Getting a certified translation of a personal document such as a birth or marriage certificate can seem like a minefield – and if you’re applying for a UK visa or passport, you want to get it right first time to avoid wasting time or money.
But there is surprisingly little information online about what your translated document should include, how it should look, and what kinds of things are acceptable. You may receive some information with your application, but the most helpful official information can only be found on these two web pages.
I’ve already covered a few main points about what certified translations are and why they are not the same as sworn translations in this blog post – but I still get quite a few emails from people with additional questions and concerns. That’s why I’ve gathered together some FAQs based on my own experience of submitting certified translations. I hope you find it helpful – whether you need a certified translation, or you’re a translator yourself.
Where there’s been some ambiguity, I’ve also taken the trouble of emailing Her Majesty’s Passport Office myself for clarification, which frankly, was like trying to get blood out of a stone. Still, the information below is straight from the civil servant’s mouth:
Does the translator need to be a member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) in order to deliver certified translations?
Not necessarily. As I’ve covered before, the government website states that for passport applications, a translation “[…] should be provided by a translator registered with an official organisation such as the Institute of Linguists or the Institute of Translation & Interpreting.”
I’ve always wondered about that little detail: such as – so I emailed the passport office to ask whether a translation done by, say, a member of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators, would be accepted? MET is based in Spain, but has many UK-based members (including me!).
They replied and said yes: “Being a member of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators would be acceptable for our customer translations.”
They also clarified that a translation completed by an overseas translator is accepted, “provided the examiner is satisfied that the translator is a member of an official body in their own country, and the document has been translated by one of the organisations listed on the British Embassy/High Commissions/Consulates websites as providing translation services.”
But don’t ITI members have a special seal so that they can certify translations?
Yes, but this is not mandatory for certified translations. The ITI certification seal is only available to qualified (MITI) members of the ITI, who have passed the ITI’s translation exam – but the passport office’s statement above does not stipulate that the translator has to be a qualified member (and besides, other admissible translation organisations do not even have exams for different levels of membership).
So, what should a certified translation include?
The important elements that the certification should include are:
- A statement from the translator saying that the translation is 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
To be on the safe side, when I’m providing a certification I also include my CIOL membership number and an electronic copy of my signature – but actually, signing the declaration is not mandatory either. I asked the passport office about this and they replied: “In regards to a signature, this is not necessarily something we would require.”
If you think about it, if you’re getting a certified translation from a translation company rather than an individual, then the representative who is writing the declaration may not even be the same person who translated the document, so their signature would not mean much. What is important are the company’s contact details, so the passport office can get in touch with whoever is accountable for the translation’s accuracy.
Do I need to post my document to the translator?
No – you can just e-mail a scanned version and the translator can work from that.
Does the translator need to post the original hard copy of the translation and certification?
Nope! This is another common misconception – the translator can e-mail their translation and declaration to you and you can print it off yourself (which will save you postage money!). Remember that the translator’s signature is not required, so they have no need the print the declaration on their end (unless you are unable to print it yourself and would like them to post a copy).
To be clear, if you’re applying for a visa or passport, you will need to send the original copy of your foreign certificate to the passport office – but copies of the translation and the declaration are fine.
How much will all this cost?
Although certificates are often only a page or two long, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they only take half an hour to translate.
These are official legal documents, and a professional translator will take the time to check that the information is accurately rendered into English, and that the layout of the text matches the original document. When they are working from a scanned document, this can sometimes be time-consuming (you know how temperamental Microsoft Word can be!).
Most translators charge based on the time it takes to recreate the document in English and produce the declaration, rather than on the number of words contained in the document.
Do I actually need a certified translation?
If you’re applying for a UK visa or passport, then yes. For anything else, it may depend. Best to check with whoever is asking for the translation, to see if they want that additional declaration from the translator that makes it certified.
Can you translate my document?
Why, thank you for asking, this is so unexpected! You’re welcome to contact me if you need a translation from French or Spanish into English – but if you need another language combination, I may be able to recommend an equally experienced translator to you.
Please note that the above information mostly relates to applying for a UK passport and should not be relied upon as a legal opinion. If it contradicts instructions that you have received from an authority, then you should of course follow those first.