1. Are sworn translations in Brazil really necessary?
Yes, the law says so, if they are intended to have any official/legal effect in Brazil.
You might have heard that someone managed to register a document in a foreign language in Brazil with a plain translation, a translation done by an unlicensed translator in Brazil or outside, or without any translation at all. Of course, slips may occur anywhere, and incompetent, ignorant, or even corrupt staff may be blamed as well. The truth is that if that translation is ever scrutinized for any reason, and found to be noncompliant with the law, some trouble will be unavoidable.
However sworn translations are only required for official purposes.
School records transcripts require them, because these will ultimately be used for the individual to continue their studies, and eventually be licensed to perform some regulated profession. All civil records need them as well, as they will be the basis for ascertaining an individual's existence and identity before they can "be" anything (e.g. single, Slobovian citizen, deceased, etc.) in Brazil.
Business agreements ususally only require a sworn translation if they will cause funds transfers across borders, so they can be presented to Brazilian tax authorities. In most cases they will be submitted to the bank performing such transfers, so they can present such documents with the translations to the authorities during an audit. Of course, such documents must be signed and have the signatures notarized before the translation is done, otherwise they will be worthless.
Power of Attorney documents must be translated. However they may be drawn in Portuguese, which would render translation unnecessary. Nevertheless, the grantor's signature on the POA must be notarized. If that signature receives a Hague Convention Apostille or is directly legalized by a Brazilian Consulate, the entire document will be in Portuguese, so no translation is required. (The Apostille vs. consular legalization option depends on whether the country where the signature is certified is a signatory of the Hague convention of 5 Oct.1961.)
So, if you intend to submit documents issued in a foreign language (i.e. any other than Portuguese) to any Brazilian authority, unless they are attached to a sworn translation of each, done in full compliance with Brazilian law, they cannot be accepted.
2. What's all this fuss about granting a Power of Attorney for Brazil?
A Power of Attorney (PoA) is a very important document. It empowers someone else to do things on your behalf as if you were doing them personally. So every caution is taken to ascertain that you actually granted such powers to that person. If the POA is legit, and that person does something you didn't want done, it will be a problem between you and your proxy. However if the PoA is not legit, and authorities let that person do such things based on it, it may be too late to fix the situation.
So authorities take all possible measures to make sure that it was really you who assigned those powers to that person, so that nobody else but you will be accountable for whatever that person did or does on your behalf.
If you speak Portuguese, the simplest method is for you, the grantor, to set an appointment (if required) at the nearest Brazilian Consulate, draw the POA in Portuguese, and sign it before a Consular Officer, after having been properly identified. However this really requires you to be fluent in Portuguese, otherwise you'll be signing a document which you are admittedly unable to understand. The officer will have the consular stamps affixed, certifying your signature (in Portuguese too), so this document will be valid in Brazil as-is; no translation thereof being required.
However the nearest Brazilian Consulate might be not so near, perhaps you don't have all the time this procedure will take, or maybe you don't speak Portuguese. In such cases, the POA will be drawn in your local language, signed, and your signature there must be legally certified. This can be a multi-step process, which may end in two different ways:
If your country is not a signatory of the Hague Convention of 5 Oct. 1961 (e.g. Canada), it will need consular legalization by a Brazilian Consulate - the local 'arm' of the Brazilian government - stating that all legal measures have been taken to ascertain that the signature belongs to whom it should. If a Brazilian Consulate has a sample of your signature to certify it (e.g. if you go there personally bearing an adequate ID), that will be all, they can certify it (in Portuguese). Otherwise the next step will be to have a Notary Public, or someone officially empowered to do so, certifying your signature on your document, and the Brazilian Consulate legalizing that person's signature. This varies from one country to another.
If your country is one of the signatories of the Hague Convention of 5 Oct. 1961 (e.g. the USA, UK, Australia, plus 100+ others) an Apostille is issued and attached to the document, certifying either your signature directly, or the signature of a Notary Public or some other duly empowered individual who certified your signature.
Then, anything left in a foreign language, even if it's only the stamp by a Notary Public, must have its corresponding sworn translation in compliance to Brazilian law.
This is done to protect you. Just imagine if someone could use phishing to get your personal data from the www, fabricate a PoA, get it registered, and then commit a series of felonies on your behalf in Brazil. One day you could innocently land here as a tourist, and be immediately arrested without having the faintest idea on why. All this bureaucracy was devised to prevent this from happening.
3. Do you, sworn translators, really need the physical documents to translate from? Can't you do a sworn translation from scanned files?
We can translate from anything: original docs, notarized copies, plain copies, faxes, scanned files, web pages... it makes no difference. However we must state on the translation what kind of document we translated from. The decision of accepting or rejecting a document attached to its sworn translation will be up to the office/agency where you will be submitting them. If they would accept, say, a PDF file in Portuguese, it is not so reasonable to demand an original attached to the sworn translation.
Some documents never existed in hard copy before, for instance, a web page, a file available online, an e-mail message, etc. Nevertheless, we'll print or copy whatever we get from you to attach to the sworn translation, and put our stamp and initials on that, so anyone can see what we translated from.
In any case, it will be up to the receiving office/agency/organization to decide whether they are willing to compare the "original" we provide with the actual original.
4. I have a very long agreement or court decree, involving just ONE piece of property in Brazil. Do I need a sworn translation of the entire document?
Yes, unfortunately you do.
I had such a case, where I agreed with the client (a Brazilian who had married overseas) on what would be relevant in a Property Settlement Agreement for a Brazilian Court to rule on the transfer of one item of property in Brazil, amidst a host of other assets elsewhere. We selected the relevant clauses, and I produced a sworn translation of these alone, properly highlighted on the attached copy. Two years later I was contacted by the same client regarding the complete sworn translation of that agreement. The process had been "stuck" in court all this time, until a judge demanded an integral sworn translation of it.
From a logic standpoint, it makes sense. What if... any of the untranslated clauses determined that the Agreement would be partially or entirely null unless certain requirements were met? The Brazilian judge would not have official access to that information in a foreign language, which in this case was leading to a mistrial. He prevented the mistrial by demanding the complete translation.
Brazilian higher courts often rule that any agreement in a foreign language to be used in a lawsuit must include a complete sworn translation. (Some examples are found here and here, in Portuguese.)
5. I am getting married in Brazil. My spouse-to-be is Brazilian, and speaks both Portuguese and my language fluently. Why do I need a Certified Public Interpreter? Can't s/he interpret for me?
Your spouse-to-be is personally involved in the marriage, right? So s/he a personal interest at stake.
Try to envision this... I know it is blatantly preposterous, but you've certainly read about all kinds of scams that occur nowadays. A man is led to believe that he has won some property in Brazil. He flies down here, and a woman's "brother" is assigned as his interpreter. They go to a Cartório, where he sees a whole ritual being performed. Any bilingual spectator would be shocked at the difference of what takes place in Portuguese, and what that "interpreter" says in English. Finally the man is told to sign a piece of paper, all in Portuguese. He thinks he just signed the deed for that property, however he has just married that woman till death does them part, and taken under his wing the five children from her earlier marriage(s). Okay, that could eventually be reversed, but it won't be so easy, especially when the the poor chap doesn't speak the local language.
This example is deliberately ridiculous, however authorities don't want one iota of a possibility of anything of this kind to occur. So, unless the foreigner shows real fluency and comprehension while communicating in Portuguese, they require an independent sworn translator to officially bridge the language gap.
6. Like in any other business, I want to have a final figure - well in advance - for what a specific sworn translation in Brazil will cost me. I don't want any "estimates" ; I demand a firm, solid commitment, no matter what. I'll compare prices among several sworn translators, and select the lowest bid, no secret about that.
The problem is that the Brazilian law on sworn translations dates back from 1943, when typewriters - not computers - were used. So the law stipulates the translation measurement unit as the "lauda" (= "standard page") comprising 25 lines of finished translation. The computer age led to the first change in 2002, when the São Paulo State supervising authority (JUCESP) ruled that one such lauda would be equivalent to 1,000 characters not including spaces. Other states followed later, with different criteria, e.g. 1,250 characters including spaces.
Though the law applies countrywide throughout Brazil, and sworn translations from any Brazilian State are valid nationwide, administration (by the "Juntas Comerciais") is statewide. This means that each Brazilian State may have a different price schedule and a different way of calculating the size of a sworn translation. Yet the difference in the total price, considering the possible time and costs in logistics is not so significant to make it worthwhile searching for the cheapest State for a one-off job.
There is also the issue of translators availability in each State. It is obvious that in States having few sworn transtators, these have less clout to get the rates adjusted for inflation over the year. Therefore, in the worst case, after a strenuous research for the Brazilian State where sworn translations are the cheapest, you'll discover that the 2-3 public translators there certified for the language you need are so overloaded, that it might take them a month or more to fit your translation into their schedule.
All this is to say that you should select the physically nearest Public Translator in Brazil certified for the language you need. If you are outside Brazil, check for the ones in the places best served by courier services - ask your preferred provider about it.
Then you may contact a small few, and ask them for a rough estimate. Considering the provisions in the law, they'll only know the exact cost after the translation is finished. Yet they may make a ballpark estimate for you to calculate your cost/benefit, i.e. to make sure you won't be spending $1,000 in sworn translations to become eligible to receive $100.
Each sworn translator will have their own method to make such an assessment. The one I use, so far, has given me a 95% probability of the final cost being between -15% and +5% of the ballpark estimate. However it is not the case of hiring the translator who offers you the lowest estimate, if the final price should be the same.
Costwise, a more important criterion is to select the Public Translator who has more availability. If you have any deadline or urgency to have your documents translated, a Public Translator who is presently under a lighter demand may offer you - without any surcharge - a quicker turnaround. Meanwhile, if you impose your deadline onto an overloaded Public Translator, they are legally entitled to surcharge 50% for urgency on business days, and 100% for work performed on weekends and holidays.
7. A translation agency is offering me discounts on the statutory rates for sworn translations. Can I trust them?
You should trust them as much as you'd trust an accountant who offered you lower than statutory income tax rates.
They may make it sound legit, saying they'll outsource them to a Public Translator in another state, where rates are cheaper. Yet their turnaround is so fast, that even if they flew their own planes (quite farfetched, and certainly not cost-effective), time wouldn't be enough for a round trip. So it becomes obvious that someone is locally counterfeiting the work of an out-of-state sworn translator.
They may pose as using local sworn translators. Yet this has the aura of a racket. They may be in cahoots with a local Public Translator who has gone bad. You translation might get cheaply done by some foreign language students, and this delinquent Public Translator will merely stamp and sign whatever they present him/her, without a glance. If the translation is something that simply has to be filed as "existing", its contents causing no action whatsoever, no problems should be expected. However if it is rejected on any grounds, this agency and the translator who signed your translation will be blaming each other, and your legal procedure to determine accountability would certainly cost more than the translation itself.
If all taxes and other legal charges were duly paid, a sworn translation in Brazil via a translation agency should cost you at least 20% more, and yet provided the agency had absolutely no internal costs, and made no profit whatsoever. On the other hand, some Certified Public Translators, usually for tax reasons as well, operate as translation firms (which might include agenting as well), however their net fees as sworn translators should be exactly the same as prescribed by law.
In order to stay on the right track, make sure you are in direct contact with a Certified Public Translator listed with their respective Junta Comercial. Links to all online directories are available under #4 on this page.
8. A Certified Public Translator is asking me for a partial or full payment in advance. Is it normal? Can I trust them?
Yes, it is normal, because sworn translations don't often lead to a constant business relationship. Exceptions are, of course, law firms, some investment brokers, document expediters, and others whose specialized work often depends on them.
The problem with one-off sworn translation clients is that, unfortunately, some of them send electronic files, or perhaps copies - easy and cheap to get - to more than one Public Translator, ordering them to do the job. The first one who delivers gets paid, and all the others who also did the job simply get brushed off. Some clients - for no stated reason - simply vanish, leaving the translator with the "original" and the job done.
Regarding trust, all sworn translators have a license to keep, and their wherabouts are known. Maybe that's why there aren't any Brazilian Public Translators outside Brazil. Now and then we are required to submit our records of good standing to the supervising agency. While a formal complaint might take a while in its due process, nowadays anything on the web exposing fraud by a Public Translator would be devastating to their business.
The same reason is why the law prescribes that payment is due as soon as the sworn translation is made available to the requesting party.
9. I am really in a rush! The place where I'll be submitting my documents with sworn translations will accept them submitted provisionally (or permanently - it doesn't matter) in electronic format, so that I'll have more time to send them in hard copy. Can I get them converted into electronic files?
As previously mentioned, the law was passed decades before the dawn of computer age. Of course, after you get your sworn translation in hard copy, there is nothing to prevent you from scanning it into, say, a PDF file. However in this case logistic issues apparently require the Public Translator to do it for you.
Most Public Translators will hand-sign, manually stamp and initial the sworn translations they issue, so at this time there is no way of issuing a complete electronic document other than scanning the final output. It will be up to you to negotiate with your chosen Public Translator if they can scan it into an electronic file and e-mail or otherwise send it electronically to you. The cost of this is to be agreed between you, and it is completely deregulated. Keep in mind that the translator might not have a scanner, requiring this to be done by someone else.
It is worth observing that you are expected to have paid for a sworn translation before receiving an electronic copy of it.