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How to Become a Notary Public

Why Become a Notary?

 

The overwhelming majority of the 4.4 million Notaries in America become Notaries as part of their job duties or as a value-added skill on their resume. Many others choose to become Notaries so they can have their own mobile Notary or Notary signing agent business. These individuals are independent contractors and earn money by handling mortgage signings, notarizing trust documents and performing many other tasks.

Aside from the additional income opportunities available to Notaries Public, the office of the Notary Public has a long history and brings with it both credibility to the individual Notary and service to one’s state or U.S. territory. A Notary does not serve their employer; their service is to the state or territory that issues their commission.

If you are interested in becoming a Notary Public, this practical guide will answer many common questions. Note that this is a general guide, as each state will have its own procedures for the Notary Public appointment processes. Throughout this guide, we will provide links to the specific state information for each question. Is there a question we didn’t answer? Please let us know!

Notary Qualifications:

 

Who can become a Notary?
 

In general, those qualified to become Notaries include adult residents of the state granting the commission who do not have a criminal record. While the exact qualifications differ from state to state, typically a Notary applicant should be at least 18 years old, be a legal resident of the state and not have a criminal record. Some states allow residents of neighboring states to become Notaries. Some states also require Notary applicants to read and write English.

Notary Requirements:

 

What do I have to do to Become a Notary?
 

Because state Notary laws are all different, the requirements can vary quite a bit. California has some of the most stringent, requiring Notaries-to-be to go through training and pass an exam. A passport-style photo, your fingerprints and a $40 application fee must accompany the application, usually submitted immediately after the exam, along with proof of a completed training course. Once you have been granted the California Notary commission, you must purchase your official state Notary Seal, purchase a minimum $15,000, 4-year bond, a California Notary Journal, and something to collect your customers’ fingerprints when you are performing your Notarial duties.

Compare those requirements to Vermont: Vermont Notaries are required to purchase and use a seal for any notarized documents that will be sent out of the state of Vermont. That’s it! While these very relaxed requirements make it sound more appealing to become a Notary in Vermont, there is much more risk involved when a Notary has no bond to protect the public, no liability insurance to protect themselves and has no formal record keeping to prove they performed their duties correctly. California Notary laws have been put in place as a result of lawsuits, and damage to the public as a result of mismanaged Notary acts.

Notary Training:
 

Does my state require Notary training?
 

Fewer than a dozen states require Notary applicants to undergo any training or education, although others strongly recommend that you obtain education on your own.

States that require Notary training: California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

Do I need to take a Notary exam?
 

In most states, no. Twelve states require Notary applicants to pass a test.

States that require Notary exams: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio (not statewide but may be required by local judge or committee), Oregon and Utah.

Where can I get Notary training if my state doesn’t require it?
 

The first place to check would be with Notary regulating agency in your state — usually the secretary of state’s office. They may offer education seminars. Local community colleges in some states also offer Notary education. Finally, there are a number of organizations and vendors that provide education for Notaries. The best way to find them is to do an Internet search under “Notary Education” and your state or community.

What types of training are available?
 

Notary courses generally range from three to six hours long, and can be taken in a classroom or online. The NNA provides live seminars in California, and has online training for the rest of the US.

How long will it take to complete each course?
 

Three to six hours is the usual length for required training courses. Any optional training you may pursue may fall outside of these guidelines.

How long will the Notary exam take to complete?
 

Notary exams last roughly an hour and can include fingerprinting for submission with your state Notary application at the completion of the exam.

How much does Notary training cost?
 

Notary training costs differ by provider. There is no standard. All required-Notary training must be approved by the state, so – as long as it is an approved course – the basics required by the state will be covered in the training. Some vendors may augment their training with helpful information that they know Notaries will need in order to be confident in their duties after they have become Notaries. Generally, online training courses are less than $100, and live seminars are between $100 and $200.

Do I need a background check to become a Notary?
 

In a few states, yes, a background check is a requirement to become a Notary. Some states, where a background check is not required, may run a background check if you state on the application that you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in the past.

What Notary supplies are required in my state?


Any Notary needs only three things: a seal for stamping notarial certificates; the certificates themselves; and a journal of notarial acts for keeping a record of your notarizations. While not required in a majority of the states, every Notary should keep a Notary journal for the protection it provides both the Notary and the public. The certificates will be the most challenging type of “supply” because there are different types of notarizations, each requiring a different certificate. Most state Notary-regulating sites provide bare-bones certificates for their states, but these can often leave something to be desired when trying to make a professional impression at a signing. For this reason, some suppliers are making certificates available online, so you can download the right certificate when needed rather than keeping a stock of paper certificates. Also, several vendors offer Notary packages that include all the supplies required, and suggested, for your state.

Keep in mind, just because it is not required, that does not mean you can’t use it! There are plenty of Notary supplies available to the Notaries in less-strict states to help them perform their duties and protect themselves.

State specific requirements for Notary supplies can be found here

Will I need a Notary bond in my state?
 

In most states, yes. Thirty states and the District of Columbia require Notaries to obtain a surety bond, but the amounts vary widely by state. A typical amount ranges from $5,000 to $10,000, although it can be as high as $25,000 and as low as $500. A surety bond is intended to protect consumers. If a mistake you make damages someone, the bond is intended to compensate the injured person up to the amount of the bond. You then would be required to repay the bond company.

Is Notary Errors and Omissions Insurance Required?
 

No, a liability insurance policy is not required, because your state does not write Notary laws to protect Notaries – it writes them to protect the public. This is why some states require bonds. You should also consider a Notary errors and omissions insurance policy. An E&O policy protects you against claims relating to any errors you make during a notarization. Purchasing an E&O policy is generally a good idea because it protects you.

How much does it cost to become a Notary?
 

This, too, varies widely, from less than $100 in some states to several hundred in others. Factors that determine the cost include: the application fee; the cost of any Notary training or exams; the cost of any background screening; the price of your Notary stamp and other required supplies; and the cost of your bond, if applicable.

Can anyone help me become a Notary?
 

Yes. In most states, there are organizations available to help Notary applicants through the process. It is often helpful to go through a vendor or association because of the various steps you must complete. Some states require applicants to go through these vendors and will not accept applications directly from applicants.

How long does it take to become a Notary?
 

The length of time required to become a Notary varies widely from state to state. Some states can process an application in a matter of days or weeks, while others can take up to six months.

What is the process to become a Notary Public?
 

While procedures differ from state to state, the general process to become a Notary includes:

  1. Make sure you meet all of your state’s qualifications
  2. Complete and submit an application
  3. Get training from an approved education vendor (if applicable)
  4. Pass a state-administered exam (if applicable)
  5. Complete fingerprinting and background check (if applicable)
  6. Receive your commission certificate from the state
  7. Obtain your surety bond (if applicable)
  8. File your commission paperwork (and bond) with your Notary regulating official (secretary of state, county recorder or other body), if required
  9. Purchase necessary tools from a designated vendor (Notary stamp (seal), certificates, journal, guidebooks and anything else applicable per state requirements)
  10. Purchase errors and omissions insurance (optional, but strongly recommended)
  11. Begin performing notarizations for the public
  12. If you determine you need additional training, seek out continuing education or consult Notary experts for guidance.

You’re a Notary – Now What?
 

Where will I be able to notarize?


Most states authorize you to notarize documents throughout the entire state. A few states have unique rules regarding jurisdiction; for example, limiting where you can notarize within the state, or allowing you to perform notarizations for your state’s citizens outside of its borders.

Who can I notarize for?

 

In almost every state, you should notarize for anyone who comes to you with a legitimate, legal request for a notarization. Some states have provisions allowing employers to limit staff Notaries to notarizing business-related documents during business hours.

How long is a Notary term?
 

The term is different from one state to the next. Most states are around 4 years for Notary term length but some are longer.

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