For the Love of Paperwork

July 29, 2011

Posted by Kanga.

heading of the U.S. attestation document stating to all to whom these presents shall come, greetings

Governments love paperwork, or so it seems. There is no end of forms to fill out and passport photocopies and handwritten log books, etc. The workflow of any organization could be improved 400% by the reduction in unnecessary paperwork.

My advice to anyone embarking on a living/working abroad adventure is to get your documents (marriage certificate, children’s birth certificates, and your college transcripts) “attested” before leaving your country of origin. It is a lengthy process, so start early. It also wouldn’t hurt to get multiple copies of each attested, while you are at it.

For Americans, this involves getting an official copy of the document (from the appropriate state’s vital record department or from your university). This document must then be attested by the Secretary of State for the state in which it is issued and there will be a fee for that. Next, it must be attested by the United States Secretary of State in Washington, D.C., again for a fee. Next, it must be attested by the embassy of the country to which you are moving (in Washington, D.C.), again for a fee. So, if you have done all your living (marrying & birthing) in Washington, D.C., this could be a fairly easy errand involving driving from government office to government office. However, if you married and gave birth in a state 3000 miles away from Washington, D.C., it will be more difficult. Also, if you had the audacity to live, marry, and give birth in multiple states, you are very nearly screwed.

It is possible to do this process by mail, but it will take MONTHS. In fact, the U.S. Department of State warns on its website that the paperwork won’t be processed until 4 weeks after they receive it. Anything received by mail must be irradiated in case it contains bio-hazardous materials (anthrax, etc.).

I recently had to get my college transcripts attested, which I had not done three years ago before leaving the states. To do this via mail was going to take at least 3-4 months. Not viable. So, I went in search of (Googled) paralegal services that might do this for me a bit quicker. A paralegal in Washington state offered to do the state attestation for $250 plus fees & postage. I found a couple of services in Washington, D.C. that do this on a regular basis and were willing to do the complete process for $265 plus postage. They assured me it would only take 2 weeks. We sent it on the 14th and received it on the 28th, so not bad.

Back in 2008 when I had the marriage certificate attested, I didn’t really look at it closely, but now that I’ve gone through this horrendous process again, I actually read the attestation documents.

The marriage certificate is signed by the state registrar. The Oregon Secretary of State then attached a piece of paper which states that the person who signed the marriage certificate is indeed the Registrar of Vital Statistics. It also gives our names and says that the marriage certificate is authenticated. Next, the U.S. Department of State attached a paper which states that the other attached document has the seal of the State of Oregon and is “entitled to full faith and credit.” There’s an asterisk referring to a comment at the bottom of the document “for the contents of the annexed document, the Department assumes no responsibility.” Next, the UAE Embassy turned over the State Department document, affixed a paper stamp, two rubber stamps, and a handwritten signature. One of those rubber stamps states “we certify stamp and signature of US Department of State – not responsible for the contents.”

So, the Registrar of Vital Statistics “signed” the marriage certificate, thereby certifying the contents. (Her signature is printed out, not actually handwritten.) Then, the State certifies the name of the Registrar and that if she signed it, it must be okay. Then the U.S. State Department says, “yep, that’s the seal of the State of Oregon alright.” Followed by the UAE Embassy saying “yep, that’s the US State Department seal/signature alright.”

The university transcripts are a little different. The state attestation was skipped. The transcript is signed by the university’s registrar (again a printed signature, not handwritten) and it has a raised seal impression. This document was then notarized as original by a notary public. Next, the District of Columbia Notary and Authentication Section attached a paper stating that the person who notarized the original is indeed a notary. Then, the U.S. Department of State attached a paper saying “yep, that’s the seal of the District of Columbia, alright.” And, the embassy followed suit with their stamps, etc.

(Governments don’t actually use words like “yep” and “alright,” but you get the idea.)

Considering the amount of fuss, stress, and expense involved, I find these documents rather disappointing. This is just government “make work.” However, one must have these signatures/stamps/seals as was so clearly illustrated recently in the news. A woman gave birth in hospital while her husband was out of the country and because she could not prove that she was married, she went from the hospital straight to detention with her newborn until her husband could produce an attested marriage certificate to get her out.

Seems quite antiquated to be shuffling and rubber stamping these papers in the age of telephones, internet, and comprehensive databases. Couldn’t they just call Big Brother and have him check my dossier?



  1. goodness sakes alive! Can you see how much money the gov would save by eliminating all these jobs? Oh, wait! Those are jobs. We can’t have that many people unemployed, so let us keep them where they are–in places to make everyone else’s jobs harder. This whole concept boggles the mind! Very nice read, though!

  2. I’d like to note that this process is a cooperative process; the US isn’t the one requiring these stamps, but is willing to provide the “service” required by others. Not that I’m defending the endless paperwork of the US, but half the US paperwork could be eliminated if the rest of the world didn’t ask for all this crap. . . excuse me, information. When my nephew was born in Budapest, Hungary, the US embassy there issued him a beautiful GREEN passport with his birth picture on it. However, the Hungarian government wouldn’t let him OUT of the country until he had his passport stamped with an entrance stamp. Please note, newborn picture, place of birth: Budapest were clearly printed on the passport, but after 2 days of lines and new offices, we still didn’t have an “in” stamp and needed to leave. I admit, I was the perpetrator of illegal activitiy by taking him out of the country and acting stupid. After frustrating the border guard with 5 minutes of shrugging shoulders and louder American, he threw up his hands, stamped the passport with an exit stamp and let us through. Disclaimer: his parents were not responsible for this act! And if you think that was hard, you should have seen the paperwork to take their dog out of the country! Thanks again for cluing us in to the difficulties of paperwork. Maybe I should start a business. . . hmmmm.

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