Apostille vs. notary: What’s the difference?


As our life becomes more intricately connected on a global level, apostilles allow businesses and individuals to ensure the legitimacy of their international proceedings without significant delay. Though the situations where you may need an apostille vs. notary services are similar, there are critical differences between these two types of document certifications. 

To ensure either is performed in a valid and legally compliant way, it’s essential to be aware of the differences between the two. To help you understand when you would need an apostille or notarization, we break down the function and purpose of each and when you would need one over the other. 

What is an apostille?

An apostille is a certificate that authenticates a document to be used in proceedings in a foreign country. An apostille guarantees the authenticity of a document signature and any notarial stamps/ seals affixed to the document. 

Apostilles are attached to the original document they are certifying and ensure that the certification will be accepted in any other countries that are members of the Hague Apostille Convention

Apostilles are used to ensure that notarized legal documents are recognized as valid across borders. While every country has its own set of laws and procedures for notarizing documents, apostilles provide an international guarantee that these requirements have been met.

The types of documents that may require an apostille include:

  • Birth/ death certificates
  • Marriage/ divorce certificates 
  • Court documents
  • School records 
  • Immigration forms
  • Diplomas/ certificates 

Apostilles are issued either by the Secretary of State from the state in which it originated or by the U.S. Department Of State when federal documents are involved. 

What is a notary?

A notary public is an official authorized by the state government to serve as an impartial, third-party witness to document signings. Their job is to certify the identities of all parties who sign the document and ensure that they have signed it freely and willingly. 

In addition to physically witnessing a document signing, notaries are responsible for verifying the identities of all signing parties before the signing. This is usually done by having the signers present some form of state-issued identification, such as a valid driver’s license.

Once a document has been signed, the notary will apply their own signature and individual seal, which guarantees that the document signatures are legally valid, having been carried out per local state law.

While getting a document notarized traditionally required signers to schedule a time and place to meet with a notary, Remote Online Notarization (RON) has made it easier to create, edit, eSign, and notarize documents at your convenience.

Rather than requiring the signers and notary to meet in person physically, Remote Online Notary services allow everyone to meet online via a two-way audio-visual connection to complete a notarization. Not only does this reduce the time and cost associated with traditional notarization, it also allows you to notarize securely from the comfort of wherever you work.

Apostille vs. notary

The main difference between an apostille and a notary is that they verify different things.

A notary’s primary job is to serve as an impartial witness to a document signing to ensure it is signed per local state law. In doing so, a notary then applies their own signature and stamp that render the document’s content and signatures legally binding.

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Power of notarization is authorized at the state level.

An apostille, on the other hand, is a document that verifies that the signatures and seals contained within a document are legally valid and can be accepted as such internationally. The authority to authenticate a document’s validity for an apostille is federally granted by either the U.S. Secretary of Stater or the Department of State.

Whereas a notary is an individual that verifies the legal validity of a document’s signatures, an apostille is a document that guarantees the international legality of a document.

Is an apostille same as notary?

While an apostille and a notary both guarantee the legal validity of a signed document, an apostille and notarization are not the same things.

The main difference between the two is that notarization ensures a document will be accepted as legally binding within the U.S. as long as it is notarized according to the state guidelines where the document is signed.

On the other hand, an apostille guarantees that a document signed and notarized within the U.S. will be valid and accepted in any country participating in the Hague Convention of 1961.

How to acquire an apostille

To obtain an apostille, you will need to have original copies of your documents organized, notarized, and ready to go. You will also need to specify which country the document will be used in to verify that you have met the requirements to obtain an apostille. 

Once you have this in order, you will need to present them to a state or federal office that is authorized to issue apostilles and pay the associated fee (which varies by jurisdiction). Once your apostille is issued, it will be attached to the corresponding document to send off to whichever country it must go.  

While notary publics are not usually permitted to issue apostilles, having your documents notarized accurately within compliance with all requirements can help to ensure the process goes smoothly and quickly. Remote Online Notarization (RON) not only helps ensure your documents are securely signed and stored, but it also allows you the peace of mind that comes with knowing the document signatures are valid and complete. 

How to get something apostilled?

To get a document apostilled, you must go through the U.S. Secretary of State or the Department of State. The following steps summarize the process you must follow to get a document apostilled.

Step 1: Pay the authentication fee

You will need to pay a standard $20 fee (per document) to have your document apostilled. You can request an apostille online or in person, as long as you do so in accordance with your local state guidelines.

Step 2: Notarize your document before a commissioned notary public

To have a document apostilled, you must first have your document notarized and sealed per local state law. You can do this by visiting a traditional notary agent or by taking advantage of the ease of Remote Online Notarization (RON) from your own home.

Step 3: Submit your original document signatures and seals

When you require an apostille, you must have original copies of all of your documents, signed and notarized in full. True certified copies of documents cannot be accepted to be apostilled.

How to get something notarized?

Every state has its own requirements for making sure your notarized documents can be considered legally binding and enforceable. Online notarization makes document notarization simple by allowing you to create, edit, eSign, and notarize your documents all from one place.

The following steps walk you through how to notarize a document online.

Step 1: Draft your document

You may consider hiring an attorney to help you draft your document. Ensure they are fully aware of all relevant details of your case so that you create a document that accurately addresses your needs.

While there are freely available templates, you can access online, having an attorney draft this document is a good idea because it ensures you have all of the correct information, including the POA duration and terms.

Step 2: Locate a notary public

You can use traditional notary services such as mobile or walk-in notary, however Remote Online Notarization (RON) provides a convenient, fast, and cost-effective solution that allows you to notarize from wherever you happen to be.

You will need to pay the appropriate notary fee to have them complete your transaction.

Step 3: Affirm that the signer’s identities and willingness to sign

At the time of signing, the notary must confirm the signer’s identity and confirm that it is being signed of their own free will. Unless these confirmations have been made, the document cannot be notarized.

Step 3: Sign the document and record the notarization

The notary will then apply their signature and seal, certifying the document and immediately rendering it legally binding. While laws vary by state, the notary will track the notarial act in their journal as a transaction record.

Notarizing documents with PandaDoc Notary makes your life simple

While the purpose of an apostille vs. notary services may seem similar, apostilles specifically function as a way of upholding an internationally recognized standard for document verification. Although the procedure for obtaining an apostille has different requirements than notarization, RON can help you streamline the process by ensuring your documents are complete, valid, and ready to go.  

PandaDoc Notary provides a user-friendly and secure Remote Online Notarization platform that helps you cover all your notarization needs. Request a demo to learn more about how PandaDoc Notary can help you.