Document translation: how much does it cost and why?

Document translation: how much does it cost and why?



Multilingual SEO

As with any knowledge work, translation is really something greater than a sum of its parts. To make a translation expert it takes a good command of two languages (a target and a source one - the one it’s translated from and the one it’s translated to), extensive knowledge of an area of expertise, great analytical skills, and a fair bit of literary talent to wrap the information up so it’s readable and understood just fine. 

Lose one of these key ingredients and the experience is ruined. And it’s not good for your business image. 

By now, you may think that a good translation is expensive and there’s no way you can save money on it. Actually, it could be true but it may not always be the case.

There are a lot of things about your text that can give you a heads-up on what rate to expect and how cost-effective the translation could be.

What to consider when estimating a cost-effective translation?

Let’s go with the obvious ones




Word count

How many words does your source text have? The larger it is, the more time it would take to translate it, therefore, the higher the price would be. An urgent professional translation of several thousand words requires the use of immediately available translators. It is imperative that translators can devote full time to the project to meet deadlines. This specificity can affect the cost of the project concerned. The recurrence of translations can also affect the price: a recurring request can thus benefit from a more advantageous price. To establish a translation quote, the number of words contained in the source document is accurately counted. This overall volume is called the ‘gross volume’. Then, proper nouns, digits, and sometimes recurring expressions processed in particular in CAT (computer-assisted translation) or translation memory are deduced. This results in a ‘net volume’ on which the amount of the translation is based.

To amortize management costs in the context of translation assignments involving very small volumes, it is not uncommon to see price floors. Conversely, the large volumes of texts to be translated often provide access to more competitive translation prices.

Language pair

You should know that the price of your translation will depend in part on a language combination concerned, i.e. a source language and a target language. A translation in a popular foreign language combination will have a lower cost than a translation in a more rare combination, with a limited number of translators available. The so-called ‘rare’ languages ​​are known to fewer translators. In other words, there are fewer translators of rare languages. And, since what is rare is expensive, translating into these languages ​​is expensive. Scandinavian languages, in particular, are reputed to be more expensive than most other European languages, such as French, Spanish, or Italian for example.

Moreover, if the final volume is constrained by rules (technical rules for integration into a website, standard template to maintain the source design, etc.), the translation supposes a major reinterpretation of the content to adapt to these constraints retaining meaning and intention of the source.


Complex and technical content, such as a contract or an electronic device user guide, will require the intervention of a specialized expert translator with in-depth skills. It is essential that the translator master the terminology specific to the sector to provide a quality translation. A translator with such expertise is paid more than a non-expert translator, working on general content. So the translation of an employment contract will cost, for example, more than the translation of marketing sell sheets.


Quite significant price changes can be observed when the delivery time/word count ratio exceeds 1,500/2,000 words per day. Surcharges are also applicable if the mission includes working on weekends or public holidays, reserving a last-minute interpreter, and delivering a translation in less than 24 hours. On average, it takes a translator a day's work to process around 2000 words. Additional working time must be added to the project in the event of cross-proofreading and/or quality control in an agency. Finally, this period is extended if the text contains more than 10 pages or if it is a sworn translation. If the translation project involves urgent work, or even evenings or weekends, the price of the translation will be increased.

Extra requirements

The simplest (and the most compact) format remains the Word document without a specific layout. Working from HTML or pdf files requires a preliminary extraction of the contents, and this step obviously has a cost. Some formats require the use of extraction software, such as OCR (optical character recognition software). This extraction and re-layout work often require time and technical skills. In addition, translating 10 separate files of 100 words each is more expensive than translating a single file of 1000 words, of course!

Focus on sworn translation

For a sworn translation (also known as a certified translation), a translation agency goes to a translator authorized by the court, who alone can carry out a translation having legal value. Indeed, a sworn translation is the only solution for the translation to have the same legal value as the original document. This type of translation covers all official civil status documents and legal acts, balance sheets, and company statutes, administrative documents, and diplomas.

Any free options for cost-effective translations?

This blog post would not have been complete without mentioning free online translation services. If the text you want to get translated is not too complex and doesn’t require in-detail knowledge or accuracy, you can use DeepL. It is a fairly recent translation tool (launched in August 2017) but is often considered the most powerful. Created by the Linguee site team, DeepL relies on the latter's database to perform its translations. It uses deep learning technologies and it’s supposed to get better and better with time. Still, the huge drawback of this and any other free online translation tools is that they don’t guarantee the quality you may need, especially if your text is specialized and its target readers are experts with deep knowledge in the area. You don’t want to risk your reputation by saving some money on a translator. 

And one more thing -

Beware of very low prices!

Be careful with a translation service that offers you particularly low prices: it is likely that it also offers its translators low salaries. This can mean, on the one hand, they lack the expertise needed and they risk spending as little time as possible on your project…

Prioritize quality and do not hesitate to evaluate the services of various agencies with translation tests they often offer.


Our translations are performed by translators carefully selected to align with the subject matter and content of your project. They meet and exceed international quality standards. Upon request, we will provide you with a certificate attesting to the precision of our translations