02 October 2019

For companies operating internationally or with foreign background, it is common to work with documents in a foreign language and to sign corporate documents and contracts abroad. Although it is insignificant in the daily life of a company, the situation is different if you want to use a document signed abroad or in foreign language in a litigation or in other legal proceedings, as the foreign document has to comply with special rules. In our short article we will summarize what should you consider if you want to use foreign documents before the Hungarian authorities.

1. Authenticity of foreign documents

As you know, documents can be different in terms of their "credibility" and their legal probative value. From company formation to liquidation, in most legal procedures there are documents that you must submit in accordance with additional formal requirements regarding the issuing of the document (eg.: attorney's countersign). Such document can be either an authentic instrument, such as a court order, or a private document, such as an articles of association countersigned by a lawyer.

However, it is less well-known that, if the document described above is issued or signed abroad, further authentication is required:

  • in case of an authentic act, to be accepted by the Hungarian authorities,
  • in case of a private document, to maintain its probative value in Hungary and to be suitable for countersigning by a Hungarian attorney. (The latter is typically required in case of corporate procedures and real estate transactions.)

2. What should I do?

If you want to use a foreign document in Hungary, first you have to get further authentication for your document in the country where it was issued or signed, for which there are different options depending on the county.

diplomatic legalisation and endorsement (over-legalisation): If the country is not a party to the Apostille Convention or a bilateral agreement, the document must first be authenticated or endorsed by the Hungarian diplomatic mission in the country of origin. In some cases, the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will carry out further endorsement procedure, so the process can take a long time, which you must take into account when planning the legal transaction.

Apostille certificate: In the case of countries participating in the so-called "apostille convention", the foreign person does not have to appear before the Hungarian embassy, the document can even be legalised by a local notary, who applies an Apostille certificate for the document. The Apostilled document has almost everywhere the same authenticity and probative value as domestic documents. The Apostille Convention has 117 member countries and is practically accepted worldwide.

3. Is authentication mandatory in all cases?

No, because Hungary has bilateral agreements with many countries (including most, formerly Communist countries), according to which, documents issued by each other's authorities are treated in the same way as domestic documents. Thus, documents issued by, inter alia, Russian, Czech, Polish, French, Greek, Croatian, Romanian, Slovak (etc.) authorities do not need to be authenticated to be used in Hungary. As the conventions usually apply to authentic acts, authentication is still needed in case of private documents.

4. Translation of documents

As domestic proceedings, except for arbitration, are always conducted in Hungarian language, under current regulations, you must always attach a Hungarian translation to foreign language documents you intend to use.

The criterion for translation depends on both the procedure and the document. In cases concerning civil-status (eg.: marriage, name use, death), the law generally requires a certified translation of the foreign language document you wish to use, so does in case of foreign company extracts to be attached in company proceedings.

Conversely, in litigations, the attachment of a "simple Hungarian translation" is required by the law, whereas a certified translation is only required if the accuracy or completeness of the attached translation is questioned by the court or other party.

However, the law does not define what is meant by “simple translation”. According to translation agencies, this should also be done by a professional translator, but this is not supported by any legislation. Be sure to entrust a translation agency to translate a foreign judgment or contract, but there is no legal impediment to translate a simple text message or an airport boarding pass by yourself.

5. Conclusion

You could learn from our article that in many cases, documents issued or signed abroad are only suitable for domestic use after further authentication. Although Apostille certification is a great solution, always keep in mind the handling time of the authentication. In addition, translations of foreign-language documents must be attached in most legal proceedings in Hungary. The use of a professional translator is not a requirement for simple texts (that do not require specialized translations), but we recommend the latter for safety. We advise you to hire a legal expert with expertise in international law to help you drafting documents for foreign use and to advise you regarding their use.