Different types of electronic signatures

By Will Elton, published: 2020-10-21

Did you know a digital signature isn’t the same as an e-signature? If you’re curious about the different types of electronic signing including QES, AES and SES, you’ve come to the right place.

In essence, electronic signatures officially hold the same weight as ink signatures. When the ESIGN Act of 2000 passed, it officially recognised e-signatures as legally binding in foreign commerce.

However, every country has different specific rules on electronic signatures and showing proof in court. Refer to our country by country e-signing rules guides below for country-specific information.

E-signing holds the same weight as ink signatures.
Unless exceptions apply, keep reading…

electronic signature

The different types of electronic signature

To start, you’re going to want to read up on the different types of electronic signature. And the different terms, which often sound like they could be interchangeable but are in fact, not.

Have no fear, we’ve laid them all out below. 


The most common form you will come across. Importantly, you may often see this referred to as electronic signature, e-sign, e-signature, eSign, eSignature, or the long-form Standard Electronic Signature (SES). In fact, these are all the same thing.

They refer to, and derive their legal basis from, the act of signing a document (online). The users’ intent to sign gives it it’s authority. Unless specific restrictions apply (which vary by jurisdiction), by applying an electronic signature to a document, you are signing it.

Electronic Signature

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Digital Signature

This is the one that will trip up most people. A digital signature is a type of electronic signature with more security than a standard electronic signature. The digital signature is an algorithm determining the authenticity of software or a document.

Moreover, this digital signature helps authenticate the signature to ensure it has kept its integrity through the process of sending to various recipients.

Advanced Electronic Signature

In reality, these are generally only used for government systems and banks for high-level protection. In other words, think of digital signatures as a virtual fingerprint compared to electronic signatures as photo identification. 

Advanced Electronic Signature (AES)

An advanced electronic signature (AES) is a sub-type of digital signature with the additional following capabilities:

    • uniquely linked to the signatory;
    • capable of identifying the signatory;
    • created under the signatory’s sole control; and
    • linked to other electronic data in such a way that any change to the data can be detected.

Qualified Electronic Signature

Finally, a qualified electronic signature (QES) is a specific digital electronic signature that has been verified with the particular specifications of a Trusted Third Party or a government. Moreover, this includes using a secure signature creation device, and certification as ‘qualified’ within the applicable jurisdiction.

Importantly, a QES doesn’t increase the security of a document, it only reduces the burden of proof if a legal dispute arises. 

Legality of E-signatures

The rule of thumb around the world is that e-signing is valid for most documents.

In the EU, the new eIDAS Regulation has made e-sign and global business smooth and simple. A business or organisation may choose between Standard, Advanced or Qualified esignatures, depending on their security needs, with all three legally effective, as a result.

Electronic signature laws vary across jurisdictions. Many countries have passed their own electronic transactions acts. For instance, many countries like Singapore, treat e-signatures and e-documents the same as paper records and ink signatures.

As below, have a look at the individual electronic signature laws of the country you are looking to do business with for a clear look at the individual requirements. 

Country-by-country e-signing rules:

Hong Kong

This article does not constitute legal advice.

The opinions expressed in the column above represent the author’s own.

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READ MORE: Is e-signing legally binding? 

EBOOK: E-signatures

Tags: e-sign | electronic signature | tech | technology | z-syndicate | zegal

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