A quick global guide to electronic signature laws around the world

In 2016, 58% of SMBs were already serving customers from different parts of the world. Since eCommerce has continued to boom since then, this number is bound to be much higher in 2021 and beyond. It is therefore critical that your business understands global eSignature regulations.

What are the laws surrounding eSignatures in different countries? 

Let’s jump right into the answer, nation by nation.

United States

Applicable electronic signature legislation:

ESIGN Act (Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce) and UETA (Uniform Electronic Transactions Act )

Quick overview of the law:

The U.S federal government passed the ESIGN Act in 2000 to ease the adoption of electronic signatures. Another 47 U.S. states – as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – adopted the Uniform electronic transactions act.

The Complete Guide to Electronic Signature Laws around the World

These laws permit the use of electronic signatures for almost any type of agreement. However, businesses must get consent from all parties involved before conducting business electronically.

Legality of electronic signatures in the United States:

In the US, the ESIGN Act and UETA grant electronic signatures the same legal status as traditional wet ink signatures.

These laws prevent anyone from denying a contract’s validity or enforceability solely because it is in an electronic form.

Key exceptions

The ESIGN Act and UETA do not recognize electronically signed property transfers, wills, and other legal notices.

The European Union

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden

Applicable electronic signature legislation

eIDAS Regulation (Electronic Identification and Authentication and Trust Services)

Quick overview of the law

When eIDAS took effect on July 1, 2016, it replaced the Electronic Signature Directive. At the same time, it modified any other EU laws that contradicted eIDAS, establishing a consistent legal framework for eSignature recognition across the entire EU.

In fact, Article 25 of the act establishes that the court must accept all electronic signatures and verification services as evidence in legal proceedings.

Legality of electronic signatures in the European Union 

Electronically signed documents are valid as long as you obtain prior consent from all parties involved.

Key exceptions

There are no critical exceptions to this law.

India

Applicable electronic signature legislation

The Information Technology Act (IT Act)

Quick overview of the law

Established in 2000, The IT Act grants every eSignature and digital signature the same status as a handwritten signature. It also recognizes electronic signatures as legal and enforceable. 

Under section 10A, the law considers eSigned documents as valid unless someone procures proof of the contrary.

The law also considers e-Aadhaar signatures (that leverages Adhaar card number, unique to every Indian) as an accepted and legal method of securing eSignatures under the IT Act. 

Legality of electronic signatures in India

Electronic signatures are valid in India as long as businesses secure prior consent to conduct business electronically.

And the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 recognizes every electronic record.

Key exceptions

Agreements such as powers of attorney, wills, and real estate contracts are exempt from this law.

Canada

Applicable electronic signature legislation

Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)

Quick overview of the law

PIPEDA permits the use of electronic signatures for almost any type of agreement as long as consent is obtained from all parties involved before conducting business electronically. PIPEDA also regulates how businesses must manage the privacy and security of consumer data. 

Meanwhile, local laws such as the Alberta Act, Ontario Act, BC Act, and Quebec Act also offer different definitions of electronic signatures.

Legality of electronic signatures in Canada

Electronic signatures have the same status as traditional wet ink signatures. 

Key exceptions

The law exempts real estate agreements, wills, and powers of attorney. 

United Kingdom (UK)

Applicable electronic signature legislation

UK eIDAS, Electronic Identification and Trust Services for Electronic Transactions Regulations, the Electronic Communications Act (ECA), the Electronic Identification and Trust Services for Electronic Transactions Regulations 2016, and case law

Quick overview of the law

A broad definition of electronic signatures already exists in English law, as per the ECA. Post-Brexit, the UK also still follows eIDAS. 

The eIDAS offers definitions for three types of eSignatures:

  • Simple: This involves logically linking electronic data to other electronic data. This eSignature type has very basic signed ID proofing requirements.
  • Advanced: This is the most commonly used type of electronic signature. It uniquely links to the signatories and can also help identify them. These signatures are generated using electronic signature creation data that is under the signatory’s sole control. Also, any changes in the document data can be detected using this technology.
  • Qualified: This type has the highest signer ID proofing requirement. For every document signed, it generates a qualified certificate, which attests to the authenticity of the electronically signed document while identifying the signatory.

Legality of electronic signatures in United Kingdom

The English courts accept almost all types of electronic contracts as prima facie evidence. An electronic audit trail is enough evidence to prove the authenticity of a document.

Key exceptions

You cannot use eSignatures to approve real estate, banking, and lending documents or government filings.

Australia

Applicable electronic signature legislation

Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) and the Electronic Transactions Regulations (ETR) at the federal level, and local ETAs at the state level.

Quick overview of the law

This eSignature law defines what constitutes a valid electronic signature, consent, and retention of documents when dealing with Commonwealth government agencies. It also extends to transactions under certain Commonwealth legislations.

Australia has additional state-level electronic signature laws, called Local ETAs. These are much like the federal ETA, and are applicable when dealing with state/territory governments and their instrumentalities. However, these local laws have some state-specific exemptions and limitations.

The Australian courts consider an online signature to be legal and enforceable if it:

  • Identifies the signatory and their intention to sign the document
  • Is reliable as appropriate for electronic communication 
  • Shows the signer’s consent to use the method

Legality of electronic signatures in Australia

Electronic signatures have the same status as traditional wet ink signatures.

Key exceptions

Legal professionals in Australia recommend that you avoid signing the following documents using eSignature solutions:

  • Deeds (except in New South Wales)
  • Contracts signed as per section 127 of the Corporations Act
  • Wills
  • Powers of attorney
  • Legal proceedings

New Zealand

Applicable electronic signature legislation

Electronic Transactions Act and Contract and Commercial Law Act (CCLA)

Quick overview of the law

The CCLA decrees that an eSignature is legally equivalent to a handwritten signature as long as it can identify the signatory and showcase their approval of the information in the signed document. It also needs to be “as reliable as is appropriate given the purpose for which, and the circumstances in which, the signature is required.”

The act also specifies instances where electronic signatures are legally binding, even when there is no need for wet signatures on a physical document.

Legality of electronic signatures in this jurisdiction

New Zealand courts consider eSignatures to be as legally binding as wet signatures. They accept electronic signature records saved by eSignature solutions as evidence to prove the authenticity and validity of a contract under the Evidence Act of 2006.

Key exceptions

  • Handwritten bills of lading, affidavits, statutory declarations, powers of attorney, transfers of intellectual property, warrants, wills, codicils, or other testamentary instruments 
  • Notarization of real property transfer contracts and deeds

Singapore

Applicable electronic signature legislation

Electronic Transactions Act of Singapore (ETA) and the Electronic Transactions (Certification Authority) Regulations

Quick overview of the law

The ETA considers eSignatures as an acknowledgment of related information/contract in an electronic format. The courts consider these signed documents as valid if the electronic signature is:

  1. Unique to the signer;
  2. Able to identify the signer; and
  3. Solely under the control of the user/signer

Legality of electronic signatures in Singapore

Singapore’s courts deem electronic signatures as legally enforceable and admissible.  

Key exceptions

As with most countries, you need to be careful when using an electronic signature to sign deeds.


Here is a list of documents where traditional signatures are still mandatory: wills, negotiable instruments, documents of title, bills of exchange, promissory notes, consignment notes, bills of lading, warehouse receipts, and the sale or other disposition of immovable property contracts.

Ready to start eSigning?

Today, more than 60 countries have implemented laws and standards that confirm the validity of eSignatures and digital transactions.

As the adoption of electronic signatures continues to rise, the number of countries that use these regulations will also grow.
If your country accepts eSignatures as legally valid, get started with SignEasy today and boost your productivity. Sign up for a free trial here!

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