November 18, 2020

What is Certified Translation? Everything You Need to Know


"Do I need certified translation services? What is a certified translation, anyway?"

These are reasonable questions our clients often ask. And we don't blame them:

It's common for government, legal, and educational institutions to require "Certified Translation," without really explaining what it means.

And this tends to create more questions than it answers.


Say you’re applying for United States Citizenship, and you know you will need to get some documents translated. Then, you see the fine print: Translations must be Certified."

What are you to make of that? What kind of translation company or freelance translator is capable of providing this service?


There’s a lot of confusing and misleading language out there when it comes to the world of translation.


Thankfully, we’re here to make it easier to understand.


This post goes in depth to explain exactly what certified translation is, when you might need it, and who can provide it.

Let's get started!


What is certified translation:

We get calls daily from potential clients who have been told they need certified translation. It’s often clear that many of these potential clients have been given minimal guidance or explanation as to what the requirements actual are.

And we don't blame them! We know that institutions tend to be economical when it comes to explaining translation requirements.


Really, the definition is simple:


A certified translation is nothing more than a signed statement (sometimes referred to as an affidavit of accuracy) by the translator, attached to the translated document, certifying the accuracy of the translation.


This certification statement may vary from translator to translator, but there are some specific requirements that need to be met.

Requirements of a Translation Certification Statement:


  1. A certification statement needs to in some way show the qualifications of the translator who completed the translation
  2. A certification statement needs to affirm the completeness and the accuracy of the translated document
  3. A certification statement needs to specify the type of document that was translated (ie. Birth Certificate), and both the source and target language (ie. English to Spanish)
  4. A certification statement needs to include the translator’s name, signature, and the date


Here’s an example of a short-form certification statement, provided by the American Translators Association:



And here’s an example of a long-form version:


Note that the American Translators Association seal does not need to be present on a certified translation in order for it to be valid and accepted. In fact, translators do not need to be “certified,” or better, accredited, in order to certify a translation (more on that later). 

So what does "accuracy" really entail?


In order for a translation to be certified, the source document needs to be translated in its entirety, and the translation needs to be as direct as possible. 


And this requirement isn’t limited to words:

Wherever applicable, the translator needs to adhere to the same punctuation style, visual format, and symbol usage of the source document. This also means that seals, stamps and signatures need to be represented in accurate locations on the page.

What’s the Point of Certified Document Translation?


A bit later, we’ll dive into the specific situations that require certified translation. But for now, let’s look at the general purpose of certifying a translation.


Why does it even matter if a translation is certified?


By accepting responsibility for the accuracy of the translation, the translator removes any question over the validity of the translation.


If a translation isn’t certified, or is done by an amateur translator, the institution receiving it may question whether the translation is accurate, or whether the document owner completed the translation his or herself, without hiring a professional, which would be considered a conflict of interest.

The bottom line:


When a translation is certified, it is seen as fulfilling the requirements of the country in which it is being submitted. 


With these requirements fulfilled, the translation is ready to be used in formal procedures within that country.

Notarized Translation vs. Certified Translation



Certified translation and notarized translation are not the same thing.


It’s important to consult with the institution that will be receiving your translated documents as to their requirements regarding certification and notarization.

Many entities that require certified translation do not require notarization, but some do, so be sure to check before letting your translator know one way or another.

Can a translation even be notarized?


Technically, no—a “translation” cannot be notarized. What can be notarized, however, is the signature of the translator.


Notarization on a translation is nothing more than a notary public legally acknowledging (notarizing) the identity of the translator who signs the certification statement.


In order to provide valid notarization, the notary must be present while the translator signs the certification statement, and must witness the signature.


If the date of the certification and the date of the notarization don’t match, the document will not be accepted as notarized, so if your translation requires notarization, be sure to tell your translator not to sign the certification statement until the notary is present.

Who can provide Certified Translation Services?


A translator does not need to be accredited in order to certify a translation. In fact, anyone who completes a translation can certify it. 


But as we've made clear already, certifying a translation also means taking responsibility for the accuracy of that translation. In other words, if a translation is initially accepted because of its certification, problems can still arise as the translation is being reviewed that can cause its rejection. 


An error is an error, whether a translation is certified or not


It’s important to hire a translator you can trust. For certified translations, we always recommend working with a professional translator, because it significantly increases your chances of having your translations accepted.


Technically, in the United States, anyone is allowed to certify a translation. This includes both the individual translator or any employee of the translation company.

In these cases, the certifying statement must identify whether the signer was also the translator or whether he or she was merely the reviewer or editor.


It’s also legal for a translator to certify a translation completed by someone other than his or herself, although this requires the certifying translator to review the document for accuracy and completeness, without making any changes.

Can I certify a translation for my own use?


Technically, there is no law preventing you from completing a translation for yourself, certifying it, and then using it.


But there is a high probability that any document translated in this way and certified will be rejected, because many institutions will see it as a conflict of interest.

"Certified Translation" vs. "Certified Translator"


These terms are often muddled and confused. 


While a “certified translation” is a translation accompanied by a signed statement, as described above, a “certified translator” is a translator who has been tested and accredited by an organization or professional association.


We go more in depth on this in our blog post on professional translation.

When do I need Certified Document Translation?


So far we’ve learned what a certified translation is, and the types of doors it may open. Now let’s dive into some of the situations that require translations to be certified.

Specific institutions that require certified translation:


Certified translations are requested in many different settings, from business mergers and acquisitions to academic and governmental institutions.

1. Certified Document Translation for USCIS and Immigration



Let’s say you are an immigrant to the United States and are pursuing American Citizenship.


Obviously, the application will require that multiple legal documents and vital records be translated from the language of your country of origin into English.


When you visit the United States Department of State website, you will see some variation of the following quotes:


  1. “Please submit certified translations for all foreign language documents. The translator must certify that s/he is competent to translate and that the translation is accurate.”


And: 


  1. “Any document containing foreign language submitted to the Service shall be accompanied by a full English language translation which the translator has certified as complete and accurate, and by the translator’s certification that he or she is competent to translate from the foreign language into English.”


Essentially, the US Government is telling you that certified translation of your documents is required in order for them to be accepted.


And that makes sense, because governments take citizenship very seriously, and heavily vet every document that they request.

Not to mention, tampering with legal documents and vital records is illegal, so having the translations certified adds a layer of accountability to the process.

2. Certified Legal Translation


As you may be able to guess, the legal setting is another where certified translation is often requested or required.


Legal translation can be extremely specialized and complex, and there is no type of translation where accuracy is more important. One incorrect word can completely invalidate a legal translation, so accuracy is paramount.


For this very reason, most government agencies and legal firms like to validate the accuracy of translated documents by means of certification. 


As we explained in the section above, it adds a layer of accountability and accuracy to the translated document. Even in cases where certified translation isn’t required, some lawyers prefer that translations be certified.


Certified translation may be required in a number of legal settings, such as citizenship cases, corporate litigation, and contract law.


As with every setting, if it is not stated outright by the legal institution that certified translation is required, we recommend reaching out and asking, rather than being forced to go back and certify your translations after the fact.

3. Certified Translation of College Transcripts and other Academic Documents


It’s common for colleges and universities to require certified translation of diplomas and transcripts.


Just as USCIS and law firms need to be able to rely on the accuracy of a translated document, so do all reputable universities. 


An accurate translation can be the difference between admitting or rejecting a deserving student into a study abroad or masters program. 


As in the cases above, it’s prudent to review the university’s document policies or speak with their admissions department before deciding whether or not to move forward with certified translation.

4. Certified Translation for Business


Though we most often talk about certified translation through the lens of the individual, there are many situations in the business world that require translation to be certified.


Translations needing certification at the business level are usually of financial or legal nature. 


On the financial side, an international company may need accurate, certified translations of financial reports, contracts, patent filings, merger and acquisition documents and more.


Companies may also require certified translation of documents from employees or job applicants, such as medical records, bank statements, passports and visas.


It’s also common for companies in highly-regulated industries to require certified translation, as this is often one of the only ways to be sure a document adheres to strict quality and confidentiality processes. 


In these situations, accuracy is of utmost importance.

When you don’t need Certified Translation


Of course, there are also many situations where certified translation is not necessary, or even overkill.


Here’s a list with some examples:


  • Website or app translations
  • Marketing brochures
  • Restaurant menus
  • Employee handbooks
  • Product labels


A good rule of thumb is to think about the gravity and legal bearing of the instance that necessitates translation. 


For example:


There’s a considerable difference in stakes between being granted citizenship to a new country and choosing what to eat on a menu. 


A company puts a lot less at stake by having a badly translated headline on its website than it does by incorrectly translating the medical records of its employees.

Always remember to ask:


As a client, your best practice is to ask, “does this type of translation need to be certified?” before committing to a translation project.


Most translators or translation companies will be able to give you the answer, but it’s always smart to check in with the institution or entity to which you will be submitting your translations for review.

Certified Translation: De-Mystified


There you have it: The definitive guide to certified translation.


We hope this post has helped you understand certified translation, its benefits, and the situations that require it.


If you still have questions, feel free to reach out  email us at info@pavoloniinternational.com or give us a call at +1 (651) 699-8442


We look forward to hearing from you!