Certified Translation of Foreign Documents into German

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When submitting foreign language documents to German authorities and public institutions, you will typically need to have them translated into German. As a general rule, any public document issued by a foreign authority in a foreign language other than English will have to be translated into German. In most cases, a certified translation made by a sworn translator will be required. Some institutions will also accept translations in English while others may insist on translating English language documents into German.

German authorities that commonly require a certified translation of foreign language documents into German include:

  • Embassies/consulates
  • Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit)
  • Immigration Office (Ausländerbehörde)
  • Citizens’ Registration Office (Bürgeramt/Standesamt)
  • Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB)
  • Uni-assist, universities and vocational schools
  • Courts

Examples of foreign documents that usually need to be translated by a sworn translator to become legally acceptable in Germany are:

  • Birth, marriage, divorce and death certificates
  • Certificate of no impediment
  • Secondary school leaving certificates, higher education degrees and diplomas, academic transcripts (i.e., an overview of subjects and grades), etc.
  • Police criminal records check
  • Medical certificates and records (e.g., certificate of medical fitness)
  • Driving license/ID cards
  • Employment verification letter, reference letters
  • Bank statements
  • Commercial documents (certificate of incorporation, company registration, board resolutions, power of attorney, legal contracts, court rulings, etc.)

Therefore, situations in which a sworn translation into German or, alternatively, into English can be needed are, for example, when applying for a visa/residence title or for a university/dual vocational programme, applying for assessment of foreign qualifications, registering at the citizens’ registration office, opening a bank account, getting married in Germany, or registering a business presence in Germany (some examples with useful instructions are uni-assist or recognition of foreign qualifications).

What is a Certified or Sworn Translation?

The terms ‘official’, ‘certified’ or ‘sworn’ translation are in Germany fully interchangeable and indicate that such translation was made by an ‘official’ (i.e., ‘sworn’ or publicly appointed) translator who is authorized by the court to do this job. The corresponding German terms are ‘beglaubigte’, ‘bescheinigte’ or ‘bestätigte Übersetzung’. Sworn translators in Germany take an oath in court to translate texts wholly and faithfully to preserve their true meaning. Therefore, a certified translation actually means a literal, word by word translation of the entire text in a document. A certified translation by a sworn or publicly appointed translator contains a translator’s statement certifying the accuracy and completeness of the translation as well as their stamp and signature thus making such translation legally ‘official’.

How Much Does a Certified Translation into German Cost?

Translation rates are generally quoted in dollars or euros per word or per standard size page. Since public documents tend to be structurally standardized and fairly uniform, the price is usually quoted per page (normally 250 words) or per certain type of a document (e.g., for a birth certificate or a university diploma/degree).

The typical price range for a certified translation into German is 0.12 – 0.30 dollars (or 0.11 – 0.27 euros) per word (as of February 2024) which is about 30-75 dollars (or 28-68 euros) per standard size page (250 words). This is, for obvious reasons, a little more than for a non-certified translation. The price range is quite wide as the cost of a certified translation into German depends on several factors such as the original language of the document, the type of document and its text difficulty, the location where the translation will be made and any editing requirements.

Translating a foreign language document into German is likely to be a tad more expensive than translating the same document into English. This is especially true when the source language doesn’t have too many speakers as there are fewer sworn translators for that language to choose from. The more standardized documents such as a birth certificate are usually less expensive to translate than, for example, a certificate of incorporation when compared on a per word count basis. Location also matters as Germany is a wealthy country with the cost of living that is higher than in most other countries of the world. Moreover, if any special editing is required, it will be charged extra and will make your translation more expensive. Nevertheless, when comparing the rates of various translation agencies, make sure you are comparing likes with likes, that is, all conditions are equal, e.g., the prices include VAT or sales tax.

Preparing Your Documents for Translation

Before sending your documents for translation, make sure you understand the expectations of the receiving German authority. Their requirements generally depend on the type of document and the country of issue while different German institutions may have different requirements. For example, some institutions may request a certified translation of each document into German while others will not only accept English-language originals but also translations into English. Some, e.g., universities, may even accept documents in French or other romance languages.

Most authorities will require original ‘hard copy’ documents. However, that does not mean you should send them your only originals. They expect you to provide officially certified copies (also known as ‘true’ copies) of original documents. An equivalent term is ‘notarized copies’. For better understanding check this illustration. German embassy or consulate in your country as well as notaries, relevant document issuing authorities, some ministries or courts are usually authorized to make such copies of original documents.

Geography and, to a lesser extent, the type of document will determine how much effort (and money) you will have to put in before you can have your public documents translated. For example, for civil status documents issued in another EU country, you will just need to make certified/notarized copies and won’t even have to bother with a translation. But, for diplomas, degrees and court documents or official papers that were issued in a non-EU country, you will most likely need to go an extra mile and have them legalised before making certified/notarized copies for translation.

Legalisation of Foreign-Language Documents

When putting together papers for your visa application, recognition of your diploma, planned marriage in Germany or application to a university, you may encounter confusing terminology, for example, the use of the terms ‘certify’ and ‘certification’. Similarly, make sure you do not confuse legalisation of a public document (also known as certification, verification, attestation or authentication) with a certified translation or certifying a copy of a document. Legalisation/certification/attestation/authentication in this context simply means verifying the authenticity of your original documents by a designated authority in the country where they were issued. Or to put it differently, the receiving German authority asks for an official reassurance that your documents are not fake.

In general, depending on the country where your documents were issued, you will either need to get an apostille from the relevant authority of that country or to have your documents legalised by the respective German consulate. For some types of public documents issued in certain countries, legalisation is not required (see more info below).

Legalisation with an Apostille

Legalisation with an aspostille is a simplified form of legalisation of public documents to make them ready for legal use abroad. It is available in countries that are, like Germany, parties to the ‘Hague apostille’. The Hague apostille is the 1961 convention abolishing the requirement for legalisation of public documents for legal use in countries that are members of the convention. It applies to all public documents including the civil status documents, diplomas and degrees. The apostille certificate which confirms the authenticity of a document, its signature and stamp/seal is at least a 9×9 cm large square that is usually glued to the backside of a document and embossed with an apostille seal/stamp. If there is not enough space on the backside, it can also be placed in the most appropriate position on the front. The apostille is always issued by the country that issued the document. The issuing authority is in most countries the foreign ministry but sometimes the document must be pre-authenticated by another government authority (e.g., the ministry of health or education).

Legalisation by Consular Officers

This is usually a two-step process used when the country where the documents were issued is not a member of the Hague Convention. Simply put, the first step is a pre-authentication by the relevant government authority in the country of issue (usually the foreign ministry) and the second step is the issuance of attestation by the German consular office in that country. For details, get in touch with the corresponding German consular office.

Please keep in mind that for legalisation, original ‘hard copy’ documents must be submitted. As a sign of verification, your original documents will be marked, usually on their backside. It goes without saying that an officially certified (notarized) copy of a legalised public document must be translated into German by a sworn translator including its apostille or attestation.

Alternative Ways of Legalising Foreign Documents

It should be noted that Germany is at the moment not accepting apostilles from certain countries though they are parties to the Hague Convention. But, the German foreign representations in those countries offer alternative solutions. For example, in India the verification of public documents is done via a private law firm contracted by the German embassy. Unfortunately, this service is quite expensive. This sort of legalisation can only be done at the request of the receiving German authority (e.g., the federal employment agency or the immigration office). It cannot be requested by you alone. In many other countries the procedure is similar. For exact guidelines, contact the German embassy or consulate in your country or region.

Exemptions from Legalisation

As suggested above, some exemptions from legalisation exist. For instance, under the EU Regulation on Public Documents, official papers issued in another EU country must be accepted by German authorities as they are without any need for legalisation or translation (translation of public documents from another EU country can be required only in exceptional circumstances). Please note that this regulation covers the civil status documents (birth, marriage, divorce, death certificates, etc.), domicile, residence and nationality certificates and police criminal records checks. School diplomas or university degrees are not included in this directive. Likewise, certain types of documents, particularly the civil status documents and certificates of no impediment are exempt from legalisation, if issued in countries that are parties to the Civil Status Conventions of 1976 and 1980 or with whom Germany has bilateral agreements on mutual recognition of official documents (see also here).

What to Pay Attention to When Choosing a Sworn Translator for German

When submitting official documents issued in a foreign language to German authorities, you will be expected to provide certified or ‘sworn’ translations in German or, in certain cases, alternatively in English. Therefore, you will need to find a sworn translator for your language pair who is authorized by the court to make such translations. Furthermore, it often matters where, in which country, your translator was sworn. Generally speaking, your safest bet is to have a sworn translator from Germany to do your certified translations. But, sometimes this is not possible and, therefore, certified translations made in the country where the documents were issued are usually also accepted. Nonetheless, make sure they were made by a qualified translator (translations must bear an official statement, stamp/seal and a signature of the translator who is approved by the court or equivalent authority in your country for your language pair).

Things can get a little more complicated if you live in a country other than where your documents were obtained. Then you may want to ask the German authority requesting these documents whether they would accept a translator from the country of your current residence. Moreover, sometimes a German authority may request a notarized translation. That is, the translator in a foreign country will have to sign their certified translation statement in the presence of a notary public (or, alternatively, a consular officer) who then adds their stamp/seal and signature to the translated document. This procedure of authenticating the translator’s signature adds an extra layer of security and is called notarization of a signature. To be on the safe side, ask the receiving German authority whether they will require a notarized translation.

Summary of Tips on Translating Foreign Documents into German

Needless to say, when dealing with public officers in Germany, e.g., regarding immigration matters, you will have to present your foreign papers in a language they can understand. As a rule of thumb, any foreign language document issued outside of Germany that bears a stamp/seal and a signature must be translated into German (alternatively into English) by a sworn translator to qualify for legal use in Germany. Though requirements of different authorities may vary, all of them will accept a certified translation of foreign public documents in German made by a sworn translator from Germany. This is your safest choice, if you wish to prevent possible administrative delays or rejections. Remember that you may need to submit the same document to several German authorities, each of them having slightly different requirements (e.g., some may, while others may not, accept English or accept translations by foreign translators), so consider your translations options accordingly. Also, it is very important to get in touch with each receiving German authority prior to having your documents translated to make sure you fully understand what they really need from you.

Certified Translation FAQs

Do I need to translate my documents for a German visa?

When applying for a German visa, you are supposed to have all your foreign-language documents translated into German. However, German embassies and consulates usually also accept documents issued in English, even though it is not explicitly stated. You should better clarify this question with the relevant embassy/consulate prior to submitting your application.

What is a sworn translation and a certified translation in Germany?

In Germany the terms ‘sworn translation’ and ‘certified translation’ mean exactly the same thing. In fact, a certified translation in Germany can only be done by a sworn or publicly appointed translator for a particular language pair who has taken an oath in court. The term ‘sworn translator’ is a translation of the German terms ‘vereidigter Übersetzer’ and ‘beeidigter Übersetzer’. For your foreign documents to be accepted for legal use in Germany, you will need a sworn (or certified) translation into German.

How much is a sworn translation in Germany?

A sworn translation made by a German-sworn translator in Germany will cost you between 0.11 – 0.27 euros per word (or 0.12 – 0.30 US$ per word). The source language and text difficulty are the main price-determining factors.

How much does it cost to translate a document in Germany?

When having your documents translated into German by an official German translator in Germany, be ready to pay at least 28 euros (30 US$) per page and up to 68 euros (75 US$) per page (250 words), depending on the language and type of document, editing needs and the translator’s rates.

What is a notarized translation in Germany?

When a sworn translator signs their translation in front of a notary public or a consular officer who then adds their stamp and signature on the translated document thus authenticating the translator’s signature, we speak of a notarized translation. In short, a notarized translation is a certified translation with an authenticated signature of the translator.

Do I need to certify/legalise my foreign document before having it translated into German?

Whether you will need to have your foreign document legalised before it can be translated into German depends on the country where it was issued as well as on the type of document. In general, the civil status documents issued in any EU country do not need to be legalised for official use in Germany. Whether other types of documents, e.g., diplomas and degrees, from the EU are exempt from legalisation depends on the receiving German authority. On the other hand, public documents issued in countries outside of the EU usually must be legalised with a few exceptions when a bilateral treaty or an international convention abolished the need for legalisation.

Do German authorities accept a certified translation of documents from abroad?

In many cases the German authorities will accept a certified translation of foreign documents from an official translator in the country where those documents were issued but be sure to ask beforehand. A responsible official at the relevant authority should tell you what requirements they have on a foreign translator and whether they would require a notarized translation (i.e., a certified translation signed by the translator in front of a consular officer or a notary after their identity was verified).