Things You Need to Know Before Engaging Legal Translation

November 14, 2020

In the field of legal document translation, there are generally three types of document translation we would run into on a daily basis. Depending on the use cases, different types of translation would apply, with varying cost implications. What are the differences in nature and how should we decide which type is needed?

Certified Translation

When you have any document that needs translation with a proof of authenticity, certified translation is something you are looking for. Typically, when a government institution or any organization is requesting for an original foreign language document to be provided or submitted for application, a third-party authority is required to translate and vouch for that translation in terms of authenticity and validness. This is called certified translation, in the form of a declaration and stamp/signature provided at the end of the document by the translator or organization. Most of the time, in order to prove the sufficiency of authenticity, a customer needs to ensure an accredited translator (e.g. a professional with a degree or diploma in translation, or better a court-sworn/affirmed interpreter) is engaged to do the job and certifies the translation. In other cases, a translation company may be able to certify the translation given that the relevant accredited translator signs on the translated document too.

A trap to avoid: in the market, there are translators who do not have accreditations take on such certified translation jobs, but in fact they are unqualified to provide such a certification. Similarly, translation companies sometimes engage non-accredited translators to carry out such a job, and no translator profile is given to the customer, neither would any translator’s signature be shown on the final certified translation.

As a result, as a customer, you may run into the risk of being rejected of your application, or worse being accused of forging translation. For certain documents to be used in legal cases or hearings, you may be put in a severe disadvantaged position, due to unfaithful translations by unaccredited translators or translation companies. Practicing lawyers also often find themselves in such traps without the in-depth understanding of how translation companies operate, while neglecting the accredited translation part to validate the “certified” translation.


Notarization and certified translation are mostly required in certain application process, e.g. for immigration and work permit application purposes in ICA, MOM, or foreign government agencies (embassies). The most commonly seen documents that require certified translation and notarization are birth certificates, marriage certificates, degree or diploma certificates, transcripts and any demographics related documents. There is a common misconception to call it as notarized translation or translation notary. In fact, notarization is a standalone process from certified translation, with a purpose to authenticate or validate if the document to notarize is a true copy of the original document, and the translator presented in person with him has done the translation to the best of his/her knowledge with a stamp. The Notary Public does not have any capability or responsibility to check and validate if the translation is correct or accurate. A certificate statement (as an affidavit) must be provided by the translator (not by a translation company) with a declaration of translation to his/her best knowledge, ended with his/her signature or stamp.

A trap to avoid: some translation agencies misrepresent notarization and certified translation to customers that a translation company can sign an affidavit or certificate stating the translation is correct and accurate. However, translation agency owners cannot produce such an affidavit or certificate if they were not accredited translators nor the actual persons who translated the document. Even though the notary public may agree to sign and stamp on such an affidavit/certificate, it is legally flawed and customers will be faced with serious legal indications when such an affidavit is found to be falsely claimed.

A case in point is illustrated in this article (, where the customer lost the case completely due to invalid translation affidavit and unfaithful translation.

The fee for notary service is very standard (excluding certified translation fee), stipulated by the Singapore Academy of Law. The notary public usually a minimum of S$80 per document per copy, and the Singapore Academy of Law would charge S$85.60 (S$80+7% GST) per document per copy. Disclosing these fees transparently would save customers from asking for quotes and shopping around in the muddy water.

Affidavit of Evidence-in-Chief

When documents are presented to court or other legal hearing occasions, it may be required by the court for the translator to provide an affidavit of evidence-in-chief, to state that the translation is done by him or her to the best knowledge of his or hers and attest to the accuracy of the translation.NO translation companies or representatives from translation companies other than the actual translators are allowed to provide such an affidavit. This will significantly reduce the chances of failed cases due to invalid or unfaithful translation quoted in the example ( Commissioner of Oath would usually be present to sign and stamp the translator’s affidavit. Different from a Notary Public, A Commissioner of Oath does not authenticate the document as a true copy of the original document but only takes the oath by the translator for his/her translation as accurate and to his or her best knowledge. Such a translator may be required to appear on court hearings as a witness, and cross-examined on the accuracy of the translation. Therefore, it is advisable to always engage a court-sworn/affirmed and accredited interpreter (instead of a mere translator) for such a job. For legal cases, accurate translation and interpretation would be paramount in winning the case, and thus appropriate attention needs to be given to such arrangement. In summary, there are 3 tips to consider before you go for an official or certified translation.

  1. Find out which type of legal translation you actually need.
  2. It is always advisable to identify an accredited translator or interpreter even if you are going through (engaging) a translation company.
  3. Make sure the translator or interpreter will sign on affidavit or certificate should a notary public or commissioner of oath service is required.

As a specialized legal translator and a sworn/affirmed interpreter by the Supreme Court of Singapore, Dr. Bernard Song is able to help you navigate the legal translation waters getting your document translated in the right way. Feel free to contact me at

Contact us

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
If you want me to provide you Interpretation/Translation service in English to Chinese (Mandarin) and vice versa, or a quotation for conference interpreting services of any languages, simply contact me by phone or email.

Dr. Bernard Song