How to Make Sure You Get Paid for Translation Work

There can be nothing worse than slaving away for a new or existing client and not to get paid for it. There are a lot of bad apples on the internet, and it can be quite difficult to legally force a payment, especially if your client is located in another country. But even if located in the same country, hiring a lawyer and dishing out all the fees to chase payment can be too expensive to make it worth your while. Below are some tips indicating what we have learned over the years to help make sure we got paid for our excellent work.

Ensuring Payment for your Translation Work

One of the best ways to ensure payment is to do a good job, which you can learn how to best accomplish through our translation tips page. By providing excellent work there is a greater chance your customer will want to use you again, so it will be within its interest to pay you in a prompt and reliable manner. A second approach is to take the time to research your customer. You can try to find their tax records with the government to see if they are solvent, or find out what other translators say about them through various forums, the most prominent of which you will find through the payment reputation and practices page. Another option is to ask for a PO (purchase order) or binding contract, but over the years we have found that these tend not to have any clout across international borders, as explained by some international lawyers below. A PO can be a PDF or Word file, but as or more effective can be the statement within the body of a regular email. In some email programs you can view an email in Raw View, which shows the path how that email got to you over the internet. Together with a statement within the email explicitly assigning some work to you, it can easily serve as a binding purchase order. Just make sure that the statement also includes a payment schedule and some penalty for late payment. You should be able to find on the internet legal samples of good wording and what points to include. The problem is that such legal documents are most often valid only in the native language of the country where your customer is located, so binding your international customer to payment can pose many problems. It should also be worded correctly according to that country’s law. And even if everything is written correctly, the costs involved in hiring a lawyer in that country to represent you can be prohibitively expensive. However, a well written and officially sent letter (from a lawyer) by post can often scare most customers into paying you.

When researching your customer make sure to look at their email address. If someone is writing to you from a Hotmail address you should be wary. If they say they are representing a large company, you should ask them why they are not writing to you from a corporate email address. You can also write to the company and ask for verification whether that person works there and if they are authorised to farm out such work. When responding to their email make a note of the address you are it is being sent to, as it is easy to set up the identity (what the address and name looks like when you read the incoming email) differently than the Reply To address.

In addition to all these points, perhaps the best strategy is to ask for partial payment for partial delivery, until trust is established. Although this can be more difficult with translation agencies who often have to wait 30 or more days to receive payment from their customer. Furthermore, demanding prompt or partial payment from an agency could lead them to using someone else, in which case you will not get your foot into the door of potentially a lot of future and regular work. You might therefore be better off to start with smaller amounts of work and wait until they pay before accepting more. On the other hand, if you are not busy with other work, you could take the chance and accept a larger project prior to payment.

The Legalities of Ensuring Payment for your Translation Work – Recommendations from Two International Lawyers

If you accept a very large project, such as if you are acting as a translation agency and farming out many documents to other translators and you want to make sure you do not bury yourself into debt, the below responses from a couple of international lawyers could shed some light on how you can protect yourself.

Here are brief and preliminary responses to your questions. Ordinarily we would not respond substantively to legal inquiries without first being formally retained as counsel.

1. Is there some standard contract which can be written and which will protect me? 
Answer: There are no pre-existing standard contracts, but we could prepare one or more standard contracts for your company to be used with your various suppliers, customers. As for protection, a contract is only as effective as the will of the aggrieved party to enforce the contract. It is after all only a piece of paper. If your company has a well drafted agreement and has the will and resources to enforce it, it can be enforced.

2. Do I have any hope of extracting payment from non-paying customers? 
Answer: Yes, but the practicalities of enforcement vary from case to case and depend on such factors as the existing and formulation of the underlying contractual obligation; the place of enforcement and applicable law; the cost of enforcing the contract; etc.

3. Considering the location of my business, which countries are more secure for me?
Answer: This is very difficult to answer not knowing where you do business. Ideally, you should provide services to customers in countries which have a functioning legal system that recognizes the enforceability of contracts made with foreign companies, such as your own. However, with proper planning it is possible to work with customers in countries with less developed legal systems.

4. Is there some protocol I should follow whereby the customer confirms receipt of my translations as I send them to it?
Answer: Part of your strategy should be to develop a set of procedures which will reduce the risk of non-payment. For example, when a translation is ready to be sent to a client, you could require partial payment as a precondition for dispatch of the translation. As you develop experience with particular clients, you may be willing to relax your payment/credit terms. By the same token, clients with poor credit histories may require payment of translation fees in advance. You can also consider asking for bank references from clients requesting large jobs, etc. Another strategy may be to use credit cards or a payment service such as PayPal.

5. How about existing customers who owe me? I have one in Switzerland, which is outright ignoring my emails, although the balance due is only about a thousand dollars. 
Answer: Where a customer is “stone-walling” you, you have several options: (a) sending him a registered letter; (b) having your lawyer send him a registered letter; (c) hiring a local collection agency to collect the debt; (c) bringing suit.

6. What are your rates? 
Answer: Our fee schedule is flexible. However, for new clients without a payment history, we charge US$300.00 per hour, plus out-of-pocket disbursements, if any. For large cases, we may consider a partial contingency arrangement. Alternatively, we might be amenable to a fixed montly retainer fee which would cover a pre-determined bank of hours (non-cumulative).

7. Could you at least send a scary and threatening letter? 
Answer: Once retained formally by you, sending a demand letter is definitely one of our options.

8. Is there some Better Business Bureau or something like that in Switzerland where I can issue a complaint and hopefully cause this company a bad reputation?
Answer: We are not Swiss attorneys and therefore are not intimately familiar with the business environment in Switzerland, although we have extensive experience in dealing with Swiss companies and transactions. First, Switzerland is a confederation and therefore legal and business matters tend to be organized according to Cantons. Second, most Cantons have chambers of commerce, like the Zurich Handelskammer. There may be other alternatives as well.

I trust the foregoing is sufficiently responsive to your inquiry to allow you to decide whether to retain our services. I await word from you.

Marc Zell, Adv.

Zell, Goldberg & Co.



The questions you raise are the questions all companies raise and there are no set answers, but here goes.

1. Payment in advance is the best solution.

2. It would make sense for you to have a really good contract in English for all countries. This contract would provide for arbitration and would also provide that the prevailing party gets its attorneys’ fees. We would charge $3500 for such a contract. This contract should increase your chances of getting paid and also increase your chances of prevailing in litigation if someone does not pay. It should also reduce your litigation costs.

3. We charge $350 an hour and so it does not make sense for us to write that Swiss company. But, we would do it for free if you retain us for the contract.

4. Even with the contract, it would probably not be worthwhile to sue for only $1000.

5. Some countries are definitely better than others in terms of collecting.

Having an arbitration clause will help even this out a bit though.

thank you for your response, which is roughly what I thought it would be and was afraid of. When signing a contract, do they just need to respond to a PO sent by email? Perhaps the contract stipulations within the body of the email, and when they respond “we accept” it is considered a binding contract? Or is something more fancy like a PDF file, possibly encrypted or something, required?

The fancier the better because it varies from country to country. I would at least send them a pdf and say that by signing on for your services they accept the provisions in the pdf. What we also do is add the provisions to the website and say they accept the terms there. But, I fear that without a lawyer drafting your provisions you are no better off than where you are now. Try finding a lawyer in the Czech Republic who does international law. They should be cheaper than us.

Some people have indicated to me that an email by itself can serve as a binding contract. When I look at my incoming emails in “raw veiw”, it shows exactly who sent it, and how etc. (through which internet provider etc.). If in the body of the email some contract is stipulated, in combination with the raw view data, I guess it can prove they sent it and it can become binding. I’d like to move towards a system where I would send the details to the customer and all they would have to say is “I accept” somewhere. Perhaps eventually some fancy html email form which they could open in Outlook, select a radio button stating “I accept” or something, and it all gets encrypted or secure or something like that. Some translators I work with have such a system. And then some other system where they confirm receipt of a translation. Will take some time to develop I guess. And maybe I’ll have different forms based on country, so it looks really scary and legit, and gives me more legal jaws if I have to chase after them, although I doubt I would do that most of the time, unless the orders are very large. And if they are very large, I’m simply going to demand payment by installments etc. But it would be nice to have a very professional and serious looking contract system.

A good contract system will not only help you should you not get paid, it will decrease the likelihood of someone not paying you. Do whatever you can to make your system better.

Daniel P. Harris | HarrisMoure pllc
720 Olive Way, Suite 1000 | Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 224-5657 | Fax: (206) 224-5659 | International Law Firm

Other Tips Concerning Getting Paid for Translation Work
Good advice and I’ll save your info. Generally though I research a company offering me work on ProZ’s BlueBoard. A regular and reliable outsourcer should have a good standing record there. If not I’m rather weary about accepting work from them. They should also be writing from a company email address and not from gmail. Like [email protected]. You can then research the company, for example. Check if the email goes back to [email protected] when you press Reply To and not to some other email address (in case they were masquerading as someone else’s identity). If they write from gmail ask them to write directly from the company, or approach the company yourself and confirm that the person works there and is sending you this work. If they do not have a good reputation on some of the translation forums, try to get advance payments, or partial payments as you deliver partial work to them. Gotta be careful!


Having been informed by both Member and GoMember colleagues, we wish to alert you to new (?) forms of ‘Nigerian scams’. These crooks contact translators via their personal contact form (and, as we have previously explained, we cannot read personal emails sent via our servers without this violating your privacy).

For instance, these e-mails received:

[Private and unchecked mailing!]

Sender IP: [Port: 62877]
Date: 18/04/2009 – 22H10 [BE time]
(Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 6.0; SLCC1; .NET CLR
2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506; .NET CLR 1.1.4322) / en-gb)
Sender : Mrs Frederik ([email protected])
Recipient : xxx ([email protected])
Attachment : — —

I am Mrs. Frederik Based in DUblin Ireland. we are looking for German and Italian translators to assist us on a approximately 31,000 words project.
{source Word is English}

If interested, please include in your reply email:
– your PRICE per source word in Euros
_ please be ready for a long time partnership.

I will forward document to you once i hear from you.
Please forward all response to {[email protected]}


These “Nigerian (or Mauritius) scams” are an old swindler process.
African IP, false residence, surrealistic text, …

Crooks of this type can get away with it for a long time before being caught in the act because they use a number of plausible addresses and a number of Internet Service Providers all at the same time. Even so, we can try and track them down by cross-checking… As a community, we can be sure that our actions will have greater influence!

If you are one of the people who have been swindled by this kind of crook, please do not hesitate in sending us the headers of the first message received “from” GoTranslators (in blue below) when you were in contact with them and any other details which might help investigators to prevent these crooks from doing any more damage (please e-mail [email protected]).

Example (as above):

From: [email protected]
Date: 09/04/2009 – 01H23 [BE time]
To: (X)
Subject: GoTranslators – Translation

[Private and unchecked mailing!]

Sender IP: [Port: 2036]
Date: 09/04/2009 – 01H23 [BE time]
(Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:
Gecko/20071127 Firefox/ TB Newsbar / en-us,en;q=0.5)

Sender : Freebury Bob ([email protected])
Recipient : You ([email protected])
Attachment : — —

We advise you also to re-read our file: A to Z advice for freelance translators on client relations. It contains lots of advice which will help you to avoid bad professional encounters.

You can consult our BAD PAYERS Tool which contains a list of all the places where you can find out about the dubious clients who are running wild in our profession.

*** You can check the sender email address at :
really useful website fighting spam and scams on the Internet.

Using the header, you can also form an initial impression of the seriousness of the request made and, potentially, guard against any hidden attempt at fraud on the part of your correspondent. How?

The GoTranslators header features the Sender IP (for instance: Internet Provider Sender IP: address for the person contacting you. It is worth checking the address and its actual origin in order to compare the address with what your correspondent tells you about himself… In IT jargon, this is known as a “WhoIs” request.

There are a number of free software packages that can be used with a Windows operating system. From amongst these, the GoTranslators team has selected Trace Route (, free download from: This software allows the user to identify the origin of any Sender IP address.

Once downloaded (1.55 Mb), copy the program to any directory (*) and run it…

(*) Do NOT store the executable on the desktop. It will create additional files and folders.

It is now installed. To uninstall it, all you need to do is delete the directory.

To use it while you are connected to the internet:

1- Copy (CTRL-C) the IP address of the message received.
2- Paste (CTRL-V) the address into TraceRoute as shown below:
3- Click on the “Whois and more” tab
4- Click on the “as IP#” button

You then get a series of details that may seem complicated at first glance but they give you detailed information on the origin of the server used by your correspondent (e.g.: below).

Equally, this information allows you to find the e-mail address of the person responsible for the server in case of clear abuse :

Finally, in some cases, the data will refer you to other “WhoIs” sites, or you can refine your search in order to gauge your correspondent a little better:

An Irish correspondent using a Nigerian server?… There really is some doubt as to the seriousness of the message!

Please do not hesitate in using this tool in its freeware version – it provides an excellent service every day in identifying and disabling the main dangers of the internet!

Hoping to be helpful,
Luc Destruvaux
[email protected]

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