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How to Become a Notary Public in California

If you're interested in becoming a Notary Public in California, this practical guide answers many common questions about the process. Learn about a Notary's duties and find out how you can become a commissioned Notary. Once you are ready to become a California Notary or renew your California commission, we'll walk you through step by step.

If you're not quite ready yet, we have additional resources where you can learn what a Notary is, what they do and why you should become a commissioned Notary.

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BECOME a Notary

California Notary Process
Requirements to be a Notary in California
General Notary Public Information

California Notary Process

Here are step-by-step instructions for California residents who are interested in becoming a Notary Public:

  1. Make sure you meet all of the requirements (see below).
  2. Take a 6-hour training course from a California state-approved vendor.
  3. Complete the CA Notary Public application form.
  4. Pass a state-administered exam. Application, $40 application fee, and 2” x 2” color passport photo due at the exam.
  5. Submit the "Request for LiveScan Service" form with your fingerprints for your background check. The Department of Justice has a list of Live Scan locations.
  6. Receive your commission certificate from the state.
  7. Get your $15,000 surety bond.
  8. File your bond and oath of office with the county clerk within 30 days.
  9. Buy your Notary journal and Notary stamp from a designated vendor.
  10. Get errors and omissions insurance (optional, but strongly recommended).
  11. If you want additional training, look for continuing education courses or consult Notary experts for guidance.

How much does it cost to become a Notary?

It costs $40 for applicants to file an application and take the Notary exam in California. Additional costs vary depending on the vendor you choose for the required training course, surety bond, live scan background check, passport photo, Notary supplies, and county clerk bond and oath of office filing fees.

The total cost of commissioning can differ depending on whether you are a new or renewing Notary too. New Notaries may need more “how-to” assistance than experienced Notaries. Books, additional training and live expert assistance are often must-haves for most new Notaries.

How long does it take to become a Notary?

After you take the exam, it can take anywhere from two weeks up to six months to receive your commission depending on the volume of applications currently being processed. The California Secretary of State’s office publishes updates on their commission processing schedule.

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Requirements to be a Notary in California

Who can become a Notary?

To qualify for a California Notary Public appointment, applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a legal resident of the State of California
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Complete a training course approved by the Secretary of State
  • Pass an exam prescribed by the Secretary of State
  • Pass a background check

You cannot be convicted of a felony, a lesser crime involving “moral turpitude,” or a lesser offense incompatible with the duties of a Notary. Examples of “moral turpitude” include (but aren’t limited to) crimes such as burglary, embezzlement, fraud, statutory rape or tax evasion. A more detailed list is available on page 11-12 of the Secretary of State’s 2012  Notary Public Disciplinary Guidelines.

You must also have your fingerprints scanned electronically at an authorized “Live Scan” site as part of the background check. A list of Live Scan locations is available from the state Department of Justice.

Is training required to become a Notary?

Yes, you’ll need to take a six-hour training course from a state-approved vendor the first time you apply for a commission. You’ll also need to take a three-hour refresher course each time you renew your commission if you renew before your current commission expires. The California Secretary of State’s office has a list of approved education providers.

Do I need to take an exam?

Yes, all new and renewing applicants have to pass a written, proctored exam administered by a private company called Cooperative Personnel Services (CPS). Notary exam schedules, registration details and other testing information is available on the CPS website. You can also contact them at (916) 263-3520 to request information about exam locations and registration.

What is a surety bond and why do I need one?

California law requires you to get a $15,000 bond from a surety company authorized to do business in the state. A surety bond is a promise to pay anyone harmed if you fail to honestly, diligently and faithfully discharge your responsibilities as a Notary. Any damages paid from the bond go to cover a signer’s losses and you must pay back the surety company. The surety company may also require you to repay any costs the company incurs in defending the bond. A surety bond does NOT provide insurance coverage for you.

What is errors and omissions insurance?

If you want to insure yourself against possible legal costs or damages, you may consider purchasing a separate errors and omissions (E&O) insurance policy. An E&O policy will cover you for legal fees and damages up to the amount of the policy. E&O policies generally also cover attorney costs in the event you are required to defend yourself in court against a lawsuit.

What kind of supplies will I need?

Once commissioned, you will need to purchase an ink stamp and a well-bound journal.

The Secretary of State will issue a certificate authorizing you to buy your seal from a state-approved vendor. You aren't allowed to use a seal purchased from an unauthorized source like eBay or a stationery store. Ask if the stamp has a lifetime guarantee before you buy it because quality and durability can vary greatly among vendors. Stamps should not bleed during or after use, as this can cause county officials to reject documents due to smudging.

Every notarization you perform must be recorded in a journal. This record not only provides important information if there’s any question about a notarization you performed, but also provides important proof that you performed your duties properly if you are ever named in a lawsuit or accused of negligence.

If you are a mobile or retail Notary, an ID checking guide is recommended because you are constantly dealing with different people, as opposed to someone who notarizes in the same setting for the same group of people day after day.

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General Notary Public Information

Which state government office handles Notaries?

California Notary Administration is handled by the Office of the Secretary of State, Business Programs Division, Notary Public Section. The rules governing Notaries Public can be found in the state’s Notary Handbook.

Can anyone help me become a Notary?

There are many private organizations that offer Notary training courses, including the NNA. The Secretary of State’s office provides a searchable database of approved education providers by county. You can also find qualifications, registration, testing information, along with the state Notary Public Handbook and other resources on the Secretary of State website.

May I become a California Notary if I am not a U.S. citizen?

Yes. You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to become a California Notary Public. You must, however, be a legal resident of the state and meet all other application requirements.

Where will I be able to notarize?

California Notaries are authorized to notarize documents anywhere within the borders of the state.

Who can I notarize for?

You can notarize for any member of the public who makes a reasonable request and meets all requirements for notarization such as personally appearing before you and providing satisfactory proof of identity.

You may enter into an agreement with your employer to have your employer pay for your commission and supplies. In exchange, the employer may limit your notarizations during business hours to transactions directly related to your employer’s business purposes.

How long does a California Notary commission last?

Four (4) years, after which you will need to renew your Notary commission.

Once my current commission expires, will I be automatically reappointed?

No, you must meet the requirements and reapply for a new commission.

What is the process to renew my commission as a California Notary?

The process to renew your California commission is the same as becoming a Notary for the first time, with one difference. If you renew before your current commission expires, the training requirement drops from a six-hour to a three-hour course. Notaries are generally encouraged to begin their renewal process six months before their commission expires to avoid any gaps in their ability to perform notarizations.

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