The use of languages in Belgium
Belgium is divided into four language areas: the Dutch-language area, the French-language area, the German-language area and the bilingual Dutch-French area (the 19 municipalities of Brussels).
The language situation in Belgium is governed by the so-called ‘territoriality principle’: each region (territory) has only one official language, except in the case of Brussels, which has two official languages.
Although there is freedom of language in general, the official regional language has to be used in several types of documents:
- in all communication with public authorities and the public administration;
- in court cases;
- in workplace relationships (relationships between employers and their employees), including warning signs, notices and manuals;
- in the official documents that companies have to use, including the mandatory elements of invoices, pay slips, employment contracts, articles of association or the minutes of a shareholders’ meeting.
In this respect it is important to remember that documents drawn up in any language other than the official regional language have no legal validity!
If official documents of this kind, intended for use in Belgium, have been drawn up in another language, they must be translated into the official language of the region. This has to be done by a so-called ‘sworn’ translator (‘beëdigd vertaler’, ‘traducteur juré’ or ‘vereidigter Übersetzer’), who has sworn a professional oath before a court. After translation, he/she puts his/her stamp, certification statement and signature on the translation, confirming that the translation is true to the original and making it a legally valid document.
Sometimes, but not always, this sworn translation also has to be legalised by the court. You should inquire about this well in advance, since the procedure may take some time. The original text should always remain attached to the sworn translation. You can request a list of sworn translators from the Registries (Legalisation Department) of the Courts of First Instance or search them in the database of the Belgian Chamber of Translators and Interpreters (www.translators.be).
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January 20, 2018