(Originally published in the June 2009 issue of The National Notary.)
Updated 11-2-16. Your signer is from Jordan, Kenya, Iceland or Mexico. He produces the only ID document he has — an old passport. It’s a little worse for wear and you’re unclear whether it’s even valid. The obvious question comes to mind: “Can I accept this?”
With 43 million people from other countries living in the United States, there’s a good chance that you’ve encountered this circumstance. No matter how thorough you are about other details, any notarization is only as good as the quality of the signer’s identification. It can be challenging for a Notary to keep up with the hundreds of different types of IDs issued by state and federal government agencies. Figuring out which foreign identification documents you can accept can be downright daunting.
The professional standard of practice would be to accept foreign IDs if issued by a government agency and include the bearer’s recent photograph, signature and physical description. But foreign IDs don’t always come with all those elements.
Foreign passports are the most commonly-acceptable form of foreign identification for notarization, but state laws vary on the requirements.
One common requirement is that the passport must be stamped by USCIS. Among the states with laws allowing Notaries to accept a properly-stamped passport are Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Tennessee and Wyoming. California also has this restriction. However, as of January 1, 2017, California Notaries may accept a foreign passport without a USCIS stamp.
Other states that allow foreign passports do not specify that they must be stamped. These include Iowa, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oregon, Montana, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. With the exception of South Carolina and Utah, these states allow expired passports so long as the date of expiration is not more than three years before of the notarization.
Some states have more stringent requirements for foreign passports. California, Florida and Tennessee, for example, require all foreign passports to include a serial or ID number as well as a photo, physical description and signature of the holder — even if stamped by USCIS. Massachusetts requires passports to contain a signature and photograph. Oregon requires a foreign passport to be from a nation federally recognized by the United States.
In Arizona, a foreign passport may be used to identify signers for documents conveying or financing real property, and in Texas, for a deed or other document relating to a residential real estate transaction. However, neither of these states allow a foreign passport to be used for any other type of document.
Other Types Of International Identification
State laws allow Notaries to accept very few other foreign IDs.
California allows driver’s licenses issued by Mexico and Canada that contain a serial number, photograph, physical description and signature. Florida also allows these driver’s licenses if the license has a serial number. In both of these states, the license does not have to be current as long as it was issued within the past five years.
In Arizona, when dealing with real estate conveyances and financing, you may accept any other valid, unexpired ID that is acceptable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to establish an individual’s legal presence in the United States and that is accompanied with supporting documents as required by DHS. Notaries in the state may check the Arizona Notary Public Reference Manual for more information.
One type of ID that causes confusion is a consular ID issued by the consulate of a foreign country. Matricula consular cards issued by Mexican consulates are among the most common of these. They look very official and reliable — especially the newer versions — but only Notaries in Illinois and Nevada are specifically allowed to accept them. Matricula cards have been controversial because of concerns that they are vulnerable to fraud.
Where Guidance About IDs Is Not Provided
Many states do not mention foreign passports or foreign IDs by name in their laws, but present a list of general requirements for any IDs Notaries may accept.
If you are a Notary in one of these states, check your state’s Notary handbook or commissioning agency’s website for guidance. For example, Georgia’s Notary Handbook states that Notaries may accept a foreign passport duly stamped by the USCIS.
If a signer has no identification at all, depending on the state you can still rely on one or more credible identifying witnesses regardless of citizenship or immigration status. In addition, for Notaries in Delaware and Virginia, a signer may present an alien registration card (U.S. Permanent Resident or “green” card) with a photograph.
Foreign IDs That Notaries Should Not Accept
Of course, there’s a whole world of foreign IDs that you should not accept, such as foreign national government ID cards and driver’s licenses (exceptions for California and Florida Notaries are noted above).
Don’t forget that foreign IDs also are often printed in a foreign language. Unless you understand the language on your client’s passport or the passport contains an English translation within it, you shouldn’t accept it. After all, you wouldn’t be able to verify the particulars of your client’s identity. Of course, under no circumstances should you rely on a third party to translate information for you.
As the world becomes more sophisticated in dealing with identifications, more and more different types of foreign IDs are likely to be presented as satisfactory evidence. The key, as always, is not to let the bells and whistles confuse you. Just stick to the basics of satisfactory evidence.
If you have questions about what is allowed in your state, try the NNA Hotline.
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