Legalising documents can be a bit confusing but you can always get an expert to help
Whether you are buying property or marrying a Bulgarian, you will certainly come to a point when you will need to get documents officially translated and/ or legalised. Higher education diplomas, personal documents or a certificate that you have no criminal convictions are only part of the long list of documents that you might need to get officially recognised on various occasions. Any document that was issued outside Bulgaria and is to be used within the country and, likewise, any Bulgarian document that is to be used abroad, must be translated and legalised in order to be valid.
The good news is that there is no need to go through long administrative procedures. You can go to any translation agency where they will help you to do the necessary the easy way. Translation and legalisation agencies became popular in the early 1990s, after the travel restrictions imposed by the Communist regime were dropped. This led to a mass wave of Bulgarians going abroad and making contacts with the outside world - they needed the services offered by such companies in a variety of situations ranging from taking a job abroad, applying to an overseas college or starting business with a foreign partner.
Translation and legalisation agencies have contracts with the Consulate Relations Department of the Foreign Ministry and are licensed to make official translations and act as intermediaries. They work with authorised or "sworn" translators, whose signatures on a document guarantee the correctness of the translation. You can check the full list of licensed agencies at www.mfa.bg.
Depending on the occasion, you might need just an official translation, printed on the official stationery of a licensed agency and bearing the signature of an authorised translator or certification by a state institution. Verifying the authenticity of the document and rendering it into a specific form suitable for use in a certain country is referred to as legalisation. In Bulgaria documents are legalised by the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry. If the document was issued abroad the procedure depends on the agreement that Bulgaria has with the country in which the document originated.
One of the working agreements is the Hague convention abolishing the requirement for legalisation for foreign public documents, also known as the Apostille Convention or the Apostille Treaty. This is an international treaty, signed by more than 70 states. Bulgaria joined the Apostille Convention in 2001. The convention deals with the use of documents outside the country in which they were issued. The documents are certified by means of an "Apostille" ‒ a uniform certificate granted by the relevant authorities in the country of origin. The certificate is dated, numbered and registered and it can be easily checked on request. Documents bearing an Apostille don't need to be certified or legalised further in the country in which they are used, as long as it is a member of the convention. A full list of member states and the authorities that can issue an Apostille can be found at www.hcch.net. Legal contracts with specific regulations are applied to document legalisation when the country where the document was issued is not a signatory to the convention.
The authorities in Bulgaria that can issue an Apostille are the Justice Ministry (for court and notary public acts) and the Foreign Ministry (for any other public documents such as civil status certificates, address registration certificates, education and qualification certificates and so on). The Justice Ministry charges a state fee of 5 leva for the service, which must be transferred to its bank account. The documents with an Apostille applied to them can be collected from 11.15am to 12.00pm within three working days When there are more than 10 documents it takes five working days. At the Foreign Ministry you will have to pay 15 leva for a normal service, where you receive your documents in four working days, or 22.50 leva for a faster two working days. There is same-day express service available between 10am and 3pm for 30 leva.
With the support of the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe and Open Society Institute – Sofia
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