Almost every time a new customer gets in touch with me about my interpreting services, they ask the same questions: “Are you available?”, “How much do you charge?” or “What are your rates?” So, I thought to put together an article and explain how much interpreting services cost, how I invoice each item, and why.
What fees are there to be included?
Typically there are:
I know… There are quite a few items to be taken in to consideration!
Let’s see what each item looks like.
Interpreting fee: full day or half day
By and large, interpreters charge daily, not hourly, even if the meeting is as short as 1 hour. They have 2 tiers of interpreting fees: Full Day and Half Day rates. Full Day is usually up to 8 hrs occupancy i.e. 7 hours with 1 hour lunch break. I know one fellow interpreter who charges for 9 hours occupancy instead of 8, but usually Full Day is for 8 hrs.
One thing to note is, 8 hours occupancy is not the total number of interpreting hours. It is from the start – assembly or meeting time – till the finish time – dismissal. For example, if the meeting time was 8:00 and there was a transfer to the venue where the event starts at 9:00, and then the event finishes at 17:00 followed by return transfer and arrival or dismissal was 18:00; the occupancy will be from 8:00 till 18:00, 10 hours.
I usually charge between 600 and 1000 GBP per day.
Over Time charge
In above case, 10 hours occupancy is 2 hours exceeding what is included in the Full Day fee. In such case, Over Time charge applies. Over Time charge is usually hourly or half an hour increment. The rate may vary, depending on each person, in my case, it is approximately Full Day fee divided by 7 times between 1.20 and 1.25.
Some people charge Holiday/Weekend, Early or Late Hours surcharges, so I recommend you to keep this in mind as well.
Per Diem or Noctem
Typically with over night assignments, interpreters charge Per Diem or Per Noctem. This is basically an allowance towards meals – Subsistence. The difference from Subsistence is that Per Diem/Noctem should require no receipts, and many interpreters prefer this because creating itemised expenses for reimbursement is simply too time-consuming and cumbersome.
The amount suggested by interpreters can be a little over or below the average meal prices of the target countries, however, to keep the administration tasks as simple as possible, we tend to apply the same amount regardless of target countries, unless the prices are significantly higher.
Whether Per Diem should apply or Noctem, it is case by case. In my case, for example, if it is a 2-day assignment in Japan; I fly out to Japan two days before the assignment because I lose one day while I am on a plane, then I charge Per Noctem i.e. I count the two days travelling 1 night because it is 12 hours flight (direct) and the loss of one day is purely due to the time zone.
Travel Only Day charge
For overseas or overnight assignments, very often it requires interpreters to travel before the assigned date or travel back after assignment on the following day. For the days that they spent only to travel and not interpreting is considered Travel Day. I charge 50 % of Full Day Interpreting fee plus Per Diem/Noctem.
Long distance travel charge in or out on the day
This is different from Travel Only Day charge. It is applied towards the hours required on the assignment’s day before the commencement and after the completion, travelling back home. While the travel time is as short as within 30 min each way, I think it should not be charged. When the travel time is 2 to 3 hours each way, on the other hand, the client would better be prepared to be requested.
It really depends on each professional as to how much they charge. In my case, I charge around 25% of the agreed full day rate, when the travel time exceeds 1.0 hour each journey. If the travel time was 2hrs 20min per single journey, it is 5.0 hours round trip, i.e. 25% of 600 GBP is 150 GBP. This should not be underestimated, coming home after assignment can take longer than the outbound journey, and it is smart to discuss this with your interpreters beforehand.
It is the expenses towards the overground transportation. I have listed flights separately, so I shall talk about those later. Transport includes, train, tube, bus, taxi, and any other public transport involved in overground transportation as oppose to aviation (or nautical). Usage of taxi is a little tricky, because for transport from the airport overseas taxi is often preferred because of the geographical unfamiliarity, language or at times urgency, whereas for local assignments i.e. London for me, I can easily get around by tube or train. In my case, there is an exception: when I am asked to go to venues in Mayfair or other areas in central London but slightly awkward to get to via public transport, I am determined to use taxi.
Taxi is one of the hard items to accurately quote. Pre-booked taxi or minicab is easier, because they quote the price beforehand, however, local taxis found in front of the airport in the target country, it is difficult. Flexibility in allowing to leave the amount TBC is often much appreciated.
If the flight time is as short as 1 or 2 hours, I am happy to fly in Economy class, whereas, if it is a long flight, 6 hours or more, Business class – it is a standard practice, I think. Flying with Business class or not makes a difference in the wellbeing of an interpreter afterwards. Seriously, fatigued mind and body can cause underperformance. I cannot imagine any clients are willing to waste all other interpreting costs for saving a few bucks on airfares.
Interpreters are sometimes asked to arrange and pay for the flights, but we would really appreciate it if you could at least make the payment if the research and selection of flights was done by us. I tell you why. Let’s say your assignment is on 15 May. The booking for the interpreter was made in 1 March, and the flights had to be arranged then. After assignment, perhaps of 16 May the interpreter sends an invoice the client. The settles the payment in 30 days, 14 June. Between the flight arrangement (1 March) and payday (14 June) there are more than 3 months.
There are 10-20 different assignments a month, this heavily depends on each interpreter but for instance… If an interpreter had to cover for 10 to 20 return flights a month for 3.5 months, that would make 35 to 70 fights. That would easily be thousands of pounds or tens of thousands of pounds…! You see, we cannot afford to pay upfront for all the flights and be reimbursed months later.
For the same reason above, as for airfares, interpreters much appreciate it if the client can pay for the accommodation upfront by arranging or negotiating with the hotels. Airfares and accommodations are certainly two large financial pressures and burdens, they hit our wallet seriously because when we make the payment it has to be on the spot but when it comes to reimbursement we have to wait to recover till much later.
Coordination requires different set of skills than interpreting, therefore, not every interpreter work as a consultant interpreter. But some of us who work as a consultant interpreter would charge this. Consultant interpreter works as an interpreter as well as recruiting and coordinating a team and liaise between conference organisers and interpreters. I charge by the number of working days, which I include in the estimate at an early stage.
I often coordinate a team of Japanese interpreters, usually a team of 2 or 3, and liaise between the team and the conference organiser. The conference organiser can delegate all the recruitment, negotiations, communications with the interpreters to one interpreting consultant, as a point of contact, and there is a great benefit for doing so.
When a good consultant interpreter is onboard, they bring the relationship between both parties to win x win, as they are one of the working interpreters. A competent, trusted and effective consultant interpreter is invaluable. They not only save time and money but also face of both, or all parties including speakers.
The earlier the confirmation comes the better and less costly it is. However, when the timing of confirmation was as short as a week (7 days) or less from the D-Day, full day rate for all remaining days will be charged.
For example, the event is on 26 June and the confirmation was made in the morning of 19 June: there is one week to go. In this case, the agreed full day rate will be applied for the 7 days between 19 June and 25 June, including the day of confirmation.
This is to free up the time for preparation and having to cancel other commitments scheduled on those dates prior to confirmation. I usually do not accept bookings as urgent as there are less than 6 days to go (20 June, in above case).
Good news is, there will be no extra fee towards preparation, if the confirmation was placed no later than 18 June, and it is much preferred by interpreters.
For closed internal usage primarily to create meeting minutes it would be zero to miniscule, however, when the usage is wider minimum of 25% of the agreed rate will be charged.
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I have been a professional interpreter for the past 20 years, working with government agencies, individuals, small and large businesses to interpret international conferences or symposia, business meetings and VIP private tours and more.
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