We are often contacted by people who were born in New York City or who have had their loved ones pass away withing the 5 boroughs asking how they could get the respective birth and death certificate apostilled or authenticated for use abroad. A prerequisite for legalization is a letter of exemplification, a statement signed by the New York City Registrar confirming that the certified copy is indeed a true copy of the original document.
In New York City, birth and death certificates are issued by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. If you have the original certificate or a certified copy without a letter of exemplification, you would not be able to get it legalized for use abroad, and would need to order another certified copy, making sure to also request an accompanying letter of exemplification. If you are applying by mail or in person, you would simply need to answer “yes” to the question “Do you need a letter of exemplification?”. If applying online via VitalChek, make sure to select “Apostille / Authentication” as the reason for the application.
It is usually advisable to apply online or, if you can get an appointment, in person, as mail-in applications can take weeks, if not months. With online applications, the certificate certified copy and letter of exemplification typically arrives back in 2-3 weeks. If you apply in person, you can typically get the certificate the same day, but you would need to schedule an appointment beforehand.
Once you receive your certificate and letter of exemplification, we would be able to take care of getting your document apostilled or authenticated for use abroad. We will first certify the certificate with New York County, which is the only county that can certify the signature of the City Registrar, even if the certificate itself was originally issued outside of Manhattan. Once we get it certified with the county, we would be able to get it apostilled or authenticated with New York State. With regular service, the whole process of getting county certification and state authentication takes about 4-8 weeks. With courier-expedited service, the process can usually be done in under 1 week.
If the destination country is not a member of the Apostille Convention, the certificate would generally need to be further authenticated at the federal level, after which we would legalize it with the target country’s embassy or consulate. Federal authentication typically takes at least 1 month, but sometimes be as long as 3 months, with no option to expedite. Some countries, such as Vietnam, do not require federal authentication. China requires federal authentication only for documents issued in the jurisdiction of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC.
Note that New York City marriage certificate and divorce decrees do not need to be accompanied by letters of exemplification. Certified copies of marriage certificates are issued by the City Clerk, whose signature is recognized by New York County, while divorce decrees are typically obtained directly from the Clerk of the County in which the divorce took place. We are able to retrieve these records ourselves, although we would require you to provide us with a signed and notarized letter of authorization (which we can prepare for you).
If you have questions about New York City vital records, feel free to call us at (212) 233-7061 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.