What are certified translations?

What exactly are certified translations?

Certified Translations for use in the UK

If you’ve ever had to go through official procedures to apply for a bank loan, buy a house, change jobs, or process an inheritance, you already know that there can be a lot of paperwork involved. You are probably used to gathering piles of documents to prove identities, marital status, income, postal address and qualifications.

Now, if you or any members of your family have ever lived or worked abroad for any length of time, some of those documents will be in different languages. A rental agreement proving where you lived during a certain tax year, a marriage or birth certificate, a criminal record check. You have to submit them as part of your UK application, but they’re not in the English language. What to do? The answer is that you must submit a certified translation of those documents, but what exactly does that mean?

Simply put, it is where an individual translator or a translation company translates your document into English and certifies that they have done so accurately.

Non-regulated profession

In the UK, translation is not a regulated profession, so how can you know that your translation has been done correctly and that you can use it for your official purposes?

The UK government’s general instructions for a certified translation are simply that the certificate must state the following :

  • that it’s a ‘true and accurate translation of the original document’
  • the date of the translation
  • the full name and contact details of the translator or a representative of the translation company
Best Practice

Does this mean that anyone can call themselves a translator and certify their own translation?

In theory, yes they can. In practice, to avoid the sorts of problems this could cause, three professional institutions have worked closely with UK authorities to establish guidelines for best practice:

  1. The Institute of Translation & Interpreting
  2. The Chartered Institute of Linguists
  3. The Association of Translation Companies.

Each of these associations has their own set of strict criteria that their members should follow, to ensure that certified translations are done by qualified professional translators, with the relevant exams, experience and references in that field.

Thanks to these criteria, any translation certified through members of these three bodies stands a very good chance of being accurate and acceptable to official UK authorities.

The SIA (Security Industry Authority) and the UK Passport Agency, for example, both state that certified translations must be done by

“… an individual who is professionally accredited or a translation company which holds the same accreditation. If the translation is carried out by an individual it will only be accepted from individuals who are accredited members of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) or the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL). If the translation is carried out by a company, rather than an individual, then that company should be accredited by the Association of Translation Companies (ATC)”

What does a certified translation look like?

Each of the associations – the ITI, CIOL and ATC – also publishes their own guidelines on how certified translations should be laid out. They vary slightly on the recommended page order and the exact wording to use, but all state that they must:

  • be securely bound
  • place a signed, stamped, itemised certificate at the front
  • contain the translated document
  • contain the (copy) original document

A certified translation for use in the UK then, should look similar to this:

Is sworn translation the same as certified translation?

Sworn and certified translations are similar but they are not the same. Certified translations – when done by a qualified professional registered with one of the above associations – are the UK equivalent of other countries’ sworn translations and often meet most of the required criteria.

In those countries, translation is a regulated profession and Sworn Translators are examined and appointed to government registers. They may be issued an ID card and stamp, and they will be required to follow certain procedural regulations.

If you need translated documents for use in a country where they have asked for a “sworn translation”, it may be that you are required to use a translator registered in this way, who will produce a translation according to the country’s official government guidelines.

However, since “sworn” and “certified” are often used interchangeably, it may be that a certified translation, in the style accepted in the UK, will be acceptable. Certainly within the UK that is likely to be the case.

When in doubt, always check with the relevant authority exactly what they need.

Notarisation and Apostille

If you are asked for your document or translation to be notarised or apostilled, you may have even more questions. This article explains a little about the processes.

About QST QST is a specialist agency dealing with Spanish and English translations. We use ITI and CIOL-registered translators to create certified translations and we work regularly with local Notaries for notarised translations that need a Hague Apostille. Contact us for a quote


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