When you apply for a bank account you may be asked to provide documents that are certified as true copies of the original documents.
In this case, document certification is an essential part of your application process. If not done correctly it can cause delays in verifying your documents and getting your bank account opened.
That’s good to know but the true question is whether you are familiar with document certification. Most people are not.
Below are a number of helpful guidelines you should follow to get your document certification done properly.
What is document certification?
The process of document certification to open a bank account should not be confused with getting a bank certificate.
The latter is an attestation issued by your bank officer to confirm that you are an accountholder at their bank branch. You may need to get your documents certified by the bank in a number of contexts including for example for visa applications or when applying for a new job.
Document certification is an action that you must fulfil in order to get your documents verified by a qualified third party.
When applying for a new account, the bank will request that you provide a copy of some original documents. To confirm that the copied documents have not been edited or altered you will be asked to get them certified by a qualified third party. The duty of this qualified third party is to certify that the copied documents are exact and true copies of the originals.
So as to not get confused, keep in mind that a certified copy, a true copy, and a certified true copy are different ways of saying the same thing. And finally, to ensure that you have all the terminology right, remember that a notarised copy is a certified/true copy whose certification was made by a public notary.
The difference between document certification and document authentication
Authentication (also called legalisation) is a process where various seals are placed on a document issued in one country so it will be recognised in another country not just as a certified document but as a legal document. Different countries have different levels of authentication and have different procedures.
Document authentication usually consists of:
- Having the original document certified by a public notary qualified in the country where the original document is issued. For example, a French public notary in the case of diplomas issued by a French university.
- Translating the notarised copy in the language of the country where the authenticated document is needed. For example, in English if the authenticated diplomas are to be used in the UK. The translation must be carried out by a certified translator.
- Having the notarised copy and its certified translation authenticated by the consular authorities of the country where the authenticated document will be used. So, in our case above, the UK consular authorities in France.
In practice, things can be even more complicated than that. However, there is no need to go into more details as authentication is not expected of anyone applying for a foreign bank account.
Which documents must be certified and presented to open a bank account?
Different banks have different specifications on which documents they need you to have certified in order to approve your bank account application. However, the general banking practice is to require the following documents:
- A certified copy of proof of identity – proof of identify can be a passport, national ID, or driving licence. In case of application for a personal account, proof of identity will be required for the future accountholder. For a corporate account, proof of identity will be required for all directors and shareholders of the company.
- A certified copy of proof of residential address – proof of residential address can be a recent utility bill, appointment or follow up letters from a hospital or doctor, letters from a government department etc. As to which persons shall provide proof of residential address, the same rules apply as for the proof of identity.
- A certified copy of your company incorporation documents (in case you apply for a corporate bank account) – your company incorporation documents include the certificate of incorporation, the articles of association, registers of directors and shareholders and some other relevant documents depending on where your company is incorporated.
It is important to inquire with the relevant bank which exact documents they require you to show for proof of identity and for proof of residential address. Otherwise, you may run the risk of certifying the wrong document and having to start the process again, wasting both your time and money.
Who can certify your documents?
Your documents must be certified by a professional who is qualified to conduct document certification. The person you ask should not be related to you, living at the same address as you or be in a relationship with you.
The full list of people and professions who can lawfully certify documents includes but is not exclusive to:
- Minister of religion
- Councillor, teacher or lecturer
- Doctor or dentist
- Solicitor, notary or chartered accountant
However, the laws on document certification can vary between two countries. For example, in Hong Kong documents can only be certified by a lawyer, a public notary, a certified public accountant, or a company secretary. Whereas in the UK, the list of certifiers is more extensive, it includes any professional or well-respected person considered to be of ‘good standing’ in the community.
Irrespective of what the law dictates, you are dealing with the bank for the opening of the account. Essentially, the bank has the final word on which third party they deem qualified to certify the documents (some only accept lawyers). And, again, to save time and money, it is recommended that you confirm this information with the bank before having any document certifications done.
What should your certified document look like?
To be acceptable the certified copy of your document must be legible. Also, the general banking practice is that certified documents must be dated less than 3 months at the time of submission.
The certifier will need to complete the following steps:
- Write on the document: “Certified to be a true copy of the original seen by me” or any similar wording
- Sign and date the document
- Print their name under the signature on the document
- Add their occupation, address and telephone number
- Stamp the document with their professional stamp
The certification must be done on the copy of the document to be validated successfully.
How much does document certification cost?
There is normally a fee attached to certification services. That fee can greatly vary depending on the certifier and the country in which you are getting your document certified in. But typically having documents certified by a lawyer will cost you USD100 minimum.
Before proceeding with getting your document certified, you should check whether the bank you are trying to open an account with is satisfied with the content and format of the document. Just repeating here what is said above in the article but this will prevent you from having to start the process over and get your document certified twice.
If you wish to know more on document certification in your country, you may want to check if there is an official government website addressing the subject. We could not find any for Hong Kong (i.e. where we operate) but below are links for further information and guidelines for the UK and Australian governments:
Check out our complete guide if you would like to know more about all the steps required to open a bank account, beyond just the process of document certification.
About the author
Bertrand Théaud is the Founder of Statrys. His entrepreneurial journey has inevitably exposed him to the difficulty in dealing with banks, especially in Hong Kong. When he realised the number of SMEs going through the same challenging experience, he decided to start Statrys: a digital alternative to traditional banks specifically designed to serve the needs of Asian SMEs and start-ups.