Before performing most notarial acts,

the notary public must confirm the identity of the person signing the document. For acknowledgments and jurats, a notary public is required to obtain satisfactory evidence of the signer’s identity. (California Civil Code sections 1185(a) and (b), and 1189; California Government Code section 8202.)

Paper Identification Documents

The identity of the signer can be established by the notary public’s reasonable reliance on the presentation of paper identification documents meeting the requirements of California Civil Code section 1185(b)(3) or (b)(4). In addition, there must be no information or circumstances leading a notary public to believe a signer is not who the signer claims to be.

The types of paper identification documents listed below may be presented to a notary public to establish identity. These paper identification documents must be current, or have been issued within the previous five years.

  • An identification card or driver’s license issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles; or

  • A United States passport (a U.S. passport need not have a description of the named person).
    Other California approved identification cards, consisting of any one of the following, that contain a serial or other identifying number, a photograph of the named person, a description of the named person, and the signature of the named person are also acceptable (California Civil Code sections 1185(b)(3) and (b)(4)):

  • passport issued by a foreign government that has been stamped by the U.S. Immigration or Naturalization Service or its predecessor agency, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service;
  • driver’s license issued by another state or by a Canadian or Mexican public agencyauthorized to issue drivers’ licenses;
  • An identification card issued by another state (this does not include an identification card issued by a Canadian or Mexican public agency);
  • military identification card (some military identification cards do not contain all the required information and cannot be used as identification if all required information is not present);

  • An inmate identification card issued by the California Department of Corrections, if the inmate is still in custody; or
  • An employee identification card issued by an agency or office of a California city, a California county, a California city and county, or the State of California.

Oath or Affirmation of Two Credible Witnesses

If there is no information leading a notary public to believe a signer is not who the signer claims to be, and it would be very difficult or impossible for the signer to present a paper identification document discussed earlier, the identity of the signer can be established by the
oaths or affirmations of two credible witnesses who personally know the signer. (California Civil Code section 1185(b)(2).) In such a case, the notary public does not need to personally know either of the credible witnesses. The notary public establishes the identities of the two credible witnesses only by the presentation of the paper identification documents meeting the requirements of California Civil Code sections 1185(b)(3) and (b)(4).

After the notary public has established the identity of the credible witnesses, the notary public must administer oaths or affirmations to the credible witnesses to establish the identity of the signer. Under oath or affirmation and under penalty of perjury, both credible witnesses must swear or affirm that each of the following statements is true (California Civil Code section 1185(b)(2)):

  • The individual appearing before the notary public as the signer of the document is the person named in the document;

  • The credible witness personally knows the signer;

  • The credible witness reasonably believes that the circumstances of the signer are such that it would be very difficult or impossible for the signer to obtain another form of identification;

  • The signer does not possess any of the identification documents authorized by law to establish the signer’s identity; and
  • The credible witness does not have a financial interest in the document and is not named in the document.


Bob, Fred, and Joyce meet in a hotel lobby for the first time and after discussing the need to have their signatures on important documents notarized, approach Nat Notary. Bob is the signer of the documents and does not have his wallet with him because it was stolen. Fred and Joyce offer to vouch for Bob. Nat Notary refuses to use Fred and Joyce as credible witnesses since Bob, Fred, and Joyce have just met and do not personally know each other. Fred and Joyce cannot be credible witnesses to Bob’s identity.

Nat Notary is called to notarize Irene’s signature on a company document. Nat Notary and Irene have never met before. Irene is away from home and left her identification, her Illinois driver’s license, in Chicago. Irene asks Rene to vouch for Irene because Irene and Rene have known each other for years. Nat Notary has also worked with Rene before. Rene can appear as a credible witness for Irene so that Nat Notary can complete the notarization.

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