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American Notaries Abroad


Summary: The performance of the functions of a notary public abroad for documents intended for use in the United States is governed generally by multilateral and bilateral treaties, Federal law and regulation and by the laws of the foreign country. Notarizing a document outside the United States may be a violation of the laws of the foreign country, unless the notarizing officer is specifically authorized by local (foreign) law or applicable international treaty.

Recognition of Notarial Acts Performed Abroad in the United States: The laws of states in the United States also make specific provision for the recognition of documents executed outside the United States. Most states have enacted legislation similar to the Uniform Recognition of Acknowledgements Act, the Uniform Acknowledgments Act and the Uniform Law on Notarials which recognize the admissibility of documents executed outside the United States before an ambassador, minister, consul general, consul, vice consul or consular agent of the United States.

Extraterritorial Notaries: Within the United States a notary public is authorized to perform notarial services within the jurisdiction provided by a commission. Some states have enacted legislation which provides for the performance of notarial functions outside of their home states of commission-filing or licensure provided the documents notarized are intended for filing or recording in the home states of the notaries. A few states have enacted reciprocity laws which authorize a notary from a neighboring state to act as a notary in another state provided the neighboring state has adopted a reciprocity provision. Finally, some states have enacted legislation authorizing notaries to perform notarial functions outside the United States for use in the United States. It should be noted that the laws of the foreign country may not authorize the American notary to perform this function, local law of the state in the United States notwithstanding.

Commissioners of Deeds: Various state statutes still in efffect in a number of states authorize the Secretary of State in each such state to appoint commissioners of deeds who can perform notarial acts extraterritorially for use in that state. The commissioner of deeds office evolved when the United States had few foreign-located consuls.

Judicial Sovereignty of Foreign Countries: Some nations view this authority of commissioners as an infringement of their judicial sovereignty. The United States recognizes the right of judicial sovereignty of foreign governments based on customary international law and practice; See, e.g., the Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law (1987).

Possible Repercussions of American Notaries or Other Persons Notarizing Documents Abroad: Notarizing documents by a person not empowered by treaty or local (foreign) law to perform such acts may result in the arrest of a commissioner of deeds of American notary, even through the act is authorized by the laws of the commissioner or notary''s home state. The Department of State is concerned that, in the exercise of their powers, state commissioners of deeds or notaries public may unknowingly violate the judicial sovereignty of a foreign country by usurping the functions of duly authorized foreign officials. All U.S. Foreign Service posts are therefore instructed to advise the Department of State of the operation of any American commissioners of deeds or notaries public in their consular districts.

Digital Signatures and Cybernotaries: The Department of State is aware of developments in state law on the subject of digital signatures. The Deparment has participated in the negotiation of international agreements on the subject of electronic commerce and digital signatures. This is an evolving area of the law and it is not the intention of this discussion to address this topic directly.

Selected References:

Whiteman, Digest of International Law, Department of State, Vol. 7, 519, 521 (1965).

Hackworth, Digest of International Law, Department of State, Vol. II, 313, 314 (1944).

Closen & Richards, Notaries Public - Lost in Cyberspace, or Key Business Professions of the Future?, 15 J. Marshall J. Computer & Infor L. 703, 717-718 (1997).

Closen & Dixon, Notaries Public From the Time of the Roman Empire to the United States Today, and Tomorrow, 68 N.D. L. Rev. 873, 874-75 (1992).

Closen & Richards, Cyberbusiness Needs Supernotaries, Nat''l L. J., August 25, 1997.

Questions: Contact the Office of American Citizens Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State, 2201 C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20520, tel: (202) 647-5225.


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