The expenses all interpreters must charge to the client.

September 27, 2016 § 10 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

One of the questions I get the most from students and new colleagues has to do with interpreter fees and expenses. We have covered professional fees from several perspectives in prior posts, but so far we have never really discussed the expenses interpreters should pass on to the client.

I write this entry with my conference interpreter colleagues in mind.  Other interpreters can certainly benefit from this post, but they should always keep in mind that expense reimbursement in their professional practice might be governed or constrained by other considerations such as contractual limitations, government or institutional policies, and legislation.

If you work full time as a conference interpreter, or if you mainly do other type of interpreting, but you accept conference work on weekends, after hours, or during the summer vacation; mainly if you are new to the field, but also if you are a veteran who simply never figured out what expenses to charge to the client, this entry will put you on the right track.

Keep in mind that we will not deal with our professional fees here. That is a separate issue. You should have a set fee that you charge per day and per half-a-day of interpreting.  In the past we have discussed how to arrive to the right fee and what to consider when calculating it.  Some of you have attended my seminars on that precise topic. Remember, you must charge the professional fee for the service you render, and you should never have more than one fee for all clients (except for government or corporate professional service contracts where you agreed to a lower fee in exchange for consistency, volume, prestige, or many other considerations). For now, let’s set the fees aside, and concentrate on those expenses necessary to provide the service that the agency, government office, corporate entity, or end client must reimburse you after the service has been provided.

Notice that I am talking of reimbursement and not advance. I do this because that is the standard business practice and you should be prepared to work that way. Oftentimes, interpreters can lose a good client, or close an important door, simply because they asked for an expenses advance. We should always be prepared to cover these costs upfront. A good conference interpreter who is also good in business should always have money set aside for a plane ticket across the ocean, a hotel reservation, and transportation and food. Naturally, when dealing with new clients whose reputation is unknown to you (after a diligent inquiry on your part) it is always advisable to ask for an advance not just for expenses, but also for part of our fee.

As I said, in an overwhelming majority of assignments, you will be expected to pay first, and be reimbursed later, generally at the same time that your professional fees are paid; sometimes because of the accounting practice of the corporate or governmental client, reimbursement may take quite longer than the payment of your professional fee. You need to be prepared for this. Having an amount available to cover these costs while being reimbursed should be considered as a business investment on your part.

The question is: What expenses should I be reimbursed for?

First, if the assignment requires you to travel away from home, and your trip will be on the day before and the day after the event, you should charge one half a day of your interpreting fee for each of those two days. In other words, if you interpreted a conference that lasted three days, you should charge fees equivalent to four days of work:

½ day fee for travel day to assignment + 3 days of interpreting + ½ day fee for travel day back from the assignment = 4 days of interpreting fees

Next, you must be reimbursed for the airfare, train fare, or bus fare you paid to get to the out of town conference and back. Usually, the client expects you to ask for an economy ticket reimbursement, but in extremely long trips, you should ask for business class reimbursement, especially if you are going to work right after you land from crossing the Atlantic or the Pacific. As I have suggested in past posts, you should have a preferred airline where you are a frequent flyer so you can get upgrades to business or first class with your miles while the client is reimbursing you for the economy ticket. Please make sure to include here all other flight-related charges such as luggage fees, airport fees and taxes, visa fees when applicable, that you disbursed in order to get to the out of town venue.

You should also request a reimbursement of all hotel expenses that have to do with lodging: room fare, reservation processing fee, internet service in the room, and so on. Things like room service or pay-per-view movies in the hotel room cannot and should not be included in the reimbursement request. You should pick a business hotel, not a luxury hotel (unless the assignment requires it).

To have an idea of the price range you can charge to the client, in the United States, use the table of the GSA – Internal Revenue Service. It clearly states the maximum rate per room allowed for business travel by city and state.

Ground transportation should also be a part of your reimbursement, taxis from airports to hotels and back, and taxi rides from hotels to the event and back should always be reimbursed. In some cases, the client will even pay for ground transportation from your home to your town’s airport and back. It is possible, but you should negotiate it before you include these taxi payments in your reimbursement requests. Sometimes the client may want you to ride a passenger shuttle from the airport, and others could even suggest that you take the subway or another urban public transportation. I do not like that, but you should negotiate it with the client.

You must request a daily allowance for meals (Per Diem) for every day that you are away from home (travel and interpreting days). To eliminate the hassle of collecting receipts for every meal you have, in the United Stets, refer to the table of the GSA – Internal Revenue Service. It clearly states the Per Diem allowed by city and state.

If you are based in the United States and are traveling to a foreign country to provide the interpreting service, instead of following the table above, you will need to base your hotel and Per Diem expenses on the list that the United States Department of State publishes every year. It also contains the appropriate amounts by country and city.

Although I do not exactly know what requirements are needed to follow the same practice for those of you based in a European Union country, At least you can refer to the E.U. Per Diem list by country.

The following list can be used by those of you who live in Mexico:

Finally, you should be reimbursed for all other work-related expenses needed to provide the professional service such as parking fees, car rentals and gasoline, highway, tunnel and bridge tolls, photocopies, etc.

You should save all receipts or all other reimbursable expenses: airfare, taxis, hotels, etc. Even if the client does not ask for them, and you should always try to get reimbursed by the mere presentation of your professional fees and expenses invoice detailing reimbursable costs by category, it is a good practice to keep them in case they are needed, and for tax purposes as well.

It is possible that the client may offer to purchase the plane tickets, pay for the hotel directly, they may take you out to eat all meals, and so on. That practice is also acceptable, and in such cases you should only ask to be reimbursed for those costs that you paid for.

I hope you find this information helpful, and I sincerely expect you to pass all of these expenses to the client. That is how professionals work. I now invite you to post your comments regarding this very important part of our professional practice.

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§ 10 Responses to The expenses all interpreters must charge to the client.

  • hcazes says:

    Thank you for providing this excellent info, Tony!!
    It is fundamental that people realize that professional fees are completely independent from these expenses. And that there are common sense guidelines to use (and quote).

    • Chara Gavaldon Vela says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this valuable information! I truly appreciate it. It is very clear and professional and prevents interpreters from under or charging for their services (and regretting it later) or overcharging at the risk of losing a potential client and/or damaging your profesional reputation.

      As you well said, the challenge of how much to charge is not your interpreting rate, but everything else associated with assignments that require to travel.

  • Julia says:

    Thanks for laying this out so clearly, Tony!

    I do have a question, though. After moving to Europe 16 years ago, I discovered that travel days were regularly reimbursed at 1/2 day each way, no matter how long you traveled. However, all my US clients paid 100% of the daily fee spent in traveling, plus the rest day. So if I traveled to, say, Russia from the US, they would pay me the equivalent of 3 full days for travel, and one full day for rest under certain circumstances. My arguments were that I could be working for a full fee for someone else, and that I use the rest day for a study day, and that was accepted. Has the prevalent practice changed in the US to match Europe now?

  • Teuta says:

    Very helpful information, thank you!

  • Bethel Frye says:

    Thanks so much for this information!

  • […] Dear Colleagues: One of the questions I get the most from students and new colleagues has to do with interpreter fees and expenses. We have covered professional fees from several perspectives in prior posts, but so far we have never really discussed the expenses interpreters should pass on to the client. I write this entry…  […]

  • abba timbuktu says:

    dear colleagues thank you for he info actually it is very usefull for us in africa precisely in mali

  • Mari says:

    Useful information Tony. Thank you!
    A few notes:
    – the GSA table may be used as a guideline, but is often too conservative if you don’t know the location and don’t have time to find cheaper restaurants. It is impossible to fit within if you need a hotel near the assignment location in a large and expensive city, for instance, or if you need to eat at times when only room service is available in some smaller cities.
    – I tend to apply the 1/2 day fee rule for travel only when travel (door to door, considering the long lines for security check at the airport nowadays) takes less than a regular work day (with some flexibility). When travel takes more than a regular work day, it needs to be compensated as a full day, and, as Julia says, a rest day is due when arriving at the location after a long flight, before starting to work.
    – charging a 1/2 day fee for assignments (not for travel days) is risky, as often times assignments run longer than expected and one cannot be sure to be able to make the 2nd assignment of the day. Also, the preparation time needed for a 3 hour assignment is often the same needed for a full day assignment, and this must be covered by the fee. We are obliged to take the half day fee from the courts, but, as you say “for government […] you agreed to a lower fee in exchange for consistency, volume, prestige, or many other considerations”, in other cases it is wiser to apply a full day fee, or a minimum (or short day) fee, without the expectation that the rest of the day will be filled with a 2nd assignment.

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