Who certifies translations and why are they required?
When official documents are required to present to agencies or public authorities in a language other than their original language, these translations must usually be officially certified to be considered legally valid. But why is that? In Germany, translations may only be certified by translators trained and sworn-in for this purpose, who also vouch for the authenticity and accuracy of the translated document with their personal stamp and signatures. A district court, a higher regional court or an interior authority has checked their qualifications for the respective target language and then sworn them in. They are sworn to secrecy and must swear that they will faithfully and conscientiously translate spoken or written texts into the other language. These translators may only certify translations of documents for the language combination they are accredited for, even if they have a command of other languages.
When do I need a certified translation?
Since agencies and public authorities attach a different value to a certified translation than to a “regular” translation, it is always required when the documents intended for presentation must be legally valid. A copy of the original document must be submitted together with the certified translation in every case. With their signature and stamp, the translator confirms that the translation corresponds to the original in terms of content. As a result, the certified translation becomes an official document and, since the signature and stamp are also filed with the respective court, it can be verified that the translator was indeed authorised to certify the document.
However, it is very important to note that a translator can only certify the translation, but not the authenticity of the source document. For a document to be valid across borders for use abroad, it must therefore be verified and authenticated in a special way to guarantee its authenticity.
What are certificates of authentication and when do I need them?
If you want to use a certified translation outside Germany, for example if you move to another country and the competent authority in your new place of residence requires certified translations of certain documents from you, you will need them to be authenticated. Certificates of authentication are issued by courts and authorities and serve as confirmation that the respective translator is authorised to produce certified translations in Germany. Certificates of authentication are therefore not issued by the translators themselves, they are not entitled to do so. However, they may obtain a certificate of authentication for the certified translation they produce, where either the translation or the original document must be authenticated, in some cases both. There are two types of certificates of authentication.
Apostille or legalisation – which one would you prefer?
The differences lie mainly in the certification procedure and the time involved. Whereas with an apostille the documents only have to be authenticated by one competent authority in the country of issue, legalisation requires the document to be authenticated by several authorities. First of all, a preliminary authentication must be carried out by the competent authority in the country of issue, followed by legalisation by the country of destination’s consular representation. Because this procedure is so laborious, some states (over 100) agreed to the apostille in 1961. The apostille, also known as the “Hague apostille”, is issued in the form of a nine-centimetre square stamp directly on the document to be authenticated and must always be headed with the French title “Apostille (Convention de La Haye du 5 octobre 1961)”. However, everything else can be completed in the official language. Since the apostille is recognised as a sufficient form of certification by the member states of the Hague Convention and certification by legalisation is generally only relevant for non-member states, this has greatly simplified and sped up the international exchange of documents. The Hague Convention also stipulates which documents are regarded as authentic instruments and can therefore have their authenticity verified by an apostille. These include, for example, civil status documents (such as birth, marriage and death certificates), as well as court and notarial documents and certificates from administrative authorities.
But there’s no rule without an exception! Even if two states are members of the Hague Convention, one state does not necessarily have to recognise the apostille if it raises concerns about the other state from which the document originates. For example, both India and Germany are members of the Hague Convention, yet Germany does not recognise documents with an apostille from India. In this case, the legalisation procedure must be applied.
Certified translations – which documents does this actually apply to?
Not every legal translation has to be certified. Certification is often not required for contracts or annual reports. However, it does apply to all documents that are to have legal effect before courts and state authorities in Germany and the EU.
Common examples for which you will usually need a certified translation include, among other official documents:
- Extracts from the commercial register
- Certificates (e.g. birth, marriage, death certificates)
- References and certificates (e.g. job references, certificates of good conduct)
- Official documents from the authorities (e.g. driving licences, certificates of residence, extracts from the land register)
- Medical certificates
- Court documents
- Business documents, certificates or contracts
Your certificates and documents in safe hands
We are aware that your certificates, business documents and official documents contain highly personal details and, as experienced and certified translation service providers, we can guarantee that they are in good hands with us. In addition to the translations provided by highly qualified professionals, strict data protection and confidentiality are our top priorities.