Bureaucracy and translation of official documents

Bureaucracy and translation of official documents


Moving from one country to another or doing cross-border business almost always implies handling official documents in different languages. These will have to be translated and, more often than not, one stamp or another is required to legitimate the translation.

The person who needs the translation comes to the translation company with a request. The client will always know exactly from which language to which language the translation is to be done. He might also know exactly what type of authorization is required, but in most case, they will simply ask for a notarization of sort.


The translation company then has two options:


-         Provide the client with a notarization, the most expensive option that might not even meet the requirement of the official body for which the translation is made.

-         Ask the client to check with the official body exactly what type of certification is required and only then issue a quote and provide the service. To give a few examples, you might need an ATA stamp, a Sworn translation stamp, a notarization, the stamp of a translator recognized by the French consulate (different from a certified translator) and many others.


The first option is by far the easiest for the translation company yet, it might end up costing the client a pretty penny for a useless document. Additionally, they might not have the specific stamp required, in which case they cannot not take the job if they take the client’s interest at heart and ask him to ensure what specific stamp they need.


A good translation company will risk loosing the client by sending him home to do his homework before placing his order.


Let me give you an example taken from a real case.


An Israeli from Tunisian origin, Mr. G., needs a translation of his grandfather’s death certificate in order to claim right of ownership on a house sitting in Tunisia.

He then goes to an Israeli translator who provides translations services from Hebrew to French and paid the required fee for a notarized translation.

Equipped with the notarized translation, and convinced that he has the required documents; Mr. G. presented his request. Then the problems started! Tunisia does not recognize the State of Israel. Therefore the translation has to be validated by the French Consulate in Israel.

Mr. G. grumbles a bit, but, back in Israel, duly visits the French consulate with his notarized translation to receive the required stamp. He is convinced that this will be just a formality. Big mistake! The translator who performed the translation is not recognized by the French authorities, nor is the notary whose services he used; so the notarized translation has to be validated by a recognized translator prior to receive the French validation. Mr. G. requests, and receives, a list of translators recognized by the French authorities.

His bag becoming heavier with the growing numbers of papers he carries, he goes to the certified translator (in this case, a translation company), hoping to just pop in, get the stamp, pop back to the French Consulate and be done with it.

Again, big mistake! It appears that the notary has made a mistake in the translation of the Hebrew dates, causing Mr. G’s grandfather to have reached the respectable age of 136 years old. As the certification held by the translation company might be cancelled if such a mistake appears in their translation, they cannot simply stamp the notarized translation but have to retranslate the death certificate entirely.

In doing so, they realize that the first name of the grandfather’s mother had been misspelled and that the spelling of his father was unusual. In view of the mistakes in the date translation in the notarized document, it would be presumptuous to trust the original translator that the spelling he used was incorrect by design. (Since any difference in the spelling of names might – and often does – create delays that sometimes are counted in years, this single letter detail is of paramount importance and worth checking twice.) So, the client is required to confirm the names’ spelling.

Unfortunately, the client has to confer with his father about that, and his father is in the USA, where it is still nighttime. Of course, it is now Friday and offices are closing early in Israel, so this might imply loosing the whole weekend, and rescheduling the Sunday flight to Tunisia. Luckily, the father is an early riser and calls before the time the translation company’s offices close down. The father calls and confirms that the faulty spelling of the grandfather’s mother name is intentional as it reflects the original mistake on the birth certificate issued in Tunisia at the time, so it has to remain in the certified translation. The spelling oddity in the grandfather’s father name was also reproduced from the notarized translation to the certified translation, since it was a Hebrew name with no Latin spelling on an existing document, and introducing spelling differences between the notarized and the certified documents.


The new translation is issued, revised and stamped by 2.00 PM. Yet, the consulate closes at 12.00 PM on Fridays. It will reopen on Monday only. Luckily for Mr. G., who needs the documents before his flight on Sunday, the secretary of the translation company knows the secretary of the consulate, and, moved by Mr. g. plight, they manage to squeeze him in outside opening hours.


Mr. G. now has in his possession a notarized translation of the death certificate that is not validated by the French consulate, and another translation performed by a translator recognized by the French consulate but that is not notarized.


Whether the Tunisian body is going to accept these documents as valid or is going to request a notarization of the translation from the recognized translator is still to be proven.


It might be that Mr. G. will have to return to the recognized translation company to ask them to have their translation notarized as well. Or he might have to find yet another translation office in Tunisia or any other unpredictable scenario, the ways of Administration becoming unfathomable once you deviate one millimeter from their commandments.


All these troubles would have been avoided had the translator who performed the initial translation asked Mr. G. to check beforehand what were the exact requirements of the Tunisian administration body requiring the translation.


Of course, he would have lost the job, but his own financial loss would have been minimal compared to the financial and emotional aggravation, to say nothing of the wasted time, of Mr. G.


So, when you need to translate an official document and to have it stamped one way or another, carefully check what kind of stamp is required. Though a good translation company will verify that you have thoroughly checked what type of stamp you need, it is technically only required to provide you with the translation and the stamp you asked for. If they do not verify with you that you are certain of the type of stamp you need, you already know that they have only their own interest at heart.