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When you apply for a business account, you may be asked to provide documents that are certified as true copies, commonly known as a certified true copy 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 company bank account opened.

That's good to know, but the real 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 appropriately done.

What is document certification/certified true copy?

Document certification is an action you must fulfill to get your documents verified by a qualified third party.

When applying for a new account, the bank will request that you provide copies of some original documents like identity documents, proof of address, banking records, etc.

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.

Some points to keep in mind:

The document certification process 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 account holder at their bank branch. You may need to get your documents certified by the bank in several contexts, for example, for visa applications or when applying for a new job.

To avoid confusion, remember that a certified copy, a true copy, and a certified true copy are different ways of saying the same thing.

And finally, ensure that you have all the terminology right; remember that a notarized 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 legalization) is a process where various seals are placed on a document issued in one country so it will be recognized in another country not just as a certified document but as a legal document.

Different countries have different levels of authentication and other 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 notarized 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 detail 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, general banking practice is to require the following documents:

  1. A certified true copy of proof of identity - proof of identity can be a passport, national ID, or driving license. For a corporate account, proof of identity will be required for all directors and shareholders of the company.
  2. A certified true copy 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.
  3. A certified true copy of company documents (in case you apply for a company bank account) - your company incorporation documents include the business registration certificate, the articles of association, registers of directors and shareholders, and other relevant documents depending on where your company is incorporated.

It is important to inquire with the relevant bank about what exact documents they require you to show for proof of identity and proof of residential address.

Otherwise, you may risk certifying the wrong document and having to start the process again, wasting 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 laws on document certification can vary between two countries.

For example, 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.

Whereas in Hong Kong, for opening a business account, documents can only be certified by a lawyer, a public notary, a certified public accountant, a company secretary, or the consular offices of the user's country.

You can find a qualified professional for your needs by contacting the official bodies representing Hong Kong-registered CPAs, attorneys, and notaries.

Here are a few helpful websites to get you started.

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 a copy of the document to be validated successfully.

How much does document certification cost?

When you need to get documents certified by an appropriate certifier, there is usually a fee attached to the certification services.

That fee can significantly vary depending on the certifier and the country where you are getting your document certified. 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 about document certification for a specific country, you may want to check if there is an official government website addressing the subject; consular websites are usually a great resource of information. 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:

With this guide, you should have all the information you need to know about certified true copy. We know there is more to do than just getting the official documents certified to open an account.

If you're interested in opening an account in Hong Kong, check out our complete guide for the remaining steps.


What are Certified True Copies?

Certified true copies are documents that have been examined, checked and confirmed as an accurate copy of the original. They are used to show that there has been no interference, and no changes made, when copying an important document.

What is the Certified True Copy validity period?


Why are certified true copies important for Hong Kong businesses? 


Which documents must be certified and presented to open a bank account?


Who can certify your documents?


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