The Business Situation of Freelance Translators in Spain


In general, freelance translators work with two groups of customers: direct customers, that is, the companies that directly contract our translation services, and indirect customers, that is, the translation agencies. Which one of these groups is preferable? Freelance translators usually work with both types of customers, but the ideal situation in light of how this business is evolving in Spain would be to work with direct customers only. Regarding the translation agencies, due to the increasing competition, they continually cut prices y demand more and more requirements and, as a result, it is difficult to make a living in Spain if your customers are exclusively translation agencies. I’ll try to explain this through a specific example.

Currently, translation agencies, other than the actual translation work, are also demanding other type of tasks. The appearance in recent years of so many CAT tools has led translators to not only use the former Trados Workbench, which used to be the industry standard tool, but also the new Trados (Studio) and other similar tools. You can find lots of them now. Translation agencies give for granted that translators can use any of them, but this is not true. It has occurred to me that an agency sent me an assignment to be performed with a CAT tool I never used before. When I warned the agency about it and about the fact that I do not have a license for that program (we can’t simply have licenses for all these programs given the cost of every one of them), that was not a problem for them, they equally assigned me the translation with the excuse that they will provide me with a temporary trial license and that all these programs work exactly as Trados do. Then, of course, when you start using that program, after spending some time becoming familiar with it, you quickly realize that it is not exactly as Trados and, also, that many features do not work properly because it is a trial version. But this is not the only issue, the translation agencies are also requiring freelance translators to run the QA of the translations and for this purpose they request you to install and use QA tools, such as XBench and others, so along with the translation, you must also submit to them the QA report. Reviewing all the issues that the QA report detects takes a lot of time, as it identifies countless differences between the original and the translated texts, and all those differences must be checked to see whether there is an error or not. This is especially true for documents that contain a lot of pages. Formerly, when you were assigned a 2500-word document, you knew that it could be finished in one day of work, but today, to this time, you must add that needed to read the customer’s instructions (which can be very extensive), then, the installation and the time spent becoming familiar with the CAT tool and, finally, the review of the document via the corresponding QA program. In short, to the translation time you will have to add one or more hours doing all this. Then, regarding the price paid, in the case of Spain, which is the one I know, a translation agency is currently paying experienced freelance translators an average of 4 cents of euro per source word. Making some calculations and if one is lucky enough as to be employed by an agency the 8 hours of the working day, plus the 4 weeks of the month (which is not a common scenario), at the price mentioned before and translating at a daily volume of 2500 words, you will make 100 Euros a day, times the 20 working days, gives a result of 2000 euros per month. In Spain, a freelance translator must do the VAT self-assessment on a quarterly basis. In the VAT self-assessment we must pay 21% of all our invoices. You can also deduct the VAT of business-related expenses, but in my experience, this is an almost insignificant item. In addition, freelancers must pay to the Social Security system their monthly fee to work as freelancer, which is currently set in a minimum of around 265 euros. Taking all these figures into account, if you calculate the monthly net income, you will see that your monthly pay will be little more than 1300 or 1400 euros. Of course, this is not the money we would all like to make. And on top of this, translations agencies in Spain will only pay you in general after 60 days from the invoice date.

Direct customers, however, will pay you better, as compared to the rate of a translation agency, your fee will be approximately 50% cheaper, so they will surely accept your usual rate and, in addition, they will not require the use of any CAT or QA tool, that will be entirely up to you or what you may agree with them. The problem with direct customers is that they do not usually have translation needs on a daily basis. If you happen to find a direct customer that provides you with daily translations, it would be the ideal scenario, and you should consider that customer as a treasure. Take good care of that customer and do everything that may be in your hands to keep it, but you must know that at any time a management decision may change the translation policy of the company and start using other methods, and this would mean that you will have to start over again searching for other direct customers, ones that can provide you with daily translations. This is not an easy task.

In summary, the ideal scenario would be finding a company with which to work on a daily basis and that pays you your customary rate. If you find companies that only employ you on a part-time basis, then you need to look for extra sources of income, like, for example, translation agencies. However, if you work mainly for translation agencies, as I explained before, it will be very difficult for you to make a living. This is the business situation that freelance translators must face now in Spain. Probably in other countries this story will be similar. Apart from the increasing competition, decreasing prices and continuous adaptation to new technologies and new requirements, freelance translators must also cope with the fact that if we work for a direct customer, even if they are delighted with our work, we better pray every day that a management decision will not leave us feeling cheated. To finish with a positive point, let me just remind you that even if they are trying harder and harder, they do not manage to come up with a “machine” that can perfectly replace our work. We must be congratulated for this.

Rubén Pedro López

Traductor Freelance: Ing > Esp > Ing Freelance Translator: Eng > Spa > Eng


  1. Estimado Rubén, muy acertado su artículo ¡esa es la realidad! Y ni que decir lo agotador, física y mentalmente, que resulta nuestro trabajo. Soy de Venezuela y traduzco al español latinoamericano y quedo a sus gratas órdenes.
    Aida Pacheco

  2. Rubén, a great read about a pitiful reality! Just FYI: http://www.fairtradetranslation.com is an online service (in alpha, and still free) that is trying to introduce the concept of Fair Trade (fair prices for fair work) to the translation world. They basically analyse a document, DOCX or (SDL)XLIFF and see if they can find good MT for the low fuzzies. The bad MT is left out or tagged. The price calculated is based on the word count for good and bad MT, and it is using the price setting of the translator. The service is trying to implement MT in such a way the translator is still in control of the job he would like to accept. Please check it out and let me know if you think this will help the human translator in his fight against the price pressure.

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