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How to sue a company abroad?
Thread poster: Jianjun Zhang

Jianjun Zhang  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:36
English to Chinese
+ ...
Sep 2, 2005

If an overseas company owes me money (less than $500 USD) and I have enough proof to prove it in court, should I go ahead to sue that company? Or are there any more effective alternatives? For example, going to its embassy? If you were in such a situation, what would you do?

Thanks in advance.


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xxxFullCircle
Netherlands
Local time: 20:36
English to Dutch
Costs are probably too high Sep 2, 2005

Dear JianJun,

It depends on which country you're talking about. In some countries there is something like a small claims procedure, which is (in general) not too costly and you can take care of it yourself in most cases.
However, if such procedure is not possible, you might as well forget it because your legal fees will be much higher than the 500 dollars owed to you.

I had a similar case and fortunately, we came to an agreement in the end. But it made me consider the wisdom of signing up with a collection agency, which (at least in the Netherlands) takes care of everything for an annual fee. They even start legal procedures for that fee (their expenses are covered by the debtor). But I don't know whether you can find internatioally operating collection agencies in mainland China, if that's where you're located. In HK you shouldn't have any problem at all to find them.

Good luck!
Marion


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:36
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
See a lawyer Sep 2, 2005

Jianjun Zhang wrote:
If an overseas company owes me money (less than $500 USD) and I have enough proof to prove it in court, should I go ahead to sue that company?


Don't sue by yourself... get a lawyer. And if your lawyer fees are greater than the amount you stand to get, then sueing is not an option. It's very simple, really. If the client has liability insurance or legal insurance, his lawyer or insurance company's lawyer will drag out the suit for ages and ages, and they'll take advantage of you if you're on your own.


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Jianjun Zhang  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:36
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks. Sep 2, 2005

Thanks to Samuel and Marion.

Let me be more specific. The client is in Australia and is a trading company doing business in China selling Gelato machines and bases. The outstanding payment is for two jobs I did in August. The jobs were delivered on time (one day before set deadline for one, two hours after assignment the other) and they said quality was good.

I am still not sure whether they will rob my money but just sensed a little of that. Since the agreed payment date on my invoice will be due in one or two days and I sent friendly reminder E-mails but never got a reply or ackowledgement of receipt. I sent mobile messages and because the guy in charge didn't know my phone number, he called back. While talking he realized who I was and forced a laugh and told me he received every E-mail sent and promised to pay soon.

However, no payment yet and no reply again to my further E-mails.

This guy and company have to do business in China promoting their Gelato machines and products and probably doing franchise business soon. If I sue them in China, their business may be suspended according to Chinese franchise regulations. Of course, this is always the worst choice.

If I go to their embassy and complain, will this help? Anybody has experience of this kind?


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
Maybe you worry too much Sep 2, 2005

Jianjun Zhang wrote:
Since the agreed payment date on my invoice will be due in one or two days..

Since the payment is not even due yet, I don't see a reason to complain.
And I would not understand someone sending several reminders before due date, either.
Even in case the payment will be late for 1 or 2 months, I still would not complain.

But after that, I would not hesitate to mandate a lawyer. His costs may be higher then the amount in question, but this will be another reason for the debtor to pay as quickly as possible, before the costs would increase even further, since the debtor will have to pay them all in the end.

HTH,
Harry


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Jianjun Zhang  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:36
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Harry Sep 2, 2005

Maybe you are right and maybe its cultural differences. I'll have to wait until everything is clear and I'll update this post with the result.

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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
Cultural differences? Sep 2, 2005

Jianjun Zhang wrote:
Maybe you are right and maybe its cultural differences. I'll have to wait until everything is clear and I'll update this post with the result.

Now I am getting curious.

a) Is it usual in China to send several reminders before due date?
(In Germany this would be considered as unnecessarily getting on someones nerves.)

b) What would you suggest to e.g. a translator in Germany how to sue a company in China?


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xxxOTMed
Poland
Local time: 20:36
English to Polish
+ ...
Agree with Harry Sep 2, 2005

Sorry to put it bluntly, but there is no point whatsoever in fussing until at least 1-2 weeks after the due date.
FYI: I just sent a reminder message to a client 2 months after the payment was due.


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
It is not quite pointless Sep 2, 2005

Dr. G. Palka wrote:
...but there is no point whatsoever in fussing until at least 1-2 weeks after the due date...

Just to clarify: It might make sense to send a reminder before the due date of an invoice in some cases:

a) If you need the money urgently (e.g. when the credit line of your bank account is nearly exhausted or when you know that you will soon have to effect considerable payments yourself).

b) If it is such a big amount that the client may have to prepare the payment (e.g. free the money from a deposit account) and you want to make sure that he will do so in time.

c) If the client is known as a late payer.

d) ...

But then the reminder would rather have the form of a question like "Can I expect the payment as planned until (insert date)?"

And in case the client would not answer this question it would make sense to resend it or phone him, as you did.

But from there to worry about sueing him it is still a long way..


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xxx@caduceus
United States
Local time: 13:36
English to German
+ ...
Impatience may be the mother of invention, but it could turn out to be the mother of stupidity Sep 2, 2005

I have to agree with Harry on this. A due date is a due date and you also need to stick with your side of that agreement and just wait it out.

Personally I do not agree with sending even one friendly reminder before the due date; sending several of those as well as mobile messages is in fact pointless. If I owned an agency or worked for one, it would make me not want to hire such a translator.

Impatience is one thing, but how can you possibly even consider suing a company, if payment is not even due yet? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be impolite and disrespectful to your concerns, but that just blows my mind. Sure, everyone likes an agency that pays before the due date, even within a few days, but let’s face it - they don’t have to until whatever date the translator puts on his/her invoice as the due date.

Now, on the other side, if payment is indeed late, and neither the agency nor the end client have made claims of poor translation quality etc., then sure at some point you need to make it clear that you may involve a collection agency or even go further by engaging a lawyer, but I think that should be your last resort and only if you are absolutely certain that this agency is trying to get away with non-payment.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with any late payment from a translation agency, simply because a translator is required to deliver work on time and, in most cases, it would be every translator’s kiss of death by missing a deadline, so the agency also needs to stay within the given timeframe for payment. But, there are many large agencies out there working with hundreds, if not thousands, of different translators, and large accounting departments where invoices may get lost, or a monthly payment date has been set, e.g. by the 15th of each month etc.; agencies like these may not necessarily try to rob you of your money, sometimes things just get messed up.

So, Jianjun, please forgive me for being so blunt, but I don’t think you want to risk losing customers by nagging them constantly, or even threatening to sue them unless again you are very sure they are indeed intending not to pay you.

May payment come your way soon…


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Jianjun Zhang  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:36
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Some answers. Sep 2, 2005

I would say we do have some cultural differences about payment due date. In China, although it is not rule of thumb, a payment not made within the due date mutually agreed on would be an indicator of bad practice. If we agreed on the date of payment, it should be implemented, although mostly in many businesses there's no due date of payment specified at all.

It's no strange practice for a reminder to be sent before due date and this is a friendly move to avoid delay of payment. And if the reminder requires confirmation, then the sender will expect a prompt reply. I already observed some foreign (relative to my country) companies are not used to confirming receipt of job delivery or inquries, etc. But in China it's good practice to reply if necessary. It shows good business behavior and etiquette. I'm not saying everybody is doing it, just what good business should do and what we regard good practice is.

In my case, I didn't send many reminders without reason. I haven't heard from the client for a long time although I had business communications with him. For example, the client requires me to do some modifications to a file of nearly 200M. I did it promptly as asked and for free (although they were changes in wording and formats, not my mistakes or errors) and uploaded to my ftp and sent an E-mail for him to download. No reply. And when I asked him about this in other communications, also no reply. Only until one day he's got some urgent Email for translation did he contact me and still no reply to all of my Emails in this letter. The translation was done within a short time and sent back and there was no more replies again.

I understand everybody is busy. But a quick reply as simple as a "thanks, got it." should take no time right? And this is also part of business.

Then there were few days left before payment was due. I sent him a letter:

Dear B...,

How are you doing these recent days? Hope everything's fine with progress in business in Asia.

I just want to know if you want me to extend the payment of Invoice number 20050803B1 so you can pay with Invoice 20050815B2 together.

And please tell me how you wish to pay me. I can accept online payment through PayPal. Currently I have an account open for this purpose.

Regards,

My name


No reply. And here maybe our cultures are different. I started to think something's gone wrong. Because almost for a month, this guy NEVER replied to ANY emails of me. And I'd like to know what you guys are thinking about this?

Of course, as what I see fit, I sent another Email of similar nature to him and no reply. At last I have to use mobile messages and he called back to check who was sending him the message. On the phone he told me he received all my E-mails and apologies that he didn't reply and told me he would register a PP account when back in office and so on.

Two days later now. No reply. No payment. In my opinion, he probably won't want to pay me at all. I don't understand why you can wait two months after the due date. Can I deliver later than the deadline? If they can delay payment, then why should we have a due date on Invoice??

I have no trouble with agencies who state clearly they'll pay me after xx days of delivery. Because that's transparent and mutually acknowledged. But what do you think of my particular case? I'm really confused about this cultural difference.



[Edited at 2005-09-10 22:15]


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Jianjun Zhang  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:36
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
No idea. Sep 2, 2005

Harry_B wrote:
b) What would you suggest to e.g. a translator in Germany how to sue a company in China?

I really have no idea. But I remember Microsoft sued a Chinese company for piracy in Chinese courts and failed. I think for any freelancer, suing overseas companies would be too difficult.


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Jianjun Zhang  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:36
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Please read my previous post Sep 2, 2005

Thanks Renate. I'm here seeking advice from fellow translators and may from them learn more regarding this. But please read my previous post and rethink if I'm doing anything really nagging? I include a whole letter sent as a "reminder" to this client and included some contexts of this case.

I don't want to lose clients and this is the only client that really got me into this. And this is not an agency, either. Just a trading company that wants to do business in China, but since the Gelato series they are selling are too expensive for this market: their price 20+ Yuan/cone vs our market price: 2-5 Yuan/cone (5 Yuan is already a price for a meal), I have the fear they may not succeed in China and may withdraw altogether or lose investment?

Putting all these things together, with this context, and no reply to any emails from me, made me worry not a little.


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
Different laws Sep 2, 2005

Jianjun Zhang wrote:
..But I remember Microsoft sued a Chinese company for piracy in Chinese courts and failed..

I think they failed because the copyright in China is different from the one in the U.S.
Microsoft would fail as well if they tried to sue a German company because of infringement of patent law concerning software.
(In the EU software cannot be patented like machines, in the U.S. it can.)

I think in case of late payment the laws are more similar.

And concerning the short notice of receipt, you are right. This is considered as good business practice anywhere, that's why he apologized


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xxx@caduceus
United States
Local time: 13:36
English to German
+ ...
not confirming receipt is indeed rude Sep 2, 2005

Hi Jianjun,

Well, I do very much agree with you on replying to e-mail messages to confirm the receipt of files etc.; I think this is common courtesy, but unfortunately some people don’t think it’s necessary. I find it very rude as well if a client doesn’t take the time to let me know that they have received an e-mail message with files, especially since e-mails do not always make it through. So, unfortunately, this seems to happen to most of us at some point. And as you mentioned, your client apparently doesn’t feel the need for communication at all. That is indeed very ill-mannered!

However, I still do believe that confronting a client multiple times regarding payment before the due date has passed is irritating. Sure, that may be a cultural difference. I have never lived in China, so I just don’t know what is considered normal business practice, but I can see where that would not go over very well in other countries.

Despite our opinions on when to remind clients, it can be just way too costly trying to sue a business, especially for a single person, as Marion and Samuel have mentioned earlier already. I’m not sure about collection agencies in China, but in the US this would be a good start to really get serious about non-payment issues.


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