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Understanding Notarisation vs. Simple Document Certification in South Africa

In the realm of legal documentation in South Africa, notarisation and document certification are both critical but distinct processes. Each serves specific purposes and offers different levels of verification and legal validity. It's important for individuals and businesses to understand these differences to choose the correct procedure for their documentation needs. This blog post explores how notarisation differs from simple document certification in South African law.

What is Document Certification?

Document certification is the process where a recognised official, such as a commissioner of oaths, verifies that a copy of an original document is true and correct. This official could be a police officer, a qualified lawyer, or another designated government official, depending on the type of document.

Primary Purposes of Document Certification:

  • Verification of Copies: Ensuring that the certified copy is an exact replica of the original document.

  • Common Use: Required for administrative purposes like job applications, university enrollments, or when dealing with government services.

What is Notarisation?

Notarisation involves a deeper level of scrutiny and legal formality, typically carried out by a notary public. Notaries in South Africa are highly trained legal professionals with the authority to perform specific legal formalities concerning the authentication of documents and other related tasks.

Primary Duties of Notarisation:

  • Authentication of Documents: Not only verifying the authenticity of a document's content but also the identity and signatures of the parties involved.

  • Administering Oaths and Affirmations: Essential for the validation of affidavits, declarations, and legal documents requiring sworn statements.

  • Drafting and Attesting to Notarial Acts: Includes preparing and attesting to the execution of certain specialized contracts, property transfers, and other transactions that require a high degree of trust and legal certainty.

  • Protests of Bills and Notes: Involves formal declarations concerning the acceptance or payment failures of bills of exchange, significant in commercial and financial sectors.

Key Differences in Legal Implications

  • Level of Authority and Legal Recognition: Notarisation provides a higher legal authority and is often mandatory for property transactions, wills, power of attorney, and when dealing with international matters.

  • International Validity: Notarised documents have broad international recognition, which is essential for documents used outside of South Africa, including legal proceedings and business transactions abroad.

When to Use Notarisation vs. Certification

  • Use Certification: When you need a copy of an original document verified for general use, such as submitting proof of identity or qualifications.

  • Use Notarisation: When your documents require formal legal authentication for significant transactions, both locally and internationally, or when the law specifically requires a notarised document.

Leoni Naude Inc Attorneys
Leoni Naude Inc


The choice between notarisation and certification in South Africa depends on the document's intended use and the level of legal authentication required. Notarisation is crucial for ensuring the highest level of trust and legal compliance in significant and often cross-border transactions. Understanding these processes helps individuals and businesses ensure their documents are appropriately prepared and legally sound for their intended purposes.


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