FAQs (Frequently asked questions)

These notes are for general guidance only. Each transaction is different. You should raise any specific questions with Nigel Lubbock, Notary Public, on 01603 598 000 or by email at nlubbock@steeleslaw.co.uk



1. What is a Notary Public?

A Notary Public is a professional qualified to undertake certain tasks with regard to documents for use abroad. A Notary Public is normally also a qualified solicitor but not necessarily so.

2. What role does the Notary Public perform?

There are a wide variety of tasks performed by a Notary Public. Usually they will involve the Notary checking an individual's identity and witnessing a client's signature on documents intended for use abroad. A Notary Public will complete certain certificates in relation to those documents.

3. Can a Notary Public's work be undertaken by other professionals such as a solicitor, barrister or legal executive?

No. If your instructions stipulate that a Notary Public is required, those services can only be delivered by a qualified Notary Public.
You should check your instructions carefully. A few countries will accept a solicitor's signature.

4. Some documents refer to the FCO and an Apostille. What do these terms mean?

The FCO is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office based at Milton Keynes. An Apostille is a document sealed by the FCO and attached to the back of a notarised document.

5. What is the purpose of an Apostille?

An Apostille is confirmation that the Notary Public who has certified the documents concerned is a duly qualified Notary Public registered with the Faculty of Notaries. In effect, it is a second level of evidence. The first is that the Notary has checked your identity and has certified your completion of the document. The second is that the FCO have confirmed that the Notary Public is duly qualified to undertake that task.

6. I sometimes come across the word "legalisation". What does this mean?

This is the process by which a duly authorised body such as the FCO or an Embassy or a Consulate carry out further checks in respect of the document to be able to confirm its compliance with the relevant country's procedures. The process of obtaining an Apostille is also called legalisation.

7. Do I need an Apostille in respect of every document that is notarised?

No. You should carefully check the requirements of the country for which the document in question is required. Without being specific, many Commonwealth countries do not require an Apostille. The same can be said for most States in the United States. You should check in every case, as the requirements can change with the agent or lawyer sending the document to you.

8. How can I obtain an Apostille?

The easiest way is to go on to the FCO's website (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-office).
Click on the "Legalisation" section. There, you will have a form that will need to be completed. You pay online the prevailing fee together with an additional fee either to return the documents to you or to send it on to the eventual addressee. Some Notaries prefer to have the notarised document endorsed with the Apostille returned to them so that they can be sure that this exercise has been completed and they can then control the timetable of forwarding the document to the ultimate recipient.

9. How long does it take to obtain an Apostille?

Since the FCO moved to Milton Keynes and ceased to accept personal callers, the turnaround time for documents correctly completed by the Notary Public is a matter of days. Whilst no guarantee can ever be given, normally this is within a week and often less.

10. The notarised document has an attachment. Can I simply staple those documents together?

No, the FCO are hot on the requirements for binding any attachments. These must be sewn together. If the Notary deals with the Apostille, the Notary will ensure that the document is properly bound.

11. Will the FCO add an Apostille to all documents?

No. The FCO will not attach an Apostille to a copy of the following even if they have a separate certificate attached:

(a) any General Register Office document i.e. a birth, marriage, death or adoption certificate;

(b) any criminal record certificate (ACPO or Disclosure in Scotland); and

(c) any medical certificate where the original was not signed by the actual doctor.

12. Is an Apostille required for all documents to be legalised irrespective of the country?

No. On the FCO website, there is a list of countries who are parties to the Hague Convention 1961 and have agreed to use the Apostille arrangement. Some countries still require documents to be sent to their Embassy or Consulate in London for a separate legalisation procedure. Furthermore, these procedures frequently change. Each document for each country needs to be separately considered.

13. How much will the fees be for notarising and legalising a document?

Each document will be different. You should ask for a quote before you confirm that the Notary Public is engaged to undertake the work.

14. What if I am dissatisfied with the services of the Notary?

If you wish to instruct me to undertake the notarial services, you will be handed my standard Notarial Services Prescribed Information and Complaints Handling form which will explain how complaints are to be dealt with.

15. Will I have to prove my identity before you notarise the documents concerned?

Yes. I will need to see photographic evidence of your identity which is usually a current passport or driving licence together with a separate original official document, not more than three months old at the time that you meet me, confirming your home address. This can be a bank statement or a utility bill. If either of these requirements is not met, I will not be able to undertake the notarial services on your behalf. Note - the address on your driving licence will not be sufficient for this purpose.

16. Are you able to undertake urgent notarial work?

Subject to availability, yes. Please do telephone me.

17. Are you able to undertake notarial work outside normal office hours?

Subject to availability, yes. Please do telephone me.

18. Are you prepared to visit a place of business or someone's home to undertake the notarial services?

Yes, although such services will necessarily incur a higher notarial fee to be quoted before the task is undertaken. The additional fee will reflect the time required to carry out the external visit. I undertake notarial services all over Norfolk and Suffolk.

19. Do you meet clients in a professional office with reception facilities?


20. Will you provide me with a copy of the notarised document at no additional fee?

Yes. You will be handed a copy at the appointment.

21. When do I have to pay your notarial fees?

The fees are paid at the appointment.

22. Are you able to provide translation services for foreign documents?

We do not offer that service in-house but we have an arrangement with a number of excellent translators who will provide a quote and, if instructed, translated documents quickly.

23. If I receive a document in a foreign language and I do not understand that language, is it still in order for me to sign that document and for you to notarise it?

No. Part of the work of a Notary Public is to be satisfied that the signatory of a document understands the document which is being signed. It is not the Notary's job to go through the document and to explain its content. That is a matter for the draftsman of the relevant document. If you have any queries about the content of the document, you should always go back to the draftsman or the agency which has sent the document before consulting the Notary Public.

24. Will you be able to courier the document after it has been notarised and legalised to an address abroad?

Yes. We will obtain a quote from our regular couriers and upon receipt of payment from you, we will arrange for the document to be couriered. The courier fee will depend not only on the location of the addressee but also weight and speed of delivery.

25. Is there a limit on the number of documents that you will be able to notarise?

No. The number of documents that require to be notarised will determine the fee that is quoted to you based on the amount of time that the documents require to be notarised, subject to a minimum fee which will be quoted when you contact me.

26. I have a document to sign. Can I sign it and send it to you to be notarised?

No. You have to be present to identify yourself and then to sign, or as lawyers sometimes say "execute", the document before me.

27. If the document requires my signature and that of my wife, can my wife sign without coming to see you as long as I come to see you?

No. All signatories have to be identified and have to be present and sign the document before me.

28. Do all documents required for use abroad have to be notarised?

No. You should check carefully with your lawyers and agents abroad as to which documents have to be notarised. They will often send a batch of documents, several of which simply need to be signed and not notarised. This is particularly the case for several of the documents for buying and selling property in the United States. In each case, you should check carefully what is required to be notarised. As those documents can be numerous, you should spend your own time sorting out those that require notarisation and those that do not so that you keep the notarial costs to a minimum.

29. I am being asked to sign and have notarised a Power of Attorney for use abroad. What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney can take many forms depending on the country concerned and the use of the Power of Attorney. Generally speaking, a Power of Attorney is a document by which one person ("the Donor") gives another person ("the Attorney") the power to act on his or her behalf and in his or her name. It can be completely general or it can be specific to a particular transaction. It is vitally important that you understand the full scope and reason for the Power of Attorney before completing it. It is the Power of Attorney which defines the extent of the Attorney's authority. It can include very important financial steps such as opening or closing bank accounts, completing financial transactions and receiving and disposing of funds. Under no circumstances should you sign a Power of Attorney unless you have both read and understood it in full.

30. How can I bring a Power of Attorney to an end?

This depends entirely on the drafting of the original Power of Attorney, the country of use and the extent of the authority. Generally speaking, it is necessary to complete a formal revocation of the Power of Attorney, but you should consult the Attorney urgently should such an eventuality arise as a result of which you wish to end the authority granted by the Power of Attorney.

31. I have to produce evidence that my company is of good standing and that I am a director. Are you able to deal with these documents?

Yes. I am an experienced corporate lawyer and I am used to dealing with company documents. There are a number of different ways in which that evidence can be obtained. As each situation is different, I will advise on the best procedure and the costs. We are able to download documents from Companies House to enable us to certify them for use abroad. Alternatively, we can obtain a Certificate of Good Standing issued by Companies House. I can explain the costs and timetable for this task.

Nigel Lubbock
Notary Public