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CERTIFIED TRANSLATION UK
Frequently Asked Questions
Our certified translation service is very simple, but you may have a few questions about it. Check out the FAQs below to see if you can find the answer to your question about getting an official translation of your documents. If not, just ask one in the comment box below or send us a message through our contact form. Also, below the FAQ box please check out the UK government's answers to some of our customers' common questions regarding certified translations.
A few common questions on certified translation that we put to the UK government, and their answers.
NB: The following article originally appeared as a blog article in 2019, but since it is relevant to the FAQs page, we thought we'd reproduce it here.
When told that they need a certified translation by an institution they are dealing with, many people, quite understandably, are a bit uncertain of what they need to do. It’s not really a term we come across much in everyday language. But, with the kind of procedures a certified translation is usually associated with, such as a UK visa or passport application, this is really something you want to get right first time. These procedures are long, complicated and daunting enough as they are, and often take a significant amount of time, work and money. If you don’t supply the correct supporting documents when required, you may well have to go back to the beginning of the process.
With all that in mind, there should really be a useful source of information about what exactly a certified translation is and how and where to go about getting one. But the kind of institutions that usually request these translations, the Home Office, the Passport Office, or UK university admissions departments, for example, generally offer few and fairly vague details about what’s required. Heading to the internet for a bit of research, a quick Google search reveals surprisingly few extra official tips on the requirements for a certified translation. It’s difficult to know what the document should include, how it should be presented, what kind of details need to be added, etc. Hopefully, you will have received some pointers along with your application, but in case you need them, the most relevant official information appears on the two following government websites.
What’s given is still fairly vague and wishy-washy, although, as we will see, this is perhaps a reflection of the legal status of the certified translation in the UK. (Other countries have very well-defined rules regarding the translation of official documents, which must be strictly followed on pain of instant and brutal rejection.)
We’ve covered quite a few of the relevant issues regarding what certified translations are on our home page and in some of our other blog posts, but we still receive many emails containing questions from customers who are a bit confused by the whole topic or who would simply like some additional questions or queries answered or confirmed. In answer to some of those questions, and a few others, we’ve gathered together some Q and As based on our own (pretty extensive) experience of carrying out certified translations and the process of submitting them that our customers have gone through. Our feedback from our customers tells us we’re doing something right at least - they have yet to have one rejected. Hopefully this information will be useful to our readers; whether you’re a customer, a potential customer, a translator, or just someone with an inexplicable general interest in the topic.
Some of the questions we’ve been asked have been a bit hard to answer, since they relate to the other end of the process, i.e., when the certified translation is submitted. For example, “can you guarantee that NARIC [the National Agency for the Recognition and Comparison of International Qualifications and Skills] will accept a digital version of a certified translation?” Answer: “I'm afraid not. You should really ask them, since we can't guarantee another organisation's actions”. However, we’ve made an attempt to be a bit more helpful this time around by reaching out to one of the highest certified translation-requesting authority we can think of, Her Majesty’s Passport Office, and asking them for clarification on a few matters relating to the acceptance (or otherwise) of certified translations. This took quite a bit of patience and tenacity on our part, and resembled trying to get blood from a stone. We did eventually receive a response however and some of the information presented below comes straight from Her Majesty’s mouth. Well, maybe from the mouth (or fingers) of a junior civil servant.
Must a certified translation be carried out by a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) or the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) in order to be accepted?
No, but these are very good options which guarantee acceptance as well as quality. As can be read on the aforementioned government guidance website 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.” So, if your translation has been carried out by a member of one the above Institutes, as the majority of our translators are, you’re good to go. But the text does go on to state that: “A translator who is employed by a recognised Translation Company the latter being a member of the Association of Translation Companies is also acceptable.” Despite the government’s finest's obvious lack of knowledge about what a comma is for, we can all understand what they mean. The Association of Translation Companies, as its name suggests, is an organisation similar to the two institutes mentioned above, yet meant for companies rather than individuals. This opens up the game to many more translators. According to the UK government, if you are a translator who works for one of the ATC companies, you are able to certify translations that are headed for their departments. This, along with direct membership of the CIOL or the ITI, is one of the criteria we use to select appropriate translators to carry out certified translations for our clients. Although, as you’ll go on to read below, that may be about to change, as even more options become apparent.
With regards to the text from the government website, we’ve often wondered what is meant by those two little words “such as” and whether they had much of an effect on things. It turns out that they do. We asked passport office if a translation carried out by, for example, a member of the American Translators Association, would also be accepted? The ATA, as its name would suggest, is an American equivalent of the CIOL or ITI. The passport office stated that: “The translator being a member of the American Translators Association would meet our requirements for acceptance of a certified translation.”
The response also maintained that there many other options when it comes to who can certify a translation for use in a government department. Their spokesman explained that a translation would be accepted “provided that 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.”
This really opens up the field of certified translations to many more professional translators who have proven their high level of skill by being admitted to a local professional association. We must say that we’re very happy about this. We’re a broad church and we invite all accredited and professional translators to join our group. This also makes it much easier for the customers, i.e., those that need the translations, as there is so much more choice, and very likely in their country of origin, which potentially makes it easier for those who don’t live in the UK but need a UK acceptable certified translation.
But don’t ITI members get a stamp to put on their certified translations?
Yes, this is true, but it is not necessary for a certified translation to be accepted. The stamp is given out to members of the ITI, who must have passed their entry exam. The passport office’s response to our questions specifically stated that a stamp is not required on a certified translation. Although they look official and are often specifically requested by customers (we do also have our own, but it’s more to deliver what people want and give more of a formal appearance to our translations than anything else), they are not at all necessary. In our view the ITI stamp is a jealously guarded mark of perceived superiority on their part, and it is presumably in its own interest to maintain the false assumption that such a stamp is required; the membership fees are rather steep and we wonder if this financial aspect might have anything to do with it. As you might have guessed, we are not the ITI’s biggest fans, and we’re pretty sure the feeling is mutual! Read more about in this blog article from 2018.
What does a certified translation need to include then?
The UK government lists the following elements that a certified translation must include:
- 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.
All our certified translations include the aforementioned information, and more, in order to be on the safe side when it comes to possibly over-zealous reviewing officers and also to satisfy the requests of our customers. Along with the above we also add the details of the CIOL or ITI membership of the translator carrying out the job, or of the ATC membership of the translator’s employer. We also add an electronic copy of the signature and stamp to our digital certified translations – although signing the translation is not necessary either, according to our friend at the passport office: “with regards to a signature, this is not something we require when it comes to the acceptance of a certified translation.” If the customer had requested a hard copy (again, not necessary, but most of our clients ask for one anyway), this would include a physical stamp and signature of either the translator or project manager – many of our translators live overseas (lucky devils), so in this case getting their signature would be overly-complicated since we send out our hard copies from the UK. The stamp and signatures are mere additional flourishes which are not required. What is really important are the contact details, these enable the passport office or whoever is reviewing a certified translation they have received to get in touch with the translator or company (or in our case – the freelance translation organisation) that has prepared the document in the case of any questions or necessary clarifications. We have included this information on each of the thousands of certified translations that we have carried out and we have come to the conclusion that the government departments requesting these documents must be very busy. Perhaps we shouldn’t be putting this information out there where unscrupulous eyes may see it, but we have never, not once, been contacted for any reason whatsoever.
Do I need a hard copy of the certified translation?
No, this is another common belief that in our opinion is surprising given the modern technology that we all use every day of our lives. Email, the internet, smart phones; they’re all meant to make our lives more simple, although we have a suspicion that they do the opposite. People continue to insist that they need hard copies of their translations, despite our assurances that they don’t and that this information comes straight from the government departments that they are dealing with. However, given the state of our own government, we would not be at all surprised if it turned out that they were giving out inconsistent information. We’re trying to encourage people to go digital and forego the hard copy. It saves a small portion of a tree, the transport costs in terms of pollution, and us a trip to the post box! However, we're happy to send it if you prefer to have one.
We’ve always tried to answer as many of your questions on certified translations as we can, and having lots of experience in the matter, we think we can consider ourselves pretty knowledgeable. However, some of those questions referred to the part of the process that we’re not directly involved in - the submission of the documents. We relied on customers' feedback to have a good idea of the answers, but we hope we’ve now answered these questions with added authority after we put some of them to the UK government. We hope they’ve been of some use to you. As ever, thanks a lot for reading!