If you need to sign a document to be used overseas, it is likely that you will be required to sign the document in front of a notary. This process is called notarisation. 

A notary (also known as a notary public or public notary) is a particular type of lawyer whose primary function is to authenticate documents for use abroad.

Many notaries in England and Wales are also solicitors but not many solicitors are also qualified as notaries. There are only around 850 notaries in England and Wales compared with around 143,000 practising solicitors.

A notary prepares, witnesses and certifies documents which will be used abroad for example powers of attorney, sworn statements (affidavits), certified copies, property papers and certificates of law. 

Often a document will have been prepared by a foreign lawyer or foreign organisation and they will require the document to be ‘notarised’ ie signed in the presence of a notary.

An important part of the notary’s role is to verify the identity of each client, assess their legal capacity as well as their understanding of the document to be signed. A notary must also check the person signing the document has the appropriate authority if signing on behalf of another party such as a limited company.

Documents which are handled by a notary are referred to as “notarial acts”. To complete the notarial act, a notary will sign the document and seal it with their own individual seal. Once completed, the notarial act will be internationally recognised and the information it contains will be treated as the evidence of a responsible legal officer.

This notarisation process authenticates the document and the signature and provides the foreign lawyer or foreign organisation with the comfort that the document has been signed properly and by the correct person. A key part of a notary’s function is to help guard against fraud.

Once a document has been signed by a notary, it may also require legalisation.