The U.S. and Mexico have a great deal in common besides a border. Both countries have a capitalist economic system, a culture largely based on a Judeo-Christian religious tradition and a democratically elected federal government composed of three branches and governed by a constitution. Yet there are differences, one of which is the role played by the notario publico.
While “notario publico” literally translates to “notary public,” this is a bit misleading. The responsibilities of a Mexican notario publico and a U.S. notary public are very different. The main reason for this difference is due to the type of law practiced – Mexico is a civil law jurisdiction while the U.S. is primarily a common law jurisdiction. Common law originated in the U.K. and is found throughout the world anywhere the U.K. colonized or had a major influence. Civil law is based on Roman Civil Law and is found throughout much of mainland Europe and areas where European countries had a primary influence, including South America and Mexico. Under civil law, a notary plays a much larger role than is found in the U.S. and other common-law jurisdictions. This article will compare the roles and responsibilities of notaries in the U.S., Mexico and Europe (using France as an example of European requirements).
- United States - While qualifications may vary slightly from state to state, generally in the U.S., a notary must be a legal resident of the state and/or county in which s/he is acting, be at least 18 years of age, and often needs to have passed a short test that proves s/he understands his/her responsibilities under the law.
- Mexico - As in the U.S., there may be some local variations, but candidates must generally be between the ages of 25 and 60, be Mexican by birth, be in good health and of good reputation, (however, one cannot be the leader of a church), and be a legal professional with the title of a lawyer. In addition, the candidate must spend three years studying with an experienced notario publico and take a written exam. Mexico also restricts the number of notarios to one for every 30,000 people, so in addition to having all the qualifications, there must be a vacancy available for one to fill.
- France - In France, notaries or notaires actually earn undergraduate law degrees from a notarial law school and then continue their education with a 1-year master’s degree in law either in law school or at a notarial institute. This is followed by post graduate training that involves more scholastic and in- office training and potentially a master’s thesis depending on whether the scholastic or vocational post-graduate track is chosen.
- United States - Generally, a notary public can take acknowledgements, administer oaths, certify copies of documents not recordable in the public record, and certify that a signer is who s/he says s/he is and that s/he signed a given document.
- Mexico - A Mexican notario publico can be an arbitrator, mediator, intervene in judicial proceedings, issue judicial opinions, ensure that documents such as wills, deeds and real estate purchase documents do not contain any legal inconsistencies, and ensure payment of taxes. When forming a Mexican corporation, a notary public drafts the incorporation documents.
- France - A French notaire can engage in a wide variety of legal activities, such as drafting contracts or providing legal advice. Only notaries in France handle matters relating to purchases, sales, exchanges, co-ownerships, land plots, leases, mortgages etc. The notaire also handles company formation and the selling of businesses. A notaire can provide property valuations, act as a mediator and guarantee the validity of contracts.
In short, there are major differences between a notary in the U.S., where the role is limited to certifying the validity of a signature, and in civil law countries like Mexico and France, where a notary is a professional legal position demanding specific education and training and whose role is to certify the legal validity of a document. When working outside the U.S., it is an important distinction to understand.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered, or relied upon, as legal advice.