Updated 3-6-17. Documents being sent outside the U.S. or coming from another country can be tricky to notarize. Notarial acts in foreign countries can be very different from those performed in the United States. Here are answers to several general questions surrounding international notarizations that often come up.
Is The Notarial Act Permitted?
Notaries in most countries perform very different duties compared to their counterparts in the United States. Foreign Notaries are charged with duties similar to attorneys, as they advise and prepare documents for clients. However, in the U.S., Notaries have more limited authority, and may not advise or prepare documents for clients.
The confusion occurs when people from other countries ask U.S. Notaries to perform official acts that are not permitted under state law. One common example is when a Notary is asked to certify that a foreign citizen residing in the U.S. is still alive in order to collect an overseas pension. Most states do not authorize Notaries to certify these “proof of life” certificates. This often confuses signers who have been directed by foreign government agencies to take their life certificate to a U.S. Notary.
If you are asked to perform an unfamiliar notarial act on an international document, find out first if your state permits it. You can contact your state Notary regulating agency. Members also can contact the NNA Hotline.
What If The Document Is In A Foreign Language?
International transactions often involve documents drafted in a language you can’t read. Is this a deal breaker?
As a general rule in most states, you may notarize a document written in a foreign language as long as the notarial certificate is in English or a language you can read. You’ll need to check your state’s laws and guidelines for specific guidance. That said, it’s safer and generally more advisable to refer the signer to a Notary who can read the foreign language.
It’s also a recommended practice to have a signer sign the document using characters or an alphabet you can read and understand, since the signed name could be different than what you are told.
Do Notaries Issue ‘Apostilles’?
If you’ve ever been asked to notarize a document sent to another country, your signer also may have asked you about getting an apostille to authenticate this document.
An apostille is a certificate authenticating the signature and seal of the officer performing the notarial act on a document being sent between countries that have signed the Hague Convention.
Basically, an apostille confirms to the document’s recipient that the individual who notarized the document had a valid commission at the time the document was notarized. Without an apostille attached, a document sent between countries must go through a much lengthier authentication process by several different agencies in order to be accepted.
Many people mistakenly believe that apostilles are issued directly by Notaries. Only an authorized authority under The Hague Convention — typically the Secretary of State’s office or other Notary-regulating agency — is authorized to issue apostilles. If a signer asks for an apostille, they will have to submit the document to the appropriate authority, which will typically process and attach an apostille to the notarized document for a fee.
Are There Any Other Alternatives?
If it turns out you can’t notarize an international document, the signer may have other options. Embassy and consular staff are authorized to notarize documents being sent to their home countries. If a foreign country requests a notarial act for a signer’s document that a U.S. Notary isn’t authorized to perform, the signer can contact that country’s local consulate or embassy for assistance.
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.