Information on the question of translating birth and other certificates

The question of the validity of UK (and other nationalities) documents comes up directly or indirectly now and again. There are moves to end that. Being forced to have costly translations by expensive approved translators will soon end. At present it is possible to have an Apostille stamp. An Apostille is a certificate that is attached to an official legal document to verify that the signatory on your document is genuine and that the person who signed your document is a recognised and authorised person of the organisation that issued the document, usually the registration service of your country or an equivalent of the mayors here in France.

Each Apostille is dated, given a unique reference number and registered. For UK citizens, for example, it ensures that your document, issued by the General Register Office in the United Kingdom, is recognised and accepted overseas by the member states of the 1961 Hague Convention. These countries validate the document, for example a Birth Certificate, by the authority of the Apostille Stamp rather than the document itself. Other countries worldwide have them as well. They are far cheaper than translations and, especially here in France, because the second language on the document is French it cannot legitimately be challenged. For birth certificates at least, if changing country of residence,I would suggest they are a must before going.

There is also new legislation on the way in, about two years from now all new certificates will have an EU flag on them and will be valid throughout the EU and associate countries. Below I have pasted in an article from an EU bulletin from last August. Note that the usual media hype against EU legislation is the actual subject of this article:

The EU is not forcing the UK to abolish or change national birth certificates

August 13, 2013

The weekend of 10 August saw a series of misleading articles* in the UK press alleging – depending on exactly which fanciful article one chose to read – that the European Commission intends to force the UK to introduce EU birth certificates bearing the EU flag, force the removal of the Crown image currently used and/or abolish national certificates altogether.

These assertions are wrong. The Commission proposals to which the articles ostensibly refer – to which the newspapers concerned had access – show in black and white that these reports do not reflect reality.

At the centre of this maelstrom is a Commission proposal on the certification of public documents

The core idea is that member states should recognise each other’s basic documents – like birth and marriage certificates for individuals or legal entities for companies – without the need for special stamps or legalisation. Currently, such a special certification stamp – called an apostille – is needed to prove the authenticity of a document. Legalisation is required to certify that the signatures on it are genuine. The cost of these provisions – dating from an era when countries only trusted public documents when they were certified by another country’s foreign ministry – is estimated at £284 million (€330 million) per year. Much of this cost falls on UK citizens who want to move, work, or buy property or set up businesses elsewhere in the EU.

So the Commission’s proposal looks to abolish unnecessary, outdated and costly red tape. It is ironic therefore that the same newspapers which continuously lambast the EU for allegedly creating red tape seem to find the proposal so offensive.

The main focus in the proposal is on mutual recognition by Member States of existing national documents. Contrary to the claims made in the articles, the additional option of standardised EU forms would be just that: optional.

Those people and businesses who find the EU format would save them time and money would be able to request them. For example, if a British business operates across the EU they may wish to have a standardised form, so as to confirm their legal entity in different countries more easily. The forms would not replace national forms which will continue to exist.

The proposal followed a Green Paper and extensive public consultation running from 2010-11, to which the House of Lords, Law Society, Notaries Society of England & Wales, Family Education Trust and Registers of Scotland, among others, all contributed. The overwhelming response was that standard forms would help people and companies get their documents recognised more easily. In a 2010 Eurobarometer survey , 74% of Brits said they were in favour of standard formats for civil status documents in all EU member states, 77% were in favour of automatic recognition and 81% in favour of better mechanisms for translating them.

Negotiations on the proposals have only just started in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers – where UK MEPs and Cabinet Ministers sit and will have their say in how the final EU legislation will look. The implication in some newspapers that the Lisbon Treaty somehow means that the proposals could be forced on the UK by an arbitrary decision by the Commission is simply false.

Of course, any Commission proposal should be debated, scrutinised and criticised in the media, based on what it actually contains. If UK voices criticise an EU initiative, the media are right to report that, scrutinising with equal rigour both the proposal itself and the criticisms expressed.

However, in this case some newspapers seem to have simply abandoned objectivity and balance in pursuit of a convenient anti-EU story.

They have not given a fair reflection of proposals that have been widely supported in an open consultation and that will ultimately save British people and businesses money. Using a short quote from the Commission at the end of a long article after a lurid headline and a dozen alarmist paragraphs does not constitute balance.

Some media concerned have also – not for the first time – ignored the basic principles of EU decision-making, under which EU laws are not imposed by “Brussels” but are agreed and adopted by the European Parliament and the Member States.

*For example: Anger over plot to put EU flag on birth certificates”, Daily Express, 10 August;“Stamped with the EU flag from cradle to grave”, Daily Mail, 10 August; “B-EU-rths’ and deaths”, The Sun, 10 August, “EU puts its flag on British birth and death certificates”, The Daily Telegraph.

I have got away with claiming that all of my certificates, including my qualifications, are valid under EU law. In fact they are not yet. It has been an unintended bluff. In two years they will be. We will also be able to have copies of existing certificates issued bearing the EU flag. Because of visa applications in the past, I have a birth certificate Apostille and tend to take having one for granted. In fact, thus far, I have not used the Apostille here, nor have I had any 'official' translations made. However, I get the impression that some of you are put under pressure by the likes of civil servants, bank and insurance officials and a few other officious people. I hope this post clarifies the position for you.

BUT have just read this excellent SFN update, so now, I'm not going to pay for the translations, I'm going to do my own ( I did this before and it was accepted by CPAM) and after reading the article I have printed out the copy of the law as it now stands, in the process of being enacted, which helps me feel very confident that if challenged, my birth certificates will have to be accepted as valid anyway.

I should also add that I've spent all morning trying to find the law, and all the official sites, etc... neatly avoid making any statements on it, which suggest to me they are saying - 'just try your best to avoid red tape & paying, until we sort the legalities out!'

On the way to pay 60€ or-so for having our birth certificates translated - again! because the original translations are "over "three months old"

Bring on the legislation and stuff and nonsense to complaints about the EU stamp on British certificates. For goodness sake!

any way, my solution to ending this nonsense is to take the bill right round to the Mairie and see an assistante sociale, who will apply for a grant/bourse/aide regionale from the local Conseil generale for me - because my income is low. At least then, the ones asking for this silly red tape will end up paying for it themselves!

I had to get three apostilles recently for birth, marriage and death certificates and it cost me £30 for each apostille, plus postage.

Well yes, Louise they are a bit, I think they are about £75 a go, but one off. Translations start at around €60 and can be over €100 depending on who you use and may be required more than once. Back when I got my birth certificate Apostille it was £30 and I nearly blew a blood vessel given most people only had a bit more than that as take home pay.

I had to have some apostilles for English documents for Spain and it was very expensive in the UK

We've never had to have anything "officially" translated so far. A bit of unofficial teamworked translation has taken place from time to time.

The bank tried it on (HSBC), I just told them to phone their counterparts in UK. Mind you they recently asked to see my most recent tax return (I should cocoa).

Apostilles come from whoever registers births, deaths, etc; the Registrar General in the UK for instance. In all cases it is relatively easy to web search where they come from. We did it experimentally a few minutes ago against your question Ken. My wife's Swiss canton does it and we had the exact information in less than two minutes. I found that for some unknown reason a page about getting a US Apostille came up too, but didn't look.

Brian, the only approach is to tell the bureaucrats to go to blazes and threaten to go to their bosses. It tends to work, they can refuse all they wish but once proven to be at fault climb down. It simply requires patience.

Peter, that may be to an extent. but that dozen is a good start. There is a separate one that will deal with the idiocy of academic qualifications requiring equivalence that they should extend to most professional and skilled trades qualifications in my opinion. Best of luck with tomorrow's 'adventure'.

What none of posts has said is how you get a document 'Apostilled' (if that's a word). So how do you go about it please.

Brian, A closer reading of the proposed Regulation gives me the impression that this proposal is still only scratching at the surface of the problem. Only 12 types of documents (see below) are to be covered, which, albeit welcome, leave your certificates and my driving licence issues, as well as many others, out in the cold. It is quite unbelievable that a préfecture can demand a certified translation of an EU-format driving licence, but many do. (It just happens that tomorrow I'm off to my préfecture with all my licence translations, copies, proofs of residence, two types of forms, photographs, and so on. As it's a 100 minute drive, each way, I shall be in no mood to compromise if they find some bureaucratic niggle.)

The only documents covered by the proposed Regulation are:

"Article 3

For the purposes of this Regulation:
(1) "public documents" means documents issued by authorities of a Member State and
having formal evidentiary value relating to:
(a) birth;
(b) death;
(c) name;
(d) marriage and registered partnership;
(e) parenthood;
(f) adoption;
(g) residence;
(h) citizenship and nationality;
(i) real estate;
(j) legal status and representation of a company or other undertaking;
(k) intellectual property rights;
(l) absence of a criminal record; "

I was asked by RSI to have my birth certificate translated when my husband registered as an auto entrepreneur. However, when I obtained my first carte vitale here via CPAM two years previously, the original untranslated certificate was accepted. I told RSI that as the original was good enough for CPAM, it should be good enough for them. After a bit of correspondence, they gave up and gave in.

The Hague Convention, if you read it through, makes it clear that the Apostille stamp means you need no translation (the USA is a Hague signatory) and there is thus good reason why the French word Apostille is used universally. Having said that, rules seem to be made up on the spot, including demands for translations that are NOT necessary, nor are the numerous copies/duplicates that people hold. As David says, the average A4/certificate translation per page charge is €60. Also, some government departments seem only to have particular translators and formats they accept (I have been told, not personal experience) which means that ultimately work that makes the people money but is not necessary is not even legal. So people, stamp feet and threaten to complain higher up the chain and see how that works. We score every time.

While on the subject, I would just like to point out something that few people realise. In France, people are always asked for birth certificates less than 3 months' old. This is because all other civil status events (deaths, marriages, etc.) appear on the birth certificate. When you come from a country where this is not the case, you simply have to have multiple copies done of one certificate (much cheaper than doing it every time you need it) and keep them. I've been living in France for 37 years, have married twice and divorced once and am still using my original stock. Often the authorities are not aware of the difference, but once you explain, they accept it.

I've constantly had problems with my American birth certificate in France. I have a apostille birth certificate which had to be translated into French and the translation is wrong. I didn't notice until recently that the translation notes that I was born in the District of CALIFORNIA instead of the District of COLUMBIA. My birth certificate was refused as a document when I was applying for French citizenship years ago because there is no mention of my fathers nationality. I gave up back then but I will be trying once again this year if my patience holds up.

Seems like good news. Maybe it will be for divorces etc. This translating of documents, even a simple one, is hugely expensive. Each A4 seems to cost about 60 euros even if only a few lines. I did get the death of my last wife and the birth of my daughter registered at the British Consulate at Paris, but when I did the former there was no death benefits information package until I found out much later that I was entitled to UK death benefits but as I was late I only got about half of the normal. So everyone beware!! From what I read the wife of a British citizen who dies in the EU may be entitled to UK death benefit even if not an EU citizen.

I have my birth certificate apostilled.