Getting an apostille for a birth certificate in California

I have been going through the process of obtaining an apostille certifying the recent birth of my daughter. It is an international means of certifying the origin of a document from another country – in this case, her birth certificate. We need to have this in order for her to obtain her dual citizenship, from Finland. There is a good primer on apostilles, “The ABCs of Apostilles,” available from the Hague Conference on Private International Law. (Note that not every country is a participant in the “Apostille convention,” so check to make sure that the country in question accepts this means of document authentication.)

The process is a bit involved, so I figured that it would be useful to put together a short article describing the steps involved. Note that the steps may vary depending on where you are – in my case, the instructions are tailored for people living in California (and more specifically, Santa Clara County).

  1. Obtain a certified copy of the birth certificate. Be warned that Google is infested with dozens of companies that try and obfuscate the “normal” government channels for doing this, and rip you off by charging you money to do things that you can take care of yourself. (As an example, one link that I clicked on wanted to charge me $39 as a “retrieval fee,” on top of the normal costs charged by the county. This is an outrageous skimming fee.)

    For Santa Clara County, certified copies of the birth certificate (from birth through 1 year of age) are available from the Public Health Department, through the Department of Vital Records. Information can be found here. At the time of writing, the cost was $21.00 per copy.

    Birth certificates older than 1 year must be obtained from the Santa Clara County Clerk Recorder’s office. The cost is still $21.00, although if you order them online or with a credit card, additional fees will apply.

    UPDATE (12/20/2016): As of July 1, 2016, in Santa Clara County, all birth certificates are now available through the County Clerk Recorder’s office, starting 4 weeks after birth. You no longer need to go through the Public Health Department for certificates less than a year old. The cost is now $28 for each copy. This is a link to the Birth Certificate page on the Clerk Recorder’s site.

  2. You will then need to have the signatures of the county health officials certified by the clerk recorder’s office. The reason for this is that the California Secretary of State’s notary section cannot certify these signatures – they can only certify a smaller group, from the various county clerks. This will cost an additional $13 – see the line item for “Signature of Authentication of County Medical Officer” on this brochure.

    As an aside, I was missing this crucial step, as it is not called out on the California Secretary of State’s Authentications information page, and none of the other government sites I read while researching this really mentioned it. While the SOS page does mention the limitations on what signatures can be authenticated by the Secretary of State, it does not mention that even though the birth certificate is a certified copy, that its signature cannot be authenticated by their office.

  3. Finally, you can send the certified document to the California Secretary of State’s notary section, along with a $20 check or money order, a self-addressed stamped envelope, and a cover letter indicating the country in which the document will be used. (In our case, that would be Finland.) Information can be found on the Secretary of State’s authentications page. The processing time, as of this writing, is 3-5 business days.

At the end of this process, you should have an apostille indicating that the birth certificate is an authentic document, valid for use in the country you requested.

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  1. Thanks Erik! I am in the process of getting an apostille for our son’s CA birth certificate (for the NL). I will look into step 2, as I do not know if that would be a problem for us too! I was also wondering if we would need to send copies of our passport and/or marriage certificate to prove that we are the actual parents?

  2. Where do I get a cover letter stating the country in which my document is being requested for an apostille stamp?

  3. Many thanks for sharing this info & experience!! I’m a SF bay area resident getting ready to go abroad to school in France and need to obtain a birth certificate for visa and for health insurance certification in France. Like you and so many, had no clue about the’ve helped expedite the process by a saturation of info on google.

  4. So it sounds like there is really no point in getting a birth certificate though Public Health Department if one is to go to Registrar’s office for additional certification. Why not directly go to Registrar’s office instead?

    1. Up until July 1st, 2016, in Santa Clara County, you had to get birth certificates from the past year from the Public Health Department Vital Records and Registration — they weren’t available from the Clerk-Recorder.


      ​ATTENTION: The Santa Clara County Public Health Department no longer sells birth or death certificates to the public. Effective July 1, 2016, the Santa Clara County Office of the Clerk-Recorder will offer birth and death certificates for sale at 70 W. Hedding Street in San Jose starting at four (4) weeks after the event. See full news release here.​

  5. Thank you, Eric! I just had my apostille request rejected – after reading your post, I understand why: I had supplied the birth certificate from the Santa Clara County health department, which looks perfectly legit, blue border, stamp and all, but apparently isn’t. Indeed, the secretary of state’s website should more clearly explain the difference between birth certificates issued from the health department vs. those issued from the clerk-recorder. Knowing this sooner would have saved 2+ weeks and quite a bit of money.

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