Posted by: patenttranslator | October 27, 2018

What Is An Average Rate Paid to Translators?

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”

Woody Allen

According to a survey of rates paid to translators in Belgium published in an article in Slator on October 24, 2014:“The average monthly gross revenue for translators and interpreters in Belgium is EUR 3,400.69 (USD 3,942.67) and EUR 3,796.87 (USD 4,401.99), respectively, the survey showed.

Aside from average monthly gross revenues for translators and interpreters, the survey also came to a few other key conclusions.

The average rates paid by translation agencies are EUR 0.0995 (USD 0.11) / word and EUR 39.09 (USD 45.27) / hour. In comparison, direct clients of translation pay EUR 0.13325 (USD 0.15) / word and EUR 54.68 (USD 63.32) / hour. Direct clients paid the highest for financial translation, while agencies paid more for scientific / medical translations.”

I will not discuss in today’s post rates paid to interpreters because I know basically nothing about this subject. But I believe that I know quite a bit about rates that are paid to translators in different countries, especially in the United States, because I have been working for agencies and direct clients, although mostly for direct clients, in the United States and other countries for more than 30 years. Because I also work as an agency with a select few translators, I also know how much I have to pay to a specialized and experienced translator if I want to make sure that he or she will be willing to work for me for years to come.

The results of the survey are probably quite relevant to how much translators in this small, multilingual country are making on average per word, per hour, and per year, especially those who work mostly for translation agencies. The fact that the article refers to agencies as what they are, namely translation agencies, instead of using the ridiculous, propagandistically misleading abbreviation LSP (as in “Language Service Providers)”, the term adopted by the “translation industry” to confuse their clients, makes it possible for me to take the article as a serious and mostly impartial piece of writing rather than a PR piece lauding the “translation industry.”

We all happen to know that translations are provided by translators, not by translation agencies, which buy translations from people called translators and then sell them to their clients at a significantly higher price.

The fact is that the translation agency owners and people working in most translation agencies – although definitely not all of them – don’t even understand the languages that they are translating, let alone that specialized subjects that they are handling.

I think that the average rates of EUR 0.0995 (USD 0.11) / word and EUR 39.09 (USD 45.27) / hour are probably what most somewhat experienced translators can expect to be paid by most translation agencies, not only in Belgium, but also in other countries, provided that these translators avoid notorious outfits that pay exceedingly low rates to translators who do the translating work for them.

The rates that I pay to translators working for my modest enterprise are generally a little higher, but not by much. Sometime, when I am asked by a client, often only a prospective client, to provide a competitive bid for a given project, I pay slightly less than the rates mentioned above in the Belgian survey because I am trying to underbid somebody else.

Sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose, depending on how low I can go.

But I would never say something as outrageous as “my budget for this job is .xxx cents per word” because I believe that self-employed translators may not be dictated to by a middleman how much they must accept for their work. That is in my opinion deeply immoral. I simply ask for a price quote while explaining the situation, which I am then free to accept or not to accept.

There are, of course, so many variables when it comes to rates paid to translators that even the term “average rate” is questionable. Is there such a thing as an “average rate” for a “translation?” I don’t think so. The rates paid for Korean or Japanese, for example, are generally significantly higher than the rates paid for Spanish or Russian, simply because there are many more good translators in the latter language combination, compared to the former.

There is also a big difference between how much or how little translators living in different countries are willing and able to work for, because the cost of living in Western Europe or United States, for example, is much higher than the cost of living for example in Mexico, Brazil or Thailand.

As mentioned, some translation agencies try to find translators willing to accept a low, often ridiculously low rate, by bombarding translators listed in different databases with a job offer ending with the phrase “our budget for this translation is .xxx per word.”

The hungriest dog will then be thrown a bone with tiny bits of meat on it. The quality of the translation will then of course correspond to the miserable rate, but the thing is, most translation agencies who treat freelance translators as indentured servants can’t tell the difference in quality anyway. So as far as they are concerned, obtaining the lowest rate possible for a given translation is in fact the only thing that matters to them.

One factor that helped to push the rates paid to translators lower and lower in recent years is the presence of blind auction sites such as Proz where translators must fight to underbid each other. I know that whenever I look for a new translator, translators who are willing to work for the lowest rates are those who are proudly listed on the Proz website (and often only there) because they have been trained by Proz for many years to win projects by underbidding other translators.

What I would question in the data obtained in the Belgian survey of rates is the very small, almost minimal difference between the rates paid to translators by translation agencies and direct clients.

If it were true that the difference between the “average” rate of US$ 0.11 paid by an agency and of US$0.15 paid by a direct client is only 4 cents per word, it would kind of make sense for translators to forget about direct clients and concentrate only on agencies who have a lot of work and pay decent rates.

Finding a direct client generally takes a lot of times and much more work is usually required. The translator has to first figure out who his or her direct clients might be, how to find them, and how to make a connection with them that will result in highly paid, interesting and continuous translation work.

But once you find a few good direct clients who also have a lot of work, they are likely to stay with you for a long time, which is not necessarily true about agencies in the current dog-eat-dog environment of the “translation industry”.

As other translators have also said on blogs and other social media, it is probably true that most translators are not exactly long-term, strategic thinkers, and thus end up as takers of low rates from translation agencies.

I think that the difference between the rates paid by agencies and by direct clients is much higher than what is listed in the survey. Typically, the rate that can be charged to a direct client is usually double the rate that translators are paid by translation agencies.

A translation agency that would charge only 4 cents more per word to the clients than what it pays to the translators who work for it would probably not last very long, unless it had an unlimited supply of work in huge volumes. Even then, it would probably feel the need to increase the rates charged to its clients very soon.

Since most translators who mostly work for direct clients are not exactly dumb, in fact they are by definition the very opposite of dumb, they presumably know that the they can get away with a significantly higher rates for direct clients. So why would they be happy charging them only a relatively small percentage above what they can get from agencies?

Some might be happy to do that, but most are probably smart enough to charge the same or only slightly lower rate than what translation agencies are charging direct clients for translations.

I don’t know what happened there. Maybe translators who make good money working for direct clients are too busy to bother with income surveys …. or maybe they don’t want anybody to know how much they are really making.


  1. Many thanks for sharing this. I would really like to know how much agencies charge companies for translations if they pay a translator an average of 0.10 Euros per word. Does anyone know?


    • When I was researching rates a few years ago I found the price list one massive agency uses for its own clients. Their minimum rate for the most common languages was $0.20/word — so yes, I think Steve is right that most (large) agencies probably charge double what they pay their own translators.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Translator Power.


  3. I work at Upwork platform and provide English-Russian translation. Rates are so miserable. Most of clients there offer not more than 0.012$ per word. And the rates you mentioned look like something incredible.


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