May 19, 2019

Statutory translation rates for Germany: JVEG update

With all the confusion about fees for translation in some circles, and the generally timid and misguided attitudes regarding rate discussions in organizations such as the American Translators Association (ATA), it is useful to know or be reminded that such matters are governed by statute in some countries, such as Germany. The German Gesetz über die Vergütung von Sachverständigen, Dolmetscherinnen, Dolmetschern, Übersetzerinnen und Übersetzern sowie die Entschädigung von ehrenamtlichen Richterinnen, ehrenamtlichen Richtern, Zeuginnen, Zeugen und Dritten (law regarding the payment of experts, interpreters and translators and the compensation of pro bono judges, witnesses and third parties), also known as JVEG, governs the rates to be paid for certain categories of professionals who provide services related to courts, public agencies and the like, and it serves as a benchmark of what extensive review by the German parliament has determined to be fair and sustainable compensation for said professionals. I received notice recently that this law and its rates are under review again and may be revised shortly to cope with abuses often involving police agencies or others colluding with low cost and low quality brokers to attain rates which are not appropriate for the services provided and which sometimes represent poverty wages for the individuals providing the actual service.

The current law has many sections, and the ones most relevant to translation fees are sections 11 and 9 JVEG, though other sections are important to determine costs for travel, materials, stamping, copies and other incidentals. The current rates are higher in some respects than those I translated and published 11 years ago, though the top rate has been cut nearly in half.

Section 11 JVEG reads as follows:
(1) The fee for a translation amounts to €1.55 for each 55 keystrokes or fraction thereof in the written text (base fee). For texts not provided in an electronically editable format, the fee increases to €1.75 for each 55 keystrokes or fraction thereof (increased fee). If the translation is complicated particularly due to special circumstances of the individual case, in particular due to the frequent use of specialist terms, difficulties in legibility, particular urgency or because it concerns a foreign language not common in Germany, the base fee is €1.85 and the increased fee is €2.05. The target language text is the standard for the number of keystrokes; if, however, Latin characters are used only in the source language, the number of keystrokes in the source language text is the standard. If counting the keystrokes involves excessive effort, their number is determined by taking into account the average number of keystrokes per line and counting the lines.
(2) For one or more translations which are part of the same order, the minimum fee is €15.
(3) Insofar as the service of the translator consists of reviewing documents or telecommunication recordings for specific content without the need of preparing a written translation for these, the fee received will be that of an interpreter.

JVEG 11(3) would cover the case of summary work, listening to recordings to identify matters relevant to a client and probably things like sight translation and discussion. But what is the interpreter's fee to be applied in this case? That fee is governed by section 9(3) JVEG, which reads:

(3) The interpreter’s fee is €70 for each hour, and, if called upon explicitly for simultaneous interpretation, it is €75 for each hour; the fee is determined only by the type of interpreting communicated in advance for the assignment. One working solely as an interpreter receives a cancellation fee to the extent that cancellation of the appointment at which the interpreter was requested was not on account of the interpreter personally, a loss of income occurred, and notice of the cancellation was given for the first time on the scheduled date or on one of the two days prior. The cancellation fee is granted up to an amount corresponding to the fee for two hours.

For a typical urgent case of translating a brief for litigation in patent nullity proceedings, where one encounters the specialist terminology of the patent subject matter as well as the specific legal terminology for such litigation, the proper fee would be €2.05 per standard line (usually in the target text, though source text may be counted as noted above), which is equivalent to about €0.27 per source word for my German to English work.

For translating general correspondence in the same case, with no urgency and no burdensome specialist terminology, the appropriate fee would be the base rate of €1.55 per line or usually about €0.20 per source word. The equivalence calculations provided by the Online Fee Wizard of Amtrad Services (screenshot, above) are based on the averages of some EU documents; it is often a good idea to measure the actual equivalents in the real texts involved using the Excel spreadsheet Amtrad Services provides or my own rate equivalency calculation tools.

If you are a translation client dealing with a brokering agency quoting something close to the JVEG rates, please note that these were determined to be the sustainable rates for individuals, and they do not include the usual fees and markup applied by service brokers. Very often this means that the translator providing the service is being compensated at abusively low rates and is probably not a professional working full time in translation and dependent on that income to pay bills and eat. If you are dealing with an individual quoting rates below the JVEG, unless that individual lives in some place like Ecuador, you might well question whether that person is able to give full attention to the assignment and/or will continue to around to provide services to you and others in the future.


  1. Kevin, even if they live in someplace like Ecuador they're not doing the right thing by underbidding (I should know, I've been living in Romania off and on since 2013 and I don't let it have any effect on my rates). If I do get resistance from agencies about my rates on the basis of where I live, I find one (of many) arguments that works is to point out that even though my remuneration is none of their business (ok, I usually don't actually say the quiet part out loud), I tend to reinvest that extra money into my business (and myself) through CPD which in turn helps me to provide them with a better product. I've got a stable of other arguments as well, but that one has been particularly effective recently.

  2. Jeanette, I completely agree about not making rates dependent on your location. But Kevin didn't actually suggest that it would be ok for a translator living in a country with a low cost of living to charge lower rates. He's just saying that if you are in the process of placing a job and the translator quotes a price that's far below the JVEG rates, you might want to question their professional abilities - unless they're living someplace super cheap. In which case the low rate might not necessarily reflect poorly on their skills (as inadvisable as such low rate might otherwise be).

    1. Indeed. I am not an advocate of charging based upon where one lives. Since I moved from Germany to Portugal I haven't changed my rates at all, just taken more time to live and breathe free air :-)

      I generally stay out of the rate discussions with people. They can hang themselves with whatever rope they choose, and if dumping prices are the fibers in said rope, then I wish them joy of the necktie. Not my circus, not my monkeys as I think my Polish friends say.

  3. Also, if you need to calculate a word rate from a line rate, I'd really advise putting in the time to take a batch of your previous translations in that field or for that client and figure it out for yourself. Coincidentally, I recently was asked to give a client who was transferring from line to word prices a word rate to reflect the current line rate of EUR 1.55. Based on the previous material for that client, I came up with just under EUR 0.23 (source word) rather than the EUR 0.20 apparently given by Fee Wizard. So it's worth checking based on the actual type of documents you tend to translate for a client.

    1. The example I gave above was target lines to source words. English lines *tend* to be shorter in those EU reference documents. But if the comparison is source lines to source words, this is what the online tool shows:
      For DE > EN translations
      a price of 1.55 (your currency) / 55 source character(s) w/spaces
      roughly correspond to
      0.2173 (your currency) / 1 source word(s)


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