Have you been required to produce a “sworn”, “public”, “official”, “certified” and/or “notarized” translation?

We will hopefully help you find your way out of this apparent maze with the tutorial below.

The distinctions above are not always well understood when they show up in several given lists of documents that applicants must forward when applying for situations such as a visa application or a university application. Why? The answer is simple. Each of those adjectives are used in connection with different countries, contexts and nomenclatures. Let us first consider this issue as it often occurs in Brazil. What does a Brazilian university expect to get when it requires a sworn or public translation?1 Well, they expect to receive a translation made by a translator who has taken the relevant official tests and been commissioned by the Board of Trade of any federative state in Brazil. So here we have official documents that are called “public translations” which are prepared by an officer called “Public Translator and Commercial Interpreter”. You will certainly read and hear the words “sworn translation” [a synonym for the same thing] which are more commonly used by the majority of the population when referring to a public translation. So much so that many public translators identify themselves as “Sworn Public Translators and Commercial Interpreters” on their letterhead, so that laymen are rest assured that they are dealing with a “sworn translator”. Now, there are US universities, for example, that mention “official translations”, “certified translations” and “notarized translations” in their requirement lists, which may puzzle Brazilians who are unfamiliar with those concepts. Here follow some more detailed explanations for each of them:

Official translation – This is a translation issued on behalf of the local government. It is synonymous with the sworn translation made in Brazil because Brazil’s sworn/public translations are official translations which are made and issued by “a public agent with public faith”, i.e. the sworn translator, who has been delegated the powers for such by the Government. In other words, if an applicant needs to forward an official translation of a required document to an American university, for example, it is very likely that the relevant sworn translation made by a Brazilian sworn public translator shall be accepted.

Certified translation – In the United States (which is the second preferred destination for Brazilian students, by the way), the term ‘certified’ is often used in two different contexts: ‘certified translation’ and ‘Certified Translator’. One might think that all certified translations have been issued by Certified Translators, yet that is not the case in the USA, where a ‘certified translation’ is one in which the translator states (certifies) that their translation is a true and correct translation of the original document. Now, any translator can write that at the end of his/her translation. On the other hand, a Certified Translator is one who has been endorsed by a certification agency or by a translation company attesting that they are a qualified, certified translation professional. Such certification can be granted by the ATA (American Translators Association) and the ABRATES (Brazilian Association of Translators and Interpreters). ATA certification tests are offered annually. Anyone who passes their tests does keep their certification while remaining associated with ATA. ABRATES certification tests are also offered annually. It should be mentioned that ABRATES normally deems as Certified Translators those ABRATES associates who also hold the title, “Sworn Public Translator and Commercial Interpreter”, whereas they have already obtained such proof of high level certification. In a nutshell, if someone is required to forward a certified translation of a document to an American university, it is possible that the relevant sworn translation made by a Brazilian sworn public translator will only be accepted if he or she is also an ATA associate and/or ABRATES associate.

Notarized translation – This kind of translation (which may be certified or not by the translator at the end of the translation) is one where the signature appearing on the original document was affixed thereon before a US notary public and was thus declared authentic. A standard American notary public has duties that are both similar to – and different than – those of a Brazilian “tabelião”. A notary public can only attest the authenticity of a signature. They cannot evaluate the quality or correctness of a translation. As it would be impracticable to travel from Brazil to the USA to sign a document in the presence of a notary public, the option to produce a sworn translation made by a Brazilian Sworn Public Translator and Commercial Interpreter is waived when a notarized translation is required.

All in all, whereas each addressee [agencies, colleges, schools, institutions etc] have their own standards and requirements regarding the list of documents to be delivered by applicants, the recommended practice is that each applicant directly asks the relevant addressee if any given sworn public translation to be produced in Brazil does meet their requirements.

Texto vertido para o Inglês pelo Tradutor Público e Intérprete Comercial do Inglês Pedro Kaechele. Contato: secretaria@kek.eng.br.


¹ It is worth mentioning Article 18 of Brazil’s Decree 13.609/43, which reads: “No book, document or paper of any nature that is written in a foreign language shall have effect with the offices of Brazil’s Federal Government, States and Municipalities, as well as with any level of authority of courts or entities that are managed, supervised or ruled by public authorities, which is not accompanied by the relevant translation that is made pursuant to this regulation.” In other words, no document written in a foreign language can be accepted by government offices or government-supervised entities without a public translation made by a public translator who has taken the required tests and been commissioned for such in Brazil’s territory.


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