One of the requirements you will see when applying for ANY visa in a foreign country is visa document translation. Visa document translation services are professional translations from one language to another.
For example, we needed Spanish document translation services for our non lucrative visa. which means that ALL of the documents required for our non lucrative Spanish visa needed to be professionally translated from English into Spanish.
This post is going to help explain visa document translation in general, as well as what we did for our non lucrative visa in Spain and the lessons/tips we learned during our visa process to move abroad with family.
Please keep in mind that each country and visa type might have different requirements, so always check with your consulate or embassy if you have any questions. (Side note: there are also additional and/or different requirements for moving abroad with children, so make sure to check the visa requirements for both adults and dependents if you are bringing kiddos along!)
What are visa document translation services?
When you are applying for a visa for a foreign country, there is a high likelihood that the country you are applying to live in has a different official language than English.
For example, Spain's official language is Spanish (which is usually called Castellano in Spain), so we needed to have all of our documents for our non lucrative visa translated into Spanish.
I do also want to mention that it will be helpful to have many of these translated documents (such as birth certificates, marriage license, etc) with you during various aspects of your family world travel- especially when crossing borders between countries, enrolling kids in local schools, etc.
So the translations do end up being useful even outside of the visa application process.
How do I get visa document translation services?
To get your documents translated, you will need to contact a certified document translation service.
It is VERY important to get official document translation services that are certified and approved by the government of the country you are applying for.
There are several companies that provide worldwide document translation services, and their prices vary by a few different factors:
The type of document you need translated
The length of document and/or how many words the document has
The turnaround time (or speed) for when you need the translations back
Can I use FIVRR, Upwork or another freelance site to get affordable visa document translation?
Never use a freelancer or a site like Fivrr or Upwork to hire a translator.
Even if it is for English to Spanish document translation services (which is a very common service offered), the translations will not be valid for your non lucrative visa application.
For any visa application, you can ONLY use certified document translations, which has been officially approved.
Even though these sites offer lower document translation prices, you don't want to risk the documents being rejected, which could delay (or worse) your visa application.
Which brings me to my next topic...
Can I use Google Translator or an online automatic translator to get free document translation services?
My official advice (keeping in mind of course that my advice is not worth much other than perhaps as someone who's come before you in the non lucrative Spanish visa process) is NO.
Using a free online translator gives you the same issue as Fivrr or freelance services- you need to have certified document translations by a professional.
That being said, there is a small possible caveat.
Since we are a family of 7, and the visa application process gets EXPENSIVE for 7 people, we did choose to cut a few corners on getting our official document translation services.
We DID use Google Translate's document translator for our financial document translation.
I have to preface this by saying that it is a true risk, and your application could be delayed or denied if you do this, but we downloaded PDF copies of all of our banking information and used Google's English to Spanish document translation services.
To do this, you have to go to the actual website (not the mobile app) and go to the DOCUMENTS tab at the top left of the screen.
Next, you upload the PDF of the document, and choose the languages it is translating from and to. (For example, we chose the English to Spanish document translation service.)
Then, simply push the TRANSLATE button, and wait for the new PDF to be generated.
Lastly, download the new PDF, which should now be translated into your chosen language.
Again- I ONLY did this with our financial document translation, because bank numbers and lingo are mostly the same. There was very (very) little difference between the two documents.
This definitely helped us cut down on some of the document translation costs, but it was a risk that we willingly took. 😜
(Also, I've been told that the Spanish Consulate in Miami is more relaxed and friendly, which may have helped in accepting our application, even if the Spanish document translation services were a little lax.)
Google Translate's document translator is especially helpful during the entire process of moving overseas with kids and living abroad. I have used it to translate school documents, medical documents, and more since we've moved to Spain!
How DO I find a certified visa document translation service for approved, official visa document translations?
These are a bit more costly than more local services. You can find more affordable services by typing 'official certified document translation services' into Google (or your fave search engine).
What documents need to be translated for a non lucrative Spanish visa application (or other visa application)?
The non lucrative visa in Spain has a list of documents needed which "must be legalized or apostilled and, where applicable, must be submitted together with an official translation into Spanish." (See this in full on the consulate's website here.)
You typically won't need to pay for translations of more personal documents like your letter of intent or health certificate, because those are translated by you when you are preparing them. (See our Letter of Intent example.)
In general, you WILL need a certified translation for any document that is issued by the government, such as:
custody and/or adoption paperwork
family book (some countries have an official 'book' showing family members
These documents will FIRST need to get an apostille (see our main visa requirements post that lists everything you need if you aren't sure what that is) and THEN be sent for certified document translation.
Also, make sure the health certificate you get from your doctor includes BOTH English and Spanish on the same page. Since this is stamped by the doctor, you won't need to get any additional certified translation of this document as long as it is in BOTH languages on the same page.
You can read more about how to put that together (including a simple template!) in our post specifically about that medical health certificates.
How do I get my documents to a visa document translation service? (And then get them back)
Most translation services (including Spanish document translation services) will have you scan a copy of your document and send it to your assigned translator by email.
You will need to make sure that the document is scanned COMPLETELY (including all text or numbers on borders or edges of any pages) and is clear and easy to read.
This is the fastest, easiest and most reliable way to get your documents translated.
Some services may require you to send your documents to the translator.
It is FAR BETTER if you can send in a scan of your documents.
Even if the document translation cost is higher from companies that accept scans, it is best to choose this option because they cannot lose your important documents.
For our non lucrative visa in Spain, we were able to scan ALL of our documents into the computer and then mail everything off to get apostilled, which made our overall application timeline faster.
Once you get your documents TO the visa document translation provider, they will translate everything and then sign and STAMP each document.
This signature and stamp is what makes it an OFFICIAL, certified translation, and will be accepted by the consulate or embassy.
They will put their official translations into an envelope and mail them to you. This should be included in their price estimate. 🧐
Our Spanish document translation service also emailed us scanned copies of each translation, which was VERY helpful in the future when we needed translated documents for other things.
Things we learned about document translations during the application process for our non lucrative visa to Spain:
Translator services are misleading about quotes for the document translation cost. They might tell you initially that document translation prices are cheaper for documents of the same type, but then charge you the full price because the documents were not identical.
The consulate or embassy website might not clearly state that you need an OFFICIAL SWORN TRANSLATOR, but it is a good idea to clarify it personally with your specific consulate.
Our consulate's website just said "translated into Spanish" and I had to find out via email that it must be an officially sworn translator. 🤯
The website has since been updated to be a bit more clear, but for a process as large as a visa application, I always operate by this rule:
ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS AND GET CLARIFICATION ON ANYTHING YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND.
This is my last tip and certainly the most important. Ask, clarify, and question everything you aren't 100% sure about.
Also, if your consulate is not very responsive, join Facebook groups for expats and ask questions there.
Just search in Facebook for groups like 'Expats in Barcelona' or 'Americans Living in Portugal,' etc.
Disclaimer: for every helpful answer you get in an expat forum, also expect a handful of rude, condescending, and sometimes even hurtful responses. Not sure why, but this seems to happen on even the smallest of topics and is a famed problem often joked about among expat circles.
I'll be writing a separate post about the give and take of expat groups, but just be prepared to accept the helpful responses and ignore the rest.
I think that about covers everything on the topic of visa document translation services, but if you have any questions that I didn't cover in this post, PLEASE ask it in a comment below! I'm here to help! 😉
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