Certified document translation services

What are you looking for?

  • A translator who can provide certified document translation services in a specific language? Visit our Translators’ Directory to find a translator who can help you. They offer many different language combinations.
  • Definitions of the terms used in connection with the need for certified document translation? You can find many definitions if you read on.
  • Details on the certification process? You can find that further down on this page, too.

What do clients need to know about certified document translation?

Every day many translators provide certified document translation services in the UK and worldwide. Birth certificates, school leavers’ certificates, police clearance certificates, marriage or divorce papers are the most commonly translated documents which need certification.

Whether or not clients need a certified translation depends not only on the agency requesting certification but also on the country-specific rules for certifying documents. Agencies most often requiring certified document translations include state authorities, universities and registration offices. Occasionally employers request certified translations of official documents.

It is the authority which requires the translation which decides whether you need a certified, notarised or sworn translation.

You can find more information on the subject here if you are a private client in need of certified translation services. Business clients please visit our B2B page explaining certified document translation for business and industry.

Please scroll to the bottom of this page to use our detailed step-by-step guide to the certification process. Certification rules may vary a lot between countries. Therefore we have supplied you with a guide to various regulations about the certification process within a number of EU countries. Please use the navigation bar on the right to get access to this information.

Most of our independent translators will be happy to supply you with certified document translation services for documents of various types.

Please note that we have based our information on data available to us at the time of writing. All information given is for general information only (please read our legal notices). Certification requirements vary from case to case and country to country. It is the client’s responsibility to check with government agencies and departments, employers or any other parties involved which specific certification requirements apply to their documents.

Definitions of the terms “certified translation”, “notarised translation”, “sworn translation” and “apostille”

Clients are often confused about the meaning of words used in connection with “certified translations”. Please find below definitions of much-used terms during the certification process.

What is a certified translation?

When referring to “certified translations” or “certifications” authorities often mean different things. On this website, the term “certified translations” is an abbreviated version of “translations accompanied by a certificate of accuracy”. We do not mean any other forms of certification unless stated otherwise.

So, certified translations are documents accompanied by a certificate of accuracy supplied by the translator who carried out the translation. This process is also known as “self-certification”.

What does the term “notarised translation” mean?

When clients need a notarised translation, the translator visits a notary public. The notary will check the translator’s identity and possibly his qualifications. He will then bear witness to the translator’s signature on the certificate of accuracy attached to the translated document.

How do I obtain a sworn translation in the UK?

The UK is a common law country. To obtain a sworn translation in this country, translators take an oath in front of a solicitor or notary public, confirming that the document in question is a true and accurate translation of the original and they carried it out “to the best of their ability”.

In civil law countries like Germany or Austria, translators become “publicly appointed and sworn translators” at one specific court. This is the local court of the area where they are resident. Therefore translators living in the UK cannot become sworn translators at a German court. For detailed certification rules that apply in the UKGermany, Austria, Spain, France, Romania, China and Italy please visit the relevant pages by clicking on the country of your choice.

What does the term “apostille” refer to?

Government agencies can attach an apostille to official documents that authorities issued within their country. An apostille is a certificate of authenticity provided for use in a foreign country.

What does the term “certification” refer to in common parlance?

Clients often find this confusing, but in general parlance, the term “certification” is often used as a synonym or refers to:

  • The certificate of accuracy a qualified translator must attach to a translated document.
  • The process that takes place when a notary witnesses (“certifies”) the signature on a translator’s certificate of accuracy.
  • “Legalisation”: when an official body confirms (“certifies”) the authenticity of a signature, seal or stamp on a public document.

Read up on “certifying a document” on gov.uk, the British government’s website. (Scroll to the bottom to read about how to have translations certified.)

The purpose of certified document translation

A certificate of accuracy states the translator’s credentials, address, qualifications and details of the translated document. It also contains an affirmation that the translator carried out the translation to the best of their knowledge and belief and that it is a true and faithful rendering of the original language, for example, German/Italian/Spanish/English/French. The translator also states that he did the work to the best of their ability as a professional translator.

Neither a translator certifying the accuracy of their translation nor a notary witnessing their signature proves the authenticity of the original document. To prove authenticity the client must obtain an apostille.
Neither the certificate of accuracy in itself nor the solicitor or even a notary witnessing this signature guarantees the quality of the translation.

All certification proves is that a qualified translator translated the document in question.

Circumstances which often need certified document translation services

The following types of document may need certification, notarisation or a sworn translation:

  • Job applications: translated school leavers’, university certificates or references;
  • Applications to colleges/universities or other higher education institutions;
  • Immigration or emigration application documents;
  • Birth certificates, divorce certificates, certificates of no impediment when marrying a foreign national;
  • Getting married in a country other than your country of residence;
  • Documents needed when setting up a new company;
  • Patent-related documentation.

The translation certification process

Step 1 - Choose the correct translator

Clients are often uncertain whether they need certified document translation services of official documents or whether an “ordinary” translation will do. The bottom line is that it is the authority asking you for the translation of a document which determines what kind of translation and translator are acceptable. Therefore, ask for clear advice from the office in question, then visit our directory of independent professional translators to find the correct translator for your requirements.

Agencies may agree for a person with “a sound knowledge” of both languages to carry out certified translations of official documents. Alternatively they may insist on a notarised translation. Often an interpretative translation is acceptable, only occasionally do authorities ask for literal “word-for-word” translation of the original document.

There are countries where certified translations of official documents can only be done by so-called “sworn translators”. Linguists in Germany and Austria, for example, have to swear an oath at a local court. Applicants may have to provide proof of their qualifications and/or may have to sit exams. In countries such as Germany, Austria and Spain they also have to pay registration fees.

In other countries, membership of a professional body suffices to qualify a translator to certify their translations, e.g. in the UK. Italy has very relaxed certification rules. So, as you can see, the requirements about how translators undertake certified translations vary vastly.

Please also note that certified translations of official documents are usually best carried out in the country for which you need them. However, some government agencies, employers or authorities may accept translations from the country in which the documents originated. Please obtain this information from the appropriate authority before hiring a translator.

Step 2 - Agree on a price

Providing the translator with a copy of your document

For a translator to give you a precise quote, they need to see the document(s) that you want them to translate. The only exceptions are standard police clearance certificates.

Clients often ask if it is necessary to send original documents. No, in the UK this is usually not required, in other countries it may well be. The UK translator will work from a copy, then sign and attach the copy to the translation. When the client receives these documents they add the original and send it off to the relevant authority.

Occasionally the agency you are dealing with may stipulate that the translator work from the original document or a certified copy. In this case you will need to provide your freelance translator with originals. Please allow extra time for the postal delivery process.

Factors that influence the cost of a certified translation

Some clients feel that fees for certified translations are unjustifiably high, because they are unaware that prices for the certification process include a number of “hidden” costs to the translation service provider.

Membership of professional bodies/exam fees

In most countries, translators have to prove their professional status before authorities allow them to certify translated documents. Being accepted as a member of a professional body for translators usually requires appropriate qualifications and proven professional experience. Membership of a professional body therefore is one way of being approved to carry out certified translations. Membership fees are often high. In countries such as Spain and Austria translators must pass costly exams.

Extra diligence requiring extra time

Word counts of birth certificates or police clearance certificates are usually very low. However, translators must achieve one hundred percent accuracy. They must transfer every factual detail to the translated text.The additional time needed leads to increased translation rates compared to other translation services.

Formatting issues

Official documents for translation and certification are usually not supplied in a machine-readable format. Dealing with scanned copies is more labour intensive than having the text in one of the Microsoft Office formats. Not having documents in a machine-readable format also means that the translator cannot use their CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools. In short: not being able to do so will increase the time the translator needs to allow for the translation job.

Providing hard copies to clients

There are further steps required before the client receives their translation. These add to the total cost. The steps include printing out the documents, labelling the envelope and visiting the post office to send the document per recorded delivery. All this takes up a lot more time than simply clicking “send”.

Although some authorities accept scanned copies, they are by no means the majority.


Often postage is quite expensive, depending on what type of postal service you need. Above all, you must reimburse the translator for notaries’ fees, if you need a notarised translation.

Step 3 - Agree on a deadline

When agreeing on a deadline for the certified document translation service, please allow time for the postal service, as certified translations usually need to be sent by surface mail.

Mail services cannot always be relied on for next-day-delivery. If in doubt, it has proved diligent to pay extra for guaranteed delivery services. The translator will invoice the client for additional costs thus incurred.

Allow time for visiting a notary, if you need a notarised translation.

Step 4 - Clearly state what type of certification you need

Please be clear when you order certified document translation services whether you need a certified, notarised or sworn translation. Also consider whether you want one copy only or more. Additional copies provided at the same time as the original translation are good value for money. Ask your translator for details.

Step 5 - The translator carries out the translation

The translator will copy (where appropriate) or translate all text from the original document to the translated text. This includes reference numbers, rubber stamps and any other text on the document.

Please note that providing a certified translation service does not mean that the translator can “correct” errors made by the registrar. He must copy details given on the document as they are, even if they are obviously wrong.

Step 6 - The translator sends you the 'proof' of the finished translation

To make sure that you are happy with the translation you are about to receive, the translator will send you his translation before signing and sending it.

Having checked that the document fulfills all your requirements you return it to the translator.

Step 7 - The translator certifies the translation or has it notarised, depending on your requirements

For most certified translations of official documents in the UK translators can carry out self-certification in his own home. However, for a notarised or sworn translation, the translator has to visit a notary public. This is obviously done by appointment and forms a major cost for the translation client.

Step 8 - The finished certified translation (and invoice) is posted to you

Once the certification process is completed, all documents are sent off by surface or air mail. We recommend recorded delivery or special delivery for a guaranteed next day service.

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