There are different types of translations required when dealing with paperwork or when submitting documents before government offices. This can make the translation process quite confusing.

You might have come across the term “official translation” within these contexts, but do you know what it refers to?

In this article, we’ll go over the basics of official translations—including its definition, features and types—and discuss who is in charge of carrying out these translations. We’ll also detail when you might need an official document translated.

  1. What is an official translation?
  2. What are the features of an official translation?
  3. Who is an official translator?
  4. Can you use AI for official translations?
  5. Types of official translations
    1. In the United States
      1. Certified translation
      2. Notarized translation
    2. Abroad
      1. Sworn translation
      2. Apostille
  6. When do you need official translation services?
  7. Certified translation
  8. Notarized translation
  9. Where can I find official translation services?
  10. Final thoughts

What is an official translation?

An official translation is a translation that is legally valid. This generally means it has been stamped by an authority. In the United States, the term is often used in the context of certified or notarized translations.

The term “official translation” is more general than “certified translation” or “notarized translation” and, depending on the country, it can be used to mean either of these two types of translations or even sworn or apostilled translations. Within the United States, however, you only need to worry about notarized and certified translations.

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What are the features of an official translation?

The features of an official translation will vary depending on the type of official translation you need.

We’ll cover the specific features for each type later in this article but, as we’ve mentioned above, all official document translations require a stamp (and usually a signature), whether from a translator or a notary. They also include a certificate or statement by one or both of these parties. The stamp and statement are what make the translation valid before the relevant authority.

Who is an official translator?

In the United States, a translator does not need to be certified at a federal or state level to provide translation services. Anyone with sufficient skills in the relevant languages can issue a translation. However, if you want to know what being a certified translator entails, you can take a look at this article.

It is worth noting that when it comes to official document translation, translators usually follow certain quality control protocols and you should make sure that the person or company who completes the translation is qualified to do the work.

Can you use AI for official translations?

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in translation has been a hot topic for quite a while. This field has considerable progress over the last decade alone and has shown good results in some areas. In fact, today machine translation is used in many translation fields but usually paired with postediting (a revision by a qualified translator). So, can AI be used for official translations?

The answer is generally no. While there are many advantages to using machine translation (it’s fast, scalable, and cost-effective), content and intended audience are two key factors to keep in mind when deciding if this is the best option for a particular document.

Official translations can cover a wide variety of different documents (from birth certificates and adoption records to legal documents and even medical records). Machine translation is far from flawless and the potential errors it may make can prove disastrous when talking about immigration paperwork or contracts.

Types of official translations

As we’ve mentioned before, “official translation” is a sort of umbrella term for translations that need to meet certain criteria to be valid for the receiving entity.

In this section, we will focus mainly on the two types of official translations that are used in the United States, but also give a brief overview of other types you may need when submitting a document abroad.

In the United States

Certified translation

A certified translation is a literal (word-for-word) translation of all visible text in a document intended for official uses. The receiver will require certification to verify that the translation is complete and accurate.

When you need to submit a document written in a foreign language before a government or educational institution in the United States(such as USCIS) , it generally requires a certified translation. This entails the translator or translation company in charge of the translation adding a signed statement (also known as a “Certificate of Translation Accuracy”) that says the translation is a complete and accurate rendition of the original document.

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Get your documents translated and certified by a professional translator in 60+ languages for just $24.95 per page with 24 hour delivery.

You can find out more about certified translations and their requirements in this article.

Notarized translation

A notarized translation is a certified translation that includes one more step to ensure its validity. It is signed and sealed by a Notary Public.

It’s important to know that the Notary’s signature and stamp on a notarized translation only confirm the identity of the person whose signature has certified the translation. A notary will not authenticate the original source document or certify the quality of the translation itself. Notarization is simply an additional authentication for the certified translation.

You can find out more about notarized translations and their requirements in this article.


Sworn translation

Some countries—such as Spain or France—require sworn translations instead of certified ones. These can only be issued by a public or sworn translator who is certified by a translator’s association, or authorized or appointed by a government body—such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Justice.

If you require this type of translation you should check the requirements of the country in question and that the sworn translator has the relevant qualifications.


If you are submitting your translation in a foreign country, you might need to have it apostilled.

An apostille is a document that authenticates the Notary’s seal outside of the US to the 116 countries that are members of the Hague Convention. They are usually issued by the relevant Secretary of State and will have to be translated along with the original document, its certification, and its translation when submitted in a foreign country.

When do you need official translation services?

There are many documents that can require official translation. While we know USCIS (the US Citizenship and Immigration Services) definitely requires certified translations of documents in a foreign language, there is no sure list of entities and organizations that ask for notarized or certified translations.

You should always make sure to ask for the exact requirements before having your document translated.

Below, we’ll list the official documents that often require either a notarized or a certified translation in the United States.

Certified translation

  • Documentation for visa applications
  • Legal documents for court cases
  • Birth, marriage, divorce, and death certificates
  • Passports and driver’s licenses
  • Patent filings
  • Medical records
  • Contracts
  • Diplomas and transcripts
  • Criminal record checks
  • Adoption records
  • Bank statements

Notarized translation

Where can I find official translation services?

RushTranslate offers official translation services. You can find more information about our certified translation services here and our notarized translation services here.

We also specialize in certified translations for USCIS with 24-hour delivery and a 100% guaranteed acceptance rate.

Final thoughts

Official documents should be carefully translated and follow the requirements established by the receiving organization or government body. It’s not only important to know what kind of translation you need, but also find the best translation provider for your specific document and case.

We hope this article has given you a comprehensive overview of official translation and answered all of your questions on this topic.

Updated September 19, 2022 in Translation