The fear of working for American translation agencies
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During the Swedish Association of Professional Translators annual conference I made an interesting observation. While discussing to several Nordic translators they voiced their apprehension for working with American agencies. Their motivation was that they are afraid of the perceived litigiousness of American business culture, and feel that the American agencies’ contracts are intimidating. They feel they need expensive liability insurance in order to work for American agencies. This is news to me, since I have worked for dozens of American agencies in the past 10 years, and have not had any trouble whatsoever. Perhaps this is because I started my freelance translation career after moving to the United States. Has anyone else had a similar experience or experienced similar apprehension?

I know for a fact that many freelance translators do not have liability insurance and are doing perfectly fine without one. I have liability insurance because some of my larger clients require that I have it, mostly as a formality. That said, I think the fear of American agencies is unwarranted. I have never heard about anyone being sued for a mistranslation. Please share with me if you have. As long as you produce a high quality, double checked translation, the risk of ever getting into trouble is minimal.

The American culture is known for lengthy contracts and limited liability clauses, and this is not only for service providers. For example, the side rear view mirrors on cars in America have a little sticker saying “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” American contracts are just adapted to the American legal culture. Do read through them, but do not worry. If there is something you definitely do not agree with, you can always cross this out before signing and returning the contract. Most agencies accept this anyway.

My conclusion is that this fear is unwarranted and that the translators that are afraid of working for American agencies due to their contracts and liability clauses are missing out on some good business. Do you agree?

Swedish Translation Services is a company owned by Tess Whitty, a freelance translator (English-Swedish), proofreader, editor, copy writer, localizer and entrepreneur.


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  2. I have never heard any translator being sued. In my practice, I send the document to the client and ask for his/her approval then I re-send the document together with my affidavit. Most clients approve it right away.

  3. Tom Ellett says:

    Besides their preference for paying by check, some American agencies (including good ones) insist on a 45-day payment term. This makes them unattractive clients for translators in countries like Sweden, where agencies generally pay on the dot at 30 days by direct deposit to the translator’s bank account.

  4. Charles Ek says:

    I worked for many years as an attorney, corporate risk manager and commercial insurance underwriter before becoming a freelance translator. I do not carry liability insurance for my translation work. That’s a conscious decision after a thorough analysis of the risks and the available coverage. You’ll be very, very hard-pressed to find examples of freelance translators being sued for alleged errors in US courts.

    The contracts that I sign are almost universally mere non-disclosure agreements. I’m mystified by the supposed prevalence of risk-transferring contracts among US sources of translation business. Just as Tess suggests, you should refuse to accept such terms if they are unacceptable to you. Everything is negotiable, if the would-be purchaser of your services really wants you on the job.

  5. I wrote off the Americans long ago because of the weakness of their dollar and because I was tired of explaining the difference between a W-8 and a W-9 to PMs who should know better.

    • Tess says:

      Thanks for your input Kevin! I completely understand your reasoning. Do you work with anyone in the Americas?

  6. My biggest concern when working with American agencies is their – to put it mildly – rather outdated banking system. They sending checks. No, really. And everywhere outside of USA cashing such check takes time and money in banking fees. Sometimes you can request a money transfer, but you have to cover costs, sometimes they agree on PayPal, and that’s generally best option, although there are still some fees attached (i.e. money being lost in transit).

    • Tess says:

      Yes, the check-system is very frustrating, even for me living here. However I do get bank transfers from abroad and then we usually share the costs. I accept Paypal for fees under $500.