It was clear from day one when I returned to Uruguay after 13 years in the UK that notary publics (“escribanos”) were going to be indispensable in my new life. A mess-up when registering my children’s UK birth certificate here meant a year of paperwork for my “escribana” to handle. Being ripped-off by a estate agent when trying to rent a house means that I won’t pay anything that my “escribano” has not gone through before. And buying our first property in Uruguay means that my “escribana” is my most-used contact on WhatsApp.

And that’s just my personal life. In business, “escribanos”, across the whole of Latin America and definitely here in Uruguay, are key to the smooth running of your operations, whether you like it or not.

At first, I did not like it at all. If there is trust and efficiency, then “escribanos” shouldn’t really exist, or at least they should be confined to the few tasks they perform in the UK, right? Why do I need them to check every paper I sign and why can’t I transact with people directly? Why does everything need a stamp and a signature and transactions can’t be just based on an email or a discussion?

There are historic reasons for this: our legal system is based on Roman Law, which is very different from UK Common Law. I remember how easy it was buying a used car in the UK. Here you need an “escribano” to do a search and tell you that there’s no debt against that car (that you would acquire by buying it). Everything just becomes that tiny bit more complicated, but doing without an escribano would be too risky. I don’t like the system, but the escribanos are my best allies to survive it.

Welcome to Uruguay: make sure you have an escribano before you leave the airport!

Welcome to Uruguay: make sure you have an escribano before you leave the airport!

I consulted our legal partners, Irrazabal y Asociados, about the role of “escribanos” in businesses, and Gonzalo Irrazabal replied: “a notary public is key to give documents authenticity, and to certify signatures and declarations – signatures, for example, must be certified when dealing with any public body so as to verify their authenticity an also to certify that the person signing has the faculties to act in their own name”.

Gonzalo adds: “specifically when buying or selling property (estate), automobiles and airplanes, notary publics are in charge of studying all the documentation and providing the documents that formalise the transfer from one owner to the other. This is important in order to make sure that the property is free of debt, is actually the property of the person who claims to own it, and is also important to ensure that the conditions of the transaction are clear”.

We have recently worked with a UK company in the agricultural sector that seeks to import and sell a specific product in Uruguay. “Notary publics are key for registering products across many public bodies”, emphasises Gonzalo, and this includes food/drink registrations, veterinary products registrations, pharmaceuticals, and many more. “Public organisations need to ensure that facts declared and documentation provided is correct and unequivocal, and that’s partly the role of notary publics”

If you start regarding “escribanos” as your business allies, the experts that will in the end save you time and money, you start rather liking them. You might not like the system, but they are there to help you navigate it.


What’s your experience with notary publics across Latin America? Leave us your comments!


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