When working on a contract that offers the option to bill for various travel expenses, the structures can be confusing. While fairly straightforward, many interpreters find themselves stuck writing them in.

First, it’s important to recognize that there is very big difference between the client that has an office requiring a $50/month parking pass and the client who’s meetings are sometimes 5 miles away but might be 50. Mileage can be a flat rate if you choose to pass that expense on the client but what if you can’t foresee the cost of parking in the area? What if the tolls are different week to week? What if both where you’re based and the client is based changes?

All of these things can be written into the terms of the deal in any manner but knowing some of the most popular should inform your decision.

Reimbursement via invoice

⁃ This is the most straightforward in my opinion. You do the gig whether one off or ongoing and tack your expenses on afterward. It’s worth mentioning that some clients will prefer the list of expenses to be itemized. Make sure you’re staying organized on the road both for yourself and the potential ask.

⁃ Be cautious: over billing the client is the fastest way to get them looking for a more cost effective interpreter.


⁃ A stipend is a great way to instill confidence in your client by establishing a cap on their spending. These are easily used in situations where you expect to travel for less than the standard costs or you’d like to overestimate to be safe. Many of the clients I’ve worked with in the past have carried pre-set spending limits. They were the first to mention the maximum and what would be available. While in some cases it didn’t fully cover the costs, it did offset the burden on my books along with inform my choices surrounding hotel accommodations, ride services etc…

Flat rate

⁃ In my opinion the only differentiation between a stipend and flat rate is the length of the gig. A stipend is something I would work into the deal if it were ongoing and is based on the length or frequency of the request(s). I would consider a flat rate for shorter, one off or lower billable gigs.

Build it into your rate

⁃ If you’re looking for a push to beef up your hourly but can’t justify it for any reason, consider adding travel to it. It’s important to be cautious when considering this option. You might find a client interested in moving the gig even further away and no longer needing to pay travel but on the same rate. Having the conversation twice is far riskier than never needing to at all. As always, do your research ahead of the gig and make sure you’ve got a clear idea of the potential costs.

Pro Tip

  • Confirm with agencies you’ll be billing travel back and get a maximum amount in writing.
  • Do good business with your clients by providing reasonable estimates and being flexible whenever possible.
  • Keep expenses organized by date with a separate document for notes for everything you’re buying for business. This way you’ll have a clean copy at the end of the year saving yourself some work but also will have something at the ready should the client ask for itemization.

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