How do interpreters bill for out of state travel
Thread poster: SAMm3

United States
Jul 29, 2014


I have been interpreting for a local attorney and his client. They are pleased with my work and would like me to travel with them when the case goes to trial. This would be a significant step, for me: the case will be heard in TX (I am in SD) and they would like to book my time for one month. Normally I take local, 2-8 hour projects. I'm not sure how to bill for this.

I am pretty confident about billing 40-hour work weeks, since I cannot accept any other interpreting jobs while I am in TX. What about weekends? Would you bill a reduced rate?

My other big question is about cancellation policies. This case could settle at any time before we leave. Right now I work PT in addition to freelance interpreting. I would have to quit my job to travel for this court case. That's okay - I work in retail, so I would earn more interpreting, and I could look for another PT job after the case is over. But I don't want to quit my job and then find out that the lawyers have settled, leaving me without either source of income. How should I structure my cancellation policy for my client?

Thank you for your advice,


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:00
Member (2007)
+ ...
Have you sounded them out? Jul 29, 2014

It sounds as though their input would be a good thing to have, without committing yourself to anything. If they've had prior experience of this type of thing then they'll probably have an idea already. I imagine courts over there have fairly fixed hours; if so then that would be what you should bill, I guess. They'll be paying for accommodation and main meals, of course. As for weekends, if there's a suitable flight then that might be the best thing for them to pay for, particularly if you could travel on Friday and Monday. I don't think you can expect them to pay for your time at the weekend if they aren't using your services, though if you stay there then they'll have to pay board and lodgings and maybe something extra for phone calls, local travel, entertainment, etc. (perhaps a fixed daily amount?).

You certainly will have to have some guaranteed minimum out of this and I suppose it would work like holidays etc: a larger cancellation payment the nearer it gets to the court case, but I doubt they'd be prepared to pay for an entire month if they cancel a month in advance. And I don't think you can expect them to care about your lost income from your job - that's none of their business and it's a calculated risk that you must accept for yourself.

But I have no exact experience of this type of assignment; I'm just thinking about what seems fair to both parties. Hopefully you'll get advice from other interpreters.


Clive Phillips  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:00
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
Subsistence and cancellation policy Jul 29, 2014

For some years until 2009, I handled outsourcing of interpreter assignments in a UK Government department. To the best of my memory, our approach was along the following lines:

Weekends: For an assignment bridging a weekend, a freelance interpreter required to stay on site or in the same city/town over the weekend (for security reasons or to avoid a more costly return journey to/from home) would be paid actual receipted subsistence costs incurred (accommodation, meals and incidentals including reasonable and verifiable phone calls home). No interpreting would normally be done over the weekend, so no interpreting rate would be paid.

Compensation for loss of another assignment: This would be considered only if the interpreter was engaged with little notice and could supply proof of loss. I cannot remember ever authorising such payment.

Cancellation: Cancellations less than (I think!) 14 days of start of assignment were compensated in full, based on estimated average interpreter working hours during the period, on the premise that the interpreter has had to turn down one or more potential assignments. Lawcourt cases are, of course, particularly prone to cancellation or postponement/adjournment at short notice. It is only right that freelance interpreters are properly compensated. I think our cancellation policy ruled out payment where cancellation was notified more than 14 days before start of assignment.

For your potential 1-month assignment, I imagine the attorney and/or his client may wish to limit costs by seeking your consent to negotiating for you a special deal at a local hotel.

As Sheila suggests, sounding them out (and then possibly negotiating, if acceptable) is a sensible way forward. I too think that loss of your part-time job is a risk you must bear yourself. Certainly we would not have entertained any such compensation claim.

I hope this is helpful.

[Edited at 2014-07-29 17:45 GMT]


LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:00
Russian to English
+ ...
Hi, I would not recommend quitting your job. Jul 30, 2014

The case may settle after two days (maybe not, but who knows), and they may tell you: 'Oh, we are very sorry-- we will consider you when we have some work in the future."

You should also get all the term sin writing, should you decide to go ahead with the project. Interpreters usually bill about $5,000 weekly conferences, plus the fare.


Chien Nguyen  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:00
English to Vietnamese
+ ...
Vietnamese interpreter sharing Jul 30, 2014

For me, a Vietnamese interpreter working in Vietnam, if it required travel out of the city/my areas (by bus, train or plane), the client shall cover all accommodation, meals or DSA at certain level agreed-upon during the period including departure and arrival time.
I charge the actual interpreting day. if the assignment is for few days or weeks, I charge as the contract said for that tentative time, of course confirmed by the client. This is because I commit to them and sacrifice other jobs. So just charge as agreed.

But for the case of month assignment, we often dont have kind of daily rate for a month assignment. That's is unfair. However, many young interpreters accept the low pay.


United States
Thanks for the insight! Aug 1, 2014

These are all very helpful, and I appreciate the insight! It sounds like I shouldn't expect weekend pay, outside of lodging/subsistence. It's definitely true that the loss of my PT job isn't their problem...unfortunate for me, but you guys are right. Thanks again for the different perspectives, I'm more prepared to talk to the client now.


Liviu-Lee Roth
United States
Local time: 08:00
Romanian to English
+ ...
be aware Aug 1, 2014

If the case goes to trial, the court will hire a court-registered interpreter, not you. You may be needed to help the attorney communicate with the client outside the courtroom.

my 2 c.


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How do interpreters bill for out of state travel

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