Immigration Section
April 2014 Issue
Content is updated daily

FAQ

The answers provided to these frequently asked questions are based on recommended notarial customs and practices. They are intended as general guidelines and may not reflect the laws of your state. You may inquire about specific information on state laws by e-mail at Hotline@nationalnotary.org.

  1. Explain the "Apostille."
  2. How does one obtain an Apostille?
  3. Can I certify a copy of a birth or death certificate?
  4. Can I certify a copy of a passport or a driver's license?
  5. Can I make corrections to the notarial wording that is presented to me?
  6. Can I draft a document?
  7. What type of documents am I able to notarize?
  8. The Notary is not responsible for the contents of the documents, right?
  9. What if there is an error in the body of the document?
  10. Can I notarize a photograph on an application for a passport?
  11. Can I notarize a photograph? What if it is requested by a government agency?
  12. Can I notarize a foreign-language document?
  13. How do I handle a foreign-language document with no notarial wording?
  14. There is no room on the document for my seal
  15. If a signer doesn't have a passport, what else will work for travel into Mexico?

1. Explain the "Apostille."
An Apostille is a certificate issued by the Secretary of State or other Notary regulating agency that proves the authenticity of a Notary's signature and seal. An Apostille alone is sufficient proof of authentication for notarized documents exchanged between countries which abide by the Hague Convention; otherwise a chain of authenticating certificates may be necessary.

2. How does one obtain an Apostille?
In most states an Apostille can be obtained directly from the commissioning authority. Usually the signer must send the original notarized document, a written request naming the country to which the document will be sent, the fee, and an addressed postage- paid envelope.

3. Can I certify a copy of a birth or death certificate?
A Notary should not certify a copy of a birth or death certificate. Refer the person instead to the state Bureau of Vital Statistics or county clerk's office in the county where the birth occurred. For foreign birth certificates, refer the person to the consulate of the country of origin. Depending on state law, the Notary may be allowed to certify copies of other documents that are in the possession of the constituent ( i.e., a diploma).

4. Can I certify a copy of a passport or a driver's license?
A Notary may certify the copy if law permits. An alternative in states not authorizing Notary-certified copies is to perform a "Copy Certification by Document Custodian," whereby the holder of the original document certifies the copy in a written statement, and the Notary executes a jurat underneath the signed statement.

5. Can I make corrections to the notarial wording that is presented to me?
Yes. Line through incorrect information, make the correction, initial and, if necessary, date it. If there are too many errors to neatly and clearly correct, it may be best to line through the entire certificate, write "See Attached Certificate," and attach a loose certificate.

6. Can I draft a document?
As a ministerial official, a Notary must avoid the unauthorized practice of law. Notaries are not allowed to prepare documents for anyone in their capacity as a Notary. There are two exceptions: 1) if you are a practicing attorney or 2) if you are a professional certified or trained in a particular field. If either applies, then a Notary may draft documents only in the field of expertise.

7. What type of documents am I able to notarize?
If a document has a complete text, an original signature and notarial wording the Notary may usually notarize it. If the document does not come with preprinted notarial wording, the document signer must find out for the Notary what type of notarization is needed.

8. The Notary is not responsible for the contents of the documents, right?
Notarization does not prove the truthfulness of the statements in the document, and it does not legalize or validate a document. A Notary is responsible for the truth and accuracy only of the notarial wording that follows the document text.

9. What if there is an error in the body of the document?
The document signer is responsible for correcting errors in the document text. The signer should line through any mistake, write the correction above, and initial and date it.

10. Can I notarize a photograph on an application for a passport?
Perhaps. If, as above, you are notarizing a signature on a statement on the application regarding the photograph and not the photo itself. Remember that a photo by itself can not be notarized. There must be a complete text, an original signature and notarial wording.

11. Can I notarize a photograph? What if it is requested by a government agency?
No, the photograph itself cannot be notarized, even if requested by a government agency. For a proper notarization, at least three elements are required: text (a statement or wording that binds the signer is some way), an original signature (the actual commitment) and notarial wording (for an acknowledgment, jurat, etc.). A photograph alone does not meet these criteria.

Often acceptable in place of a notarized photograph is a written statement regarding the photograph that is signed by the subject of the photo and attached to the photo — or written on the back of the photo. The Notary may notarize the signature on this statement.

12. Can I notarize a foreign-language document?
Laws generally do not prohibit Notaries from notarizing non-English documents. However, the following are difficulties a Notary may face in notarizing a document he or she cannot read: the document could be blatantly fraudulent, it could be difficult to properly describe the transaction in the journal, and the U.S. Notary's seal could be misinterpreted abroad. In the event the document is written in a foreign language that the Notary understands, the Notary may proceed, provided the notarial act is authorized by state law.

However, if the Notary is going to notarize a document that he or she cannot understand, it is recommended that the Notary complete an English-language certificate. Alternatives to notarizing a foreign language document are to:
1) Refer the document signer to a foreign consulate or a bilingual notary.
2) Notarize an English translation if it is acceptable to the receiving agency.

13. How do I handle a foreign-language document with no notarial wording?
The signer should be asked to find out what kind of notarial act or certificate wording is required.

14. There is no room on the document for my seal.
If there is no room for the Notary's seal on a document, the Notary may attach a "loose" notarial certificate with the appropriate notarial wording. In the event the document has preprinted notarial wording, the Notary should line through the wording, write "See Attached Certificate," and attach the loose certificate with the proper wording.

The seal impression should only be affixed on the same sheet as the notarial wording. Some agencies may direct that the seal be placed in a crowded document's margin, over "boiler plate" or partially over some instructional wording, as requested by the INS with the I-134 Affidavit of Support. In such cases, the Notary should comply with the wishes of the receiving agency. The Notary's seal however, should always be affixed near the Notary's signature and in close proximity to the notarial wording.

15. If a signer doesn't have a passport, what else will work for travel into Mexico?
An "affidavit of citizenship" may be acceptable for travel to Mexico. The document signer would write out a statement attesting to his/her U.S. citizenship and the Notary would execute a jurat under the statement. (Unless the Notary is also a travel agent or other person with expertise in international travel, he or she should not be making recommendations. Have the signer contact the Mexican consulate or tourism office.)

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