If you are signing documents for property or business transactions in the United States of America, you need to make sure that you satisfy the specific legal requirements for America relating to that specific state or county. Generally, this will mean that you need to have the documents notarised by a notary public.
Notaries and the act of notarising a document is a little different in the US compared to what it is in Australia and other countries. In America, the role of a notary is equivalent to what a justice of the peace is in Australia – they are often tasked with witnessing or certifying documents to give effect to those documents for state and federal purposes, and the same would apply to property and business transactions.
What happens when those documents are being signed in other countries outside of America?
Documents originating from or being signed in Australia for property or business transactions in America will still need to be notarised by a notary public in Australia. However, unlike the relative ease of finding a notary in America, or a justice of the peace in Australia, it can be more challenging to find a notary public in Australia. Even when you find one, the cost of the notary service can come as a bit of a shock to some people especially if they are used to paying or expect the same nominal fees charged by notaries in other countries. The appointment of notaries in Australia is different and this is also reflected in the notary fees.
Why are notary fees more expensive in Australia than in America or other countries?
Unlike in America, a notary public in Australia MUST be a practising lawyer first – and a senior lawyer at that. After having completed a specific number of years in practice, a lawyer can train to obtain further qualifications to be appointed as a notary public. In some states, this may also involve formal legal training. The notary fee is reflective of the profession and the cost of legal services in general. It also represents a very different role to the honorary appointment undertaken by a justice of the peace.
Do I need an apostille?
Documents that have been notarised in Australia sometimes need to be stamped with an apostille or legalised by the foreign office of the intended destination country before they will be accepted in that country. Not all documents going to America will need to be stamped with an apostille. As a general rule, any document intended to be submitted to the federal government (ie, IRS) will need to be stamped with an apostille after it has been notarised. Otherwise, different counties around the country often have a requirement that, especially in their property transactions, documents that have been signed overseas must be notarised and stamped with an apostille.
If in doubt, always check with whoever you are sending your documents to. Alternatively, you can always arrange to have your documents notarised first (as this is generally always the first step), scan your notarised documents and send them to whoever you are dealing with in the US and ask them for further direction as to whether those notarised documents must also be stamped with an apostille.
Where can I find a notary public who can notarise documents for the US?
Many clients mistakenly expect that they would need a “US Notary” to assist them with documents intended to be sent to America This is unlikely to be the requirement and perhaps more the result of miscommunication. In the context, a “US Notary” would be a notary public who is qualified/appointed and potentially physically present within America – they would not be in Australia and even if they were they would unlikely have any authority or right to act outside of their appointed jurisdiction.
If you have documents in Australia that you need to sign or certify for use in America, then you must obtain the services of a notary public in Australia (presumably appointed under the various laws of each state that deal with the appointment of notaries) and not a “US Notary”. The US Consulate provides a list of recognised notary publics across Australia through its consular services section. We are proudly listed with the US Consulate and because of this association, we often provide notary public services to US citizens as well as anyone who has property or business transactions in America.