From NNA: 3 Questions For Notaries To Ask When Dealing With Foreign-Language Issues
Updated 1-31-18. Notarizing a document written in a language you can’t read or understand presents some tricky issues. 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 the issue of foreign language documents or 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 and Texas, the Notary certificate itself 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.
But just because you can notarize a foreign-language document doesn’t mean you should. If you can’t read the document because it’s drafted in a foreign language, it’s a good idea to refer the signer to a Notary who can read the foreign language.
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 Notaryl 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 be 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.