Obtaining Documents for Residency: Birth and Marriage Certificates, Background Checks, and Legalization

Obtaining the required documents for residency is a crucial step in the process. This article focuses on birth and marriage certificates, background checks, and the legalization process for documents from North America. Learn about the specific requirements for each document and the necessary steps to ensure a smooth residency application.

Birth and Marriage Certificates

Obtaining birth and marriage certificates from the United States involves contacting the specific state where the event took place. Each state has its own division of vital records, with varying requirements for document retrieval. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas, have strict rules, such as requiring the credit card used for payment to have the same delivery address. However, there are ways to navigate these requirements, such as using a power of attorney. Other states have more accessible records, allowing for easier and quicker access. In the case of California, it is important to request the document from the county where the marriage took place, as not all records are sent to the state level.

For Canadians, requesting vital records involves contacting the respective province. Canada has restrictions on who can obtain documents, so it is advisable to order them directly or through a family member.

Background Checks

When it comes to background checks, it is essential to understand the difference between state and FBI checks. This article focuses on FBI background checks. In the United States, there are multiple channels to request FBI background checks based on your location. Opting for electronic scanning is recommended, as it provides faster results within days. Sending hard copies of ink prints directly to the FBI for processing can take several weeks or even months. Expat-Tations has a longstanding contract with an FBI channeler, offering the convenience of obtaining records without ink prints or requiring travel to the US in most cases.

For Canadians, background checks can be requested from the RCMP. While electronic prints are only available within Canada, ink prints can be submitted from overseas. Contact us for assistance in obtaining RCMP reports from Panama o Costa Rica.

Apostille or Legalization

Understanding the difference between apostilles and legalization is crucial. All documents from the United States need to be apostilled for use in Panama or Costa Rica. Birth and marriage certificates require apostilles from the state that issued the document. For example, a document issued in Florida would need an apostille from the State Department in Tallahassee. Apostilles are not considered sensitive and can be obtained by any person, with each state having its own cost and process.

On the other hand, Canada has not signed the Hague Treaty and does not use apostilles. Documents from Canada require legalization for use in Panama and Costa Rica. This involves a multi-step process, where documents such as an Ontario birth certificate need to be authenticated and then sent to the embassy. Once the document arrives, it must be validated at the Office of Foreign Affairs.


Residency documents should not be older than six months from the date of issuance, excluding the apostille. For citizenship applications, background checks must be within three months of issuance, while birth certificates do not expire. Both these types of documents need to undergo apostillation or legalization for use in your citizenship application.


Obtaining the necessary documents for residency can be a complex process. Understanding the requirements for birth and marriage certificates, background checks, and the legalization process is essential for a successful application. Be prepared to navigate the specific procedures outlined by each state or province and ensure that your documents meet the timeline requirements for residency

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