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Notary Bulletin

Three Questions To Ask Before You Notarize A Foreign-Language Document

Updated 4-5-21. 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?

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, which is the only state that allows an interpreter to translate for a signer during a notarization. No other state authorizes 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 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 notarial 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.





11 Comments

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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.

SANDRA JONES

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?

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