Sworn, official and certified translation in Spain

Published on 18/04/2018

When you need to carry out administrative procedures at official organisations or institutions or submit documentation at an administration or at the court, you may often feel confused when faced with specific translation terminology. Today we will examine three types of translation whose characteristics are often confused. What is the difference between sworn, official and certified translation? Which of these translations should be submitted to an official foreign organisation? And to a company? Is it better to use a Spanish translator or one one in the country where you want to submit the translation? Are there any differences between sworn translations in Europe? Is the price of such translations regulated? Who are sworn translators? Is certification a guarantee of quality? Which organisations are responsible for certifying a translation? A great number of questions arise when talking about these three types of translation.

In this article, we will try to resolve some queries regarding some of the main players involved in official, sworn and certified translation, and offer a clear description of these three concepts in Spain. Official translation services are organised very differently in the Member States of the European Union, with different professional structures. Both the system and the practices are different in each country. In Ireland and the United Kingdom, the profession is not regulated as it is in countries whose system is based on Roman law, such as France, Spain and Greece, where sworn translators are named by administrative appointment. In this article we will concentrate on the legitimation and legalisation of translated documents in Spain.

Sworn, official or certified translation?

Sworn, official or certified translation?

Firstly, official translation is synonymous with sworn translation, in other words, the translation of official documents done by a translator who holds the title of Sworn Translator by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. Being the most regulated form of translation, this article will focus mostly on this matter.

With regards to certified translation, it entails the translation of any type of document and such translations are not official and have not been carried out by a professional recognised by the authorities. The difference compared to a normal translation is that these translations are certified by a translation agency, translator or organisation. The translation and its correspondence with the source text are certified. Based on this certificate, the agency or individual declares having provided the client with a complete and faithful translation. In many cases, in the business field or in the event of correspondence between several individuals, where accuracy is key, this form of translation is usually sufficient. The main advantage is that it costs much less...

Why are sworn translations official? 

Why are sworn translations official?

Sworn translation is different from other types of translation because it is official in nature. In other words, sworn translations are carried out by authorised translators, who act in an official capacity to certify the accuracy of the translation. Sworn translators declare having provided a “complete and faithful translation” of the original. In Spain, such translations are carried out by a translator who holds the title of Sworn Translator by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MAEC). They are not civil servants, but rather official professionals who practice their profession on a freelance basis. 

Their purpose is to bear witness to facts within judicial or administrative proceedings, obtain recognition for legal or administrative events that occurred in a foreign country and apply the law in the case of foreign individuals (private international law).

What format does a sworn translation follow?

For a sworn translation to be recognised as such, it must be delivered on paper with the stamp and signature of a sworn translator. The signature and stamp guarantee the faithfulness and accuracy of the translation of an official document and guarantee its legal validity. To ensure its validity, it is also necessary to include a copy of the original with the date of the translation. 

With regards to the format, a sworn translation must follow the original format. Each translated element is located in the same place as the original, making it easier to compare both documents. This is not compulsory, but it is highly advisable and is a practice that is followed by many translators. It is also acceptable if the translation follows the same order as the original, from top to bottom and from left to right. This was standard practice before the advent of desktop computers as everyday working tools, in other words, when translations were done on typewriters. In any case, logos, watermarks, signatures and stamps are not reproduced, but rather described as accurately as possible. 

Who are sworn translators? 

Sworn translators act as notaries and bear witness to the translation being faithful to the original, and only their expertise is valid in the eyes of the Spanish Administration. There are two ways of obtaining the title of sworn translator: by taking an exam or via a translation degree (specialising in legal and economic translation).

The exam is held by the Language Interpreting Office of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. Sworn translators have to demonstrate their translation skills in a specific language combination and translations may be either into or out of the translator’s native language. In order to qualify for the exam, it is necessary to meet a series of requirements and pass three specific tests.

It was also possible to obtain the title of sworn translator after completing a translation degree, having achieved a minimum number of credits in legal translation. This mode of access was eliminated by Royal Decree 2002/2009. According to the Language Interpreting Office, it was necessary to adapt the regulations to Directive 2005/36/EC. It also argued that “the role of the Ministry has progressively declined to that of a mere agent for the processing and issuing of titles, with minimum possibilities of supervising the qualifications of future professionals”, in the face of the huge increase in translation faculties with divergent evaluation criteria.

It is true that in the years that the title of Sworn Translator could be obtained through university-level translation studies, there were a great number of sworn translators who would have found it very difficult to pass the exam set by the Language Interpreting Office, based on their level of knowledge and language proficiency.

What type of documents require sworn translation?

In the eyes of the public administration in Spain, the courts, the Chamber of Commerce, notaries public and the Superintendency for Industry and Commerce, among others, all documents written in a foreign language, whether public or private, require a sworn translation. It is common to translate diplomas, driving licences, notarial deeds (documents relating to inheritances), birth certificates, legal documents, administrative documents...

Is a sworn translation done in Spain valid in the rest of the countries of the European Union?

Is a sworn translation done in Spain valid in the rest of the countries of the European Union?

The rules are different from one country to another and it is advisable to consult the country’s legislation with the embassy or consulate. However, it is also true that variations depend on the recipient of the translation. Certain notaries or administrations may be very demanding with regards to what is acceptable to them.

In some cases, the document must be legalised both at the consulate in the country of origin and in the destination country before being submitted to the administration. This process can be simplified if both countries are signatories of the Hague convention, in which case only the Hague Apostille is necessary.

How can I find a sworn translator to submit a document to the Spanish administration?

The easiest way of finding a sworn translator is by accessing the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It includes an official list of all sworn translators in Spain. It is best to contact several translators to compare delivery times and rates.

In the most recent regulation, which establishes the characteristics of the stamp used by sworn translators, it is specified that it should only include the name, language and number assigned by the Language Interpreting Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as shown in the example below.

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Elodie Anthian's picture
Elodie Anthian

Graduate in Hispanic Philology from the University of Toulouse (France) and Master in Translation and Cultural Intermediation (EN-ES>FR) from the University of Salamanca.

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