Many translators get very confused about all the different terms used to refer to ‘official’ translations. A translation can be certified, notarised, sworn or legalised. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but this is incorrect. The type of ‘official’ translation required depends on the type of document and the country where it is to be used. In most civil law countries, including Spain, France, Italy and Germany, translations can be either sworn or legalised.
The UK, with its common law system, is the odd one out; translations can be certified, notarised or legalised. This article will cover the following points: what an ‘official’ translation is; when it is necessary; and the procedure for obtaining a certified, notarised, sworn or legalised translation.
What is an ‘official’ translation?
Basically, an ‘official’ translation is one that the translator has declared to be a complete and accurate reflection of the source text.
When is an ‘official’ translation necessary?
For official documents to be legally valid in a foreign country, they must be translated, and the translation must be ‘official’. Common examples of such documents include birth, marriage, divorce and academic certificates; official transcripts; references; notarial deeds; and legal documents such as power of attorney or contracts.
In order to certify a translation, either the translator or the translation agency he or she is doing the work for (if applicable) must attest that the translation is a complete and accurate reflection of the source text. Each page is stamped to this effect and a certificate verifying the translator’s credentials is included, together with the original text. Members or Fellows of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) are entitled to use the Institute’s seal to self-certify their translations.
Notarised translation involves the translator swearing an oath before a Notary Public that he or she has produced the translation. The Notary Public does not verify the quality of the translation but rather the translator’s identity, so that he or she can be held accountable if necessary. The Notary Public then adds his or her seal and a certified copy of the original text is attached.
Sworn translations are carried out by sworn translators, who have normally either been awarded a degree in translation and/or interpreting or passed a specific exam. In Spain, sworn translators are accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. In France and Germany, they are accredited by the courts. In Italy, they are accredited by either the courts or consulates.
Documents that are going to be sent abroad also need to be legalised, or apostilled. This is done by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the UK, the Federal Foreign Office in Germany, Foreign Affairs Ministry in France, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Italy and the Ministry of Justice in Spain. This does not guarantee the quality of the translation, but merely confirms that the stamp on the document is genuine. This type of ‘official’ translation is only valid if the recipient country is a signatory to the Hague Convention. If not, it may not be accepted, so the client will need to ask the relevant consulate for advice on what to do next.