How do translators get paid?

How Do Translators Get Paid?

One of the things that new translators want to know when they start out translating is the answer to the age-old question of how do translators get paid?

Let’s face it, if you’re not translating for money, then it’s just a hobby.

And while there’s nothing wrong with translating as a hobby, if you want to become a professional translator, you’re going to have to start charging people for the translations you do.

How Do Translators Get Paid?

When we talk about how translators get paid, it’s important to remember that not every translator is the same.

What works for me might not work for you.

And what works for you might not be the best way for me.

So keep that in mind.

Also, something else to think about when we talk about getting paid.

There are actually two ways to look at this question. The first is what beginning translators usually are most concerned with, and that is how to charge clients.

The second question is how do translators actually receive payment from clients when they finish their work and hand it over.

To help you out, I’m going to cover both of these.

How Do Translators Charge Clients?

Like I mentioned in the previous paragrah, translators want to know how they should be charging clients.

I think that the confusion comes because most freelancers (outside of translation) will charge based on number of hours worked.

For example, professional accountants, lawyers, graphic designers, book editors, and photographers will often charge by the number of hours it took to finish the job.

However, that’s not the most common way that translators charge clients.

There are instances when translators charge per hour but it’s definitely not the most common method (and it usually involves some other factor).

So if translators don’t charge based on hour, how do they charge?

The most common method is based on the number of words translated.

Charging By Word Count

OK, so if most translators charge by word count, what does that mean?

In its simplest form it’s this:

Charging a certain price per word of the source language text.

Let’s take a look at how this works in real life.

Let’s say you’re a Spanish → English translator.

A customer comes to you wanting an English translation of a document that is in Spanish.

In order to figure out what to charge, you need two numbers:

  • the amount you are going to charge per word
  • the total number of words in the orginal document

OK, so let’s say you charge $0.08 a word. Great.

Now, take the original language document and open it in a word processor and run the word count algorithm.

Let’s say the word count is 6,320 for the whole document.

All you need to do is take the total word count and multiply it by what you charge per word, in this case $0.08.

Read this article for an answer to the question: How much should you charge as a translator?

So it would be 6,320 x 0.08, which would equal $505.60. That’s what you would charge the client.

This seems pretty straightforward, right?

But there are a couple of things you need to be aware of when doing this.

  • If a client gives you a word count, don’t believe them. I’ve had potential clients try to give me a word count and it’s really off. Then I realized that they had only “estimate” or not counted any words over three letters long. As if short words don’t need to be translated as well. (For some reason, these same clients don’t like it when I say I’ll do the job but only translate the words they counted.)
  • Don’t let a client talk you into charging based on the word count of the target language. In some cases, this could actually mean more money for you as a translator. However, this never ends up well. The client can accuse you of trying to inflate the number of words you used in the translation. Best to just stick with charging based on the words you have in the original.

How Do Translators Receive Payments?

OK, so now that I’ve talked about how to charge clients, the next part of the answer to the question on how do translators get paid deals exactly with that, how to receive payment from a client once a translation is done.

There are really two main methods that most freelance translators and translation agencies use to get paid:

  • payment processors (think PayPal)
  • money transfers (like wire transfers)

However, before I talk about these, it’s important to remember that for freelance translators, non-payment is something that still happens.

That means that there are still clients out there that will ask you for a translation but won’t pay you once you complete the work.

That is why I only work with clients that pay first.

I didn’t use to limit who my clients were, but that all changed when a client reached out to me about translating some food labels from English into Spanish.

It was actually a pretty fun job.

I had to translate the product name, ingredients, and the logo. So I had to do both technical translation and do creative translation.

I turned the translation over to the client and sent my invoice.

And waited.

Waited some more.

Sent more emails.

Waited even more.

And in the end, was ghosted.

I never heard back from the client. I got scammed.

And the total amount of the translation job wasn’t enough to make it worth it to go after the client.

Before that, I figured that this would never happen to me.

However, after this experience, I realized that I wasn’t immune to bad clients.

And from then on, I decided that I would only work with people who paid me first. Once I got paid, then I would do the job.

Not all clients are OK with that, of course. But you know what? They’re free to work with other translators. I won’t work with them and it’s my perogative as my own boss to manage my business the way I want.

Payment Processors

OK, so enough warning.

Let’s talk about payment processors.

One of the way that you can get paid as a translator is to use an online payment processor. These are online “banks” that make it so their users (and guests in some instances) can exchange money.

Of course the most popular one in the United States, at least, is PayPal.

You’ve probably heard of it but in case you haven’t, it works like this:

  • I log in to PayPal and create an invoice
  • I send the invoice to you (my client) as an email through PayPal
  • You received an email with the invoice, which contains a link to PayPal
  • You click on the link and are taken to PayPal
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re a PayPal customer or not; you then pay me through your PayPal account or with a credit card
  • PayPal then puts the money into my own PayPal account, which I can keep in there or transfer to my own bank account

It is actually a very simple process and works great.

PayPal isn’t the only payment processor that you can use, though, and can be tough to use if you’re not based in the United States.

In fact, I don’t think PayPal is the most used payment processor for translators. That title goes to another payment processor called Skrill.

To be honest, I haven’t ever used Skrill so I can’t comment on it directly.

However, I will say that from what other translators have told me, it has more features for doing international transfers, which is helpful for translators because we can be location independent.

Money Transfers

The other way that you can get paid as a translator is through a bank-to-bank money transfer.

Think of Swfit transfers.

While these aren’t technically wire transfers, they do enable transfers to happen in the first place because they sent payment orders from one institute to another.

Here’s a good definition of a swift transfer:

Swift Transfer Definition
What is a SWIFT transfer?

Now, the thing to keep in mind that SWIFT isn’t the only way to transfer money from one institution to another.

In fact, there are a ton of other methods, including:

  • Western Union
  • ACE Money Transfer
  • RIA Financial Services
  • Dwolla
  • TransferGo
  • TransferWise
  • WeWire

I’ll be upfront and say that I haven’t used these so I don’t know the best ones. Before you do research into these, though, I’d suggest that you first ask your local bank what their wire process is like.

You’ll want to know things like money limits, length of time for the wire to go through, and any fees associated with wiring money. And if you’re getting paid from a client, you might want to add those fees into your overall price so that you don’t get paid less.


And there you have it.

The basic answers to the common question of how do translators get paid.

By better understanding both how to charge your potential clients, as well as how to receive payment once you’re done with a translation job, you’ll be able to better improve your business, get more clients, and make more money.

P.S. If you want to learn more on how to become a successful freelance translator, be sure to check out my free and paid books and courses.
P.S.S. To get your free guide on becoming a highly paid translator, click here.

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