Notarizing Documents in Foreign Languages

I've had this question come up twice in the past couple of weeks, so I thought it would probably make for an interesting article. As notaries, we are approached to notarize documents for a number of different reasons.

Depending on where you are located, you may have a rather large population of people who speak another language. For instance, I am located in the San Antonio, Texas area, and we have a large Spanish-speaking population here. Thus, on occasion, I have notarized documents written in Spanish, but only as long as I am able to communicate with the signer in English, the notarial certificate is written in English, and I am able to collect information required to record in my notary journal without the help of an interpreter.

There seems to be a misconception among some of my colleagues here in Texas that when we are asked to notarize a particular document that we need to make sure we understand the document content. Some think we can only notarize documents that are in English. I had one notary tell me that he requires documents in a foreign language to be translated to English before he will notarize it. We had a lengthy discussion about this.

I can't speak for all states, but I do know that in both Texas and New Mexico, you can notarize documents written in a language you don't understand. The important thing to note about the rules of these states is that, as notaries, we are actually not notarizing the document itself, we are notarizing the signature of the person signing the document. Our job is to properly identify the person who is signing the document and serve as a disinterested third party witness to the signing of the document.

Personally, I briefly read the documents. I just scan the documents to collect a brief description of information required to be recorded in my record book, and to make sure there are no blank spaces. On occasion, I have had signers tell me they waited until I arrived to fill out the document so that I can make sure they filled the document out correctly. In these cases, I let the signer know that I was only there to make sure everything was filled out, that there are no blank spaces left in the document, that they are who they say they are, and to administer an oath or take an acknowledgement.

I think a lot of misunderstandings may stem from the myth that once we (notaries) notarize the document, it's legal. I gently remind the signers that, as a notary, I am not notarizing the document, I am notarizing their signatures. This concept is sometimes hard for both the notary and the signer to grasp, but it is important to know how to handle these situations. As I mentioned earlier, I can't speak about the rules in all states. However, it is your responsibility to become familiar with the notary public laws for your particular state.

-- Phyllis Traylor, U.S. Army Retired is a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries

Legal Disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary education, and securing their notary stamp and notary supplies. Every effort is made to provide accurate and complete information in the American Association of Notaries newsletters. However, we make no warrant, expressed or implied, and we do not represent, undertake, or guarantee that the information in the newsletter is correct, accurate, complete, or non-misleading. Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding notaries' best practices, federal laws and statutes, and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered this information from a variety of sources and do not warrant its accuracy. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, loss, damage, or expenses, howsoever arising, including, and without limitation, direct or indirect loss or consequential loss out of or in connection with the use of the information contained in the American Association of Notaries newsletters. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their states' notary authorities or attorneys in their state if they have legal questions. If a section of this disclaimer is determined by any court or other competent authority to be unlawful and/or unenforceable, the other sections of this disclaimer continue in effect.

Notary bonds and errors and omissions insurance policies provided by this insurance agency, American Association of Notaries, Inc., are underwritten by Western Surety Company, Universal Surety of America, or Surety Bonding Company of America, which are subsidiaries of CNA Surety.

Your choice regarding cookies on this site.

Our web site uses essential cookies to function and to optimize your site experience.
  • Click on the “Accept Optional Cookies” to agree that we may also use cookies to help us enhance site navigation and analyze performance and traffic on our website.
  • Click on the “Reject Optional Cookies” to disable all but essential cookies.
By visiting our website, you agree to our website Terms of Use and Cookie and Privacy Policy.