Which situations require a sworn or certified translation?

Expats who come to live and work in the Netherlands often need to submit foreign documents to an official Dutch institution, such as their local municipal authority, the immigration and naturalisation service (IND), a lawyer or a notary office. It is also common that official Dutch documents need to be submitted to official institutions in the country of origin or another foreign country. In these cases a translation by a sworn translator may be required.

The requirement of a sworn translation often depends on the legal system of the countries where documents need to be submitted. In some countries, a sworn translation is not required and a certified translation is sufficient. For sworn translation a surcharge applies, so it is wise to know exactly what kind of translation is required. Furthermore, it is generally not a problem to have documents translated from Dutch to almost any language, and vice versa, by a sworn translator, but things tend to get more complicated when English is the source or target language. Prices are higher and delivery times longer due to the fact that only a minority of sworn translators in the Netherlands is officially allowed to translate from or to English.

When in doubt about whether a sworn or certified translation is required or to use English or Dutch documents, it is best to contact a professional language service provider for more information. It should be noted that not all translation agencies or sworn translators accept orders from private individuals and payments should often be transferred in advance.

What is a sworn translation?

Sworn translations receive an official stamp and signature from a translator whose name appears in the Dutch register of sworn interpreters and translators (RBTV). The stamp and signature ensure the recipient of the document that it has been translated by a sworn translator. Furthermore, the translator certifies the authenticity, completeness and accuracy of the translation. The original source document or a copy and the translation need to be attached together in a fraud-proof way. Crossing out or adding text to a sworn translation make the translation invalid. Sworn translations may be submitted to a Dutch district court for an apostille or a legalisation.

What is a certified translation?

There are some important differences between a sworn and certified translation. A certified translation also receives an official stamp and signature, but not from a sworn translator. Instead, the language service provider who is responsible for the translation stamps and signs the documents. In addition, the language service provider delivers with the translation a certificate in which it declares to be an independent, professional organisation and acknowledges the true and faithful rendering of the source documents into the target language. The original source document or a copy, the translation and the certificate are all attached together. It is important to keep in mind that certified translations are not eligible for an apostille or legalisation from a district court.

What is an apostille?

The authorities of countries that use the civil law system and have entered into the Apostille Convention may require an apostille in order to accept foreign documents and their translations. An apostille is an official certificate issued by a (Dutch) district court, comparable to a notarisation in domestic law. The court checks if the name and signature of the sworn translator are registered at the court. Only when this is the case the court will issue an apostille.

What is a legalisation?

Documents and their translations that are to be used in countries that have not signed the Apostille Convention must be legalised. In the Netherlands, a district court will only legalise translations by sworn translators registered at the court. In addition, the documents must be legalised by the foreign ministry of the country where the documents originated, and then by the foreign ministry of the government of the country where the documents will be used. Usually the last step of the legalisation process is performed at an embassy or consulate.

Professional language service providers will be able to tell customers whether they need a sworn or certified translation, and whether their documents require an apostille or need to be legalised. Specialist translation agencies relieve their customers of all the work and provide the necessary certificates along with the sworn or certified translation.

Which situations require a sworn interpreter?

In many situations where there is a language barrier, family members, neighbours, friends or colleagues can save the day by acting as an interpreter. However, this solution is not an option when official documents need to be signed.

In the Netherlands, people who want to buy or sell a house, draw up a marriage settlement, make a will or sign other kinds of legal documents need to go to a civil-law notary. The notary will draw up a deed and is present when the deed is signed (executed). At the time of execution, the notary needs to make certain that his clients have understood and agree with the contract they are about to sign. Additionally, the notary needs to establish the identities of the signatories and determine they are signing out of free will. In order to fulfil these tasks, a notary is obliged by law to have an interpreter present during the execution of the deed(s) if one of the signatories does not understand well enough the language in which the deed is drawn up and/or the language in which it is executed. This way the notary can communicate with his clients and signatories have the opportunity to ask questions.

According to the law on the notary office, the interpreter needs to be a sworn interpreter, i.e. appear in the Dutch register of sworn interpreters and translators (RBTV). Most Dutch notary offices have their own network of sworn interpreters or rely on a translation agency. To save costs, clients can also arrange a professional interpreter themselves. The easiest way to do this is by contacting a professional language service provider.