Effective December 7, 2022, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has acceded to the Convention Abolishing the Requirements of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, popularly known as the "Apostille Convention." The move is part of the Saudi government's ongoing efforts to promote the flexibility of the private sector and make it easier for foreign companies to do business in the country. Specifically, in accordance with Royal Decree M/40 dated 26/05/1443H (corresponding to 30/12/2021G), the country's prior legalization requirements for foreign-issued public documents have been eliminated. With this decree, Saudi Arabia becomes the 122nd member of the Apostille Convention, joining other Middle East and North African countries including Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, and Tunisia.

Background: The Apostille Convention

First enacted in 1961, the Apostille Convention aims facilitate the acceptance of foreign documents in member countries through the adoption of a uniform certification format. Civil and commercial documents issued in one country are generally not enforceable in a second country unless they have first been certified for authenticity – or "legalized" – by the second country's government. The legalization process can be extremely expensive and time-consuming, leading to delays in business, immigration, and legal processes. For example, under traditional legalization procedures, if a citizen of Country A is bringing a minor child with her for a temporary work assignment in Country B, the child's birth certificate must first be authenticated by Country A's government and then attested to by Country B's consulate in Country A before the worker can bring the child to Country B. Each of these required steps can take months to complete. By contrast, if both Country A and Country B are members of the Apostille Convention, a standard certification of the birth certificate secured from Country A's government will suffice for legal purposes in Country B.

Known as an "apostille," this certification removes the need for the destination country to conduct its own legalization process for birth certificates, diplomas, professional licenses, and other documents. While each member country sets its own process for obtaining an apostille, the time, money, and effort required to secure one for any given document is generally significantly less than it would be under the traditional legalization framework. For this reason, Saudi Arabia's accession to the Apostille Convention is expected to make it easier for foreign companies and individuals to conduct business in Saudi Arabia, and for Saudi companies and citizens to do the same in other member countries.

Looking Ahead: The Apostille Process in Saudi Arabia

Details of Saudi Arabia's accession to the Apostille Convention are still forthcoming. At the moment, it is unclear to what extent Saudi Arabia will participate in all of the convention's procedures, including – for example – the electronic Apostille Program (e-APP), which supports the electronic issuance and verification of apostilles. Given these outstanding questions, Mayer Brown will continue monitoring Saudi Arabia's implementation of the Apostille Convention and will advise on updates to the legalization process as they become available.

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This Mayer Brown article provides information and comments on legal issues and developments of interest. The foregoing is not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and is not intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before taking any action with respect to the matters discussed herein.