What does ‘certified document translation’ actually mean?

What is a certified translation?

Officially certified translation services play an extremely important role in today’s globalised world. People often require a translation of their documents into another language not only in a business environment, but also in their personal lives.

Whether it’s applying for a visa, a new job, or a University, and your official documents are not in the language of the country where your application takes place, you may be asked to present a legally translated version of those documents.

Additionally, if you’re working for a business and consider approaching new markets and international audiences, obtaining a certified translation of your business-essential materials is nothing short of essential.

Although certified translations are key in many aspects of our lives, many people still don’t fully understand what the term actually means.

At its core, a certified translation is any document that has been translated from one language to another by a professional and qualified linguist who has made reliable assurances that:

  • They are fluent in both the original and new languages, and
  • That the translation itself is accurate, complete, and sufficient to be relied upon.

In the end, a certified translation is one that the receiving organisation knows they can rely upon. It can be entered into their records in its translated form and treated just like any type of documentation that originated in this country.


Different certified translations

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Do I Need Certified Document Translation Services?

That is a complicated question, really. The best way to answer it in your case will be first to understand what certified document translation really is, see what kind of situations it is commonly used in, and what benefits it provides – both for you and for whoever has requested translations of your documents. We’ll explore each of those subjects below. After that, you should be able to decide whether you actually need certified translation services of your documents.


There are currently three basic methods of certifying a document translation:

First, it can have been translated into the new language by a sworn translator while in a country that recognises their status as a sworn translator. More on that below.

Second, it can be certified in front of a solicitor in good standing or a notary public. Note that this is an ‘inferior’ kind of certification, as the solicitor is not certifying the quality of the translation, but merely the fact that the translator signed the translation in their presence. It will be enough for some purposes, but not enough for others.

Lastly, there is ‘true certification’, where a fully qualified translator or translation company who is authorised to make certifications conforms that it is a ‘true and accurate’ translation of the original.


How do certified translations differ from ‘sworn’ translators?

The UK’s legal system is at its core a ‘common law’ system. Many ‘civil law’ countries have official sworn translators, who can make certain kinds of official translations effectively ‘under oath’ to provide a fair and accurate translation that meets various legal standards.

Here in the UK, such an oath would have no bearing on either the quality of a translation, or the degree to which it can be relied upon in any official capacity. Here we use a certification system that seeks to identify which translators are known to have sufficient skill and qualifications, so that the reader knows they can be relied upon to give an accurate translation.

In the end, it is a different way of achieving the same end, and the UK’s institutions will treat a certified document translation in much the same way that many other countries would treat a sworn document translation.

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What Benefits Does Certified Document Translation Provide?

A certified translated document is more efficient to use. Whenever an organisation needs to review documents, the entire process is faster if they can be presented in that organisation’s preferred language. They do not have to go to the time and expense of having it translated themselves.

A certified translation is more reliable than one which is not certified. Some studies have shown that nearly 1 in 5 translations of documents submitted for official purposes were either fraudulent or technically inaccurate. This means that government bodies, businesses, schools and other organisations cannot always rely on the accuracy of non-certified document translations.

This, of course, increases the expense of any transaction involving translated documents, and increases the chance that the entire process may fall apart if one of the most important documents is later found to contain errors.

Certified Translation - Example

When Do People Use Translation Services?

Of course, there are hundreds of different situations that call for reliable, trustworthy and professional translation services. However, most instances fall into one of the following five categories:

• During immigration proceedings

Depending on the immigration route you choose, you will be expected to prove many things about yourself to the satisfaction of your chosen country’s immigration officials. At the very least, you will need to prove your identity, current citizenship status, your health and medical history and your criminal record or lack thereof.

All of these facts are typically proven with (sometimes mountains of) documentation. If you are moving to a country which uses a different official language, some or all of these records, or at least summaries of them, must be translated before they can be studied and accepted (or rejected). The use of officially certified translations allows immigration officials to accept these translated documents more quickly and with much more reliance on their accuracy, speeding up the process immeasurably.

Some countries’ immigration officials will not accept uncertified documents (or their equivalent) at all, requiring sworn or certified translations as a minimum standard.

• Applying to an overseas school or university

Many universities, especially in the UK, the US and Europe, have many more applicants than spaces, and the competition for those spaces can be very fierce. In order to reduce the pool of applicants to a manageable number and to ensure that their staff only spend their time on the most acceptable applicants, many universities set very strict standards for application documents.

One common standard is that the applicant’s educational history not only be exemplary, but also translated into their official language by a reputable certified translation service. As many of these universities and schools are to some extent publicly funded, they must also be able to prove the status of all of their students to their local and national governments if that support is ever challenged. Therefore they have even more reason to insist on reliable, certified translations of all relevant student histories and application documents.

• In obtaining licenses and certifications

Many public and commercial activities, from simply driving a car to working a trade or serving food or drinks to the public require licensing or certification of some kind. Some certifications only demand proof that certain minimum safety training has been met, but others require an in-depth records search and proof of past training, good conduct, or both.

If you were born in, or spent a great deal of time in a country which uses a different official language than the one you are seeking a license or certification in, you’ll need to have documents from that time translated so that the new officials can use them. Using a certified translations service makes them more able to rely on the translations, which could help you gain your certification or license sooner and with less hassle.

• In commercial or business dealings

International business and financing deals are quite standard in this day and age. Nonetheless, a language barrier can still slow or stall progress. Especially if you are working with people or organisations for the first time, the use of a reputable, reliable certified translation service for your document translation can make the process faster, easier and more pleasant for all involved.

• In legal cases

With international business comes international disputes. If it is decided that a case must be heard in a different country than where some or all of the relevant facts originate, then evidence of these facts must be translated into the language of the court.

Standards vary from country to country, and even from court to court within countries. However, a court is typically more likely to accept translated evidence if they are confident in the accuracy and reliability of the translation. For that reason, many people choose to rely upon certified translations services to translate their documents and evidence.

So, Do I Need a Certified Translation?

In the end, you have to be the one to make that decision. If the organisation you are sending the documents to requires certification, then the choice is easy – you definitely need it. Otherwise, you have to decide whether the slight increase in cost offsets the enhanced reliability and the ease individuals and organisations will have accepting certified document translations.

However, most of the time it is definitely worth it

If you would like to speak with a member of our team to discuss your needs for a certified translation in further detail, please give our office a call on +44 (0) 208 677 3775 or email over your query to info@translationservices24.com and we will get back to you within 30 minutes!


About TS24

Translation Services 24 (TS24) is a professional translation agency offering expert services in over 200 languages. We work with clients in all corporate and public industries and specialise in sector-specific linguistic solutions. With over a decade of experience in the industry, 15+ million words converted every year and 100,000+ projects completed, TS24 is a leading provider of expert translations and interpretation services and an officially certified member of the ATC. Contact TS24 here. You can also read all of our recent articles here.

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