The question of the difference between a certified translation and a notarized translation is something that is most pertinent to the United States. It’s not that you don’t need certified translations in any other country, you may do, but the choice between notarized and certified translations for immigration purposes has caused more confusion in the U.S. than anywhere else.
What’s the Difference?
A certified translation is a translation of a document that is accompanied by a certificate which confirms that the translation is a true and accurate version of the original. The certificate can be completed and signed by the translator or someone else in the LSP (language service provider).
The certified translation is not the same as a certified translator. The latter refers to a professional translator who has acquired a certificate in translation by a body authorized to do so, like the American Translators Association (ATA). In the U.S. there is no requirement for a certified translator to provide a certified translation. It is the certified translation that is more important than the qualifications of the translator. This is not the case elsewhere in the world, where translators may need to be certified, qualified or accredited to a national body.
A notarized translation, by contrast, is a translation that is sighted by a notary public. The notary is more interested in the person who is providing the translation and cannot confirm the accuracy of the translation.
What is Needed in the U.S. – a Certified Translation, a Notarized Translation or Both?
The United States Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) and most universities and other educational institutions require visa and course applicants respectively to provide a certified translation of all documents that are not in English. In a few cases, the USCIS may ask for a certified translation to be notarized as well. This means that the translator will take the translation and certificate along to a notary public to notarize it. The certified translation with the stamp and signature acknowledging notarization is then sent to the USCIS together. The translator or LSP is not authorized to notarize a translation or any other document for that matter.
If you are in the position where you need to apply for a U.S. visa or university course it is wise to establish exactly which process is needed. Until recently, it was more common for both notarizing and certification to be required. That is no longer the case.