Essential legal documents, especially those required for an international transaction, procedure, or litigation overseas, often must be certified. This includes copies of certain documents, where a simple photocopy won’t do, and providing a certified true copy is a legal requirement.

There are two ways to certify a true copy: notarisation and legalisation. Precisely what is required depends upon the specific document and the circumstances surrounding it.

Notarisation in Singapore

Notarisation in Singapore covers two main scenarios:

  1. To confirm that a copy document is a genuine and authentic replica of the original.
  2. To confirm that a document has been validly executed.

Most people approach a notary public because they have a document that must be certified as genuine – this could be a document in a foreign language translated to English or just a simple photocopy. The other scenario is documents which provide someone with the power or authority to do something. These documents may need to be signed in front of a notary public to guarantee correct execution and validation. The notary public will confirm the identity of the signatories.

Notarisation services are offered by some lawyers appointed to act under the Notaries Public Act. A notary public tends to be a senior lawyer with at least 15 years of experience in practice and aged at least 40.

Notarising a document in Singapore

Suppose you are consulting a notary public because you need to certify a true copy of a document. In that case, the notary will inspect both documents to confirm that the copy is an exact replica of the original via a straightforward comparison process. They will then notarise it using their official stamp and signature.

With an authority document, the process is a little more involved, as the role of the notary public is to ensure that the originator understands the nature, purpose, and implications of the document they are notarising. The notary will also verify the identity of the signatories. Once satisfied, the notary public will notarise it using the official stamp and signature.

Issuing a notarial certificate

Once notarised, there is a second stage to the process, which is the document’s authentication by SAL. This applies to all notarised documents, both authority documents and certified true copies.

SAL stands for Singapore Academy of Law, and this provides an extra layer of security by authenticating the status and signatures of notaries public appointed in Singapore.

As part of the notarisation process, a notary public will issue a notarial certificate, which they sign to verify certain information. The notarial certificate is sent with the original documents to SAL. The notarial certificate includes the following:

  • The full name of the notary public.
  • Acknowledgement of the individual’s status as a notary public.
  • The notary public’s certification and attestation of the document, which could be the documents attached to the certificate are certified to be a true copy or that they have been correctly signed and executed by the signatories.
  • The location and issue date of the document.
  • The Notary Public’s full name, signature, and seal appear at the end of the certificate.

This service at SAL attracts a fully inclusive fee of S$86.40.

What is legalisation, and how does it fit in with notarisation?

Notarisation and legalisation are defined legal processes that evidence the validity of documents so that they can be relied on as genuine in specific transactions and scenarios like a witness statement in court proceedings. Phrases like ‘certifying a true copy’ are often used loosely to describe either or both procedures.

Legalisation means confirming a signature, seal, or stamp appearing on a document is genuine. The SAL confirm that a notarial certificate issued by the notary public is valid, and the embassy also repeats this process in the receiving country.

Certain documents must be legalised before they can be accepted in other countries. A good example is starting a business overseas where corporate documents will need to be legalised or getting married, where proving existing identity via a birth certificate will also need to be legalised.

Legalisation is not always required; the receiving country will advise whether documents must be legalised. Some people pay for this service anyway to avoid delays as, depending on the country, it’s not always completely clear what’s required until they have the documents.

How to legalise documents

If the Singaporean government has not issued the document, then it must first be notarised by a notary public. The notary must be made aware that a request for legalisation will follow. The documentation is then authenticated by SAL, following which legalisation can take place.

If the document is issued by the Singaporean government, such as a marriage certificate or an exam certificate, an online request for legalisation can be made via the SAL Legalisation portal. This is followed by payment and an in-person visit to SAL to legalise the document.

The implications of documents not properly ‘certified as true copy’

A document not correctly ‘certified as true copy’ means it has not been notarised, correctly executed, or certified as authentic in front of a notary public. It may also mean the document has not been legalised where this is a requirement. The consequence is that the document is invalid for use and presents a challenge when enforcing certain legal rights; at best, this can cause serious delays.

Final thoughts on certifying true copies

It helps to understand the purpose of any document and the end game before hiring a notary public, so the right services are provided, and it will also be easier to understand the likely timeline and cost.

Many individuals and businesses engage a notary public to conduct the entire process from start to finish if legalisation is required. The correct professional advice reduces the likelihood of delays, minimises stress, and ensures all the proper procedures are followed in a timely manner.

This content was written and reviewed by a lawyer but it does not constitute legal advice. We always recommend engaging a lawyer before taking any legal action.

Frequently asked questions

What is a notary public?

The Board of Commissioners appoints notaries public in Singapore for oaths and notarising documents. A notary public must be a qualified lawyer, aged at least 40, with a minimum of 15 years of legal experience. 

A notary public must also be a ‘fit and proper person’ as defined by the Notaries Public Act. The legislation precludes declared bankrupts, lawyers who have been struck off the roll, and those who have been found guilty of misconduct from acting as notaries public.

Where can I find a notary public in Singapore?

A quick internet search will reveal law firms that offer notarisation services in Singapore. The other alternative is to use the directory of public notaries provided by SAL.

Whichever way you source a notary public, always check they offer the specific services you need, especially if you are translating a foreign language document into English.

What paperwork does a notary public require?

If you are taking a document to be certified as a true copy, you need the original document and a photocopy. Authority documents will require valid forms of identification for all the signatories to the document, plus the actual document itself.

Always check the notary public you are using provides the services you want and ask them what you need to bring. The third party or legal process that requires the notarisation may also issue instructions of which your appointed notary should be made aware.

What does notarisation cost?

The fees for a notary public to examine a document, certify it as a true copy, and affix a seal are S$10 for the first page and S$2 for each subsequent page. If a seal is not required, the fee halves to S$5 for the first page and S$1 for every additional page. Preparing and completing a special notarial certificate is S$75, and there will also be the cost for authentication of the certified true copy at SAL which is S$85.60.