Posted by: patenttranslator | November 7, 2018

Freelance Translators Are Naturals When It Comes to Location-Independent Income


We have all seen how capital has been chasing cheaper and cheaper labor for many decades all over the world. In the translation business, we have seen that this is true not only about big translation agencies, because small agency operations are also very eager to take advantage of cheaper, often dirt cheap translation resources located on the other side of the globe, easily accessible through internet.

The quality of the translations may not be the same if you choose the cheapest translator, in fact it hardly ever is the same, but hey, the price can’t be beat! So who cares about minute details such as whether the translation makes sense, especially since many translation agency outfits would not be able to tell poor quality if it smacked them in the face, especially those that claim to be able to translate anything and everything, even though they don’t understand a word of the languages that they are so expertly handling.

That is why translators living in places and countries with a high cost of living often have to compete with their colleagues who live in a country with a much lower cost of living, sometime even those of us who are working in highly specialized fields.

The flip side of what appears to be a major problem for some of us is that we translators can also take advantage of this situation by rearranging it more to our liking and simply moving to a different location, a place that is much less expensive, as well as pleasant and welcoming.

I did exactly that for the first time when I moved 25 years ago after running my tiny translation business for five years from a small apartment in San Francisco, 40 minutes north, across the Golden Bridge to the town of Santa Rosa in the Sonoma Wine Country.

If I had my choice (i.e. if I were rich), I would probably still be living in San Francisco, a little city that is so different from all other places that I lived in, big and small. But San Francisco was not very suitable for raising children, which was the main reason why I moved my business, just a short distance at first, back in 1992.

In Santa Rosa I escaped the grit of the city. I lost the neon-colored cool fog seeping in from the ocean and the bookstores where I used to love to browse, but the panhandlers and sidewalks reeking of urine were gone too.

And I was able to buy a new, sunny house, much bigger and much more comfortable than the fairly minimalist apartment that we were quite happy to live in for a number of years before the children were born.

And the mortgage was not much bigger than the rent we paid for many years in San Francisco, where real estate prices were already pretty impossible for somebody like me, although not yet nearly as stratospheric as they are now.

This was before most people, including myself, knew what the word internet really meant. But besides the fact that I had to change my telephone number and the mailing address for checks, the only other thing that changed was that I was sending my translation to my customer by a dial-up modem from a different phone number.

Being location-independent is something that many translators take advantage of now much more than a couple of decades ago, either by moving to a cheaper but very attractive area, or to move to the country where the language they translate is spoken..

I know a translator who moved from Canada to Mexico and who just loves living there, although she visits her family in Canada frequently. She once told me that she starts crying every when she starts explaining to somebody why she loves Mexico so much.

I also know several Americans who translate Japanese and who eventually moved for good to Japan to be in touch with the language and culture of their choice.

One is never going to find the perfect place to live. There will always be compromises, and we will always miss some of the things that we loved in our previous location that we no longer have.

Translators are not the only people whose income is usually, although not always, location independent. I am fascinated by Youtube channels of so-called digital nomads, mostly young people who move from place to place, often from country to country, refusing to stay in one place and get a 9 to 5 job like most people, with the obligatory office commute that sometimes shaves off years from our life as we sit stuck in traffic on increasingly more and more clogged roads and highways.

Some of these intrepid nomads live in mobile homes, some find minimalistic apartments or invest their money in tiny houses that can be easily transported to a new, exciting destination.

Some are so clever and handy that they can for example convert an old bus into a cute and comfy apartment. It’s a good way not to waste your money on the rent while living off-the-grid and enjoying the adventure of an independent lifestyle …. although I am not sure how one can live like that without running water and plumbing!

I also don’t know how somebody who is living in a romantic wilderness in the middle of nowhere can have access to fast and reliable wi-fi, but apparently, it’s not a problem anymore these days.

Many of these intrepid travelers have jobs in marketing, PR, or tech jobs that I don’t really understand, and some are even able to make a living from their internet channel by simply documenting their nomadic life. I wonder how long they will be able to live like that. Probably not forever would be my guess.

Some are also retired older folks like me who found a way to beat the system by living on a fixed income, namely their pension, in another a country where their pension goes much farther than in the country where they used to live. Some older couples spend the rest of their life traveling full-time in a comfortable mobile home … probably making up for the drudgery of their 9 to 5 job and seemingly never-ending duties and responsibilities of all dutiful parents.

And why not?

Life is short, and then you die.

It’s a big world out there, and if you have the courage to drastically change your life, you can turn this world upside down and make things work to your advantage … if you are able to look at this  brave new world from a totally different angle than most people.




  1. I am a huge fan of your blog and this new post really hit home for me! This post described me exactly! I have been a freelance Korean translator and interpreter for the past decade or so (in Los Angeles), and my husband and I recently set out for the digital nomad lifestyle in February. It was an easy decision for us because the cost of living in LA is very high, we aren’t having children, and we are supporting my mother (who is in a wonderful memory care facility… which also cost a ton). Although I do lose out on local interpreting assignments, I am making up for it because we now spend few months at a time in low-cost countries and I just fly back to the US for bigger simultaneous interpreting projects. My husband is transitioning to a more location independent job also… and we are travel bloggling, too! We are also talking about eventually (possibly) settling down with our own tiny home when/if we get sick of living overseas. 🙂


  2. Location-independent income or not (interesting article, thanks) I love everything from Hans Zimmer! That piece is particularly nice.


  3. I love his music too, ever since I discovered “Now We Are Free” more than a decade ago. The only other composer who is as good as Hans Zimmer that I know is Philip Glass.


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