US freelance translator working for a foreign client?
May 25, 2010 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Two parter about freelance translation: What do I charge and what do I do about (foreign) taxes?

Background: An opportunity has come up for me to do some freelance work for a company abroad, translating marketing materials from German to English. The subject matter is fairly technical in nature, although I myself am not an engineer or technical person. I do, however, work in the same industry and have experience with much of the specialized terminology. Any terminology I'm not familiar with I would have to research.

Since I've never done this before I have two questions:

1. How much should I charge?

As I said, I've never translated professionally, so I don't feel comfortable charging top-dollar for my services. On the other hand, the material is in a fairly technical niche and I don't want to short change myself. Some googling has turned up that most translators charge per line or per word, so I was thinking a rate of around US $0.20 - 0.22 per word translated. Is this reasonable? I figure at the moment I'm a bargain (unless the Euro continues to decline, and it's not looking good at the moment).

2. How will I be taxed (specifically in regards to avoiding double taxation)?

I reside in the US. The client is in Germany. While I understand that I would probably need to withhold my own US taxes and report it as miscellaneous income, will the German gov't withhold taxes? Obviously I'd rather not be double-taxed. Do I need to get a tax accountant involved? The amount I expect to make from this project isn't very large, so I would prefer it if I didn't need to see an accountant.
posted by squawk to Work & Money (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've used English to French translators for marketing and legal materials in Canada in the past. I've used a translator that rolls into her hourly cost building a lexicon and proofreading (via someone else) and it's usually in the range of $75 to $100 per hour. She would usually provide a quote on hours when she sees the whole document.
posted by dripdripdrop at 11:14 AM on May 25, 2010

I'm a Japanese-English translator, so my experience isn't exactly on point for you. With that in mind:

1. US$0.20 per English word is a good rate for a J-E translator doing technical material, and I get the impression that J-E translators generally get a higher per-word rate than G-E ones do. If you can get that much, good on you.

2. Taxation is a complicated issue. In my experience dealing with clients in Japan, sometimes they take tax out, sometimes they don't, and even the percentages can vary. Apparently it all depends on who's on duty at the tax office when my clients call, since they've given me completely different rationales for the taxation. However, all is not lost. You can use IRS Form 1116 (PDF) to get a credit on your US taxes for the foreign taxes paid.

You don't need a CPA, but after having done my taxes on my own, I've found that having a good tax guy is invaluable.
posted by adamrice at 1:23 PM on May 25, 2010

A few remarks: whether to charge by the word or some other unit depends somewhat on the language pair. I think nowadays when translating from German to English it may be not uncommon to charge based on target English word, but the "line" is also used a lot in German translation work, based on (IIRC) a 55 character line. This is because of the very long, compound nature of the language.

I usually quote fees to clients in the EC in euros.

I will say that USD0.20-0.22 seems on the high side to me, especially for a novice translator, even for German>English, which commands quite good rates, and for technical translation (the vast majority of translation industry volume is actually technical translation). indicates that the average target for DE>EN is $0.12/word, with a fairly small percentage of translators asking for/getting $0.20 or more per word. On the other hand, if you're going to be doing this work directly for a company, then you can justify charging at the higher end of average. But $0.22 would still be pretty top-dollar.

Unfortunately, the strong dollar/weak Euro means that U.S. translators are MORE expensive for European companies, comparatively, than they were a year ago. I am charging the same dollar rate as I was a year ago for dollar customers, but I've had to raise my euro rate by almost 25%.

Any number you might pull down off the web for translation agencies and what they charge a customer per word is skewed by the fact that there are administrative costs, and usually a proofreading/review stage, thrown into that final cost to the customer. If an agency is charging $.20/word for translation, probably only 50-75% of that is going to the translator.

On taxes: I do a fair amount of work for German clients (odd, considering I do Spanish/Portuguese>English, but it's a weird world out there in translatorlandia). I've never had taxes withheld on the client's end.
posted by drlith at 2:21 PM on May 25, 2010


If you're resident in the US, performing your work in the US (even if for a client in Germany), it's unlikely that you'd be taxed on the German side. See Article 14 of the US-Germany Tax Treaty.
posted by holterbarbour at 5:01 PM on May 25, 2010

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