Treaty Research

This guide describes resources and methods for locating and updating treaties of the United States and other countries.


A treaty is an international agreement concluded between two or more sovereign states in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments.  Treaties go by many names:  conventions, agreements, covenants, pacts, charters, and statutes, among others.  The choice of name has no legal significance.  Treaties generally fall into one of two broad categories:  bilateral (between two countries) and multilateral (between three or more countries). 

Treaty Research Process

The four steps of the treaty research process are outlined below.  The sources you consult will vary, depending on whether the treaty is bilateral or multilateral and on whether or not the the U.S. is a party to the treaty.

  • Step 1:  Use an index to find a citation to a full-text source.
  • Step 2:  Retrieve the full text of the treaty.
  • Sept 3:  Determine the current status of the treaty. 
    • Has it entered into force?
    • Which countries are state parties to the treaty?
    • Did a particular country ratify the treaty subject to any declarations, reservations or objections?
    • Have there been any subsequent amendments to the treaty?
  • Step 4:  If the text of the treaty is ambiguous, you may need to locate its drafting history to help you interpret its meaning.  Drafting histories are also known as travaux préparatoires (preparatory works).

Treaty Databases and Online Treaty Collections

As print resources have migrated online, it is now often possible to perform the first two or three steps of the treaty research process by using an online treaty database, such as HeinOnline's U.S. Treaties and Agreements Library, HeinOnline's World Treaty Library or the U.N. Treaty Series Online.

In addition, there are many free online treaty collections that focus on a particular jurisdiction, region or subject matter.  Depending on the type of treaty you are researching, it may be faster to use one of these online treaty collections as your starting point rather than following the four-step process outlined above.  This is particularly true for major multilateral treaties and for certain types of bilateral treaties, such as bilateral investment treaties.

Research Assistance

If you need assistance with treaty research, visit the Research Help page of the Georgetown University Law Library's website. Or contact the Law Library's International and Foreign Law Department by phone (202-662-4195) or by email (  Georgetown Law Center students may schedule a one-on-one research consultation with a librarian.


U.S. Treaties Tutorial

Non-U.S. Treaties Tutorial

Questions? Need Help? Contact the International & Foreign Law Dept.

International & Foreign
Legal Research

(202) 662-4195

Request a Research Consultation


Update History

  • Updated 05/2022 (chb)
  • Updated 01/2021 (chb)
  • Updated 08/2019 (chb)
  • Updated 08/2018 (chb)
  • Revised 07/2016 (chb)
  • Links revised 10/2012 (ajs)
  • Revised 03/2007 (aeb)