and send that in. That way you have at least tried, and you can plead that they weren't specific if they require something else later.
posted by grouse at 3:46 AM on July 28, 2007

I am moving to Mexico to teach English and I am also required to "certify" my university degree. Since Mexico and the US (and Latvia) are parties to the Hague Convention on Legalization of Foreign Public Documents (more here), what that means is that Latvia wants someone in your home country to say that the document means something. It's a little fuzzy to me why they do it they way they do, but what I had to do was get my university degree notarized (the notary had to say that I was who I said I was and that my degree was what I said it was) and then my Secretary of State (I'm in Florida) had to certify that the notary was an actual and official Florida notary public.

So basically, when I read your question, I think what Latvia wants is for you to get your certificate apostilled (this is what this process is called). Every state has slightly different requirements as to how to apostille things. So go to the CA Dept of State website and search for apostille. It should probably involve getting the certificate notarized and then sealed by the secretary of state.

You can search for more on this process over at Dave's ESL Cafe.
posted by mosessis at 4:03 PM on July 28, 2007

I was in a rush earlier, so I wanted to check back in with a little more research.

As I noted above, Latvia was a party to the 1961 Hague Convention, so in order for Latvia to recognise a document from another country it must first be apostilled. Like exogenous said, the whole process is basically meaningless and it would be very easy to create a false document and yet pay for it to go through this bureaucratic process and it would come out the other end looking pretty clean. But this is neither here nor there as your certificate is real.

From the looks of the California Secretary of State's website, it looks like what you need to do is to get either (a) the certificate notarized or (b) a copy of the certificate notarized, and then bring that notarized bit of paper to one of their offices and they will apostille it and then everybody will be happy. It doesn't appear that there will be any problems with the fact that Cambridge originally issued the document, because as long as you can find a notary to sign it, they will apostille it.

Just to be on the safe side, I'd still call your Sec of State's notary information line (perhaps this number: (916) 653-3595) and ask what they require in order to apostille something. But as for my experience in Florida, I got a notary friend of mine to notarize a photocopy of my college degree from a school in Ohio and then the Secretary of State was more than happy to apostille it. Since I was able to get a friend to notarize it, the cost of the entire process was the $10 for the apostille and postage to and from my Dept of State, which is much less than almost $200 for whatever Cambridge is offering to do to it.
posted by mosessis at 9:52 PM on July 28, 2007

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