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How to Cover Your Legal Bases When Expanding into Foreign Markets

How to cover your legal base when looking to expand into foreign markets

When you decide to tackle new markets and translate your assets, you naturally have your customers in mind first and foremost. You’ll weigh the cost of localizing your content against the benefit of reaching a new market. But in certain instances, you’ll need to add another factor to the equation. Depending on the country you are targeting, you might have to follow legal translation requirements that state which assets you’ll have to translate before you are allowed to offer your product or service in that region.

Let’s have a look at two large markets that require mandatory translations as examples showing the types of legal requirements that you may run into:

European Economic Area

The European Economic Area consists of the 28 member states of the European Union as well as Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. One of the things that all these nation states have in common is that they call for CE Marking meant to protect consumers from safety hazards. The directives mandate that certain products can only be sold in those markets if they have documentation in the local language. And while no particular language is universally required, it does have to be at least one of the official languages of the country you are targeting. There is an official list spelling out which products require CE Marking. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to find machinery, electrical, and medical products on the list as they can potentially cause harm if not used properly. Typically, at least the portions of the documentation that relate to safety have to be translated, but you should consult an expert to make sure you are covered. Once CE Marking is done, you can attach the CE symbol to a product and you are allowed to sell your products throughout European markets.


The United States’ northern neighbor is one of those countries that has especially strict language requirements when it comes to doing business. To avoid being penalized or fined, you must adhere to the language laws in each region. Granted, the laws applying to provincial institutions in each region are much stricter than those geared towards private businesses, but even in the absence of linguistic regulations, it’s still a good idea for any company expanding into the Canadian market to offer both English and French options to avoid alienating a large portion of the population.

Here’s a quick reference of what a company should consider from a linguistic perspective:

  • New Brunswick and Manitoba are both officially bilingual, giving English and French perfect equality
  • Ontario has a regionalized language policy, where a portion of the province is English-only and other areas are bilingual
  • Alberta, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan are officially English but do permit services in French or other languages
  • British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador are English-only
  • Quebec is officially French-only

You can find further information about this topic in our blog post here.

Special Case: Patents

Many other countries are less stringent when it comes to required translated content than the European Economic Region or Canada. But protecting your business secrets internationally by filing for patents raises all kinds of language issues in many countries. Here are a few rules:

  • It is common for patent applications to be filed in any language initially, as long as the application is translated into a country’s official language in short order. Make sure you are aware of those deadlines
  • Filing a patent translation is usually legally binding. An incorrect translation could ultimately change a patent’s scope and diminish enforceability. These legal documents typically require a very specialized translator, even an errant punctuation mark or faulty line spacing could be enough to invalidate the document
  • Usually, offices grant a patent for the geographic area in which they claim jurisdiction. But there are exceptions to the rule: When you file for a patent in Switzerland, for example, you have to also acquire a patent for the neighboring state Liechtenstein, whether you want it or not.  

With this quick primer about legal requirements for translations, we’ve barely touched the surface of this multi-layered topic. If you have questions or need deeper insights, please reach out to our translation and localization specialists. You can also receive a quote for your next project.  

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