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3 questions to ask before you notarize a foreign-language document

Two people having a conversation.

Updated 8-14-23. While it’s possible to notarize a document written in a foreign language, it’s very important to take steps to ensure you aren’t being misled about the document’s content or the signer’s intentions before you proceed. Here are three important questions to ask before notarizing.

1. Can you communicate directly with the signer?
2. Have you compared the customer’s signature on the document to the signature on the ID?
3. Can you read and understand the Notary certificate wording?

1. Can you communicate directly with the signer?

Even though English is not the primary language of many signers, as a Notary, you need to directly communicate with them to ensure they know what they are signing and are willing to sign. If the signer speaks English clearly enough to communicate directly with you, or you are fluent in the signer’s primary language, there’s no problem proceeding with the notarization. However, do not notarize if you can’t communicate directly — even if a third party offers to interpret — unless you are a Notary commissioned in Arizona or Mississippi, which are the only states that allow an interpreter to translate a foreign language for a signer during a notarization. Colorado, which currently allows interpreters at notarizations for hearing-impaired signers, will allow foreign language interpreters starting September 1, 2023. No matter the language, Colorado Notaries must use an interpreter who has no disqualifying interest in the transaction.

No other state authorizes the use of an interpreter during a notarization.

2. Have you compared the customer’s signature on the document to the signature on the ID?

A signature can be any symbol that is written or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the document, and people do not always sign exactly the same way each time. However, it's still a reasonable practice for the Notary to compare the signature on the document to the signatures on the ID or in your Notary journal to make a layperson’s determination that the signatures are reasonably similar.

3. Can you read and understand the Notary certificate wording?

The last question to ask is whether the certificate wording is in a language you read and understand. You should never use certificate wording you can’t read — you have no way to know what information you are affixing your signature and Notary seal to! If the certificate wording is in a language you don’t know, you must attach the appropriate English-language certificate wording for the act requested by the signer, otherwise do not proceed with the notarization.

If you do notarize a foreign-language document, it is a good practice to include any information that describes the document in your journal. For example, if the document has a title in English but the rest of the document is in a foreign language, you could note the title as part of your journal entry. If no descriptive information is available, you should at least indicate in the journal entry that the document was written in a foreign language.

Related Articles:

3 things Notaries should know about translating documents

Additional Resources:

Notarize Foreign-Language Documents


Add your comment

Pauline Ilana

03 Sep 2014

Is very important this article

Maria E. Hollingsworth

20 Apr 2015

I am a bilingual Notary Public, I found this article very useful. Thanks.


29 Apr 2015

As long as you are able to translate the wording of the document (there is a translator program on google) to verify the content of the document, I feel safe.if I speak with them client and they have translated exactly what I typed and translated.

Carmen Hudson

31 Aug 2015

Thanks for giving us this article, very important to know.

N. Samuelson

01 Aug 2016

SANDRA JONES: You completely misunderstand what this article says. YOU do NOT need to be able to read and understand the document itself. The article advises that you need to understand only the Notarial Certificate. Let me give you a simple example, and for the moment, I assume you do not understand physics. Assume Albert Einstein comes to you with a document that contains a single line, and that line is a physics equation you do not understand. But he signs his name below it and asks you to notarize the document. Now, you search google and it can't help you. Question: will you say: because I do not know physics and this particular equation, I won't certify that Albert Einstein has affixed his signature below it?

Christopher Greene

23 Mar 2018

These three question were fantastic to cover!

Sonia Cunha-Goldner

25 Dec 2020

FIRST: Google is not a trustworthy translation tool, since it does not consider the context. SECOND: we notarize signatures, not the content of the document itself. It's the signer's responsibility to understand and agree with what he/she is signing, and the Notary's responsibility to confirm with the signer if he/she understands the content of document and his/her willingness to sign it. Thank you for covering these three points. I would just include one detail: if you need the document Apostillized, the Notarial Certificate must be in English, as per the Department of State in Florida.

James H Wallert

12 Apr 2021

Florida regs state " Make sure you can communicate with the document signer or that a qualified trustworthy translator is present" Florida provides an affidavit form for the notary to use to verify the qualifications and signature of the translator. And yes, the Notary certificate must be in English.

National Notary Association

13 Apr 2021

Hello. Would you be willing to provide us with the source of the regulations and affidavit you are referring to, please? We have not been able to find the information and affidavit you described in Florida Notary statutes or administrative rules, or in the Governor's reference manual.

Carline Sitterud

16 Apr 2021

What if it's handwritten and there is no notarial wording? If we ask them if they'd like a jurat or acknowledgement is that acceptable? As well as we can always decline to notarize a document we aren't comfortable with. Correct?

National Notary Association

26 Apr 2021

Hello. If a document does not include notarial certificate wording that clearly indicates what type of act is required, it is acceptable to ask what type of notarization the customer wishes. For your other questions regarding foreign-language documents, can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in to help us provide information appropriate for your state?


22 Aug 2023

Can california notary notarize copies of child's birth certificate or marriage certificates issued either in English or Foreign Language and being issued in a different country (not in California or any other state from the USA)??

National Notary Association

24 Aug 2023

Hello. No, California Notaries are not authorized to certify copies of birth or marriage certificates.


24 Aug 2023

Can California notaries notarize copies of marriage or birth certificate if they been issued in foreign country (NOT in the USA) ?

National Notary Association

28 Aug 2023

Hello. No, California Notaries may not certify copies of foreign birth or marriage certificates.


24 Aug 2023

Can California notaries notarize copies of marriage or birth certificate if they been issue in a foreign language other than English and have been issued by a foreign country (for example China or India or Russia) ?

National Notary Association

28 Aug 2023

Hello. No, California Notaries cannot certify copies of foreign marriage or birth certificates.


28 Aug 2023

Hello. Where can we find further guidelines regarding these three questions specifically for the notaries who are also certified court interpreters and translators? I’m particularly interested in Northeastern US states. Thank you for introducing the topic.


28 Aug 2023

DHRUTI: If a client asks for a notarized copy of the foreign-issued birth certificate or any other document, for that matter, you can always notarize the client's signature on a copy certification form, where the client essentially certifies the fact that the attached or affixed copy is an exact reproduction of the original document in his or her possession. For all intents and purposes, especially for use abroad, that would suffice 100%.

Linda Millstone

28 Aug 2023

You do need to know what the body of the document is about, because there are things we cannot notarize (eg. proof of life).

Francesca Di Benedetto

28 Aug 2023

I have a notary public commission for the State of Texas, can I notarize in a foreign language and in English a foreign Power of Attorney in both languages and get the apostille?

National Notary Association

29 Aug 2023

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.

Joseoh Loeb

01 Sep 2023

Please do not trust google. Words are often switched for other words. Be safe and only notarize IF you are 100% comfortable with relying on another source for clarification. This was a most useful bulletin.

Marjean Ogletree

07 Sep 2023

This was very helpful to me.

Jeff Gonzales

05 Feb 2024

Thank you for this article. I recently informed a Signing Agency that I could not perform a Notary service as one of the Signers did not speak English. They pushed back asking if the husband could translate. I told them that we cannot use translators in Texas and they were a little miffed and seemed to not believe me. There were also issues relating to available ID, but that is another post for another time. Thank you for confirming my understanding. This makes me feel better abut it.

Rhonda Barraza

06 Apr 2024

So I get that the Notarial Act needs to be in English if I can't read the foreign language. The question I have is this.... There are translator devices and apps out there to help us communicate with foreign speakers. Can we use these devices and apps to communicate with our non-english speaking clients? I've used them many times in a previous job and on my month long trip to Europe. They work really well except for when it comes to the Chinese dialects.

National Notary Association

08 Apr 2024

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in?

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