It’s a reality of global business Dan Demers has seen too many times.

“Paperwork can be one of the biggest challenges of exporting for SMEs,” says the co-founder of Ottawa’s International Documents Canada, which provides document authentication and legalization services for private clients and businesses. “When you think you have a done deal, your financing is in order, logistics in place, and then a shipment is held up because of an error in paperwork, it’s not only frustrating, but very costly.”

Jason Scheib, a Sales Manager with auto parts and amphibious vehicle maker Ontario Drive & Gear, says bureaucratic paperwork costs are the number one thing SMEs should take into consideration when considering exporting.

“They need to understand the costs associated with doing business outside of the country, such as proper documentation for shipping and inspections, etc. It’s always more costly and complicated than you think it should be,” he told ExportWise last December.

Ironically, while modern digital versions of agreements, records of compliance, and money transfers can move between businesses at light speed, much of the international commerce community still operates under systems that require paper copies of documents.

“The result is one of the most common and least understood bumps in the road – the authentication and legalization of documents used in foreign jurisdictions,” Demers adds. “Adding to the confusion is the fact that every country has unique requirements.”

Following protocol

In order for Canadian documents to be accepted in a foreign country, they often have to be signed by a lawyer or notary whose signature is “authenticated” by the Canadian government at its Global Affairs Canada office in Ottawa. The document, now affixed with the Canadian government’s official seal, can then be legalized with the consular seal of the destination country at a foreign embassy or consulate in Canada. That means if you are shipping from Waterloo, you will need to send the documents, via mail, to the Global Affairs Canada office in Ottawa, and then either a consulate in Toronto or the recipient’s country embassy in Ottawa.

Sporting both official seals, the document is now authenticated, legalized, and possesses legal standing in the foreign country. This process applies to a wide range of documents, including certificates of origin, certificates of free sale, and GMPs (good manufacturing practice), in addition to security clearances.
“It can be a tedious and complicated process depending on the destination country,” says Demers. “We’ve had clients come to us whose documents were turned down three times because they didn’t ask the right questions, or the embassy didn’t properly communicate the requirements. It’s like anything – relationships and experience make the world of difference.”

Navigating the process

Demers’s expertise and experience proved pivotal for a Toronto woman a few years ago. As he was waiting in line at a foreign embassy, he overheard her express frustration about not knowing why her documents were being rejected for the fourth time.

“She spent more than a month trying to get the documents certified via mail,” he says. “She was so fed up, she decided to spend $500 on a flight to Ottawa to do it in person. But she still wasn’t getting the answers she needed, so I stepped in and we resolved the small issue in a matter of minutes.”

Unfortunately, this is not a unique case.

“We receive calls every day from Canadian exporters looking for the latest information on country-specific requirements because after weeks of waiting, they find out their documents have not been processed because they failed to meet specific requirements that in many cases weren’t even posted on the embassy website,” he says. “This process is a business necessity for exporters, yet it creates endless potential for frustration and missed business opportunities.”

For Wilbur-Ellis, one of North America’s largest agricultural products marketers and distributors of animal feed and specialty chemicals, IDC has become a valuable resource.

“Navigating the requirements of the authentication and legalization process can be complicated,” says Mikiko Adams, export documentation specialist based in Vancouver, Washington. “IDC makes the process much less stressful and saves us valuable time and resources, helping us meet deadlines and manage the process.”

Finding answers

Demers says that IDC is here to help Canadian exporters.

Aside from a knowledgebase of articles on the IDC website, the firm also provides a toll-free number for companies to call to obtain some free advice. If a company wants IDC to handle the entire process, prices vary depending on document type and turnaround time.

“We are always happy to help Canadians involved in International business, but I think they would be a lot less frustrated if they call us for some free advice at the start of the process,” he adds. “We can help you navigate the red tape and ensure this part of your export journey is worry free.”