Your Cookies are Disabled! NationalNotary.org sets cookies on your computer to help improve performance and provide a more engaging user experience. By using this site, you accept the terms of our cookie policy. Learn more.

3 Questions For Notaries To Ask When Dealing With Foreign-Language Issues

Spanish-document-resized.jpgUpdated 2-25-19. Notarizing a signature on a foreign-language document may present some tricky issues if you don't read or speak the language. How can you be sure the document says what is claimed? What if the signature is in a language you don't understand? Before notarizing a foreign-language document, here are three important questions you need to answer. 

Can I notarize foreign-language documents?
 

The first and most important thing is to check if your state’s Notary laws, website or state handbook addresses how to notarize foreign-language documents or deal with signers who speak foreign languages. If so, be sure you follow those rules or guidelines.

Generally speaking, most states allow you to notarize a document written in a foreign language as long as the certificate wording is in English or a language you can read.

Some states, however, have specific requirements. In California, the Notary must be able to communicate directly with the signer and the certificate wording must be in English. In Texas, the Notary certificate must be in English. In North Dakota, a Notary may not notarize a foreign-language document unless it includes a permanently affixed, accurate English translation. Arizona law requires the signer to sign the document in a language the Notary understands and the certificate must be written and completed by the Notary using letters, characters and a language the Notary reads, writes and understands as well (please see "Can I communicate directly with the signer?" below for additional Arizona guidelines).

Can I communicate directly with the signer?
 

In order to properly perform a notarization, it’s essential — and usually required — for the Notary to communicate directly with the signer in the same language. Otherwise, the Notary would not be able to verify the signer’s identity, administer an oath, or provide other instructions for completing the Notary act, like signing a journal entry.

Most states do not permit third parties to bridge the communication gap between a Notary Public and signer by using an interpreter. Only one state — Arizona — expressly allows an interpreter to translate for a signer when the signer and Notary do not speak the same language. But the translator and signer must be physically in the presence of the Notary at the time of the notarization.

Some states have restrictions on notarizing for a signer who does not understand English. Florida, for example, does not allow a Notary to take an acknowledgment of a person who does not speak or understand the English language, unless the nature and effect of the document to be notarized is translated into a language which the person does understand.

Can I perform the Notary act?
 

This third question is often overlooked. A Notary must be able to discern — from looking at the document or by being told by a signer — the type of act required for a document. If a document is drafted in a foreign language or the signer cannot directly communicate with the Notary, the Notary will have no way to tell. The notarization required could in fact be one that’s commonly performed in another country, but isn’t authorized in your state.

Many countries, for example, require citizens living abroad to have a “Life Certificate” notarized each year so they can collect government pension benefits. These documents may require you to certify to facts about the individual your state doesn’t permit you to certify as a Notary. For instance, that the individual is a government pensioner and is alive on the date they appeared before you.

If you need additional assistance with a foreign-language notarization, you can contact your state’s Notary regulating agency for help. Counselors on the NNA Hotline also are available to help answer questions for members and subscribers.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

Additional Resources:

NNA Webinars: Commonly Asked Questions

 

10 Comments

Add your comment

ZIMIN WU

08 Feb 2016

stop blocking me!!!

National Notary Association

09 Feb 2016

Hello. We do not block access to our Bulletin articles. If you are having an issue reading an article, please email us at social@nationalnotary.org and describe the issue you are encountering and what type of device you are using to read the article, and we'll try to assist you.

Kay

13 Jun 2016

I just want to tell you how helpful you have always been when I have questions and/or problems when performing a notary. I was a notary for 8 years and then let it lapse but at the request of my employment I just took the class and test again. I am waiting on the results and then when my commission comes in I plan on becoming a member with you again. Thank you.

Rebecca

06 Feb 2018

This was very helpful. I was approached the other day to notarize a document completely in a foreign language. I declined because I did not feel confident and wanted to brush up on my knowledge of this type of situation. I'm glad I did. Thank you!

Sheraunda

06 Feb 2018

I have a document that is in a Foreign and English language which needs to be notaraized. There is no notarial wording, I would need to still need to add this to the document correct?

National Notary Association

07 Feb 2018

Hello. The signer would need to tell you what kind of notarization (acknowledgment, jurat, etc.) is wanted for the document. Once the signer selects the type of notarization, you would need to attach and complete the appropriate certificate wording.

Lisa T

21 Mar 2018

I currently live in Ireland and am selling land in NC. I will need to have the closing documents notarized here in Ireland and my local solicitor is a notary. I was just told by the NC closing attorney that I must have a US notary due to NC laws. Why is this needed? The notary is only, in this case, witnessing our signatures. I was also told that a US notary was required for a POA form sent from the US.

National Notary Association

21 Mar 2018

Hello. We're sorry, but any questions about the legal requirements for a land sale would need to be answered by your attorney.

J.D. in Virginia

04 Mar 2019

I'm being asked to notarize documents in a foreign language that I speak, read, and write fluently. In my professional opinion, everything's in order. Any "gotchas" I should worry about that don't normally occur to a notary because they're not common?

National Notary Association

06 Mar 2019

Hello. As mentioned above, be sure that you can communicate directly with the signer and that the notarization being requested is one you are authorized to perform in your state. Also, Virginia requires that the notarial certificate on the document include the following elements: 1. Notarial statement; 2. The date of the notarial act; 3. The location of the notarial act in the city or county where notarization occurs; 4. The expiration date of the notary’s commission; 5. Notary’s signature; 6. Notary’s registration number; 7. Photographically reproducible notary seal/stamp (“Important Guidelines for Virginia Notaries,” Secretary of the Commonwealth's website: https://www.commonwealth.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/secretary-of-the-commonwealth/pdf/2015-important-guidelines-for-virginia-notaries-3-15.pdf)

Leave a Comment

Required *

All comments are reviewed and if approved, will display.