In-House Translators vs. Freelance Translators: Pros and Cons

 In Hey There Future Translators!, The Perks of Being a Wordplower
There are two kinds of translators in this world: those who work in an office and are forced to wear pants, and those who work from home in their pajamas. That is to say, in-house translators and freelance translators.


I suspect most of us agree, those who work from home in a Chewbacca onesie are clearly the winners in this debate. Sounds like a dream come true, right?


Well, let’s not be too hasty in writing off the situation of those in-house word-ploughers.


Like any other comparison, both sides have their pros and their cons.


Whether you’re just entering the world of translation, or you’ve been here for a while and are thinking about making a change, it can be difficult deciding on which one is right for you. Much of it depends on your personality and situation, but sometimes seeing the differences side by side can tip the scales one way or another. So, to help you make the decision we’re going to analyze the major differences between in-house and freelance translators.


Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly for these two types of translators.



The Office Life: One of the biggest differences that separates in-house from freelance translators is the physical office space.




As a company employee you must get up a specific hour (usually far too early), leave the comfort of your home (glaring enviously at your cat who will spend the day sleeping by the heater) and commute to the office battling traffic or hordes in the metro. Much to our chagrin, that also means wearing pants.


When working in an office there are certain unpleasant aspects that come with the territory. Offices can have a noisy atmosphere: phones ringing, incessant typing, doors opening and closing, coworkers talking, and the hyena cackle from Janyce down the hall. Translation is a highly intellectual job that requires concentration and it may be hard to get that with all those distractions, making your job that much more difficult.



On the other hand, the office environment has a wealth of benefits. Primarily the fact that you’re actually around people! Having coworkers means you get to socialize. People often make new friends in the office and share in the sense of comradery and accomplishment. Interacting with coworkers, conversing during a coffee break, and making jokes when the boss isn’t looking breaks up the work day and can make your job more pleasant.


Furthermore, companies generally encourage this workplace comradery by planning social events and trips. Christmas dinner on the company’s dime or winning a ham leg in the company raffle definitely go down as positive points for in-house translators.


And let’s not forget about Doughnut Wednesday, who can possibly hate that tradition?




And what about the office life for freelance translators?


For most freelance translators, their home doubles as their office. This means a minimal commute with no traffic, generally from the bed to the coffee maker and then to the computer. What a peaceful way to start the morning!


While many have a designated work space, they’re not forced to be there. The couch is valid an option. Similarly, PJs and dinosaur slippers are considered appropriate work attire if you’re not in the mood for buttoning pants and tying shoes. But all this is at the translator’s discretion; for many, going through a morning routine helps them get mentally prepared to work.


Unlike the traditional office scenario, your home is free from most workplace distractions and office politics. In addition, you don’t have to sit through boring meetings and corporate bureaucracy rarely hinders or interferes with your work process. Plus, no one is going to steal your lunch from the fridge. Honestly, the worst that can happen is that the cat walks across your keyboard.


Counterproductive CAT tool


Lastly, since translation requires very little equipment you take your office on the go! Anywhere that has internet can be transformed into a work space. Haven’t seen Mom in a while? Go spend a few days at your parent’s place without taking vacation days. They’ll be thrilled you stopped by AND you’ll get some homecooked meals. It’s a win-win!


Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, working from home has its downsides. In this case, you have your very own fortress of solitude. Spending 8+ hours at home with no one to talk to but your cat is enough to drive anyone slightly nutty. The lack of coworkers and comradery can make the day-to-day routine feel tedious.


Inversely, your friends and family may interpret “freelancing” and “working from home” as having lots of “free time at home,” so you’ll probably get more calls than you’d expect during your working hours. It’s nice to have some contact with the outside world, but if you have a heavy workload this can be a big distraction.




Flexibility: Another one of the great dividers between in-house translators and freelance translators is flexibility, or lack thereof.




As an in-house translator, your flexibility is roughly the equivalent of that of a yoga newbie. Your schedule is fixed, and it’s probable that your salary is too. Additional hours are inevitable in our line of work, which ultimately leaves you with less time for yourself. Moreover, to not see those extra hours reflected on your paycheck can be disheartening.


Equally fixed are your vacation days. These gifts from the vacation lords are slowly accrued throughout the year and you only receive a certain amount of them that you must ration wisely. Not to mention that things become a bit cutthroat when it comes to scheduling days off around the holidays. In general, the balance between work and life is harder to, well, balance. It’s unfortunate, but you’re often forced to plan your life around your work schedule and not the other way around.


But all this rigidity does come with a silver lining: job security. Although you don’t get much say in the what, where, and when of your work, the upside is that you know you’re going to have work. Instead of chasing it down like Wile E. Coyote, it comes to you. Sometimes this can lead to work piling up; but luckily, if work starts to get out of hand, your colleagues can help you beat it back into submission. Similarly, you can enjoy that week skiing in the mountains without having to worry about being buried by an avalanche of work when you get back. And best of all, you know you’re getting paid for those days off.




When it comes to flexibility, freelance translators are on the other end of the spectrum from company employees. You’re the boss, so you get all the perks that come with it: you get to decide the hours you work, the rates you charge, which projects you take and which you leave, and how many days of vacation you want. You more or less have the ability to customize your job, thus having a much better work-life balance. 


Perhaps you’re a night owl and being up before the sun is inconceivable, no problem! You can adjust your schedule to what suits you best. The same also applies if you have other obligations on a certain day or if something unexpected comes up. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you get to work less; you still need to put in enough hours to finish all of your projects before the deadline. Sometimes this actually leads to some long nights with little sleep fueled by gallons of coffee. Good thing college prepared you for that too.


Freelance translators coffee

Just like your schedule, you have full control of your vacation days and time off. You can take as many as you’d like and during any time of the year! This can be a huge advantage, especially when it comes to major life events such as having a baby. But this flexibility comes at a price, those days off aren’t paid. For every day off you have to make it up somewhere else.


Unlike in-house translators, you decide how much money you want to make. Since you’re the boss, you get to dictate how much you charge for your services. Likewise, you can choose to take on as many projects as you can handle, meaning you control your earning capacity. And best of all, if translating the instruction manual for a waffle iron sounds deathly boring, you don’t have to accept the job.


The only problem with all of this is that consistent work isn’t guaranteed; it’s a feast or famine situation. Incoming work fluctuates and depends on many variables. Freelance translators have to do their own marketing and self-promotion while actively hunting down jobs and recruiting clients. This aspect of freelance is often the most difficult; to be successful you must be highly organized and have an overdose of initiative. Motivation is key. But an empty bank account and an instant ramen noodle diet are strong motivators.


Foot the bill: Lastly, in-house translators have some added bonuses that come with working for a company.


Being someone else’s employee means that you don’t have to cover certain expenses.


  • Equipment:
    • For starters, the company provides all the necessary equipment: computers, printers, internet, CAT tools, and most importantly, the sacred coffee machine. Unfortunately, for freelance translators all these expenses come straight out of pocket (they are deductible though).


  • Training:
    • The company also provides training for its employees. For those who are CAT tool novices, this training is invaluable experience that will give you a leg up in the beginning. Freelance translators will have to learn on their own or perhaps take a course.


  • Benefits and Taxes:
    • Lastly, and possibly the most important, are the benefits. We already talked about paid vacation, but companies also shell out a fair chunk of change, or at least match employee contributions, to provide other benefits such as paid parental leave, employee health insurance and retirement/pension plans. Once again, these are expenses that freelancer translators must pay for on their own.


While keeping all that in mind, we need to take into account that benefits depend on the country. In the United States, for example, having private health insurance and a retirement plan paid for by your company are essential benefits; however, in countries where healthcare and pension plans are a social institution (like Spain), you’re paying for them with your taxes regardless of whether you’re an in-house or a freelance translator. That is to say, depending on the country, these “benefits” may be nothing more than a basic element of the working world.



That being said, you should also keep in mind that being freelance entails paying different taxes or even fees. In some countries, let’s use Spain as an example again, you pay an annual fee for working as a freelancer.


So, which one is better?


As you can see, both in-house and freelance translators have equally positive and negative aspects. It’s not so much a question of which is objectively better, but rather what your priorities are and which one better fits you and your current situation.


The way I see it, it’s similar to gambling. If you’re willing to take the risk, you could win big as a freelance translator. But if you prefer a sure thing, being an in-house translator is your best bet.


We hope you enjoyed the article and that you found it useful! Share, like, leave comments, or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!


Even if you’re flustered about the pajamas-freelancer comment, we’d love to hear from you!


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P.S. We know not all freelance translators work in their pajamas.


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Showing 2 comments
  • GBM

    Working as a translator (of any kind) can be the most boring, sole-destroying job imaginable. You have to translate incredibly difficult texts from subject areas you know nothing about (not of course that most translators will admit this). Being an in-house translator comes with the added minuses that you a) have zero control over what kind of texts you translate, b) will (depending on the job) have loads of down-time where you’re twiddling your thumbs but still have to come in to work every day and c) will have to work with other translators (let’s face it – you could hardly meet a nerdier bunch of know-it-alls).

    • Matthew

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter! We love to hear people’s experiences; however, we’re sorry it has been a rather negative one.

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