“I don’t have a clue how much to charge per word. Can you advise me?”

That’s a common question – and a tough one! It depends on your language combination, the subject and type of document, deadline, agency or direct client, how much you want to do a particular project, how much formatting is involved, what country your client is in… so many factors! And rates may vary widely between countries and even between companies in the same country. You’ll probably find you adjust your rates accordingly and even negotiate different rates with the same client for different types of projects.

I once saw someone on a mailing list mention an equation that went something like this:

2500 words per day x $.12 per word x 5 days per week x 48 weeks per year = $72,000.

The American Translators Association recently conducted a survey regarding income and published the results in the “2003 Translation and Interpreting Compensation Survey” publication. According to the ATA: “This survey presents the most complete, accurate, and up-to-date income data on the translation and interpreting professions.” ATA members can purchase this for $45, non-members can purchase it for $60. Click here to order.

A New York Times article by Claudia H. Deutsch published on May 30, 2001 titled “Workplace: Translators Thrive as the World Speaks” included the following two paragraphs:

“Proficient translators and interpreters – most of whom are freelancers – can make a pretty good living. Salaries for the State Department’s 20 staff interpreters range from $70,000 to $100,000 a year; freelancers get about $430 a day for conferences and up to $300 for classes. [...] A 1998 survey by the translators association showed that freelance translators made about $51,848 a year, while salaried translators averaged $44,939. But most experts say that efficient freelancers can make six figures, and that project managers – the salaried people who coordinate translation assignments – can hit $90,000.

But for freelancers, it is an unpredictable life. “There are periods of intense work, but months when I sit on my hands,” said Anna Saxon-Forti, an English-to-Italian interpreter. And competition can be fierce. As anyone who has invested in tech stocks knows, what technology giveth, it can taketh away. An American company can e-mail a Spanish translation job to a lower-wage translator in Mexico. And translators of less-common languages are suddenly in ample supply.”

For what it’s worth, my rates generally fall in the following ranges:

  • Dutch > English translation…………. US $0.14 – 0.16 per target word
  • French > English translation…………US $0.13 – 0.15 per target word
  • Editing & Proofreading ………………..US $45 per hour
  • Minimum fee for any one job………..US $45
  • Notarization fee…………………………….US $10

I’ve also done one project at $0.08 (literary translation with a very flexible deadline in exchange for low rate) and work at $.18 – it all depends on the project. In fact, some small projects that have been charged at my minimum rate or very urgent jobs work out to more than $1.00 per word. England and Belgium generally have lower rates than the US, for example, and Spain and Italy are lower still, so you need to adjust your rates to the market in your client’s country. I believe 55-65 pounds per 1000 words is fairly average in Britain. When I was first approached by an agency for a translation, I had no idea what to charge. I asked a translation professor and she asked what I thought was reasonable. I said I thought $.10 might be a reasonable rate and she said that was “in the ball park”. I decided to be daring and asked the client for $.12. Imagine my surprise when the client immediately said “We’ll pay you $.14″!

A number of translators are unwilling to mention their rates in public or even participate in a general discussion of translation rates for fear of the Federal Trade Commission which once investigated the ATA for providing rate guidelines. Of course, price fixing is illegal and each translator must determine for themselves what makes good business sense for their situation. But I believe some communication on the subject is important and even necessary. How else are we to advertise our services? How can clients know if they’re paying a fair price… or not? How can newcomers to the profession have any idea of what a reasonable rate for translation is? Here is some of the history of the ATA, the FTC and rates.

For answers to more than 30 readers’ questions about money matters, order the Tips for Translators eBook now!



Unfortunately, sometimes it can be difficult to get paid for the work you performed. If you agreed to payment terms of net 30 and it’s day 31, I wouldn’t panic. You should expect to leave a few days for the mail. If there is still no check on your doorstep after a week or so, then you can send a friendly email inquiry (include date, job number and amount). Most times, you’ll get a quick response and have your check very soon.

However, if your friendly inquiries are being ignored or you’re being fed one excuse after the other, then it’s time to be a bit more firm in your requests. Sometimes phone calls are more effective than reminders sent by email or fax. If possible, drop by their office in person. If you haven’t already done so, post queries about the agency on the Payment Practices and TCR lists to see if others have experienced the same and what the outcome was. Finally, if all your attempts to collect payment have failed and you have kept good records of all those attempts (dates when you emailed them or called to enquire about payment, what you were told, etc), you can report the agency to the Better Business Bureau in their area. The BBB may be able to help you file a complaint or assist in dispute resolution. Generally, the options of last resort are either small claims court or a collection agency. The ATA has made arrangements with Dun & Bradstreet to enable US-based translators to use their collection services at a good rate. Most collection agencies work on a contigency basis, so they take a percentage of what they collect for you (and if they collect nothing, you owe nothing).

Depending on the amount you are owed, you may feel that it is not worth the hassle to chase it up with the help of a collection agency. However, some feel that it would be better even to let the collection agency take the full amount than just to forget about it, as then the situation will never change and it can be demoralizing to let someone have money which you earned. It’s up to you to decide what you feel most comfortable with.