Electronic Signature Laws Around the World: A Look at eSignature Laws by Country

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Anyone who’s ever signed anything electronically recognizes the convenience, security, and power of eSignatures.

As a core element of digital transformation, electronic signatures are quickly becoming a key component in almost every business transaction. eSignatures give businesses of all shapes, sizes, and locations the potential to expand their reach and form relationships with organizations around the world.

But the more you work with international clients and partners, the more you might wonder about how eSignature laws vary between countries.

This article will explore the importance of eSignature laws, the different types of eSignature laws you might encounter, and the importance of ensuring your eSignatures are secure and valid.

Why Do eSignature Laws Matter?

You want to protect yourself and your organization by ensuring any document you or your clients sign electronically is legally binding. This is easier to pull off when you’re working with local organizations, but what about contracts that cross state lines — or international borders?

Generally speaking, eSignature laws exist to keep you and your business partners safe. Understanding eSignature laws and how they apply to contracts between different countries allows you to conduct legal business on an international scale.

Electronic signature regulations in the U.S. and the European Union, for example, are in place to ensure agreements signed electronically maintain the same level of validity as an agreement signed by hand.

However, not all countries treat eSignatures equally. So, before we dig into eSignature laws by country, let’s clarify the different types of electronic signature laws.

The 3 Types of eSignature Laws Around the World

When you start to compare eSignature laws from around the world, you’ll find they generally fall into three categories: Minimalist, two-tier, and prescriptive.

1. Minimalist or Permissive Electronic Signature Laws

These laws allow eSignatures to be enforceable in virtually every case, with very few exceptions. Minimalist laws provide the greatest level of security for those involved and can be applied more broadly than other types of eSignature laws.

These laws tend to be technology-neutral, which means it doesn’t matter how an agreement is signed electronically — an eSignature holds the same legal weight as a handwritten signature.

Countries with minimalist laws for electronic signatures include the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

2. Prescriptive Electronic Signature Laws

Prescriptive laws are the strictest type of eSignature laws — and the most difficult to adhere to if you don’t use the right technology. That’s because there are specific rules about how you can create and sign agreements online.

These laws have technical requirements for how documents can be signed. Prescriptive laws dictate what processes and technology you need to use in order to constitute a legally binding signature.

The rarest type of electronic signature law, prescriptive laws are only used in a handful of countries including Brazil, India, Israel, and Malaysia.

3. Two-Tier Electronic Signature Laws

A combination of both minimalist and prescriptive laws, two-tiered laws can be tricky to navigate.

Like minimalist laws, two-tier eSignature laws allow and accept all forms of electronic signatures for private agreements (as long as both parties agree). However, like prescriptive laws, these laws also regulate what processes and technology must be used for specific types of contracts.

You’ll find two-tier eSignature laws in many European nations as well as China and South Korea.

Electronic Signature Laws in 14 Different Countries

Any document important enough to require a signature is important enough to protect by adhering to legal standards — particularly if one or more of the parties involved are from different countries.

Illustration of the United States, a person and a signed document

United States

Applicable Laws

Overview

In the United States, eSignature laws are regulated at both the federal and state level. Under the federal ESIGN Act of 2000, eSignatures are generally granted the same legal weight as signatures written by hand.

The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) of 1999 provides more detailed regulations for eSignature law at the state level. The UETA has been adopted in 47 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Some legal notices, including property transfers and wills, may be excluded from the ESIGN Act and UETA.

What You Need to Know

Under both the ESIGN Act and UETA, electronic signatures are given the same evidentiary weight as handwritten signatures in most cases in the United States.

Illustration of Argentina, a person and a signed document

Argentina

Applicable Laws

  • The Digital Signature Law of 2001

Overview

Since the Digital Signature Law was enacted in 2001, electronic signatures are considered valid in Argentina. Wherever a valid signature is required, an eSignature can fulfill that requirement as long as both parties agree to this.

What You Need to Know

Argentina keeps it simple with a single law that says eSignatures are legally binding in most circumstances if both parties reach that agreement.

Illustration of Argentina, a person and a signed document

Australia

Applicable Laws

  • Electronic Transactions Act 1999

Overview

Electronic signature laws in Australia are governed by the Electronic Transactions Act 1999. Similar to U.S. law, Australian eSignature laws are “minimalist” and accept the use of eSignature for nearly every type of transaction. In 2011, the Electronic Transactions Act was amended to grant greater protection to Australian businesses and consumers.

What You Need to Know

Under the Electronic Transactions Act, all types of eSignatures are admissible in court. However, Australian law does not accept eSignatures in cases of citizenship and migration. Additionally, state laws may impact eSignatures in matters of family law and real estate.

Illustration of Canada, a person and a signed document

Canada

Applicable Laws

Overview

Electronic signature laws in Canada are regulated at both the federal and provincial levels.

Provincially, eSignatures have been recognized since the Uniform Electronic Commerce Act (UECA) of 1999. Nine Canadian provinces have adopted this Act.

In 2004, eSignatures were accepted at the federal level under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The Act allows the use of eSignatures for almost every type of contract and deems them equally valid to pen and ink signatures.

What You Need to Know

In Canada, electronic signatures are given the same credibility and legal status as handwritten signatures. Certain family law (wills, trusts, divorce) and real estate transactions are not covered by PIPEDA.

Illustration of China, a person and a signed document

China

Applicable Laws

  • Electronic Signature Law of the People’s Republic of China

Overview

Under the Electronic Signatures Law of the Republic of China, eSignatures are accepted and enforceable in China. However, the Chinese court system still relies heavily on paper documents. In order for an agreement to hold up in court, parties must present electronic records to prove the existence of a signed agreement.

What You Need to Know

Under Chinese law, electronic signatures are valid. However, eSignatures are not always given as much legal weight as handwritten signatures, particularly in matters involving the government.

Illustration of the European Union, a person and a signed document

European Union

Applicable Laws

Overview

For the 27 countries that belong to the EU, eSignature law falls under the Electronic Identification and Authentication and Trust Services (eIDAS) regulation. Since eIDAS was enacted in 2016, European countries are now able to use eSignatures in cross-border agreements without spending time and resources on validation.

eIDAS applies throughout the EU; including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden.

What You Need to Know

The enactment of eIDAS standardized eSignature regulations across Europe, saving time and money by eliminating the need for a resource-intensive validation process.

Illustration of Hong Kong, a person and a signed document

Hong Kong

Applicable Laws

Overview

Enacted in 2000 and updated in 2004, the Electronic Transactions Ordinance (ETO) grants eSignatures the same legal value as those signed by hand. In some cases, parties may be required to provide evidence to support the existence and validity of digital agreements. Additionally, transactions involving the Hong Kong government may require an advanced electronic signature notarized by a registered certification authority.

What You Need to Know

Under Hong Kong’s ETO, standard eSignatures typically have the same legal status as handwritten signatures in commercial and consumer agreements.

Illustration of Japan, a person and a signed document

Japan

Applicable Laws

  • The Electronic Signature and Certification Business Act

Overview

Electronic signatures are legal in Japan under the Electronic Signature and Certification Business Act of 2000. Japan’s tiered eSignature laws state that electronic signatures are equal to pen and ink signatures in many cases; however, eSignatures sometimes require certification by a government-approved entity.

What You Need to Know

Aside from specific government transactions and notarizations, eSignatures are court-admissible and legally-binding under Japanese law.

Illustration of Mexico, a person and a signed document

Mexico

Applicable Laws

  • The Federal Commerce Code

Overview

Mexico legalized eSignatures in 2003 under the Federal Commerce Code. The law accepts electronic signatures on digital agreements as legally binding, with few exclusions.

What You Need to Know

In the majority of cases, electronic signatures are legally binding in Mexico. However, it’s important to note that there are two separate types of eSignatures under Mexican law — standard and advanced. The two signature types are treated similarly in court, but advanced eSignatures must adhere to a stricter set of requirements.

Illustration of New Zealand, a person and a signed document

New Zealand

Applicable Laws

  • The Electronic Transactions Act (ETA)

Overview

In New Zealand, eSignatures are regulated under the Electronic Transaction Act (ETA) of 2002.

The Act allows electronic signatures to be considered equivalent to wet ink signatures in almost all cases. The ETA also outlines special circumstances in which an electronic signature is required, even though a handwritten signature might not have been necessary if the agreement were on paper.

What You Need to Know

As long as specific conditions are met, New Zealand courts grant electronic signatures the weight as pen and ink signatures.

Illustration of Norway, a person and a signed document

Norway

Applicable Laws

  • Electronic Signatures Act 2001

Overview

Electronic signatures have been legal in Norway since 2001. Norway’s tiered eSignature laws recognize Standard Electronic Signatures, Advanced Electronic Signatures, and Qualified Electronic Signatures.

Though not a member of the European Union, Norwegian eSignature law generally follows guidelines established by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). However, requirements for Advanced and Qualified Electronic Signatures are officially set by the King of Norway.

What You Need to Know

Electronic signatures are legally recognized in Norway. Under the country’s tiered eSignature laws, certain types of documents require Advanced Electronic Signatures, which must meet additional standards, or Qualified Electronic Signatures, which must be accredited by an approved certification body.

Illustration of South Korea, a person and a signed document

South Korea

Applicable Laws

  • The Digital Signature Act
  • The Korean Electronic Signature Act (ESA)

Overview

South Korea legalized eSignatures with the creation of the Digital Signature Act in 1999. The act provides a basic framework for the security of electronic messages and eSignatures. It states that electronic contracts and signatures cannot be dismissed simply for being electronic.

The Korean Electronic Signature Act (ESA) provides a broad definition of “eSignature” that is media-neutral and doesn’t involve specific technical requirements. This makes it relatively easy to create and sign contracts virtually.

What You Need to Know

Electronic signatures are admissible, legal, and enforceable in South Korea.

Illustration of Thailand, a person and a signed document

Thailand

Applicable Laws

  • Electronic Transactions Act

Overview

Thailand uses a two-tier eSignature law. Under the Electronic Transactions Act of 2001, written signatures are not required and electronic signatures can be legally binding. However, only Qualified Electronic Signatures are recognized in court. This means digital agreements with businesses or customers in Thailand must meet specific qualifications to be considered valid in court.

What You Need to Know

eSignatures are permitted in Thailand, but the country abides by a two-tier legal model that places extra requirements on electronic agreements and signatures.

Illustration of the United Kingdom, a person and a signed document

United Kingdom

Applicable Laws

Overview

In the United Kingdom, eSignature law falls under the Electronic Communications Act 2000 (ECA 2000) and the Electronic Signatures Regulations 2002. The ECA 2000 covers everything related to online transactions and contracts with electronic signatures, while the Electronic Signatures Regulations define eSignatures themselves as legally-binding.

With few exceptions, eSignatures are admissible and enforceable in the U.K. and can be reliably used for business transactions.

What You Need to Know

Just like the U.S., Canada, and many of the countries listed above, the U.K. accepts eSignatures as legally-binding in virtually every circumstance.

TL;DR: Are eSignatures Legal Around the World?

The short answer is yes — eSignatures are legal and secure as long as the platform that provides them adheres to all the relevant laws!

However, that adherence isn’t always easy as so many countries have specific regulations for exactly how and when electronic signatures can be used. That’s why it’s so important to use secure eSignature technology that allows you to create and sign legally binding documents in accordance with international and local laws.

Not only is HelloSign secure and legal under many eSignature laws (including ESIGN, UETA, and eIDAS!), we’re also doing our part to make it easier for you to expand into new markets. Stay tuned to the HelloSign blog to keep learning about important eSignatures regulations and developments from around the world.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Since laws and regulations governing eSignatures may be frequently updated, HelloSign does not guarantee all the information on its site is up-to-date or accurate. If you have legal questions about the content on this site, or about whether HelloSign's solutions fit your needs, please seek professional legal advice from a licensed attorney in your region.

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