Factors impacting foreign language notarization

Can a Notary Public help me if we don’t speak the same language? Are their rules governing the communication I have with my Notary? I’m a Notary and have a potential client and I don’t speak their language – what can I do?

These questions may come up as you seek to have a document notarized or if you’re a practicing Notary and are reaching out to advertise your services.

Here are a few answers to help guide you in this process:


Can foreign language documents be notarized?

Short answer? This varies.  The first and most important thing is to check if your state statutes or Notary-regulating agency has provided guidelines on its website or in its Notary handbook that address the issue of foreign language documents or foreign-speaking signers. If so, be sure you follow your state’s rules regarding foreign-language notarizations.


For example, Arizona law states that documents must be signed in characters the Notary can read and understand — otherwise, the Notary cannot notarize the signature. North Dakota requires a foreign language document to include a permanently affixed, accurate English translation in order to be notarized.


Other states do not directly address foreign-language issues in the law, but provide guidelines. In Oregon, the Secretary of State recommends that Notaries refuse to notarize documents in languages they don’t understand and instead refer the signer to another Notary fluent in the language.


Can a Document Be Notarized with the Help of a Translator?

In most states, laws governing Notary contact with the person signing the document prohibit the use of a translator as a Notary must be able to communicate directly with the signer.


In order to properly perform a notarization, it is essential — and often required — to be able to communicate directly with the signer to establish the signer’s identity and willingness to sign the document. Because of this, most states do not permit third parties to bridge the communication gap between a Notary Public and signer during a notarization.


Only one state — Arizona — expressly allows an interpreter to translate for a signer when the signer and Notary do not speak the same language, and requires the translator and signer to be physically in the presence of the Notary at the time of the notarization.


Is the notarial act in question allowed in my state or jurisdiction?

Notaries in other countries often perform significantly different duties than U.S. Notaries. A signer from another country or a document written in a foreign language may require a notarial act that’s commonly performed in another country, but isn’t authorized in your state.


Many countries require citizens living abroad to have a document called a “Life Certificate” notarized each year in order to collect government pension benefits. These documents may require the Notary to certify to facts not allowed under state Notary laws. For example, the documents may require the Notary to certify that the individual is a government pensioner and was alive on the date the individual appeared before the Notary. In others, the type of notarization may be allowed in some states, but not others.


What about International IDs?

The professional standard of practice would be to accept foreign IDs if issued by a government agency and include the bearer’s recent photograph, signature and physical description. But foreign IDs don’t always come with all those elements.


Here are some additional guidelines to help you understand if your ID can be accepted by a Notary:


Foreign Passports

Foreign passports are the most commonly-acceptable form of foreign identification for notarization, but state laws vary on the requirements.


One common requirement is that the passport must be stamped by USCIS. Among the states with laws allowing Notaries to accept a properly-stamped passport are Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Tennessee and Wyoming. California also has this restriction. However, as of January 1, 2017, California Notaries may accept a foreign passport without a USCIS stamp.


Other states that allow foreign passports do not specify that they must be stamped. These include Iowa, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oregon, Montana, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. With the exception of South Carolina and Utah, these states allow expired passports so long as the date of expiration is not more than three years before of the notarization.


Other international IDs

State laws allow Notaries to accept very few other foreign IDs.


California allows driver’s licenses issued by Mexico and Canada that contain a serial number, photograph, physical description and signature. Florida also allows these driver’s licenses if the license has a serial number. In both of these states, the license does not have to be current as long as it was issued within the past five years.

In Arizona, when dealing with real estate conveyances and financing, you may accept any other valid, unexpired ID that is acceptable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to establish an individual’s legal presence in the United States and that is accompanied with supporting documents as required by DHS. Notaries in the state may check the Arizona Notary Public Reference Manual for more information.

One type of ID that causes confusion is a consular ID issued by the consulate of a foreign country. Matricula consular cards issued by Mexican consulates are among the most common of these. They look very official and reliable — especially the newer versions — but only Notaries in Illinois and Nevada are specifically allowed to accept them. Matricula cards have been controversial because of concerns that they are vulnerable to fraud. 

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