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I'm thinking of applying to several interpreting schools. My combination: English A, Russian B, French C, and possibly Spanish C in a few years. My parents tell me that a Master's degree isn't justified, whether it's a 1, 1.5, or a 2 year program, since most interpreters work freelance. As I understand it, you only have a full-time job if you work for international organizations, or you live in a country where there are at least two official languages. There, some interpreters work full-time in parliaments and courts. However, even in those countries most are freelance. What my parents want to know is:

-How do interpreters supplement their income?
-How are they able to have a full-time or a part-time job outside of interpreting when they freelance occasionally? They can't just ask for time off from work to interpret?
-How many years after graduating does it take to get freelance work at international organizations?

Thank you in advance.

I live in Canada, not in Quebec though. I know for a fact that there's little work in Canada, and most of it is for French As. I'm willing to relocate to the U.S. or the EU.


Thank you for all the replies so far. Still, I have a few questions.

On other forums, some interpreters wrote that your income varies from month to month, since it's not a full-time salaried job. And that some interpreters only work about 80 days per year. Do they have to pay for their own health insurance? Do they get paid vacation? Retirement funds?

Also, where are interpreters needed on a regular basis? For example, court interpreters aren't needed every day or week even since not every trial will have a foreign person testifying. My friend applied to be a court interpreter a few months ago here in Canada. They accepted her application and said that they'll call her for the test when there's a demand for her languages. Also, health care interpreters aren't in demand since sometimes family members/friends who are fluent in English interpret for people who aren't fluent in English. I was in a hospital this year and saw an elderly Italian lady interpreting for her husband.

Some of my parents' friends work for major multinational corporations and they said that they never require services of professional interpreters. I had a summer job at one of those companies a few years ago, and one time we had a Brazilian marketing executive come for a few days. He was fluent in English and had no trouble conducting business meeting in English. These days there are a lot of people around the world whose English is at a very high level.

One poster said that for my languages the best places to live would be Moscow, Geneva(UN), and New York(UN). I'm not a Russian citizen nor do I have a Russian work permit. I know it's very difficult to get one. I've researched Russia and they said that there the market for European languages is oversaturated and that the only way to get work would be to be fluent in one of the Asian or African languages. Even if I could get a work permit, would I find a job since I'm a Russian B not A? Where would I find work in Geneva or New York outside of the UN? How could I get a work permit to work in those cities?

asked 09 Oct '13, 23:01

Myra45's gravatar image


edited 11 Oct '13, 22:53

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

Where are you based or where would you consider living in the long run? You've got all the WRONG assumptions but the RIGHT language combination;-) So, tell us more if you want us to help you.

(10 Oct '13, 01:30) Danielle


Thank you for the detailed response. Though what I want to know is:

-Assuming I get into an interpreting school, where will I start work right after graduation? As I understand, both translators and interpreters don't start working for the EU,NATO,UN, right away. Also, I know that some only pass the exams with these organizations on their third or fourth try. And that after they pass the exams and the interview at the UN, they are placed on a roster and have to wait at least a year for a job.

-Where do interpreters work outside of these organizations? (See my question in OP).

-You wrote that you can live on freelance work if you're childless. However, what about people who have families to support?

(12 Oct '13, 12:21) Myra45

Hi Myra,

There is an awful lot of work outside the big institutions (UN EU Nato, etc etc). We call this the "private market". Your clients will be varied and hopefully numerous (because each client will probably only need interpreters once or twice a year). These could be big companies organising conferences, training courses or European Works Councils; visiting business delegations; small institutions that recruit interpreters rarely; cultural institutes holding bi-lingual events; TV channels looking for an interpreter for a program's invited guest etc etc. Basically anyone who needs an interpreter and isn't a big international institution. You might be recruited directly by the above, or on their behalf by agencies. Like I say above, don't rely on the institutions. The private market will be a must. Your teachers will be able to tell you more about your potential market(s).

As for 80 days, I wrote "Those with modest lifestyles (and no children!) can comfortably live off less than 80 days a year". Meaning that if you want a bigger car, or to put your kids thru university you might have to take fewer trips abroad and try to work more than 80 days. 80 days is not a big part of 365 days. If you need money and you can't get more interpreting work, then you might need to find a sideline, like translation. Alternatively your partner might have a job. (Interpreting is a great job if you want to spend time with your kids.)

(12 Oct '13, 12:51) Andy

Bonjour Myra, je complète les propos d'Andy, employant ma langue A cette fois pour plus de fluidité :

L'UE recrute des jeunes diplômés à tour de bras. Le taux de réussite du test d'accréditation inter-institutionnel oscille aux alentours de 30%. Il n'est donc pas impossible de réussir ce test quelques mois après l'obtention de ton diplôme. En revanche, comme l'a déjà dit Andy, il ne faut pas mettre tous ses oeufs dans le même panier. D'autant plus qu'avec ta combinaison incluant le russe, ce n'est pas tous les jours que l'UE te donnera(it) des jours de travail.

Les tarifs pratiqués sur le marché privé sont sujets à d'incalculables variables (différents systèmes d'imposition et de cotisations sociales nationales, niveau de vie, etc.). Toujours est-il que dans les grandes villes occidentales, la rémunération nette à la fin de la journée est du même ordre de grandeur que les tarifs (nets) accordés par les grandes organisations internationales ou institutions.

En tant que débutant à l'Union Européenne, ma rémunération journalière est de 310 euros (nets) environ. Il me faut donc quatre jours de travail mensuel pour arriver à l'équivalent du salaire minimum en Belgique.

Pour te donner un ordre de grandeur des honoraires quotidiens pratiqués par les Nations Unies :

Tout début professionnel est difficile, une certaine autonomie financière peut s'avérer nécessaire pour la période entre l'obtention du diplôme et celle où on arrive à vivre de l'interprétation. Mais si à ce stade on doit juste maintenir un niveau de vie étudiant, il y a mille et un moyens d'y arriver, avec des petits boulots qui offrent une flexibilité horaire suffisante pour se libérer en cas de contrat d'interprétation qui tombe du ciel. Mais ce problème se pose aussi pour les emplois traditionnels (salariés) , où on va passer des semaines ou mois à envoyer son CV dans l'espoir d'obtenir un poste.

(12 Oct '13, 13:08) Gaspar ♦♦

Andy, Gaspar (Je vais repondre en anglais),

How do beginner interpreters find work with delegations, TV channels, etc.? Do you have to be registered with an interpreting agency? Do these agencies require you to write a test to work with them? Or, do they hire you just with your degree?

How do you find translation work in Europe? For example, here in Canada, some translation agencies will only hire you if you have a degree in translation, and they require you to have a specialization like finance, medicine, etc.

Based on all the answers so far, I can say that I still can't see how a Master's degree is justified, esp. a two-year one. Like you wrote, earnings are sporadic and some months you have no work at all. At least with degrees like social work and school teaching, you can find a full-time job, albeit low paying one. Wouldn't it make more sense just to get a Certificate in Conference Interpreting?

As for doing odd jobs while waiting to get an interpreting gig; well, in most cases they won't hire you because you're overqualified. You said that you can support your kids if your partner is working. Still, what if your spouse loses his/her job, you divorce, etc, can you support them by yourself? I need to know this if I'm going to invest time and money in a Master's program.

(12 Oct '13, 15:08) Myra45

• "How do beginner interpreters find work with delegations, TV channels, etc.?"

C'est sensiblement identique aux autres professions libérales, qu'il s'agisse d'un dentiste ou d'un avocat : Tes pairs qui t'ont formé pourront te donner accès à une certaine clientèle au début en te recommandant. En parallèle, tu devras te faire connaître dans le milieu par divers réseaux. Les réunions locales de l'AIIC, accessibles via le statut de pré-candidat permettent de rencontrer des gens et de faire connaître ton existence.

Pour ce qui est des agences, elles t'ajoutent à leur liste d'interprètes sur recommandation ou sur base de ton CV et un diplôme pertinent.

Un diplôme universitaire spécialisé d'une bonne école te sera nécessaire pour être "vendable" sur le marché privé et pour t'armer à présenter et réussir les tests des différentes organisations et institutions.

Le fait que la profession soit saisonnière et qu'on ne travaille pas ou peu au mois d'août n'est pas vraiment un problème. Après tout, c'est la période idéale pour prendre des vacances, et d'autre part, les 8-9 mois où on travaille sporadiquement sur une année sont amplement suffisants pour gagner de quoi vivre durant 12 mois. C'est comparable aux pauses estivales des tribunaux pour les auxiliaires de justice ou les maîtres de conférence universitaires qui lorsqu'ils sont freelance, n'ont pas non plus de revenus entre juin et octobre. Ce qui n'empêche pas de bien vivre.

• "in most cases they won't hire you because you're overqualified."

Il n'est pas toujours nécessaire de tout faire apparaître sur son CV. Ou alors, on peut viser un boulot dans les langues. Ca va du prof de langues privé à l'hôtesse d'accueil trilingue. Moult collègues et moi-même sommes passés par là.

• "what if your spouse loses his/her job, you divorce, etc"

Autant de considérations et de problèmes hypothétiques qui sont valables pour toutes les professions des mortels de ce monde. Tout dépend du niveau de vie escompté.

(12 Oct '13, 15:44) Gaspar ♦♦
showing 5 of 7 show 2 more comments

Short answer: Yes - if you pass and you can interpret.

Long answer: It's cool that your parents are taking an interest, but interpreting is not a 9-5 office job-for-life and shouldn't be approached with that mentality. So I don't think they are right questions to ask, but then your parents can be forgiven that as they are looking at interpreting from the outside.

The MA is pretty much the only way into Conference Interpreting (CI) these days. If you try to get into interpreting without an MA in CI you will end up as a community interpreter or some such. And you will earn much less money per day of work. (And still with no guarantee of work). Make sure you know if you want to be a CI, a court interpreter or a community interpreter. It's not the same thing.

Make sure you get an MA from a good CI school... find one here

To answer the questions all the same...

-How do interpreters supplement their income? Many CI don't. It's a real job that you can make a decent living out of. Some translate.

-How are they able to have a full-time or a part-time job outside of interpreting when they freelance occasionally? We don't freelance "occasionally". Interpreting is our job. We do it most of the time.

They can't just ask for time off from work to interpret? See above. It's not a hobby, it's a real profession.

-How many years after graduating does it take to get freelance work at international organizations? Some people get accredited to the EU within a year. I believe it's likely to be a few years for the UN though. Some never bother with accreditation because they are making a good living on the private market locally. Don't put all your eggs in the institutional basket!

With your languages Moscow, New York (UN) or Geneva (UN) are probably the best bets. But I'm not an expert on the Russian markets.

Good luck!


your income varies from month to month, since it's not a full-time salaried job. Freelance interpreters get contracts for work for 1, 2 or several days at a time. So they need several, or lots of clients to fill the working year. Some months you'll work 15 days, some months very few or none at all (like August in Europe). Income will vary month to month, and even year to year.

And that some interpreters only work about 80 days per year. Do they get paid vacation? The upside of varied income is that you can choose to work or not. Those with modest lifestyles (and no children!) can comfortably live off less than 80 days a year. 160 days is a lot of work by anyone's standards. (In a normal job people count the days they have off work. We count the days we actually work!). Also the job is so intensive that 5 day weeks are pretty unhealthy - but 5 day weeks are pretty rare for most of us. Freelance interpeters don't get paid holidays. Staff interpreters do.

Do they have to pay for their own health insurance?
In Europe we have a very different set-up to the States, so I'll let someone from the US answer for the US. In Europe you are generally covered and you pay for it is some way or other - social security or tax.

Retirement funds? Some institutions pay a contribution to a pension fund when we work for them as freelancers. Some don't. Private clients don't pay into a pension. So we have to make our own arrangements - CPIC.

Also, where are interpreters needed on a regular basis? The big markets in Europe are Paris, Brussels (EU and NATO perhaps for you), Geneva (UN), Germany. But with your languages Geneva would seem the most logical place to be. Strasbourg and the Council of Europe is also an option for you.

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answered 11 Oct '13, 04:20

Andy's gravatar image


edited 12 Oct '13, 09:21

Hi Myra,

I have been going through the comments and, if I didn't oversee it, there are 2 important points that need to be qualified/complemented:


"Un débutant à l'UE qui obtiendrait une place sur le programme d'intégration se voit garantir 80 jours de travail offerts à 310€ nets sur une durée de douze mois. Soit 80*310/12= 2066€/mois pour en moyenne 6,6 jours travaillés par mois"

While this piece of information is basically correct, it needs to be complemented/qualified: on top of the 310 euro paid cash to you, the EU institutions do also pay about the same amount of money into a pension fund and into a health insurance plan. Besides, the 310 cash net that you get is tax free (up to a certain level??) in the EU country you live. At the end of the day, the pay is much higher than 310 euros because on the private market you have to pay yourself for pension fund and a health insurance, plus: all income is taxable. To my knowledge both health and pension plans only cover the days you actually work for the institutions so you will have to complement for that but it is a good starting point.

I do not work for the EU institutions or any other institution of the Agreement Sector for that matter so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong or my explanations aren't quite right.


The 80 days average workload per year refers to the actual days of work interpreting in a booth. But remember that you need to prepare for every assignment or mission in advance and depending on the conference, the preparation time can be hefty. I reckon that on average I need 1 working day (at my office) for each day of interpreting work in the booth, take or leave. If we talk about technical or medical conferences, the preparation time increases exponentially. AND: The less experience you have (beginner) the more preparation time you need.

On top of that, do not foget that interpreters are freelance service providers, see yourself as a "micro company". You will have to take care yourself of taxes, red tape, accounting and invoicing, marketing (winning new clients and pampering existing ones), honing your skills (knowledge, languages, skills as a freelancer...), etc. All this would be part of your job to a higher or lesser degree depending on how much you work for the Institutions. These chores will require your attention and time (more time = more working days). However, the aforementioned average of working days doen't factor these things in.

If you crunch your numbers, 80 average working days translate easily into 200-250 days of actual work on the freelance market. Considering 96 days of weekend days, plus regular bank holidays in your country of residence, plus 30 days of vacation that we deserve, we have the 395 days of the year pretty much covered and busy.

I hope this helps Conrado

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answered 11 Feb '14, 07:45

Conrado's gravatar image


edited 11 Feb '14, 07:48


"the EU institutions do also pay about the same amount of money into a pension fund and into a health insurance plan"

The actual figures are 65€ for pension and life insurance and 03 (three) euros for sickness and accident insurance. Some more money is paid into the fund from the interpreters' revenue: 395€ in theory, 33€ are deducted for the pension fund and another 50€ for community taxes, making a net revenue of 310€ per day.

Regarding the workload, it isn't unusual to work three or four days in a row and to be assigned to four or five different meetings with documents only available two days earlier. After being in the booth from 10am to 6pm on Monday, there's only so much preparation for the next day your brain will consent to do in the evening. However, since many meetings will have different subjects yet similar formats, you won't need full eight hours to know your stuff. There isn't the same variety as on the private market, so we don't have to learn the clients terminology and organigram each time we're about to go into the booth - some things don't change, and that allows to save a lot of time. And when working in booth of 3, some time can be spent reading the documents for the next day. So overall, 80 days a year for a newcomer won't mean total social alienation and work only. :-)

(11 Feb '14, 18:10) Gaspar ♦♦

My parents tell me that a Master's degree isn't justified, whether it's a 1, 1.5, or a 2 year program, since most interpreters work freelance.

So do lawyers. They nevertheless go to university. ;-)

In the long run, you hopefully won't feel the (material) need to supplement your income, as you'll manage to live off interpreting only. Yet, some colleagues also do written translations or teach. The motivations aren't necessarily financial.

For those who are not able to make a living with interpreting after a few years, finding an activity that gives enough flexibility to be still able to accept interpreting assignments and to maintain their skills at the required level will be a challenge.

16 months after graduating, I now seem to be able to make a living with my interpreting assignments for the EU.

Your languages make an interesting profile for the UN. It might be worth trying! :-)

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answered 10 Oct '13, 01:04

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

Working as a freelancer does not mean that you have to supplement your income in one way or another. What it means is that you work for different clients, and not for one employer. The thing is that professional conference interpreters do not freelance 'occasionally' - they do it on a regular basis. Furthermore, daily rates are high, so you don't usually spend twenty days a month in the booth (the workload of a typical office job). Obviously, you do need some more time to get prepared etc.

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answered 10 Oct '13, 13:28

Joanna's gravatar image


The recently published AIIC statistics provide some estimates of the annual gross interpreting income expressed in Euros as converted at a 2012 exchange rate.

The report and the regional graphs are available here (for AIIC members): 2012 Statistical report. An Executive Summary will be published soon on our public website.

The income levels do not express equivalent purchasing power and it will be up to the individual regions to judge whether the indicated gross annual income is sufficiently high compared to cost of living and similar liberal professions. The average number of worked days in 2012 (worldwide) was 88.

The average number of worked days doesn't take into account the number of hours and days invested for preparation of a conference, management of cost estimates and invoices, professional development, marketing, Here are two links to interesting articles on AIIC's blog:

It pays to know where your time goes: Part 1

It pays to know where your time goes: Part 2

The income varies according to regions and countries

from € 25.000 € 75.000

alt text

In regions with low annual gross income from interpreting services it is natural to find the highest percentages of interpreters looking for additional gainful work. These activities (example: translations, teaching) can amount up to 60% of the total work of interpreters.

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answered 10 Feb '14, 05:18

Angela's gravatar image


edited 19 Feb '14, 07:34

Hi Myra, I have only just come across this question, and hope that my two cents will still be useful several months later!

I have a 2-year M.A. in conference interpreting. I also know conference interpreters who never studied to be an interpreter, as well as those who studied and didn't pass their final or professional exams to get the M.A.

As a digression, this is a factor that hasn't yet been mentioned in this thread - not everyone who studies for an interpreting degree will be able to finally earn that degree. In the schools I have studied/taught/examined in, pass rates tend to be less than 50% - passing being receiving grades on the final professional exam that both get you a diploma and will allow you to apply for tests at institutions.

Back to my point - I have worked in courts, conferences, international organizations, business meetings, treaty negotiations, etc. So have the people who don't have the M.A. or who never went for one. However, I got more work at a higher level of pay a lot sooner than they did. Moreover I had the contacts to get more jobs from more clients, and the knowledge about more markets, so my career went smoother (with fewer protocol-type mistakes) and progressed faster.

Also, there are some institutions that won't test you without an interpreting degree. And when they say they will test you without a diploma, they usually want significant work experience.

I also fully agree with earlier posters - freelance interpreting is a profession on its own. And you will be a micro-business, so should educate yourself on organizing an office, accounting (especially write-offs), marketing, negotiating techniques, etc. etc.

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answered 12 Jul '14, 17:17

JuliaP's gravatar image


What are the average earnings of freelance interpreters per year? Someone asked the same question on interpretersfreeforums a while ago but didn't get a clear reply. I don't mean rates per day or per hour. If someone can please post yearly earnings of interpreters - both beginner and professional - who've reported their salaries, I would really appreciate it. Or a range over a two-to-three year period since incomes vary every year.

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answered 29 Nov '13, 20:54

Myra45's gravatar image


"What are the average earnings of freelance interpreters per year? Someone asked the same question on interpretersfreeforums a while ago but didn't get a clear reply."

Sans doute parce que la multiplicité de facteurs est considérable : Quelle cabine, quelles langues, quelle région, quel marché, quels tarifs, quels talents (de commercial comme d'interprète), quelle durée d'établissement, quel régime fiscal et droit national d'imposition... ?

Si ce chiffre existe, l'écart type doit être considérable et l'ensemble pris avec d'énormes pincettes.

Un débutant à l'UE qui obtiendrait une place sur le programme d'intégration se voit garantir 80 jours de travail offerts à 310€ nets sur une durée de douze mois. Soit 80*310/12= 2066€/mois pour en moyenne 6,6 jours travaillés par mois.

(30 Nov '13, 01:30) Gaspar ♦♦

I'll answer in English since I don't have accents on my keyboard. Just like the poster on the other site wrote, I know that it depends on where you live, your languages, and your employer/s. Let's say in the EU, what are some earnings that people have reported? Again, a range is what I'd like for various language combinations, excluding EU staff interpreters. For example, the US bureau of labor statistics gives an approximate average salary for most occupations. You can also find info on the highest and the lowest salary in any occupation in a given year.

(30 Nov '13, 02:14) Myra45

"what are some earnings that people have reported? (...) the US bureau of labor statistics gives an approximate average salary for most occupations. "

Les salaires sont une chose. Les honoraires en sont une autre : 2/3 (2000) des Agents Interprètes de Conférence (AIC) de l'UE travaillent moins de 10 jours par an pour les institutions. (

Tant qu'on ne sait pas pourquoi ces collègues travaillent si peu, les inclure dans une quelconque statistique fausserait inéluctablement le tableau. J'ai rencontré une collègue basée à Paris qui fait ça comme hobby, en plus d'une activité professionnelle totalement différente. De même, si j'ai des collègues qui rêvent de bosser plus, je suis personnellement assez satisfait avec ma charge de boulot actuelle et n'exclus plus de refuser du boulot pour garder un agréable équilibre travail/temps libre.

Il n'existe pas à ma connaissance de collecte de données représentative et spécifique à l'UE du côté des AIC.

L'AIIC a un début de réponse mondial quant au nombre de jours par an travaillés :

(30 Nov '13, 05:52) Gaspar ♦♦

Since most people post here anonymously, can some freelance interpreters tell me how much they've earned per year since 2006? Again, I realize that it depends on where they live, their languages and who they work for. Thank you in advance.

(04 Dec '13, 14:42) Myra45
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