Frequently Asked Questions - English

Q1. Can a Justice of the Peace perform the functions of a notary public?
A1. No. The training and experience of a notary public is that of a senior lawyer, capable of giving opinions on matters of law. Justices of the Peace cannot do this.
Q2. Can anyone become a notary?
A2. No. In Victoria, only experienced lawyers, who have also passed a post-graduate course of study are eligible for appointment as notaries.
Q3. Why do I have to see a notary as well as going to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to get my document ready to send overseas?
A3.  Most countries follow the procedures set out in the 1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (often called the Hague Apostille Convention). The steps are:
1.  Sign and complete the document in the presence of a notary.
2. Present the document to the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade to get an apostille, and pay the fee, presently $60 for single sheet.
3. Send the finished document to the destination country.
Q4. What is an apostille?

A4.  ‘Apostille’ is French for a ‘footnote’. France co-sponsored the Hague Apostille Convention (see Q3 above), thus its terminology was adopted.

An apostille is affixed by the relevant authority in a country which has acceded to that convention, either by a rubber stamp, verified by an authorised person and sealed with an official seal, or by attaching a separate certificate.

An apostille certifies that the notary or government authority which issued the document is indeed authorised to do so. It does not bear any relation to the content of the document, and does not of itself confer any validity on it.

Q5. Do I have to pay fees to a notary for the notarial services?

A5. Yes. Notaries are highly trained professional lawyers, and they are entitled to charge fees for their professional time spent.

Typical services provided by notaries include:

1. Examining, or perusing, the documents presented to ensure that they are for a purpose permitted by law.

2. Examining documents presented by the person seeking the notarial services (often called ‘the appearer’) to prove the appearer’s identity and personal particulars.

3. Witnessing the execution of documents, either alone or together with other witnesses.

4.  Preparing notarial certificates of various kinds, such as certificates of execution of documents and certificates as to Australian law.

5. Signing certificates and documents and affixing the notary’s seal of office.

6.  Binding together collated groups of documents in a permanent way that will discourage interference with the collation, or forgery.

7.  Providing notarial certificates of matters of law for production to foreign courts, tribunals and governments.

8. Visiting persons on whom foreign bills of exchange have been drawn, presenting them to seek payment, and protesting those bills.

9. Attending upon ships’ masters and other ships’ officers to take protests as to events in the course of the ships’ voyages.

Q6. How much should I have to pay a notary?

A6. The Society of Notaries of Victoria Inc. has published a scale of Notaries' fees by way of benchmark information for its members and the public. All Notaries are free to set their own fees.

A copy of the scale of fees prepared by the Council of The Society may be accessed through this site.

Q7. Are there any documents which I do not have to take to a notary before I send them overseas?

A7. Yes. Official documents such as birth, death and marriage certificates, issued by the appropriate government department, can be authenticated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade directly, without a notarial certificate, for many countries.

In order to be sure of this, it is wise to verify the requirements of the destination country first, especially if the country is not a party to the Hague Apostille Convention. In case of doubt, you need to contact either the country’s nearest consulate or its embassy in Canberra.

Notaries often can assist in answering these questions.

Q8. What is the notary’s role?

A8.  The notary is a public official (as defined in the Hague Apostille Convention), whose intervention in the document or other activity is required by the law of the destination country.

Most countries of the world are not Common Law countries. The major Common Law countries are Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, United States of America, parts of Canada, India, South Africa and some former colonies of those countries, such as the Philippines.

Almost all of the rest of the world has either a Communist system, a post-Communist system or, much more importantly, a Civil Law System. In Civil Law Systems, which exist in most of Europe and the whole of South America, the intervention of a notary is essential to many transactions, including land registration, company incorporation, administration of deceased estates and making certain types of wills. For this reason, documents required in those countries and which touch on any of the areas of notarial responsibility, must also involve a notary here.

Q9. How do I choose a notary?
A9. There is a link on the home page of this site to a list of practising notaries. They are listed by name and address and also contain details of foreign languages and law with which many notaries are familiar.
Q10. What can I do if I am dissatisfied with a notary’s services?
A10. You should refer the matter to the Council of the Society of Notaries of Victoria Incorporated, for investigation.
Q11. Do I have to go to the same notary each time I need notarial services?
A11.  No, any notary can attend to essential notarial services. However only those who represent that they speak foreign languages or know of foreign law may be able to help you in cases where these skills are needed.
Q12. Do I have to complete foreign documents in the foreign language?

A12. Notarial certificates in English will be adequate for the majority of countries.

However for some countries, a translation of the notarial certificate will be required. In those cases, it may be significantly cheaper if the notary has been able to give you his certificate in the foreign language.

Q13. Can a Victorian notary simply sign or witness a document from overseas?

A13. Sometimes, documents are in a form which is ready for completion. Typically, such documents come from English-speaking countries, or members of the former British Commonwealth. They include New Zealand, India, South Africa, Singapore and Malaysia.

However it is common for many other countries to send a draft document which requires extensive redrafting if it is to be complete and acceptable in that country when sent back. This is especially true of Civil Law countries, which include all of Europe and South America, parts of Canada and Louisiana (USA). Often these documents are called ‘minutes’.

Q14. Are notarial requirements always the same for all countries?
A14.  No, requirements vary widely, and this may lead to costs also varying significantly from country to country.
Q15. What is an authentication stamp?

A15.  The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has created a stamp called an authentication stamp for use in connection with countries which have not acceded to the Hague Apostille Convention. It is a low-level certification which is useful for some countries which require governmental reassurance, with whom we have regular transactions, such as China, Chile and the United Arab Emirates. It presently costs $20.

The authentication stamp has no legislative foundation, and has no legal effect, and cannot be substituted for the apostille.

Q16.   When do I have to submit documents to the consulate of a country for legalisation?

A16. You never have to submit documents to a country which has acceded to the Hague Apostille Convention. Once you have fulfilled the steps set out in Answer 3 above, the document is ready to be sent to the destination country.

It sometimes takes a while for old practices to disappear. For example, when a country accedes to the convention, many of its nationals may not be aware of the change, and continue to seek consular involvement.

Once a country has acceded to the Convention, its consulates no longer have authority to legalise documents (or to charge fees for doing so).