International Process Service: An In-Depth Guide

Service of process within the United States is a complex process that involves a strong knowledge of laws and rules across all states and territories. International process service? It’s an even bigger endeavor.

You have to pay close attention to the steps and requirements or risk having service rejected or a judgment not enforced. After all, you’re asking a country to take legal action against one of its citizens at the behest of another government!

However, with a thorough knowledge of how process service works across international channels and with the guidance of experienced professionals, it is possible to effectively complete service across the world.

What to Expect in International Process Service

International service of process involves a lot of variables in terms of timelines, processes and costs involved, whether translation needs to be obtained, and general ease of service. How you go about serving documents plays a big role in how efficiently it can be completed, but there’s no guarantee. When in doubt, planning for the potential challenges and disruptions helps you head them off early. 

That being said, here are a few general statements about what to expect in international process service. 

Thoroughness pays off

Service of process, no matter the location, relies on careful adherence to local laws and attention to details when effectuating service, filling out paperwork and providing documentation. 

This goes double for process service when it occurs outside of the United States – it’s a time-consuming process and you don’t want to risk delays because of forgetting to double-check your work. Consider this: you’re asking a foreign government to allow legal action against one of their citizens. It’s important to demonstrate that you’re taking the case seriously by paying attention to the details.

Enforceability needs

There are a number of options for process service in a foreign country and each method has its benefits and drawbacks. However, if your ultimate goal is to have an enforceable judgment, the method you choose is especially important. To have an enforceable judgment, you should try first and foremost to go through official channels: the Hague Convention, Letters Rogatory, or the Inter-American Service Treaty. Service via agent may sometimes be the only option, but it’s also the least enforceable. 

Translation is key

English may be the lingua franca across the world right now, but that doesn’t mean it holds up in other courts of law. If you’re sending requests to another country for service, then you need to see what their working or administrative languages are. If English isn’t one of them, then you’ll need to provide a translation of documents to that language. 

You may also need to see what local languages are relevant – if the individual being served speaks a different language or variant of a language, you may need further translations. 

The takeaway: Always check!

Ways to Serve Internationally

There are three methods used for process service in international cases: Service via the Hague Convention on Extrajudicial and Judicial Documents, Letters Rogatory, and service via agent.

Hague Convention on Extrajudicial and Judicial Documents

As long as a country is a signatory to the Hague Convention, service via the Hague Convention is often the most expedient and affordable route to serve process. 

The Hague Convention was established in 1965 to establish paths for service of process without having to involve consular or diplomatic channels. As of the writing of this guide, there are 75 countries that are signatories.  

Of these signatories, each one has its own set of particular Articles of the convention it does or does not agree to. Service outside of these agreements is considered invalid.

A current list of signatories can be found on the HCCH website.

How does service through the Hague Convention work?

Service through the Hague Convention follows the steps below, with the caveat that there are lots of nuances. There are significant variations in how countries choose to participate. Effective service of process requires that parties are aware of these specifics as well as generalities. 

  • Documentation and a special “letter of request” is sent to the appropriate central authority in where the service is to be completed
  • The central authority reviews the documents for completion and accuracy before handing them over to the local court with jurisdiction over the defendant
  • The local court retains a server to deliver the documents
  • Once the documents are served, the local court provides documentation that the service was completed. 
  • The central authority completes paperwork in accordance with the Hague Convention to confirm the completion of service and forwards this documentation back to the individual who originally requested service.

How long does service through the Hague Convention take?

Under the Hague Service Convention, international process service can take anywhere between three to six months (or longer). Making sure that the legal processes are correctly adhered to is a long process and failing to follow all the requirements can result in service being dismissed – especially if the service is contested or judgment needs enforcing.

As with any process service situation – domestic or international – filling out paperwork fully and correctly is important, but in international situations, it’s especially necessary. Not doing so can cause delays of upwards of two to four months.

Do my documents need to be translated for service via the Hague Convention?

Prior to sending documents to central authorities, all documents should be translated into the target language(s). Depending on the national and regional languages used in administrative settings, you may need to provide multiple languages. Not doing so can create additional delays if the service is rejected. 

How much does service via agent cost?

The cost for service varies depending on the need for translations. 

Letters Rogatory

While the Hague Convention offers benefits to its signatories, there are many countries that aren’t part of it. Moreover, some countries may have signed the primary portions of the treaty but not the Hague Service Convention. In these cases, process service needs to happen through a different route. 

Letters Rogatory is an alternative to service via the Hague Convention. Letters Rogatory are formal requests made through diplomatic channels for judicial assistance, typically through foreign courts. 

How does service via Letters Rogatory work?

Through the Letters Rogatory process, a request is drafted to be sent by the court with jurisdiction over a case. The letter needs to include the following information:

  • A statement of the request for judicial assistance 
  • A brief synopsis of the case, which identifies the parties and the nature of the claim and relief sought
  • The type of case
  • What assistance is required
  • The name, address and other identifiers of the person in the country to be served
  • A statement from the requesting court that expresses their willingness to provide similar judicial assistance to the authorities of the receiving state  
  • A statement stating that the request court is willing to reimburse the receiving court for costs involved in executing the request 

Once the letters are drafted, they must be signed by a judge of the requesting court. Attention to detail is important – letters must be correctly translated and provided in the quantity required. 

When the receiving court receives the Letters Rogatory, they can choose to fulfill or deny it based on completion, correct formatting, and sufficient justification for the request. If the court agrees to grant the request, service will then be completed under local rules.  

How long does service through Letters Rogatory take?

Executing Letters Rogatory is time-consuming, usually taking a year or more due to the steps involved in diplomatic channels. 

Do my documents need to be translated for service via Letters Rogatory?

The need for translation depends on the laws of the foreign country, the type of case, the language(s) of the recipient and foreign country, documents may need to be translated to be considered valid. 

How much does service via Letters Rogatory cost?

Letters Rogatory aren’t inexpensive. Fees for Letters Rogatory include a fee for the U.S. State as well as copying, translating, mailing, and retaining a private process server to handle service. 

Service via Agent

Don’t need to make sure judgment is enforceable? Then service via agent may be the best option for you. In some cases, such as matrimonial cases when a judgment overseas will not be enforced but the attorney is only interested in notification to the defendant, this method not only works well but is accomplished in much faster times.

Most services abroad when utilizing an agent for service,, can be done in weeks as compared to months or more than 1 year. However, while this may be an option, note that United States courts generally will not allow a judgment to be enforced overseas and the opposing country may also not allow this method of service in some instances.

How long does service via agent take?

Process service via an agent can happen quickly. At DGR, we’ve completed international service through an agent in a little as one day. However, the typical timeline is between one to two weeks – still significantly faster than process through Letters Rogatory or through the Hague Service Convention, which can be anywhere from three months to a year. 

Do my documents need to be translated for service via agent?

Translation needs will depend on the administrative languages of the receiving country. If English is not a language used by the court, documents will need to be translated for the receiving court for them to be valid.

How much does service via agent cost?

Service via agent will vary depending on a number of factors and will be dictated by the going rates of the foreign country. However, service via agent tends to be less costly than routes like Letters Rogatory. 

Inter-American Service Treaty 

The Inter-American Service Convention and Additional Protocol (IACAP) is a multilateral treaty providing a channel for service between countries in North and South America when countries aren’t signatories to the Hague Service Convention. 

IACAP streamlines requests for service of process between these countries and created Central Authorities that route service. Countries that are currently signatories include:

  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Columbia
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • United States of America
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

How does service via the Inter-American Service Treaty work?

IACAP acts as a channel for requests for service. These requests follow the following steps:

  • Documents are prepared. Requests must follow all translation requirements and include a mandatory form. All documents should be sent in triplicate. 
  • Once documents are prepared, a judge from the sending country has to sign off on the request. 
  • Documents are delivered to the foreign Central Authority for service in accordance with local rules and regulations. 
  • Once service is completed, the sending country will get a Certificate of Service from the foreign Central Authority

How long does service via the Inter-American Service Treaty take?

Using the IACAP for service can take anywhere from 4 months to a year, though there are many variables in the equation. These times are comparable to that of service through Letters Rogatory, but it’s still a useful formal method to ensure that service of process takes place.

Do my documents need to be translated for service via the Inter-American Service Treaty?

If the receiving state’s language is something other than English, it is likely the documents will need to be translated. The final determination depends on the recipient’s language as well as nuanced local rules. Our team can let you know what the appropriate language is, depending on the country and region of service. 

How much does service via the Inter-American Service Treaty cost?

While there are no set fees for service requests sent through the Inter-American Convention, there may be translation and duplication fees for documents prior to submitting requests. 

Getting documents served outside of the United States can seem like a big undertaking – and it can be. There are significant costs and timelines, numerous parties that need to be involved, and care and attention to detail throughout all of it. However, with the right help, it’s possible to achieve your goals. 

Contact DGR Legal to talk with us about how we can help you with your international service of process. 

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