Before an official document issued in Australia can be used in France, its origin may need to be authenticated and signed in front of a French notary in order to be valid and enforceable under French law. For example, you must sign a power of attorney in front of a French notary to accept a donation of money or to sell a house located in France.

Before 1 January 2019, it was possible to sign such documents in front of French consular and diplomatic services officials as an alternative to a French notary.

French diplomatic and consular services are undergoing major changes worldwide. As a result, since 1 January 2019, French diplomatic and consular posts no longer provide notarial services including apostilles, witnessing of documents and certifying copies of original documents.

This article outlines the steps to take now to get your documents to be used in France authenticated and/or legalised in Australia.

Which documents must be authenticated to be valid in France?

Documents requiring the powers of a French notary include:

  • a deed of sale of property (for French stamp duty purposes)
  • formal will
  • deed of gift
  • prenuptial agreement
  • power of attorney to sign any of the above documents.

Alternative to the French consular notary

A simple signature in front of a local Australian notary public does not suffice to satisfy the French legal requirements. Your signature must be properly certified and authenticated by apostille.
If you cannot go to France and you need to have a document authenticated and/or legalised here in Australia, you can simply follow the steps below.

Step 1: Contact a bilingual legal practitioner

The official document that needs to be signed will, most often, be based on a document drafted by a French notary, so that the relevant document is admissible in France. However, the legal practitioner needs to be able to understand the content of the legal document.

Contact us if you wish to speak with a bilingual legal practitioner.

Step 2: Sign in front of an Australian notary public

It is possible to use the services of a local Australian notary public. However, the notary public must:

  • be fluent in French (or require a certified translation into English)
  • understand the legal content of the document (or work with a French-qualified lawyer who does)
  • ensure the signatory understands the content of the document to be signed
  • be able to answer the signatory's various questions before signing the document(s) (or work with a French-qualified lawyer who does)
  • issue a certificate certifying the four points above (ideally both in French and in English).

Step 3: Get the document apostilled

You will then need the Australian government to confirm the authenticity of the signature of the Australian notary public or seal affixed to the document to be used in France. This step is called an apostille.

Invalid documents, invalid transaction

Warning: Improperly certified documents may lead to the invalidity of the document in France and of the overall transaction.

There have been several instances where a signature has been properly certified by an Australian notary public and apostilled but it was discovered later that the underlying document had been forged or that its content was not understood by the signatory, leading to the invalidity of the document in France and of the overall transaction.

The French Courts have stated that where a document drafted by a French notary is then received by an Australian notary public and apostilled, this is not sufficient for the document to be valid if the document did not comply with the legal requirements to be admissible in France.

Consequently, it is very important to contact a qualified and experienced bilingual local legal practitioner to undertake properly certification, so that you do not pay the price of ending up with an invalid document.

Holding Redlich's international legal services team assists its Australian-based clients with their authentication and legalisation requirements for documents to be used in France.

Team member, Jeanne Vallade, is a French native-speaker and is qualified as a lawyer in both France and Queensland. She assists clients on a regular basis and provides access to her network of Australian and French notaries and other legal professionals in France, Europe. Jeanne is a trusted advisor to French clients investing and operating in Australia.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.