What is the difference between certified, notarized, and sworn translations? What is an Apostille? Which one do I need?

What is the difference between certified, notarized, and sworn translations? What is an Apostille? Which one do I need?

What is a certified, notarized, and sworn translation? What is an Apostille?

Are you confused by the various terms: certified, notarized, sworn, Apostille? Wondering which type of translation you need for your official documents? Wonder no more. Here are the definitions in a nutshell:

If you want to skip the definitions and go straight to our handy table with a list of requirements for various documents, click here.

  • Certified translation: A certified translation is a translation accompanied by a certificate of accuracy.
    In principle, any qualified person other than the person(s) mentioned in the relevant documents can produce a certified translation. However, the certificate of accuracy has to be worded a certain way for legal purposes. Therefore, it’s best to hire a professional translator, even better, a certified translator with a proper seal for these types of translations.
    Documents that generally require a certified translation include: visa and immigration documents to be submitted in the US, documents to be submitted to USCIS or the US Department of State, documents needed for a green card application in the US. For a detailed list, please see below.
  • Notarized translation: A notarized translation is a translation accompanied by a certificate of accuracy, whereby the certificate of accuracy is signed in the presence of a notary public and the notary confirms the authenticity of the signature.
    The same recommendations for the use of a professional, possibly certified, translator apply.
    This may be required by some non-immigration entities in the US and entities outside the US.
  • Sworn translator: There is no such thing as a sworn translation. However, outside the US, there are sworn translators. In many countries outside the US, certified translations that are to be submitted to official authorities have to be prepared by sworn translators.
    Most jurisdictions curate a list of sworn translators. If you need to submit a translation to a non-US entity, check their website for translation requirements, you may be able to find a list of sworn translators there.
  • Apostille: The Hague Convention, also known as the Apostille Treaty, is an international treaty that specifies how a document issued in one of the countries that signed the Hague Convention can be legally certified in another signatory country.
    For more information, see the Wikipedia entry here.
  • Embassy Legalization: For countries that are not signatories of the Hague Convention, documents must undergo embassy legalization.
    I’m just listing this here for the sake of completeness. In the following, I will focus on documents that are issued or to be translated for use in the US, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Which type of official document translation do I need?

As mentioned above, I will focus on official documents needed in the US, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. For other countries, please see the above regarding the Hague Convention.

The following handy table should give you an overview of which type of translation you need. However, your individual situation may vary. Due to Covid, requirements may also vary in terms of paper versus electronic submissions. Please check with the requesting authority to make sure. If you are looking for German to English translations for use in the US, you can also fill out my quote request form and I can find out for you. Note that the following table contains information that I verified to the best of my knowledge to be valid at the time of writing (Nov. 29, 2020). This information may change at any time.

Document TypeTranslation Type
Documents for USCIS for visa and immigration purposes, documents for the US Department of StateUSICS and the State Department require merely certified translations. Here are the detailed requirements for N-400 applications. Birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, divorce decrees, criminal background records etc. that are needed for visa or immigration purposes generally fall under this category.
If you are looking to obtain certified German to English translations of your documents for these purposes, I, an ATA-certified translator can help you. Request a free quote here.
Evaluation of the equivalency of foreign credentials (transcripts, diplomas, professional credentials etc.) by a NACES or AICE professional or WESHere, in many cases, an accurate (but not necessarily certified) translation is required. However, if the evaluator deems the translation inaccurate, a certified translation may be required anyway. I therefore recommend a certified translation by a professional translator.
My translations of official documents from German to English are certified for accuracy at no extra charge. Request a free quote here.
Transcripts and diplomas for US colleges and universitiesThe requirements vary wildly. Here is a random selection of various institutions and their requirements: For undergraduate admissions, Stanford University requires merely translations that are not completed by the student themselves. For graduate admissions, Stanford wants “official translations” (which certified translations certainly are). My alma mater, Stony Brook University, requires certified translations for undergraduate admissions and an evaluation by WES (see above) for graduate admissions.
Official documents for German authoritiesGenerally, these have to be translated by sworn translators (“beeidigt”). For a list of various entities and the various regulations, see this list curated by the BDÜ (Bundesverband der Übersetzer und Dolmetscher; professional association of translators and interpreters in Germany) here (in German). You can search for a sworn translator here, by location and status.
Official documents for Austrian authoritiesThese have to be certified (“beglaubigt”) by sworn translators (actually, in Austria called “Gerichtsdolmetscher*in” (court interpreter)). You can find a list of the translators and interpreters that are currently authorized to certify official documents in Austria here.
Official documents for Swiss authoritiesThese have to be certified (“beglaubigt”) by sworn translators (“beeidigt”). You can search for qualified colleagues on the website of ASTTI, the Swiss association of translators, terminologists, and interpreters.

How do I find a qualified translator for certified translations?

In the US, certified translations by professional translators are in most cases recommended and entirely sufficient. In German-speaking countries, it’s best to go straight to the website of the respective authority and check the requirements. Then go to the links listed in the table above for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to find the right sworn translator.

For a free quote for certified or notarized German to English translations, please visit my simple quote request form that walks you through all the steps. If you want to get an idea about the process and pricing, please visit my page on certified translations. If you are looking for another language combination and are located in California, please visit the website of the Northern California Translators Association to find a qualified colleague (select your desired language combination and select “Official Documents” or “Personal Documents” in the dropdown “General Areas of Specialization”). Otherwise, visit the page to search for qualified translators and interpreters of the American Translators Association (ATA).

For other inquiries, please use the contact form on my website. With my connections in the American Translators Association (I’m the Administrator of ATA’s Science & Technology Division), the Northern California Translators Association (I’m on the NCTA Board of Directors), and UNIVERSITAS Austria (Austria’s interpreters’ and translators’ association, I’m a supporting member), I am sure I can help you find the right colleague for your project.

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Carola F Berger

Website: https://www.cfbtranslations.com

Carola F. Berger is a German-English patent translator with a PhD in physics and a master’s degree in engineering physics. She is ATA certified for translation from German into English and from English into German and owns and operates CFB Scientific Translations LLC. Carola serves as webmaster on the NCTA Board of Directors and is also the Administrator of ATA’s Science and Technology Division.

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