What is a Notary Public and Do You Need One?

When researching how to get your documents prepared for overseas use, you will come across many words and phrases that are often used to describe services offered. These are often interchangeable, occasionally misused and sometimes confusing. You will read about apostilles, legalisation, certification, attestation and also notarisation.

For now, let’s start by looking at the last word, ‘notarisation’. This is often incorrectly used when referring to legalisation of documents. Notarisation specifically relates to services provided by a Notary Public. This is not the same as getting a document legalised by apostille.

What is a Notary Public?

In most cases a notary public is a solicitor that has taken a further qualification to become a notary public. There are a few exceptions (e.g. scrivener notaries, conveyancers etc.) but for the sake of simplicity most notaries are solicitors and commissioners for oaths. You will find the majority of notaries are located within a firm of solicitor’s offices and work as solicitors on a day to day basis.

The main role of a notary is the witnessing of signatures, preparing copies of paperwork and the authentication of documents. These may then be used outside the UK but their primary function is to sign your documents.

At this point it is worth noting that in most circumstances a normal solicitor can also perform all of these tasks. One of the main differences you will find is that a notary will charge you significantly more than a solicitor. Notaries are guided by the Notaries Society who recommend charging around £80-£100 for services.

Why use a Notary Public?

Considering most solicitors perform these tasks for a lower price, it is a fair question. In general, if your solicitor knows how to correctly certify a document then your document can be issued with the apostille without problem.

However, there are a few circumstances when we recommend that you seek assistance from a notary public. Some power of attorney documents, declarations and other deeds may clearly state that the witnessing should be completed by a notary public. When you have to sign a document that was prepared overseas they may include the words notary public as standard. If your document includes a reference to a notary public then please contact a local notary public for assistance.

If you are not sure whether your document needs to be signed by a notary or a solicitor please seek guidance from the person requesting your document. Our team of solicitors certify thousands of documents every year that need to be presented overseas with the apostille. We have never experienced a problem with solicitor certification, when suitable, if it is completed correctly.

What is Legalisation by Apostille?

Once a document has been correctly signed by a notary public or solicitor it is ready for the apostille. Attaching the apostille certificate authenticates the document for use outside the UK by countries that are members of the Hague Convention (The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents).

The way it works is quite simple.

  1. You need to submit a document overseas
  2. The solicitor or notary public checks the document or the person it relates to
  3. They sign the document adding a statement why it has been signed
  4. The apostille confirms that the solicitor or notary public is registered and their signature matches the government's records
  5. Your document should now be accepted outside the UK

The apostille is widely recognised and is being requested more frequently by overseas organisations and government offices.

If you need to get your document legalised for use abroad do not confuse this with getting it notarised. If your document states that it must be ‘notarised’ or refers to being witnessed by a notary public then you will need to find one local to you. Otherwise you may find that using our apostille service or visiting a practising solicitor will save you a lot of money.

About the Author

The Apostille Service are pleased to provide advice on a wide range of document legalisation matters. Our team of advisors contribute to the blog.