“Please submit an officially notarized translation of the document,” is a frequent request from public offices or other similar agencies. “The document must also be legalized or provided with an apostille,” is something else one often hears. Many people are initially confused by such instructions. They feel disoriented and overwhelmed by terms that are often entirely unfamiliar to them. And they just want everything to be sorted out as easily and quickly as possible. If this sounds all too familiar, then keep reading, this is the right article for you. We set out clearly what is meant by the terms: notarization, secondary notarization by a national court, legalization and apostilles in relation to translations and illustrate them using specific practical examples from our specialist field of medicine.

Notarized translations

A “notarized translation” – also called a “certified” or “confirmed translation” in Germany, and in English often referred to as a sworn or certified translation – is generally required for documents of an official nature and which must be submitted to an official body. For example, it could be a German notice of regulatory approval for a medicinal product which has to be sent to a licensing authority in another country. This means that the translation must be supplied with an additional mark of authority in order to be credible and to be accepted. How this mark of authority is applied to the translation differs from country to country.

In Germany, notarized translations are mostly prepared by sworn or authorized translators, who have typically demonstrated their professional competence to a national court and have sworn an oath. They sign the translation, confirm its accuracy and completeness, and generally also provide it with an official stamp. In other countries, notarized translations are confirmed by a notary (e.g. France), or the translator swears to the accuracy of the translation (e.g. Italy), in each case before a court. In principle, notarized translations produced in an EU Member State are valid anywhere else in the EU (cf. Art. 5 Para. 6 Regulation (EU) No: 2016/1191).

Secondary notarization by a national court, legalization and apostilles of translations

Things become more complex when translations are intended for countries outside the EU. For instance, when the translation of a notice of marketing authorization must be submitted to the regulatory authorities in Brazil or the People’s Republic of China. In such cases, in addition to the notarized translation either a legalization or what is called a Hague apostille is needed for the certificate, as this is the only way that the other state can be convinced of the authenticity of the foreign certificate. It very much depends on the particular country in question as to which procedure is the right one: if the target country is one of the states that signed what is known as the Apostille Agreement on October 5, 1961 (“The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation of Foreign Public Documents”), the apostille is used; otherwise, the certificate is legalized. In our example, an apostille is fine for Brazil, while legalization is required for the People’s Republic of China (you can find a list of countries for which the Hague Convention is applicable in relation to Germany here).

In legalization, the consulate or embassy of the country in which the official document is to be used confirms the authenticity of the foreign document. The Consulate General of Brazil or the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Germany would thus be the correct point of contact in our example. When it comes to apostilles, there is no involvement of the agencies of foreign governments as the signing of the Apostille Convention counts as a “declaration of trust” in the confirmation of the authenticity of certificates made directly by the country which has produced the document referred to in the Hague apostille. In Germany, different authorities are responsible for issuing the apostille, depending on the type of certificate involved (Germany’s Foreign Ministry has provided a clear summary here).

Before the notarized translation is either legalized or provided with an apostille, another intermediate step is often required: what is known as “secondary notarization by a national court” (or “pre-authentication”). In this way the national court, before which the sworn translator has taken his oath, confirms that the translator in question is an appropriate authorized person to carry out the translation, before any further procedures take place.

Our conclusion and a top tip

As so often with medical translation, when it comes to anything to do with notarizations, we repeat our favorite motto: “Prevention is better than cure!” Because of the complexity of the subject and the peculiarities of individual authorities and countries, experience has shown it is wise to make sure that you get accurate information in advance from the authority that requires the notarized translation. Your well-qualified translation partner is sure to have already had a lot of experience in this area and can help you with advice and support, and provide you with useful tips. That means you’ll always be on the safe side while saving yourself valuable time and money … and it’ll make everything easier on your nerves!

By M.A. Alessia Rabasca
Project Management – medical language service