Posted by: patenttranslator | January 30, 2014

An Often Overlooked Solution to the Problem of Low Rates Paid to Translators


Do you think that the rates that are offered and eagerly accepted on blind translation auction sites such as Proz, TranslatorsCafé and GoTranslators are ridiculously low?

Well, they are pretty calamitous at this point if you are among the thousands of translators who, unfortunately, happen to be living in an “affluent” country such as United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, or one of the high-cost countries in Western Europe (Norway is the most expensive country in Europe at this point).

But do not despair! Do I have a solution for you!

One of the advantages freelance that translators have is that they can live just about anywhere they want. I am speaking from personal experience. Thirty years ago I lived and worked as a translator in Japan, then for nineteen years in California, and now I am living and working in Virginia.

I certainly don’t want to move at my age, and perhaps I won’t have to as long as I can keep working mostly for direct clients. But  I am wondering whether one of the results of the low rates that are being paid to translators by large translation agencies in affluent countries and new outfits popping up in developing countries could be a migration of translators and people working in other professions from first world countries to third world countries.

In fact, I already know quite a few translators who moved from a “rich” country to a “poor” country, and I have a feeling that the cost of living had something to do with it.

The fact is that the so called translation industry is not really interested in translators who have excellent skills. What most translation agencies are really interested in are translators who charge low rates, the lower, the better. Their qualifications, experience, and the quality of their work are much, much less important to most agencies than how little these translators are willing to accept for their work.

There was a period in European history called the Great Migration Period (known in German as Völkerwanderung) between about the years 400 AD and 800 AD after the Visigoths conquered Rome and the Roman Empire finally collapsed. This was a period that was characterized by migration of Germanic tribes, Celts, Slavic tribes, Huns and many other tribes all over Europe.

It is still a little early to tell, but it is quite possible that a new Period of Great Migration of Translators (which could be called in Űbersetzerwanderung in German) is upon us now due to the pitifully low rates being now offered to translators in the AG (After Globalization) period of globalized world, as former members of middle class belonging to the translating and many other professions will be (and probably already are) moving to low-cost countries in South America, Africa, Asia and in some parts of Europe.

There are enormous differences in the cost of living in different countries. The cost of real estate for example is very low in countries such as Bulgaria or Taiwan. I know this because I am fascinated by a TV series called “House Hunters International”. Brits are buying cute, rustic houses in picturesque Bulgaria in droves. You can rent an apartment in Taipei for a pittance.

There are also incredible difference in real estate taxes in different countries. I know this because a few years ago I asked a friend of mine who lives in Czech Republic how much he had to pay in real estate taxes every year. He has a nice, three-story house. On the first floor he runs a travel agency, he lives with his wife on the second floor, and the third floor is occasionally rented out to tourists, mostly foreigners.

When he said that he did not know how much his real estate taxes were, I was dumbfounded. If you woke me up at 3 AM and shouted at me: “Hey, what are your real estate taxes this year?”, I would be able to give you a correct answer.

So he went through some receipts and discovered that he paid about 50 dollars for the taxes on his house. Here in Virginia, real estate taxes on a comparable house would set him back about 5,000 dollars.

Despite the low real estate taxes, Czech Republic is not nearly as inexpensive place to live as it used to be only a few years ago.

However, we translators still have a choice of a few countries at the bottom of the income scale where we can still afford to live even if we mostly receive work from so called bottom feeders (such as work offered by large translation agencies and on blind auction sites).

The website gives us a handy list of countries arranged according to the cost of living, from the most expensive to the most inexpensive ones.

Here is a list of 10 countries on the bottom of the cost of living index where the cost of living is so low that even a specialized translator with a master’s degree or a PhD and many years of experience can still afford to live there.

No. 103 – Tunisia

No. 104 – Bolivia

No. 105 – Bangladesh

No. 106 – Philippines

No. 107 – Algeria

No. 108 – Indonesia

No. 109 – Egypt

No. 110 – Nepal

No. 111 – Pakistan

No. 112 – India

Can’t pay your real estate taxes in United States? Move to Tunisia, young man! They probably don’t even have real estate taxes in sunny Tunisia.

Can’t afford to fill up your car tank with gasoline prices being what they are in England? Move to Bangladesh, young woman. Most people just walk in Bangladesh anyway because they don’t have a car. Walking will be very good for your figure.

Can’t afford to pay for your groceries in Australia? Move to Nepal, old man. You won’t have to work as hard anymore, plus the Nepalese diet is very different from what people in Western countries are normally eating. As it is much healthier (hardly any meat at all), it is likely to add at least 10 years to your lifespan.

Can’t afford to feed your family on translator’s wages in Denmark, even though both you and your husband are translating for the cheapskate translation agencies who seem to have taken over the translation industry?

Move your whole family to India. The weather is much nicer there than in Denmark, England, or Minnesota, and the cuisine is superb, especially compared to what people eat in these “affluent” countries.

After all, if you want to stay where you are living now, you would need to put so much energy into trying to find customers who pay good rates for good work that moving to India or Nepal might be a much simpler solution.


  1. You can also immigrate to Iran and live a great life only with $0.06 per word.


    • @Ehsan
      I would love to visit Iran, but I don’t think that I could live there.
      Looks like I need to find better paying customers.


      • I would love to be your host in Tehran. 🙂


  2. Great post as usually. By the way lots of Russians do move to Bali, Goa and Thailand to live and work as freelancers, giving their Moscow apartments for high cost rent. I myself moved to India a year ago and actually found living here quite well and cheap (ascetic but healthy, and nice weather here).


    • @Alia
      Yes, I heard that Moscow is the most expensive city in the world.

      Still can’t quite figure it out.

      How can ordinary Russians afford to live there?


  3. Great piece as always, Steve!

    A few examples of peers who took advantage of the freedom of movement we have as freelancers (most of these are from Germany or Austria):

    *one chap opted for Buenos Aires, later moved to Bolivia; don’t know where he is now
    *two people went to Belize (independent of each other; probably don’t know each other)
    *one guy built a house in Poland
    *one went with his entire family to live in the mountains of Morocco (had a bit of trouble to get a decent Internet Connection, though)

    Another alternative to lower your cost would be to follow the warm weather. I know of one guy who would spend summer in a VW camper at a beach in Greece. But there are those who will go south for winter and north for summer. You save not only on clothes (no mittens, heavy sweaters, overcoats, warm boots, warm underwear etc.) but also on heating. And it’s more fun that way; a change of scenery every six months.

    That I left the green pastures of Germany for Istanbul was not for reasons of economy–that wouldn’t have made much sense. Rather, having spent more than ten years of my life in the Middle East, I missed the easy-going attitude of the Turks, the food and the warmth in their human relations. Istanbul rocks.

    Still, every three to four months, I will go back to Central Europe. So, whatever I save in terms of rent etc. goes towards air tickets. Fortunately, I have a friend who owns a travel agency…


  4. @Volkmar
    Do you think that your travel agent friend could find a good deal for tickets from here to Prague for me?

    (Return trip at this point).


  5. Steve,
    Like you I probably won’t be moving anymore. Traveling, yes, but moving, no. I guess I have to find another solution for the dilemma of decreasing, or at least not increasing rates.
    The music selections in this post are beautiful.


    • @Gerhard and Rob

      Thank you.

      It’s hard to find suitable videos with classical music because they are usually too long. I try to keep it to around 3 minutes per video.


  6. Nice videos, Steve.

    Oh, and it was a nice post too.


  7. Your posts are all valuable. Thanks so much. Just the other day I got an unbelievable offer (except I believe it):US $0.02 per source word for translation from English into German! It also required using Trados. I didn’t even respond. Should we name the agency here? I decided not to, but what do you and others think?


    • I ignore them.

      The lowest offers in my mailbox come from Palestine and Egypt.

      They are worse than Chindia.


  8. I am not a translator but an interpreter but this is a really good post, I think.


    • @Donald

      Thank you. Non-translators are people too.


      • However, after everyone has moved to a country with a lower cost of living, out sourcers may reduce their rates even further!


      • True.

        So what do you suggest should be done?


      • I have no idea how we could get over out sourcers reducing their rates still further but moving to a country with a lower cost of living seems to me to be the best option so far.


  9. I am not a translator either but thank you for your post and your blog. By the way I find Southern Indiana very affordable. I think it is cheaper than Kiev.


  10. […] But I am wondering whether one of the results of the low rates that are being paid to translators by large translation agencies in affluent countries and new outfits popping up in developing countries could be a migration of …  […]


  11. @Slava.

    Thank you.

    Good to know.

    What about the weather and cuisine?


  12. […] Do you think that the rates that are offered and eagerly accepted on blind translation auction sites such as Proz and TranslatorsCafé are ridiculously low?Well, they are pretty calamitous at …  […]


  13. The rates I see offered on Proz etc are scandalous – we are an agency that ONLY uses translators with experience and qualifications who produce quality work. And we pay accordingly. Perhaps that’s why we’re still a small agency; but at least I can sleep at night!


  14. @Julie

    It is a scandal how Proz is training translators to work for next to nothing.

    Another scandal is that even experienced and qualified translators probably accept these low rates out of desperation.

    If it continues, the Pig Turds of the translation industry will grow, while small, decent agencies will remain small – if they survive.


  15. “There are enormous differences in the cost of living in different countries. The cost of real estate for example is very low in countries such as Bulgaria or Taiwan… You can rent an apartment in Taipei for a pittance.”

    No, Steve, you would be surprised to pay a pittance of 3333 USD a month for a flat of 222 square meters in Taipei, as one of my friends from Argentina would be if it were not his government who pays the rent.

    Living costs are not low in Taiwan at all. When I was based in Bolivia, a housekeeper costed less than 100 USD a month. Though the same costs about triple that much, it is nevertheless cheaper than in Taiwan. I have to pay over 100 USD a month for someone who comes to clean up my apartment once a week. A nurse who pushes me on a wheelchair would cost me around 2000 USD a month in Taiwan. (Fortunately, my insurance would pay me about 100 USD per day if I happened to need such a nurse.)

    Übersetzerwanderung? I did my journeymanship for 21 years (Wanderjahre) when I was not a translator in its strict sense, but the Wanderjahre have helped me translating, a kind of pasttime in my retirement and semi-retirement. I wouldn´t think of heading India or Bolivia for the life of being a more “competitive” translator. Much more probable is that I would go over to the good old Europe for the lightness of being, bearable or unbearable.

    I would encourage young people to have more movements when they are young, but not for a life of being more competitive as translators. The problem with low rates has no solution. Because of the same reason, those cheapskater agencies and portals operate in low cost countries.

    You won´t earn enough money even when you live in a “poor” country, but you would earn a lot of experiences by wandering through the globe, getting to learn people, cultures and languges. That can become a reason why you don´t need to accept starving rates, as Steve Vitek or many of us do.

    Happy New Year of Horses!


  16. “Steve, you would be surprised to pay a pittance of 3333 USD a month for a flat of 222 square meters in Taipei, as one of my friends from Argentina would be if it were not his government who pays the rent.”

    Hey, Wenjer, where have you been? We missed you on my silly blog.

    I swear I saw on House Hunters International, a TV program that I watch occasionally, a you surfer from California who was “house hunting” in Taiwan, and he found a nice, spacious apartment for 200 or 250 US dollars.

    But come to think of it, it must have been a different city, not Taipei, since he was looking for easy access to beaches, and I have no idea when that TV program was filmed although I saw it just a few month ago.

    So if I understand you correctly, what you are saying to me is, “whatever you do, don’t move to Taiwan”.



  17. Hi, Steve, I´ve been staying around, but refrained myself from commenting.

    It isn´t too bad with our “industry” at all. As you know, competent translators are doing well despite negative trends.

    I know some foreign translators in Taiwan. One of them has been here for over 24 years and he is doing well, being able to pay the rent of about 3000 USD a month for a house in the outskirt of Taipei. He is a highly sought translator and interpreter for German-Chinese.

    There are some other foreign business people and academics in Taipei. Most of them are doing well, too.

    In the South, you find nice apartment for 200 – 400 USD a month. If you are a surfer, it is nice to be in the Southwest or the Southeast.

    I am not saying “don´t move to Taiwan.” So long you know what you are looking for in Taiwan, you find a way to make a decent living here.

    For translators, our infrastructure for communication is well developed. You wouldn´t have difficulties to get connected to Internet anywhere on this small island.

    However, living costs depend on what a lifestyle you live. Some people can live well with an yearly income of 30 thousand USD even in Taipei City, while some others would be in big trouble if they don´t have an income of the double or the triple even on the countryside.

    So, there are some ones who live comfortably with scandalous rates while we don´t. We do our businesses and they theirs. Great that people are so different.


  18. “Hi, Steve, I´ve been staying around, but refrained myself from commenting”

    I was wondering about that. That’s why I used the example from Taiwan – to smoke you out from your hiding place.

    And it worked.


    • Well, Steve, I let it work.

      I like the music you choose on the head and the tail. And I enjoy your posts. They are excellent (for me to learn more English) despite the negative energy in them.

      You see, I’d be glad to read you explaining ways to improve translation skills or business skills to the younger generation of translators. Bashing agencies, CAT providers or scandalous rates in translation portals does not help younger translations at all. They have to learn on their way how to get out of the swamp of “translation industry” of the post-globalization period.

      However, I don’t see a solution for translators in “expensive” countries moving to “cheap” countries. You can change everything except humanity, as Bert Brecht said.


  19. @Wenjer

    “They are excellent (for me to learn more English) despite the negative energy in them.”

    I think that you must have meant that my posts shine a spotlight piercing through the fog of the negative energy surrounding translators.

    Somehow the message got garbled during the translation from Chinese.

    My posts are obviously full of positive energy!

    Ask anyone!


  20. “I have no idea how we could get over out sourcers reducing their rates still further but moving to a country with a lower cost of living seems to me to be the best option so far.”

    A bit drastic, though, especially if you happen to have a wife and children who may not be too enthusiastic about such a drastic solution.

    My post was tongue-in-cheek, of course, and what I really meant was that it makes more sense for most people would be to find clients who pay better rates.

    But if I was at least 20 years younger, I might do just what you are suggesting.


    • Perhaps not the ideal solution for those with families but a golden opportunity for young people to travel.


      • Agreed.

        But one problem is that once they get used to living cheaply in a poor country, they may never be able to go back to where they came from.

        It may become a problem for them many years later.


      • You could well be right but you have got me thinking.


  21. Er, what are “real-estate taxes”?


  22. @Alison

    Is that a joke? Real estate taxes are taxes that you pay on the real estate that you own, such as your house.

    They generally correspond to about 1 percent of the market value of your house, although it depends on in which state you live.

    So for example a house worth 500 thousand dollars would cost you 5 thousand dollars in real estate taxes here in US.


    • No. We don’t have them in the UK.


      • Oh.

        I had no idea.

        We have payroll taxes (which are Social Security taxes), Federal income taxes, state income taxes, real estates taxes and a whole bunch of other taxes here in the land of the free and home of the brave.

        Plus the grotesquely named Affordable Care ACT (better known as Obamacare) created a new, very heavy tax burden for freelance translators such as myself as I wrote in this post:


      • We do have real estate taxes in the UK; we just don’t call them that. They used to be called rates (and they still are for business premises). Now they’re called council tax, and they vary depending on the size and value of the property. As an example, my house is valued at around £160k, and my council tax bill for the current tax year is £1,540.

        (See also


  23. Thanks, Rob. That’s about the same as the real estate tax here in Virginia.

    I understand that real estate taxes very widely in different countries in Europe.


  24. Income vs outgo problems can be managed less drastically. There are cost of living calculators online for areas of the USA also. So you also can go live in a low cost area here and end up with more money in your pocket, although a “just say no” approach is all we can do to keep our own translation rates from plummeting. A friend just moved back to my town after several years in a big city. It finally dawned on him and his wife (both doing various types of freelance work)) that they could actually afford a nice house here with room for all their endeavors, while staying in the big city would keep them struggling to pay all the bills. Doesn’t change the federal income taxes, but state and local taxes and property taxes vary considerably from place to place. Translators today don’t even need proximity to a realspace library. And you can even have groceries (including organically grown produce) delivered to your door, along with everything else. I get a lot of regular supplies and foods not easily available in the nearby grocery store (no car) that way. Even cat litter and cat food and cases of paper towels and toilet tissue! Life is good.


  25. Thanks for your comment, Cathy.

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that there is no need to move to a third world country because large parts of US already look like a third world country.

    I would have to agree with that.


  26. On the matter of low rates, I’d like to add a translation student’s perspective here. Because the market is essentially disintegrating itself lately.
    Nobody will hire a translator who hasn’t at least 3 years of experience, mostly 5 years. Question is, where should you get years of translation experience from, then?
    And that is right where the bottom feeders step in. Personally, I don’t know any agencies with trainee programmes or similar to “raise” their own translators.
    As I see it, it is all about this experience issue that has led to the decreasing rates in the first place. It’s more or less blackmailing when you have a bunch of newbies desperate for experience ready to go for any rate you offer; so the professionals will have to give in sooner or later.
    By the way, the “common” rate for those who don’t have as much luck finding direct clients is about 0.06€ for technical translations. Honestly, I don’t think that is very low and I’ve come to scoff translators who demand 0.15 per word and deliver average quality, because it’s these people who “convince” clients that such translators are just overpriced.


    • You. too, have experience: Your experience is your translation studies you are now pursuing. As to rates – I’m trying to remember HOW LONG AGO it was that I was charging 0.6 Euros (about 8 cents US) per word. It must have been in the mid-1980s. My rate went to 15 cents US in 1998, and even after everything crashed in 2008, I have not worked for less. Maybe soon there will be no choice but to give in to such low rates. I’m not there yet.


  27. @Stefan & Jan
    “My rate went to 15 cents US in 1998, and even after everything crashed in 2008, I have not worked for less.”

    Same here.

    But I basically only work regularly for 2 agencies regularly at this point, so maybe the rates being paid by agencies did go down, I am not sure.


    • I don’t work regularly for agencies – which is lucky – and know a few pay decently. Certainly the rates I see in unsolicited e-mail offers from agencies are pitiful.


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