Court certified translations in Singapore


I am not a lawyer. The information provided is for reference only and does not constitute legal advice.

I had to get a certified translation done recently and I thought I should share my experience to help others in the same situation. Firstly, certified translations are really expensive, 3 phone-sized screenshots of WhatsApp messages in chinese cost me $60 to translate. So, for professional communication, always use english, even in informal channels like WhatsApp. As far as I know, Singlish is not accepted by the court and will need to be translated as well. If you are reading this, it is probably a bit too late for you, so read on.

The court stipulates that you require a "certified English translation made by a professional translator." Let us break it down. The word "certified" here means that the translation must be accompanied by a certificate stating that the translation has been performed to the best of the translator's capability. It doesn't mean that the translator has to have certain certifications. Even though I only know 1 single word of Tamil, I am actually qualified to translate Tamil to English. I very much prefer the term "sworn translation", it eliminates the misunderstanding around the term "certified". The word "professional" isn't defined as far as I know, but rationally, as long as the translator is working for a company and does translation full time, it should suffice. This means that the barriers to entry for this industry is very low, a company can hire a few clerical staff who depend largely on translation software to perform the translation. The whole operation is totally legal, every translation has been performed to the best of the translator's low standard. For my translation job, I even had to propose amendments to the translation.


To be fair, I went with the cheapest option. I had quotes ranging from $60 to $150 for the same job. So, it pays to shop around. For reference, the supreme court used to charge $45 for an entire page, but they stopped offering the service to the public. If it is a case in small claims court, expert witnesses are not allowed to be called in to dispute the translation, so any half decent translation should do, I would just go for the cheapest option. At the end of the day, the court wants a certified translation to ensure that the translation is performed by an independent party and does not favour any side. Quality of the translation is secondary. Most of these quotes also have exorbitant shipping fees tagged on automatically. So if you do not need 3 hour guaranteed express gold star premium delivery at $29.90, you can try calling them up to waive the fees and collect it in person.

In a bid to justify their fees, some companies may claim to offer court certified translation. It is all marketing speak, everyone of us is qualified to translate from Urdu or Farsi simply because there are no minimum certification requirements. Other companies may claim that they are accountable for their translations. The certificate only states that the translation has been performed to the best of their capability, it does not guarantee accuracy. Unless the company signs an additional document admitting liability for any translation errors, it would be hard to hold them accountable.

Lastly, if you have a large amount of documents to be translated and really cannot afford the thousands it would cost to translate them, this is what you can try. Get a trusted friend to open a company with his job role as translator. Have him translate the documents using google translate and certify the translation. It is perfectly legal, your friend has indeed translated the documents to the best of his capability. The worst that could happen is that the court refuses to accept the translation due to poor quality. You would not be any worse off since you cant afford a 'professional' translation in the first place.