Why Are Some Document Translations More Expensive Than Others?

When shopping around for a translation service, you might notice that prices can vary widely between companies. However, at first glance it can be difficult to determine why some translation services are so cheap, while others can get very expensive.

There are several reasons why document translations will vary — other than just by the size of the document or total number of documents you need translated in a desired timeframe, because that is a given. We’re going to look at the most common variables that affect prices of document translations and offer up insight into why you should or shouldn’t consider paying more for that variable.

Quality of Service

The same rule that applies to pricing in all industries also applies here. A higher quality of service demands a higher price. Plain and simple.

That doesn’t mean that the two are always correlated, because they certainly aren’t. However, when it comes to the price of translation services, quality should be one of your top considerations. You want to make sure you get what you’re paying for.

The price you’re willing to pay for a certain level of quality will be determined by the type of translation you are looking to have done, and obviously, your financial situation. If you just need a short document translated to a common target language, you might not see the need to pay top dollar. However, the more complicated your documents are and the less common the target language is, the more likely you are to save time and money in the long run by paying top price for the best service available.


Some translations services specialize in only one or a few type of documents, while others will translate anything. It might make sense to think that the companies who translate more documents would be more expensive because they offer a more comprehensive service, however specialization in any industry is typically more valuable.

Just think about it. Let’s say you need medical documents translated. Would you rather have those documents translated by a company that also translates websites, books, speeches, book reports, etc — or would you rather have them translated by a company who only translates medical documents day in and day out? The choice is obvious, but keep in mind, you will likely have to pay a premium for that expertise.

This is just something to take into consideration. You might not require specialization, in which case it wouldn’t be worth it to pay extra for a translation service with niche specialization.

The Target Language

Believe it or not, prices for translation service vary based on the target language. Even if you were getting the same document translated into multiple languages, you might not be quoted the same price for each translation. There are several reasons for this.

The main reason that prices may vary by target language is that more commonly used languages will have more available translators. With more competition available, these translators don’t command as high of a price.

There are less linguists that translate more obscure languages or languages used less often for the type of document that you are having translated. Because there are far less translators available for these types of projects, they are in higher demand and tend to charge a higher price.

Another thing to consider is the length of your document and the minimum price that a translation service charges. Many freelancers have a minimum quote, which could include a much higher word count than you require with your current project. If possible, whenever you have multiple documents with short lengths, it’s best to have them all translated at the same price to get the best deal. This goes for rare languages or not, although you can expect the minimums to be slightly higher for linguists who translate in obscure languages.

Freelancer vs Agency

Generally speaking, agencies charge more than freelancers, but that isn’t always the case. Considering all of the above factors, the pricing between a freelancer or agency could be about the same up to a certain point.

The best freelancers will charge a higher rate than some of the smaller agencies. However, agency rates can far exceed what even the most accomplished freelancers can charge.

Agencies typically charge more because they have more expenses, they offer more comprehensive services, and they have the resources to offer greater support to their clients. Plus, there’s something to be said for how we perceive an agency vs a freelancer. We typically feel more comfortable paying a higher price to bigger companies than we are to someone who is just working on their own. Whether or not the higher price is justified is a matter of opinion.

This factor comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer the personal touch of working with a freelancer and they don’t require a workload that is beyond what one person can handle. On the other hand, there are those who wouldn’t consider not working with an agency because of their increased resources and ability to handle bigger projects in a shorter amount of time.

Kyle Stout is a freelance writer based out of Tulsa, OK. This article was prepared on behalf of Pemex English Library.

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