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What is an Official Translation?

Bearing in mind the institution of a ‘Sworn Translator’ (tłumacz przysięgły) in Poland I often wondered about the equivalent in the UK. Unfortunately, there is no single internationally recognised definition of what constitutes an ‘official translation’.

This can be a complex area but there are generally two categories of translations which are required for official purposes:

1. Certified TranslationsCertified translation of birth certificate

2. Legalised Translations


Translations are normally considered ‘certified’ if they have been produced under one of the three circumstances below:

1. The document has been translated by a ‘Sworn Translator’ In some countries, translators can register with an official body as a ‘Sworn Translator’ and by doing so be recognised by authorities such as the High Court of Justice to translate and legalise documents (often referred to as producing a ‘certified translation’). There is no such thing as a Sworn Translator in the UK as there is no recognised official body which grants authorisation to legalise or certify documents.

2. The document has been certified by the translator or the translation company Even though there is no formal route by which a translator can be authorised to certify translations in the UK, it is often acceptable to the requesting party for the translator to declare that they are a professional translator and they believe it to be a ‘true and accurate translation of the original’.

This is an example of a certification of a translation by an individual translator:

“I, …(name)…, a member of …(name of a professional body)…, competent to translate from …(language)… into …(language)…, hereby declare that the annexed translation in the …………… language of ……………., and executed by me is, to the best of my professional knowledge and belief, a true and faithful rendering of the …………….original.”

Translation companies can also self-certify translations on behalf of their translators, again stating their credentials. For instance:

“(Company name), a member of the …(name of a professional body)…, hereby declare that the annexed translation in the …………… language of …………… was executed by a professional translator competent to translate from …………… into ……………, and is to the best of our professional knowledge and belief, a true and faithful rendering of the ……………original.

It is, however, worth stressing that as the translation industry is unregulated, anyone can make claims as to the accuracy of a particular translation and therefore it is important to check the credentials of the certifier carefully. It is strongly recommended that when using a freelance translator in the UK they are a member of the Institute of Translators and Interpreters or Institute of Linguists. And in case of a translation agency providing the certification, they should be a member of the Association of Translation Companies.

3. Certification in front of a solicitor This is very similar to point 2. Above. The only difference is that the document is signed in front of a Solicitor or Notary Public as being “true to the original”. The solicitor or notary public also add their signature and official seal to prove that it has been witnessed. Again, as with point 2, anyone can claim to be a translator so it is important to check the credentials of the translator. The Solicitor or Notary Public can not normally understand the translated document, so although the wax seal looks very official, all it is really doing is proving that the individual who came to the office signed the document in their presence. It does not guarantee that the translation is accurate.


Legalisation can be thought of as an extra step on top of the certification processes described above. The process varies depending on whether or not the country which the document is destined for use in is a member of the Hague Convention. You can follow this link for an official list of the member countries.

1. Countries which ARE a member of the Hague Convention Translation of birth, death, marriage certificates or corporate documents may need to legalised if the translated documents are to be used outside of the UK. The Hague Convention abolishes the requirement of diplomatic or consular legislation for foreign public documents. To be classed as legalised, an additional document, issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, called an ‘apostille’ is required. An apostille is a declaration which bears an official signature by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and is either stamped on the translated document or attached to a separate sheet.

2. Countries which ARE NOT a member of the Hague Convention Countries that are not members of the Hague Convention require full legislation of documents which involves one extra step: After an apostille has been issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office all documents have to be sent to the consul of the relevant foreign embassy. The consul then adds their own certificate.

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3 Responses to “What is an Official Translation?

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