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Reimbursement of translation costs

Although translations are often indispensable, they are also expensive. As a customer, it is natural that you want to make sure your translation is accurate and meeting the highest standards. It is a great pity when the price is the only criterion for choosing a translator and you eventually have to pay more when problems with the alleged cheaper solution arise.

However, many customers simply cannot afford a good translation. The question arises as to whether and under what conditions translation costs can be refunded. If you are an employee, you can hope that your employer will bear the costs of the translation, provided you need it for professional purposes. Jobseekers in Germany receive financial support from employment agencies or job centres. In court cases, you can be refunded the expenses for translation and interpreting services if certain conditions are satisfied (see below). Furthermore, translation costs can possibly be offset against tax as income-related expenses in accordance with German law.

With me, you can be sure that all costs will be invoiced in an appropriate amount. I charge the fees in accordance with the scale of fees for sworn translators and interpreters (German Law on the Remuneration of Interpreters and Translators – JVEG) which means my calculation of prices has always a firm legal basis recognised by German courts.

Reimbursement by employment agencies

EU citizens in search of work in Germany are entitled to translation of their certificates, professional qualifications, university degrees etc. This derives from intergovernmental law that prohibits disadvantaging citizens of another EU country. This means, as an EU citizen seeking employment, you can demand that the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) assumes the translation costs accordingly.

German jobseekers quite often need the translation of their degrees and qualifications when looking for a job abroad. Often they cannot afford one because of unemployment. Employment agencies can fund translations from the ‘Vermittlungsbudget’ according to Article 44 of the Social Insurance Code (Sozialgesetzbuch), provided they are required for applying or taking up employment.

Third-country nationals seeking employment often have long and difficult life stories, were exposed to situations where they had to flee from their country or to other comparable hardships. Such people often urgently need a translation of their documents for starting up a new life here. If they cannot obtain such translations on their own, an employment agency will make sure to arrange for one.

Reimbursement in civil proceedings

At the end of every civil case, it is established who has to pay the court fees. As a rule, it is the defeated party. What about translation or interpreting costs generated during the process? Do they have to be borne by the unsuccessful party as well even if that party had absolutely no interest in or no need for any language services?

The answer is YES. When an interpreter or a translator is needed, the costs are generally declared by the court as expenses and added to the court fees. As stated above, they have to be borne by the “loser”. Only in rare cases court fees are imposed not just upon the defeated party but also upon the winner for reasons of equity.

What if the parties reach a settlement? Are the court fees not payable at all then? YES and NO. The court fees are inapplicable when the case is settled. But the expenses for going to court are not. Translation and interpreting costs are such expenses, and so they in case of a settlement they are divided between the parties.

What about the costs in case of labour courts? In the first instance the labour court fees are generally calculated and borne according to the Court Fees Act (Gerichtskostengesetz) as it is the case in normal civil proceedings. The same rule applies here: the loser has to pay.

Reimbursement in criminal proceedings

When it comes to criminal trials, expenses for interpretation or translation services are normally borne by the state, since imposing costs upon the accused would violate the prohibition of disadvantaging someone because of their language (Article 3(2) of the German Federal Constitution). Such costs can only be imposed if the accused is sentenced and the verdict is final.

Pursuant to Directive 2010/64/EU which establishes minimum EU-wide rules on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings and in proceedings for the execution of the European Arrest Warrant, interpretation must be provided free of charge to suspected or accused persons who do not speak or understand the language of the criminal proceedings including during police questioning, essential meetings between client and lawyer and all court hearings and any necessary interim hearings.

Furthermore, suspected or accused persons who do not understand the language of the proceedings must be provided with a written translation of documents that are essential for their defence such as any decision depriving a person of his liberty, any charge or indictment, or any judgment. The competent authorities may decide to translate any other documents on a case-by-case basis. The suspected or accused persons or their legal counsel may also request the translation of other essential documents.